Who Gets to Choose? On the Socio-algorithmic Construction of Choice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This article deals with choice-inducing algorithms––algorithms that are explicitly designed to affect people’s choices. Based on an ethnographic account of three Israeli data analytics companies, I explore how algorithms are being designed to drive people into choice-making and examine their co-constitution by an assemblage of specifically positioned human and nonhuman agents. I show that the functioning, logic, and even ethics of choice-inducing algorithms are deeply influenced by the epistemologies, meaning systems, and practices of the individuals who devise and use them and that such algorithms are similarly affected by interorganizational relationships, various nonhuman agents, and changing geopolitical contexts. I conclude by discussing the flexibility of choice-inducing algorithms and by arguing that such algorithms are not programmed to induce specific choices but to more generally convert people into choosers, and thus, to algorithmically (re)create the modern need to choose. This article contributes to the growing literature on algorithms and culture and to our understanding of choice-making in contemporary life. At the same time, it provides a new vocabulary that offers to critically engage with algorithms and their power without losing sight of the often very specific contexts from which they arise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-375
Number of pages30
JournalScience Technology and Human Values
Volume46
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.

Keywords

  • agency
  • AI
  • algorithms
  • choice
  • culture
  • data

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Human-Computer Interaction

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