Jenna Burrell / The Society of Algorithms / 11.19.2021
Jenna Burrell is a professor in the School of Information at UC Berkeley. Her research focuses on how marginalized communities adapt digital technologies to meet their needs and to pursue their goals and ideals. She is the co-director of the Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Working Group, which brings together faculty and students from across the UC-Berkeley campus to facilitate research on how algorithmic systems can be designed, used, or regulated to support more equitable and just societies. Burrell is the author of Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafes of Urban Ghana (The MIT Press). She is currently writing up her research findings from a multi-year project about rural communities that host critical Internet infrastructure such as fiber optic cables and data centers. She earned a PhD in Sociology from the London School of Economics and a BA in Computer Science from Cornell University.
Talk: The Society of Algorithms
Video of this talk is unavailable.
Abstract: The pairing of massive data sets with processes—or algorithms—written in computer code to sort through, organize, extract, or mine them has made inroads in almost every major social institution. This article proposes a reading of the scholarly literature concerned with the social implications of this transformation. First, we discuss the rise of a new occupational class, which we call the coding elite. This group has consolidated power through their technical control over the digital means of production and by extracting labor from a newly marginalized or unpaid workforce, the cybertariat. Second, we show that the implementation of techniques of mathematical optimization across domains as varied as education, medicine, credit and finance, and criminal justice has intensified the dominance of actuarial logics of decision-making, potentially transforming pathways to social reproduction and mobility but also generating a pushback by those so governed. Third, we explore how the same pervasive algorithmic intermediation in digital communication is transforming the way people interact, associate, and think. We conclude by cautioning against the wildest promises of artificial intelligence but acknowledging the increasingly tight coupling between algorithmic processes, social structures, and subjectivities.