Algorithm Club Discusses “The Black Box Society”

This is a recap of the 3rd #algclub twitter chat, where participants discussed The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information by Frank Pasquale

Algorithms & Power: In November 2015, Linda Sandvik and Tara Adiseshan started Algorithm Club, a monthly reading- & discussion group about critical algorithm studies — an emerging interdisciplinary field that explores the impact of digital systems on society.

Monthly reading: The reading comes from a list curated by The Social Media Collective, a group of social science researchers from Microsoft Research who are looking to understand how social media is shaping and is shaped by society. The Algorithm Club group discussion pulls in elements from sociology, social anthropology, media studies, computer science and critical theory.

Ok, how exactly does this group work? Linda & Tara announce the readings and the date & time for the upcoming chat on this webpage on github. That’s also where you can find the code of conduct for participants and a full list of the article, readings and books.

Before the chat, you do the reading on your own and when the time comes, watch the #algclub hashtag on Twitter and respond. Tara & Linda moderate and they usually have the Algorithm_club twitter account keep the conversation going by asking some questions related to the reading.

Ok, now that you have some background on the group, let’s go to this month’s chat. Below are some selected tweets from the discussion.

This Month’s Discussion: The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information by Frank Pasqual

Question 1: Introduce yourselves! Where are you based? What brought you here?

Like all good reading groups, we start with a go-around and introduce ourselves.

Algorithm Club started us off with intros.

Question 2: What was most surprising to you about the book?


Michael also found this surprising

This resonated with Tara too

Justin appreciated that the reading stayed nuanced, which spurred an interesting side-conversation

The reading left Linda feeling somewhat powerless

Question 3: What responsibility do individuals within companies that obfuscate algorithms/data gathering have?


Tara underscored a thought that Linda expressed earlier: lawyers hold a lot of power when it comes to whether or not an algorithm is transparent

Andrew keeps it real by pointing out that people are at the center of this discussion about algorithms & whether or not they are transparent

Question 4: Sounds like we’re already talking about this. Is it too late? Is it possible to still change these enormous structures?


Apparently the group has an unusual kind of optimism about change

Tara reminds the group that coercive power related to algorithms may not be much different than other systemic forms of dominations and control

Question 5: Ok folks, we’re coming to the end of the hour. Any last topics we should talk about?


The conversation continues throughout the week

And that’s a wrap

Join the next chat in March

Check on this webpage to find out when next discussion is happening and what the reading will be. You can also follow Algorithm_club on twitter to get notified.