Realized Potential: When Algorithms Are Used for Good

While we’ve devoted ample time to discussing areas of potential concern regarding the application of algorithms—and algorithm bias in particular—it’s also a good time to remember algorithmic technology is poised to make our lives better, often in ways we’ll never know about.

Foiling Faux Pharma
Researchers at Penn State are working on a tool to identify the illicit players—which is to say, 75 percent of them—in the $100 billion online pharmaceutical market. Using an algorithm based primarily on the websites that link to illegal pharmacies, the tool will empower search engines, social media companies, online markets and digital payment platforms to weed out the bad actors, preventing consumers from buying fake, substandard or addictive drugs and reducing their own liability in such transactions.

Here’s to Hearsay
Babelfisk glasses, developed by Danish designer Mads Hindhede, allow people with a hearing impairment to join in a conversation by seeing it in real time. Incorporating microphones, a tiny projector and speech-recognition technology, the glasses translate spoken conversation into text visible to the wearer as speech bubbles on the bottom of each lens. The glasses have been available for several years, and while their target consumer is someone who wants a fashionable alternative to hearing aids, they’ve also been touted as a useful gadget for lazy students.

Whacking Fake News
In the wake of the 2016 U.S. election, and in anticipation of several elections taking place in the United Kingdom and Europe in 2017, multiple startups and organizations began developing algorithmic software to combat the spread of “fake news” online. Given that the major purveyors of digital misinformation know how to use predictive data too, the truthtellers are in for a long game of whack-a-mole. Here’s hoping the good guys have the heavier-hitting algorithms.


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