Letter from the Publisher: Algorithms

Photo of a young Bob Hunt, publisher of Idaho Senior Independent/Montana Senior News, in uniform.

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By BOB HUNT, Publisher

I feel a responsibility to make sure this newspaper delivers to inform, entertain, and empower. We try and provide you fresh information that we know to be true. However, as Bill Parcells once said, “When you don’t know that you don’t know, it’s a lot different than when you do know that you don’t know.”

Today you can get information from a myriad of different channels. The days of Walter Cronkite, who was respected and admired as a truth teller, have changed. There are many choices, and now algorithms are choosing for you.

You can search on Google now to find out anything. Google’s competitor is duckduckgo if you want less attached algorithms entwined in your search.

What is an algorithm? It’s a mathematical solution to a set of outcomes that are predetermined and finite. Basically computers process info from software that reaches out through an Internet connection, grabbing the information you asked for. And the results show up on your screen.

If you search, or even visit a website from a search, the algorithms kick into gear. Then an algorithm serves ads that are predetermined to reach you and possibly sell you a product or service. The ads can be embedded in other pages on websites that you commonly visit based upon the algorithm.

Without going into how the Internet works, let me just say the world of information has changed—and certainly how it comes to us has changed.

Probably most of our readers who are “plugged in” visit Facebook. You joined because your family is all on there, and you like to keep in touch.

Then you join a few groups and, voila, you get more and more information thrown at you because of your interests. Now you are targeted with ads and other groups that you supposedly are interested in or aligned with.

Could this element of the cyber world be selectively dividing us as a country? There is a clear division of American opinion lately, and it appears to be growing. Maybe it’s because the algorithms only feed us information we like and agree with.

Knowing this, perhaps you don’t know you are being influenced by outside entities. They bolster your opinion with more common messaging because you opted in.

I suggest that, when it comes to the larger issues facing us, we pause and do as much research as possible with qualified professionals.

When the issue is health-related, ask your doctor. When you’re pondering politics, discuss with people on both sides to get an understanding of the specific issues, and vote with the candidate who best serves your ideals, character, faith, and situation.

The best minds are out there reading and learning every day. Surround yourself with people who challenge your thinking. Be open to an alternate view.

Let your influence come from within

ISI

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