The Rise Of The Algorithm Part III The Ascension Of The Actuary
Since undertaking the task of explaining the role of Algorithms in modern day reality, I have begun to understand something of the fire that humans possess; a fire which I had thought might be blown out by the gale force winds of change. A Toffler effect so to speak, brought about by exponential changes in technology. Americans might be forgiven for thinking that changes in technology which occurred during the nineteenth century had the same impact as those changes wrought in the twentieth. After all, building an intercontinental railroad system had pretty much the same effect as building an interstate highway network. The creation of an internet, which connects the majority of humans has had about the same effect as seeing to it that most Americans could read, and then creating a national culture (several really) that depended on readers as the readers depended on the words they read. While the twentieth century passed, first telephones, and then television invaded each and every home and the experience of being human became something that could be scripted; all it takes is an algorithm folks.The difference as I see it is in the impact of technological change on our individual limits in a far denser population. When great changes came in the nineteenth century they created limitless possibilities to practically everyone. Midway through the twentieth century, technology had created great opportunities for fewer and fewer people. Malthus’ dire predictions came true, and the algorithms of prosperity, and population moved inexorably forward; and no amount of pleading would turn them back.
The evidently enduring flame I spoke of has caused me to change much of my thinking though, and, as I shall endeavor to explain, gives me hope as a possible challenge to what had heretofore seemed an inevitable end to us courtesy of our most powerful tool, the algorithm. First, the actuary. Like guns, algorithms don’t kill people, people do. An algorithm, like a gun, is a tool and must be wielded by a person with a purpose and a skill. The purpose comes at best, from a group of people whose intentions are creative and constructive. At worst, the purpose comes from a single individual whose purpose is destructive, the deed done on the down low. Examples of the former are algorithms for bedside diagnostics without imaging, and for emergency logistics management; examples of the former might be algorithms for investment transactions, and algorithmic trading; or worse, developing terrorist attacks that strike us through our electronic lives. Think of it; when I was thirty, practically anybody could live in an nineteenth century world. For that matter, they could have prospered in an eighteenth century world. Can most of the thirty somethings of today say the same? You know it ain’t so,Joe. The ubiquitous they have all the rational approaches covered.When us grown ups talk to others who are like minded, we all seem to agree privately that we cannot see any way out of the mess. We know deep down inside that the kind of mistakes were made that can only lead to misery on a scale not known to us outside the imaginations of writers of horror, or perhaps in the memories of those who have seen true war.
Well….what was that hope you was talkin’ about there Theo? O.K. Are the kids outside? Alright, here it is: Sun Tzu said “if you do not know your weakest point, be sure your enemy will”. Well folks, I’m no actuary, but if you think about it, isn’t the great density of our connected population
our enemy’s greatest weakness? Aren’t all these algorithms concatenated into one big algorithm, each actuary working for an algorithmic fiefdom no one part of the kingdom quite knowing what the other fiefdoms do? I don’t think there is any way to avoid a disaster that is basically intercontinental, but I do think we could still bring the giant down before an actuary partners with a data researcher and eliminates the need for human developers. I think we might be able to manage our downfall in such a way that our grandchildren will know what came before them by leaving them some small part of it. Such lays the foundation for the solution; a solution that I will explain in what I promise will be the last I will say on this for a time in our fourth article in this series, Jesus is the algorithm (a phrase given to us by one of the greatest actuaries of our time).