Algorithm

The 21st Century’s Most Important Idea… & Older Natural Algorithmic Forces

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1. “The 21st century will be dominated by algorithms,” says Yuval Harari. That makes “‘algorithm’ arguably the single most important concept in our world.”

2. He’s almost right. Natural algorithms have ruled every century with life in it. He means unnatural algorithms (which have been called “weaponized math“) now matter.

3. Daniel Dennett says, “Darwin discovered the fundamental algorithm of evolution.” Of course Darwin couldn’t have seen natural selection as algorithmic, but technomorphic analogies to our unnatural computers mean we’re beginning to recognize “algorithmic forces.”

4. For instance, Gregory Chaitin says, “the origin of life is really the origin of software,” and “DNA is multibillion-year-old software.”

5. Algorithms are sequences of step-by-step instructions for complex processes (like recipes, or software). They describe how dumber sub-steps compose complex tasks.

6. Evolution’s survival-of-the-fittest algorithm is very loosely “survive, replicate with variation, repeat.”

7. Out of that dumb process-logic arises all the intelligence and complexity of all living systems. Including what Dennett calls “competence without comprehension.”

8. Consider “termite castles” that look like a monumental Gaudí…

How Facebook’s News Feed Sorting Algorithm Works

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Facebook doesn’t use a chronological feed, like Twitter does (or like Facebook used to). Instead, what you see in your News Feed is determined by an algorithm that sorts things based on what Facebook thinks you want to see. This is a cause of some consternation.

Every so often, a page or person I follow on Facebook complains that their posts are only reaching a small fraction of their followers and begs everyone to add them to their See First list so they can “keep reaching all the fans”. They claim Facebook is cutting them off and hiding them from some of their follower’s feeds so they’ll pay for Promoted posts. But that’s not really how Facebook works.

If you’ve used Facebook for a few years, odds are you’re friends with a few hundred people (most of whom you don’t really care about) and have liked way too many pages (again, most of which you probably don’t care about). My friend count is well north of 1100, and I dread to think about how many Pages I’ve liked.

Facebook wants to keep you and me, the users, engaged. They have poured millions of dollars into finding ways to keep as many people as possible coming back for another hit of social crack. Showing us a load of stories from former friends or pages we liked to try and win an iPhone 4 isn’t going to achieve that. So Facebook has had to find a way around that.

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How Facebook Determines What You See

So how does Facebook determine what stories appear, and what don’t? As they say in their FAQ:

The stories that show in your News Feed are influenced by your connections and activity on Facebook. This helps you to see more stories that interest you from friends you interact with the most. The number of comments and likes a post receives and what kind of story it is (ex: photo, video, status update) can also make it more likely to appear in your News Feed.

This is a little vague, so we reached out to Facebook to find out more.

Facebook has a ton of information on it, and Facebook doesn’t want…