How algorithms rule the world

The NSA revelations highlight the role sophisticated algorithms play in sifting through masses of data. But more surprising is their widespread use in our everyday lives. So should we be more wary of their power?On 4 August 2005, the police department of Memphis, Tennessee, made so many arrests over a three-hour period that it ran out of vehicles to transport the detainees to jail. Three days later, 1,200 people had been arrested across the city – a new police department record. Operation Blue Crush was hailed a huge success.Larry Godwin, the city’s new police director, quickly rolled out the scheme and by 2011 crime across the city had fallen by 24%. When it was revealed Blue Crush faced budget cuts earlier this year, there was public outcry. “Crush” policing is now perceived to be so successful that it has reportedly been mimicked across the globe, including in countries such as Poland and Israel. In 2010, it was reported that two police forces in the UK were using it, but their identities were not revealed.

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