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business models, strategies and technologies

The art of algorithm value

New dimensions for explaining the business value of digitally invisible algortíthms, from a company fielding an exciting new visual language.

I don’t really know what an algorithm is. It seems they’re somehow sexier or more impactful than mere code – but what does a digital illiterate like me know?

Missing a link?

Companies mention algorithms as some kind of shorthand for arcane digital capabilities that can range from mundane to game-changer, mapping behaviour to outcome, pattern to response, prediction to possibility.

In a society in which just about everything is digitally driven, algorithms are an invisible force that shape big parts of our lives, increasingly responsible for running just about every aspect of the world we live in. But their importance certainly isn’t matched by their accessibility or transparency – they’re often hidden behind proprietary shields and not privy to any form of inspection. Us mere mortals can barely understand such complex abstractions, anyway. We don’t speak the lingo, nor do we have any tools to help us discern whether they work – or how – or whether we can really trust these systems.

They seem to be the unseen drivers, the unmentionables that have to be there but don’t really bear seeing the light of day. They’re a means to an end, but not important or attractive in themselves (except to the world of geekdom). In commercial terms, we seem to have no viable basis on which to choose one over another or to make any other relevant purchasing decisions – if there even is more than one option. How are we to differentiate? Surely this must weaken the value proposition for those in possession of these important skills, or for companies whose financial future depends on marketing these capabilities?

System aesthetics

A London-based artistic consultancy studio named Field seems to be providing a visually beguiling new take on these otherwise invisible fuel elements of our digital world. As part of a 2018 project for Wired (apparently), Field has developed a series of scintillating visual portrayals of what artificial intelligence and digital algorithms are really up to, in a range of still images and film sequences that they call system aesthetics.There are more of these Field beauties here. The image is theirs.

Field has developed a new visual language around these intangible data manipulation processes. Their eye-catching visual representations make it much easier to get some kind of handle on such abstractions – understanding them would probably be too much of a stretch.

Understood = valued

If a service or capability can’t be grasped, seen or appreciated, it’s hard to assert that it has a big value.

The distinctive visual language explored here makes it possible to dramatically increase the perceived value of the humble algorithm and its very abstract properties. Suddenly this data processing magic relates to recognisable elements in the reader’s world, suddenly there’s an explanation of complexity and an appreciation of value provided, an evocative depiction of process rather than mere digital result. These powerful metaphorical representations are ideal for making the value proposition substantially clearer, strengthening the strategic position of any company providing such algorithm vehicles, and dramatically increasing market value.