The term “algorithms” is now being used, particularly by legal scholars and researchers in the social sciences, as shorthand to describe complex, large scale socio-technical systems such as social media platforms, various analytic systems, recommendation engines, and the like that actually depend on a myriad of frequently opaque and constantly changing computational algorithms (in the classic, computer-science use of the term), often including various kinds of machine learning technologies. There has been a great deal of interest in recent years in understanding the various behaviors and potential biases embodied in such systems, and conferences have been convened addressing themes such as “algorithms and accountability.” Less well explored is how we might document the behaviors of these constantly changing systems at a given point in time. In this seminar, I will explore the nature of the problem, and discuss very preliminary thinking on pathways to address the increasingly urgent need to document and preserve these often-critical social and societal artifacts.
Clifford Lynch is the director of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) and an adjunct professor at the School of Information. Prior to joining CNI in 1997, Lynch spent eighteen years at the University of California Office of the President, the last ten as director of Library Automation. Lynch is a past president of ASIS&T and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Information Standards Organization.