The Algorithms Around Us

23:10 minutes

glowing red neon bail bond sign on building in dark street
In California, an algorithm now determines who gets bail. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last month, California passed a bill ending the use of cash bail. Instead of waiting in jail or putting down a cash deposit to await trial at home, defendants are released after the pleadings. The catch? Not everyone gets this treatment. It’s not a judge who determines who should and shouldn’t be released; it’s an algorithm. Algorithms have also been used to figure out which incarcerated individuals should be released on parole.

[One way to get a grip on the Fibonacci sequence? Study the hands of primates and non-primates.]

Mathematician Hannah Fry and computer scientist Suresh Venkatasubramanian join Ira to discuss how algorithms are being used not only in the justice system, but in healthcare and data mining too. And this algorithmic takeover, they say, could have a dark side. You can read an excerpt from Hannah Fry’s forthcoming book, Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms here. 

Support great science journalism!

Segment Guests

Suresh Venkatasubramanian

Suresh Venkatasubramanian is a Professor at the School of Computing at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Hannah Fry

Hannah Fry, Ph.D., is a lecturer in the Mathematics of Cities at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL, and is co-author of The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus (The Overlook Press).

Meet the Producer

About Lucy Huang

Lucy Huang was Science Friday’s summer 2018 radio intern. When she’s not covering science stories, she’s busy procrasti-baking.

Explore More