“The other side of words”: Algocracy


Made up of algo , apocope of algorithm , and the suffix -cracy (which comes from the Greek kratos , power), algocracy is a term that has emerged in recent years to designate the new political system in which we would have entered.

A system in which algorithms – the elementary steps of calculations used to solve a problem, such as answering a query on a search engine – influence and form part of the decision-making process in various sectors. In the political, economic and social life of society, they could even automatically preempt a power that once belonged to the people in a democracy.

This term is thus the title of three books published between 2020 and 2023: Résister à l’algocratie. Remain human in our professions and in our lives by Vincent Magos; Algocracy. Living free in the age of Arthur Grimonpont’s algorithms; Algocracy. Are we going to give power to algorithms? by Hugues Bersini.

Algocracy and Democracy

Is algocracy about to replace democracy? More and more sovereign, democratic domains are being penetrated by algorithms: filtering and sorting on social networks, decision support (justice, health, etc.), university selection, predictive analysis (police, insurance, etc.). Therefore, many people believe that there is a danger of dispossession of the power of the people, the “demos” of democracy, to the benefit of these algorithms.

The global economy, for example, largely operates on financial algorithms. For example, the world’s leading asset manager, the American fund BlackRock, notably uses the artificial intelligence Aladdin , an investment tool capable of assessing financial risks and which has controlled up to 20,000 billion dollars. of financial assets.

Today, more than half of the world’s population uses social networks on a daily basis, where recommendation algorithms adjust the content offered to users’ preferences and thus shape their representations of the world. Sometimes they escape the will of their creators. Due to their functioning, which values ​​the reactions generated and without being the explicit will of their creators, they favor, for example, the dissemination of fake news .

A new institutional world

Algocracy would thus be an institutional world where these large transnational companies participating in this form of algorithmic regulation are becoming increasingly important.

Nevertheless, using the term algocracy takes us away from responsibility. In reality, in an algocracy, if the power changes, it is not to go from the people to the algorithms. Algorithms materialize power relations and serve very human wills – political, economic, ideological.

Far from being inevitable or obvious, the development of what could be likened to an “algocracy” therefore responds to political choices and to the promotion of what the legal philosophy researcher Antoinette Rouvroy calls a ” algorithmic rationality” .

These are political and technical choices of a mode of government pushed by numbers, raising fears that an algocracy is in fact a new kind of “control society” .

Myth and philosophy

Algocracy is part of a philosophical and scientific history inherited from the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution of the 18th century  which established rationality as a cult.

From this point of view, the culmination of a certain idea of ​​rationality is embodied in this “algorithmic governmentality” synonymous with algocracy. Especially since, as the academic and jurist Alain Supiot says , we believe that governing and exercising power are one and the same thing, that power should be based on a scientific knowledge of the individual and therefore “impersonal”. . This would explain the spread of a “governance by numbers” where everything, including the law, becomes the object of a calculation.

The idea of ​​an algocracy thus comes from a myth, that of the infallible nature of technology in the face of the fallibility of the individual. Algocracy no longer considers a society as a whole but as nothing more than groups of individuals, atoms.

Author Bio: Adrian Tallent is a PhD student in political philosophy and ethics at Sorbonne University