Zeynep Tufekci We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads

Techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci asks big questions about our societies and our lives, as both algorithms and digital connectivity spread.
Zeynep Tufekci is an American writer, academic, and self-described “techno-sociologist” who primarily writes about the effect of technology on politics and society. She is an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina and a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University in Massachusetts. In 2015, she was named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow in the Social Sciences and Humanities for the inaugural class.

Tufekci was born in Istanbul, Turkey, near Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. She worked as a computer programmer before becoming an academic and turning her attention to social science. Her research and publications include topics such as the effect of big data on politics and the public sphere, how social media affects social movements, and the privacy and security vulnerabilities exposed by the coming Internet of Things. In general, she has sought to outline the potential negative societal consequences of social media and big data, while not rejecting these phenomena outright.

Tufekci has been a regular contributor to The Atlantic and is a monthly contributor for The New York Times op-ed page on topics related to technology’s social impact.

We’re building an artificial intelligence-powered dystopia, one click at a time, says techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci. In an eye-opening talk, she details how the same algorithms companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon use to get you to click on ads are also used to organize your access to political and social information.

And the machines aren’t even the real threat. What we need to understand is how the powerful might use AI to control us — and what we can do in response.

We’ve entered an era of digital connectivity and machine intelligence. Complex algorithms are increasingly used to make consequential decisions about us. Many of these decisions are subjective and have no right answer: who should be hired, fired or promoted; what news should be shown to whom; which of your friends do you see updates from; which convict should be paroled. With increasing use of machine learning in these systems, we often don’t even understand how exactly they are making these decisions. Zeynep Tufekci studies what this historic transition means for culture, markets, politics and personal life.

Tufekci is a contributing opinion writer at the New York Times, an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

Her book, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, was published in 2017 by Yale University Press. Her next book, from Penguin Random House, will be about algorithms that watch, judge and nudge us.

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