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Algorithms
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Episode 64
Featuring Hannah Fry
Mathematician and public educator, Hannah Fry, joins Demetri for a discussion about our often-uncomfortable partnership with machines. It is a conversation meant not only to help further our understanding of how algorithms function, but also to give us a deeper appreciation for where we fit in this increasingly changing world.

This week on Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with mathematician and public educator, Hannah Fry. Dr. Fry’s mathematical expertise has led to the development of several documentaries on the BBC, where she also hosts her own, long-running Radio 4 program: The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry. Already a two-time author, Hannah is out with her third and latest book, Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms.

Since the turn of the twentieth century, algorithms have assumed the power previously associated with pontiffs or the divine right of kings. In an instance of late 20th century lore, the great Chess Champion Garry Kasparov, reflecting upon his historic loss to IBM’s Deep Blue described the algorithm that defeated him in less than twenty moves, as having ‘suddenly played like a God for one moment’. Kasparov’s experience – that of having been unnerved by the intelligence and obstinate posture of an otherwise lifeless machine – has not remained confined to the narrow dimensions of his chess board. In the 20 years since his loss, increasingly intelligent algorithms seem to be overtaking our world and making humanity obsolete in the process.

But in the age of the algorithm, there are those like Hannah Fry, who believe that our place has never been more important. She believes that we should stop seeing machines as objective masters. Instead, we need to start treating algorithms as we would any other source of power; questioning their decisions, scrutinizing their motives, and holding them accountable for their mistakes.

As computer algorithms increasingly control and decide our future, ‘Hello World’ is a reminder of a moment of dialogue between human and machine. Of an instant where the boundary between controller and controlled is virtually imperceptible. It marks the start of a partnership – a shared journey of possibilities, where one cannot exist without the other. In the age of the algorithm, that’s a sentiment worth bearing in mind.

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Dr Hannah Fry is an Associate Professor in the Mathematics of Cities at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL. She works alongside a unique mix of physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, architects and geographers to study the patterns in human behaviour - particularly in an urban setting. Her research applies to a wide range of social problems and questions, from shopping and transport to urban crime, riots and terrorism.

Alongside her academic position, Hannah is an experienced public speaker giving conference keynotes and taking the joy of maths into theatres and schools. Hannah’s mathematical expertise has led to the development of several BBC documentaries including City in the Sky (BBC2), Britain's Greatest Inventions (BBC2), Climate Change By Numbers (BBC4), Calculating Ada: The Countess of Computing (BBC4), Horizon: How to Find Love Online (BBC2) and The Joy of Data (BBC4). Hannah regularly appears on radio in the UK including on her long running BBC Radio 4 show The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry.

Hannah has published popular maths books The Mathematics of Love: Patterns, Proofs, and the Search for the Ultimate Equation (Simon & Schuster/ Ted) and The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus (Penguin Random House/Transworld). Her third title, Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms (Penguin Random House/Transworld UK; W. W. Norton & Company US), is on sale now wherever books are sold.

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Hannah Fry on Being Human in the Age of Algorithms, Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence

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