“In some sense, you can argue that the science fiction scenario is already starting to happen,” Thinking Machines’ Hillis says. “The computers are in control, and we just live in their world.” — Wired
Wired magazine recently reported that artificial intelligence (AI) has arrived in full force, though not in the manner anticipated by the field’s visionaries in the 70s and 80s .
AI never came in the form of processors that mimic the human brain, as envisioned by researchers 30 years ago. Instead AI emerged as the net effect of millions of specialized algorithms running simultaneously, each making decisions for niche tasks largely out of view. While these decisions are highly informed within the problem space they occupy (informed by extensive data, feedback control, machine-learning, etc.), the algorithms themselves are overall quite dumb. They were designed only to solve particular problems and therefore generalize poorly.
What is also new is the scale of our increasing reliance on such algorithms and the shear number that are operating. Equally amazing are the effects of “crosstalk” between algorithms, where the response of one program to a circumstance triggers an unexpected cascade of reactions from other programs developed by different institutions.
We are entering a world where physical interactions and information synthesis is increasingly moderated by millions of dumb computer programs.
Power then resides in those able to bias this decision-making mass toward their goals. Some of this power resides in programmers, but most of it resides in the hands of the owners of the algorithms’ products—the individuals and institutions that direct programmers’ labor through wages.
Big Data businesses are not just Big Data anymore; they are the accumulation of decisions made with the data, many of which are highly automated. The future then belongs to “algorithm ecologists” who can mediate our interdependence on the algorithms and bias them toward profit.
 Wired magazine, 27 December 2010