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A not-quite-random walk demystifies the algorithm

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He gave himself the task of exploring Oxford, where he was a scholar, with the help of an algorithm. In layman’s terms, an algorithm is a step-by-step procedure for calculating the answer to a problem from a given set of inputs, Ziewitz says.

To structure their walk, Ziewitz and a friend wrote this one on a sheet of paper: “At any junction, take the least familiar road. Take turns assessing familiarity. If all roads are equally familiar, go straight.”

They decided to define a road as being wide enough on which to walk a bike, then added that line of code to their algorithm. Looking at the world through the lens of an algorithm illuminates some aspects but obscures others, Ziewitz said. They exited, quickly finding an adjacent road. The incident highlighted another finding: It’s tough to design an algorithm that will account for all possibilities.

A not quite random walk: Experimenting with the ethnomethods of the algorithm, Big Data & Society.


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Post Author: John Koetsier

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