The Man Who Trapped Us in Databases – The New York Times (

Brilliant, enlightening, fascinating, seamless, and enthralling article by a master journalist!

McKenzie Funk is a ProPublica reporter in Washington State and the author of the new book “The Hank Show.” His last article for the magazine was about how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement finds its targets in the surveillance age. Erik Carter is a graphic designer and an art director in New York. His work often plays off an internet aesthetic and mixes media.

From the article:

Many critiques of our increasingly algorithmic world focus on where algorithms fail. One boils down to simple math: Some sample sizes are so small (of terror attacks, for instance) that algorithms can hardly reliably predict what they purport to predict. Another boils down to psychology: As anyone who has ever become lost by blindly following Google Maps can attest, people tend to perilously ignore common sense and trust the machine. A third boils down to checks and balances: Algorithms are often proprietary black boxes, closed to outside scrutiny. A fourth critique points out that algorithms, far from being objective, often just encode and scale up human biases: If a predictive policing system learns that most of a city’s arrests have historically been in a certain majority-Black neighborhood, the computer may decide to deploy more officers to that neighborhood, perpetuating a racist pattern of arrests and violence. Garbage in, garbage out.

But the story of Hank Asher and his creations also raises a different question, one ever more pertinent as the science and machinery of A.I. march continually forward: What happens when this stuff actually works? Is that better or worse?