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About this talk: Technology evangelists often argue that algorithms and artificial intelligence make decision-making more informed and objective -- a promise hotly contested by critics of these technologies. Yet, to date, most of the debate has focused on the instruments themselves, rather than on how they are used. Against the rhetoric of algorithmic determinism that permeates Silicon Valley, both among evangelists and critics, I argue that it is essential to study how algorithms are used “in the wild,” rather than merely how they are designed. I call this research program the study of “algorithms in practice.” Drawing on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, I compare how algorithms are used and interpreted in three institutional contexts with markedly different characteristics: online news; criminal justice; and social media creation. I conclude with a call for further ethnographic work on algorithms in practice as an important empirical check against the dominant rhetoric of algorithmic power.
About this speaker: Angèle Christin is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and affiliated faculty in the Sociology Department and Program in Science, Technology, and Society at Stanford University. She studies how algorithms and analytics transform professional values, expertise, and work practices. Her book, Metrics at Work: Journalism and the Contested Meaning of Journalism, was published by Princeton University Press in 2020.