miércoles, 15 de febrero de 2017

The other faces of digital lilliteracy

The digital transformation of the economy and society is stressing the  foundations of all the countries. Technology has unleashed a subtle earthquake, but with some extremely violent displays from time to time. There is a paradox. Sometimes, the more developed the country, the more violent is the impact of these strong landslides.  This is especially truth when the quake hapens around a weak point that we thought that had been repaired forever  many  time ago. This have been the case of the affair related with the viral spread of fake news during the last US election

Although fake or not accurate news have existed since the dawn of humanity, it was thought that their impact on the developed societies was small now.  The constant evolution of the political systems had consolidated an independent and truthful media system reinforced by the existence of a critical and well-educated population. On one hand, traditional publishers were conscious that publishing fake news was a major risk for their business, as they could lose credibility and could face legal actions. On the other hand, the majority of the public was equipped with the skills to identify the possible bias of the media and to apply a critical view when they receive any piece of news. The balance has been broken with the appearance of the new digital media publishers as Facebook. 

According with a report from the Reuters Institute, there is a growing happiness with having the news served through an automatic process. The consequence is the reinforcement of the trend of having social media as the main source of news. The apparently disappearance of the human factor replaced by algorithms provide the whole process of presenting the news an aura of bigger independency.  This fact shows clearly a misunderstanding of what an algorithm is. As a product of a human mind, the algorithm inherits the bias of its maker.

The blind faith on the independence of algorithms is not reduced to those used on media sector. A recent study published by Accenture claims that bank customers would preferred to be advised on their investments by machines. People attracted to financial advice from robots because they consider it impartial. It is extremely worry that this big misunderstanding about the nature of algorithms is expanding to any area.

There is growing concern for the development of the digital skills among the governments and international institutions. For instance, the aim of increasing digital capabilities was included both in UN 2030 Agenda and the Digital Single Market Strategy. Generally, the success of this kind of actions is measured in the number of Internet users, the amount of digital services users or the number of PCs per person.  What shows the misunderstanding of the nature of algorithms is that digital illiteracy has other faces that we rarely pay attention and has bigger impact in our social life.

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