Communicating Opaque Algorithmic Processes in Socio-Technical Systems

Motahhareh Eslami
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Talk Series: 
03.14.2019 11:00 to 12:00

AVW 4172

Algorithms play a vital role in curating online information in socio-technical systems, however, they are usually housed in black-boxes that limit users’ understanding of how an algorithmic decision is made. While this opacity partly stems from protecting intellectual property and preventing malicious users from gaming the system, it is also designed to provide users with seamless, effortless system interactions. However, this opacity can result in misinformed behavior among users, particularly when there is no clear feedback mechanism for users to understand the effects of their own actions on an algorithmic system. The increasing prevalence and power of these opaque algorithms coupled with their sometimes biased and discriminatory decisions raise questions about how knowledgeable users are and should be about the existence, operation and possible impacts of these algorithms. In this talk, I will address these questions by exploring ways to investigate users’ behavior around opaque algorithmic systems. I will then present new design techniques that communicate opaque algorithmic processes to users and provide them with a more informed, satisfying, and engaging interaction. In doing so, I will add new angles to the old idea of understanding the interaction between users and automation by designing around a) algorithm sensemaking, b) algorithm transparency, and c) algorithm bias.