Algorithms Are Making Us Small-Minded, Limiting Our Choices

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Technocracy is “the science of social engineering” where humans are pushed, poked, prodded and herded according to some Technocrat’s idea of “sustainable living.” The current encroachment on freedom of activity is felt by all but recognized by few.  TN Editor

We live in a world of curation. The internet — aided by algorithms that predict what we search, buy, listen to, read, watch and even who we want to date and marry — expertly helps to us find what we want.

Well, as long as it’s similar to whatever we’ve liked in the past.

And there’s the rub. The ubiquity of incredibly powerful algorithms designed to reinforce our interests also ensures that we see little of what’s new, different and unfamiliar. The very things that are at the heart of learning, understanding and innovation. Rather than taking us out of our comfort zone, the digital revolution is enabling each of us to live happily in our own worlds, and in the process closing down opportunities for originality, spontaneity and learning.

The best part of all: we love it this way.

How do I know?

Because we flock to Amazon to buy what their algorithms say we should buy. Because we read news that reinforces what we already believe. And because we even rely on dating sites that specifically seek to match us with similar people.

The consequences of living in our algorithm-enabled straightjackets are not trivial. Intellectually and socially, we are paying a price.

ake, for example, the recent presidential election in the US.  The stark political polarisations became arguably more entrenched and increasingly evident here as the tendency of people to seek out confirmatory evidence to support their inherent beliefs or intuition became a self-reinforcing cycle. Different Americans are living in different versions of the same country. By limiting ourselves to certain news organisations and certain pundits, our curated analyses of current events begin to look spectacularly different to those of others with different outlooks and life experiences.

The problem of narrow-mindedness crosses over into business and leadership. Not only has research shown time and time again that open-mindedness improves our sense of wellbeing, but it also leads to better decisions. That was certainly the case with superbosses, those exceptional leaders who built thriving businesses based on agility and creativity in both managerial mindset and business practices.

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Sydney Finkelstein is the Steven Roth Professor of Management and Director of the Leadership Center at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. His latest book isSuperbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Manage the Flow of Talent (Portfolio/Penguin, 2016).

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