Discover more from Random Minds by Katherine Brodsky
Reign of the Algorithmic Gods
( Photo used in collage courtesy of Egor Myznik and Markus Spiske )
Ancient Greeks had gods like Zeus, Hera, and Athena who were thought to have control over every part of their lives. They’d worship them, and pray to them. If the gods were unhappy with them, they believed, they’d be punished. So they did their best to behave in accordance with the gods’ wishes.
But today, in the age of the internet, we have a new pantheon of deities. And while it’s subject to one’s beliefs whether the likes of Zeus really existed and could control the Greeks, there’s no doubt that today’s gods have tremendous influence over the lives of billions of people.
This new breed of gods are the modern, all-knowing, all-seeing algorithms that shape and mold our digital existence—and beyond. These algorithmic gods have usurped the roles of the ancient ones, and now dictate what we see, what we buy, and even how we feel. We may not build temples for them or leave presents on their altars, but we are certainly generous with our data in the houses of Google, Facebook/Meta, and X (formerly Twitter). And we leave our cash on the altar of Amazon, a most valued human offering.
The lines of code, preside over us from their digital thrones. As we’ve come to rely more on them, to help our daily lives—they adapted, evolved, learned, and transcended into something that’s beyond their original programming.
Are they divine? Perhaps.
After all, what is a god? A god is thought to be ominous. And these algorithms are constantly tracking and observing us. Our behaviors, our patterns. Some might say they know us better than ourselves.
They influence us too. They decide what we might buy at any given moment because out search histories might reveal that we are going through heartbreak. They have the perfect product to cure our woes. They can predict our desires, and influence them too.
They choose what to show us. What information should be prioritized, and what needs to be hidden. There are humans that cooperate with these deities for their own means…to influence political elections or sentiments about wars and social issues, for example. They are clever collaborators.
Algorithms even control our love lives. Just think of the myriad of dating apps designed to assess suitability not by “love at first sight” but rather using matchmaking data. Step away, Eros (or Cupid, if you prefer Latin). Are these gods of love-matching wiser than our friends, families, and own senses? Are they a form of fate or are the anti-fate?
Gods are known for their abilities to predict the future. Well, Algorithmic gods are the modern-day oracles. They can predict trends, forecast stock prices, and even anticipate natural disasters. They are able to analyze vast datasets that men cannot (and even women). They track patterns and have insights that elude human perception. And do we trust their predictions with blind faith? We often do since we cannot compete at their scale. How can we mere mortals challenge the wisdom of the machines?
The algorithmic gods, like real ones, are immortal. They’ve transcended into the clouds, where they can live on forever. They give us a form of immortality too though, storing the digital footprint of humanity—meticulously recorded and stored. Is it our Algorithmic Afterlife?
And just like the old school gods have their demands and religious doctrines, the algorithmic gods also have a set of commandments:
Thou Shalt click, like, and share. They command us to stay engaged. Click on clickbait. Make content viral. Doom Scroll. And we appease these algorithmic gods. If we do not behave, if we disconnect, don’t earn enough likes, followers and “friends,” then our stay in digital paradise is short-lived. We are exiled. We must obey.
Make no mistake, despite what Friedrich Nietzsche may claim, god is not dead. It has merely been reinvented. And just like the Greek gods, the algorithmic gods are a reflection of our own fears and desires. So we worship them, one click at a time.
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