Janik Vonrotz

3 min read

FDA for Algorithms and Technology

I form my opinions and judgments not based on newspapers and talks with people, but mostly from listening to podcasts and reading hacker news. An idea that showed up in my feed a lot recently, is establishing an Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for algorithms1 and technologies2.

Algorithms and technologies haven changed the very fabric of human interaction and communication. The economic landscape has shifted, the service sector took over the largest part of the pi and tech companies lead the top. Online platforms run by powerful algorithms and technologies have become the interchange for consumers and suppliers. Social networks turned into basic building block for socializing.

However, it has changed not only for the good. A good example is Instagram. Driven by a strategic incentive to maximize profit the social networking app has turned into an highly addictive drug. Maximizing profit means increasing the attention span of the user. Thus social network apps have turned into uncontrollable addictive Frankensteins. Instagram does not have to care about the harm they do to society and peoples health.

The economic cost of this side effects is hug and not shared among the tech companies. They are not liable for the costs they cause by building addictive technologies and uncontrollable algorithms. Not yet.

Of course they do not that on purpose, it is the result of maximizing peoples attention span and thus profit. Often developers do not have any intention in doing harm. They are told to increase user interaction, running A/B tests and make an app more user friendly. Sometimes only ethnic software designers are able to bring forward and address the issue. They investigate whether products meet the companies vision of doing good or have been turned into a harmful technology.

Medicine faced this problem years ago. That is why the Hippocratic oath and the FDA have been established. They oath tells medicine manufacturers not to produce harmful medicine and the FDA makes sure they comply. The idea of “FDA for Algorithms and Technology” is building a similar construct and institution. The oath would be something like:

First do not harm the users health.

And the Technology and Algorithm Administration (TAA) would make sure tech companies comply. The TAA would be able to withdraw apps or platforms from the internet and app stores. Tech companies with a certain amount of users or a demographic minority such as children, would be audited on a regular basis.

This is not my idea, but I like it. What do you think? Would welcome an institution such as the TAA? Do you think it would harm economic growth and innovation? Let me know in the comments.

[1] Nautilus - We Need an FDA For Algorithms

[2] Financial Times Tech Tonic - Tristan Harris on digital Frankensteins

Categories: Technology
Tags: instagram , privacy , addiction , fda
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