Algorithms will do more and more of the thinking in the world

At the New York Stock Exchange, machines make decisions in as short as 740 nanoseconds — faster than any human can think.

“This is a world where the speed of light has to be factored into the equations for buying and selling,” Quid founder and CTO Sean Gourley said at the Structure Data conference Thursday.

Like trading, which Gourley noted is mostly done by machines, bots now make up most of our web traffic. Within the time it takes to load a page, algorithms determine where a user is located, what they like and what types of ads to serve. More and more, algorithms are ruling our world. And as they continue to get smarter, our relationship with them will evolve.

Gourley said that there are two types of relationships we are already used to, where we are the product or the owner. We are the product on sites like Facebook(s fb), where algorithms match us with ads. We are the owner when we subscribe to a service that serves up content we would like or automatically does a task for us.

Then there are two emerging categories: servant and driver. Humans may soon perform the small tasks that algorithms can’t do, making them what Gourley labeled “techno serfs.” As drivers, they will use algorithms to augment their own abilities.

We’ve already learned that bots can have a negative affect, whether that’s accidentally hurting the stock market or purposefully spreading propaganda on Twitter. Humans will be challenged to keep up with what’s human and what’s an algorithm.

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Photo by Jakub Mosur