an algorithm for living in

//lee cody

an algorithm for living in builds unique interfaces for negotiating our relationships with algorithms and other internet-based technologies whose effects are often invisible. though these technologies and algorithms are invisible an their operations opaque, they still exert huge influence on our daily choices, our experience, and our agency in the larger world.

we need to change how we relate to these algorithms. working off principles behind memory palaces, i am looking to make these algorithms more understandable and transparent by making them spatial.

i approached this in a number of ways. i looked at communicating the mathematics and logic behind how the algorithm functions through the spatial form. i investigated how algorithms recontextualize and change the content they serves to users. i looked at how the structure of mined data and databases affect the algorithms that use it. i investigated how the actions of individual users impact the collective environment by adjusting the behavior of these algorithms. lastly, i looked at how the output of algorithms affect our own individual actions, intentions and agency.

this last concept is what you see on this site. before you is a spatial autocomplete algorithm.

the path before you is constructed using the same parameters used by google’s autocomplete to offer suggestions to users as they type. it uses popularity of the search term to determine lateral movement, cost per click (which is a metric used by advertisers) to determine vertical movement, recent search volume (effectively trendiness) to determine rotation, and finally average search volume to determine path color. collectively, these metrics, and these metrics alone construct the path, granting the user very limited agency.

this enables and constrains users in the same ways as their normal web use, but because it is spatial, it is much more obvious to the user how they are granted or denied agency.when living in these spatial algorithms, users can better intuit an understanding of the role and operation of these algorithms in their lives. my hope is that ultimately this can reveal hidden restraints embedded in these technologies, and promote the breaking of those restraints.