Filtering by Tag: algorithm

"Six approaches to empirically research algorithms"

An interesting read this morning:

Kitchin, R. (2014). Thinking Critically About and Researching Algorithms, The Programmable City Working Paper 5, Available at SSRN.

As indicated by its title, this paper address the ways to investigate algorithms and the difficulties in doing so. Based on an extensive review of the literature, it highlights the issues at stake in the field of software studies that emerged in the last ten years. It's quite pragmatic with a focus on six ways to empirically research algorithms: "examining source code (both deconstructing code and producing genealogies of production); reflexively producing code; reverse engineering; interviewing designers and conducting ethnographies of coding teams; unpacking the wider socio-technical assemblage framing and supporting algorithms; and examining how algorithms do work in the world." In a discussion of these approaches, Kitchin highlights that they should be combined in order to provide more thorough perspectives

Why do I blog this? Both because it's a resource that may be useful for my students working in this domain, and bc I'm currently writing about algorithmic cultures.

"Computational journalism"

This idiom is new to me but I guess it makes sense these days. It's also an event ("symposium") with a live coverage here. The material in there is impressive and curious, see for yourself:

"Journalists and computer scientists increasingly are working together to develop innovative methods of reporting and telling news stories. Consider:

Why do I blog this? Im polishing a manuscript on algorithms and cultural production, which is strangely orthogonal to this set of examples.

Algorithms+reverse engineering

Everyone interested in software studies and research about algorithms should read this piece by Nick Seaver called "On reverse engineering: Looking for the cultural work of engineers". Based on TheAtlantic's investigation of Netflix's tagging system, the author discusses the consequences of reverse engineering for how we think about the cultural lives of engineers.

Some excerpts that attracted my attention:

"reverse engineering, as both a descriptor and a research strategy, misses the things engineers do that do not fit into conventional ideas about engineering. In the ongoing mixture of culture and technology, reverse engineering sticks too closely to the idealized vision of technical work. Because it assumes engineers care strictly about functionality and efficiency, it is not very good at telling stories about accidents, interpretations, and arbitrary choices. It assumes that cultural objects or practices (like movies or engineering) can be reduced to singular, universally-intelligible logics. It takes corporate spokespeople at their word when they claim that there was a straight line from conception to execution. [...] The risk of reverse engineering is that we come to imagine that the only things worth knowing about companies like Netflix are the technical details hidden behind the curtain. In my own research, I argue that the cultural lives and imaginations of the people behind the curtain are as important, if not more, for understanding how these systems come to exist and function as they do. Moreover, these details are not generally considered corporate secrets, so they are accessible if we look for them. Not everything worth knowing has been actively hidden, and transparency can conceal as much as it reveals."

Why do I blog this? Because it's an interesting argument and practical recommendation for researchers working on such topics. Being interested in the interplay between technical constraints and cultural/imaginary elements, I quite appreciate the point Seaver makes here.

The #curiousalgorithms weekly #01

This is a follow-up to my blogpost on curious algorithms. I'll try to post, on a weekly basis, some pointers to projects related with algorithms that caught my attention. It's clearly messy but these are good signals for an on-going project. Flying hacker contraption hunts other drones turns them into zombies

" "Serial hacker Samy Kamkar has released all the hardware and software specifications that hobbyists need to build an aerial drone that seeks out other drones in the air, hacks them, and turns them into a conscripted army of unmanned vehicles under the attacker's control. Dubbed SkyJack, the contraption uses a radio-controlled Parrot AR.Drone quadcopter carrying a Raspberry Pi circuit board, a small battery, and two wireless transmitters. The devices run a combination of custom software and off-the-shelf applications that seek out wireless signals of nearby Parrot drones, hijack the wireless connections used to control them, and commandeer the victims' flight-control and camera systems.""

Disarming Corruptor

" Disarming Corruptor, is what he terms "circumvention software". It scrambles a 3D printed file, encrypting it in such a way that the user will be greeted with a glitched-out visual treat if it is loaded into any 3D editing software. If you've got the decryption keys, you get to see the object's true form. It's hiding in plain sight, thumbing its pixel-bled nose at the Mary Whitehouses of physible culture. "


"Regardless of the solution you choose, our user visible GPU powered bitcoin miner will seamlessly integrate into your game with no interference, earning you cash in perfect harmony with your existing app monetisation strategy. There's no catch - it's just awesome."

Sites Unseen: Are CAPTCHAs Discriminatory?

"while CAPTCHA is a source of frustration for your average John or Jane User, the system can be downright prohibitive for individuals with certain disabilities. Image-only CAPTCHA systems, for example, often bar visually impaired from whatever feature the CAPTCHA is gatekeeping. This technology is so restrictive that groups are even organizing against CAPTCHA. This past summer, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, along with other consumer rights groups,called for an end to CAPTCHA. They requested, in no uncertain terms, that the CEOs of top companies such as Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Facebook (among others) stop using CAPTCHA in favor of other, non-discriminatory ways of combating spam."

How Google names its algorithms

" “Boston” was the first documented update and was announced at SES Boston. The name was given by Webmaster World (WMW) members. (…) Cassandra, Dominic, Esmeralda, Fritz were also named by the folks over at WMW. The members decided that they wanted to name the updates similarly to how hurricane names are selected: in alphabetical order, one month male, one month female. Since the previous month’s update was Boston, they went with a female name and voted on Cassandra because “we just liked it.” See below why Brett Tabke, founder and owner of WMW and the PubCon conference, finalized the name. “Dominic” was actually named after a pizza place in Boston that was frequented by PubCon attendees. (…) Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts revealed that they used the code name ”Panda” to refer to the update internally. Like Vince, Panda was named after one of the key Google engineers who worked on the update and made it possible, Navneet Panda. "

Some examples of Wikipedia bots:

  • User:Cydebot – generally carries out tasks associated with deletion
  • User:WP 1.0 bot – works with the Version 1.0 Editorial Team
  • User:SineBot – signs comments left on talk pages
  • User:ClueBot NG – reverts vandalism
  • User:CorenSearchBot – checks for copyright violations on new pages
  • User:AnomieBOT – large variety of tasks
  • User:DumbBOT – often removes protection templates from recently unprotected pages
  • User:Lowercase sigmabot – often adds protection templates to recently protected pages
  • User:Mr.Z-bot – will patrol BLP and the edit filters
  • User:MiszaBot – archives talk pages
  • User:BracketBot – notifies users of mismatched brackets in recently edited articles.