Dr. Colin Garnett, assistant professor of mathematics at BHSU, will discuss the impacts of Internet algorithms in his upcoming Geek Speak lecture, “Weapons of Math Destruction” on Thursday, Sept. 7 at 4 p.m. in Jonas Hall 110 at BHSU campus.

A simple Google search may never feel the same after attending Dr. Colin Garnett’s Geek Speak lecture, “Weapons of Math Destruction” Thursday, Sept. 7 at 4 p.m. in Jonas Hall 110 at Black Hills State University.

Garnett, assistant professor of mathematics at BHSU, will discuss how algorithms, sets of instructions or rules to complete a task or solve a problem, impact our lives – sometimes nefariously.

“Most algorithms are built with good intentions but evolve into something that can negatively impact our lives,” said Garnett. “More than anything, we need to think about them, be aware of exactly what they are and what they’re doing.”

Being mathematically savvy is not required to understand Garnett’s lecture. Most of his discussion will focus on Internet algorithms that affect technologically advanced societies.

According to Garnett, Internet algorithms are a pertinent topic today. With the 2016 election, many people were affected by algorithms that determined what was shown on their Facebook news feeds and other social media platforms. “Fake news” became an issue when algorithms determined that a user who clicked on one article would only be interested in seeing more of the same.

In turn, people begin to feel validated by an online community of support. Seeing a post receive “likes and shares” can result in feeling as though everyone you know agrees with you.

“What you may not see is anyone disagreeing with you,” said Garnett. “The feedback that you receive reinforces that thought in your mind – ‘See, now I know I’m right!’ – and you become validated. And yet, are you really?” If only like-minded people see a post or engage with it, all sides of an issue are not seen.

Algorithms can impact every aspect of life. Applying for jobs. Policing neighborhoods. These algorithms are propriety, but should they be more transparent? Garnett thinks so.

“We need to ask, ‘How are they making this decision? Is it really an unbiased system? Or is it a biased system built into the algorithm?’” said Garnett.

Google has revolutionized the internet with its search engine algorithms. Now, Garnett hopes that people will learn to revolutionize the way they send and receive messages on the Internet.

“I hope they come away with an idea of what goes on with their data. Hopefully they’ll start taking things with a grain of salt and start fighting for a little more transparency.”

The Geek Speak lecture series, sponsored by the BHSU University Honors program, features academic discussion and topics not normally discussed in the traditional classroom. The goal of the weekly lectures is to expose students to diversity within the disciplines. All Geek Speak lectures are free and open to the public. The following on-campus Geek Speak presentations, which are held Thursdays at 4 p.m. in Jonas Hall, room 110, are scheduled for this semester:

  • Sept. 7: “Weapons of Math Destruction,” by Dr. Colin Garnett, assistant professor of mathematics
  • Sept. 14: “I Am The Bone Collector, Now What Do I Do?” by Gina Gibson, associate professor of digital communication
  • Sept. 21: “The Joy of SET: Inroads into Combinatorics and Finite Geometry” by Dr. Daniel May, assistant professor of mathematics
  • Sept. 28: "Imagining Mythica: Hit-and-Run Game Design for the Bullheaded OR Building Narrative Engines for an ADD world at the Intersection of Math, Myth, Movies, and Money OR Perseverance and Beginner's Mind: The Eye-opening March from Mythica to Walmart" by Karl Lehman, instructor of English
  • Oct. 5: “’The Meaning of Everything’: The Making of the Oxford English Dictionary” by Dr. Andrey Reznikov, professor of English
  • Oct. 12: “Tasting Life Twice: On Life-Writing and Wellbeing” by Dr. Denice Turner, assistant professor of education
  • Oct. 19: “Use of Images for Visualization and Visual Literacy in Language Class” by Dr. Du-Lu Hsiao, assistant professor of Spanish
  • Oct. 26: “Something Wicked This Way Comes: The History, Myths, and Rituals of Halloween” by Dr. Courtney Huse-Wika, director of the Honors Program and associate professor of English
  • Nov. 2: “Veterans Legacies in the Black Hills” by Kelly Kirk, instructor of history
  • Nov. 16: “Searching for Riemann: A brief history and some recent insights into one of the most intriguing unsolved million-dollar problem in mathematics” by Dr. Parthasarathi Nag, professor of mathematics
  • Nov. 30: University Honors Capstone Defenses
  • Dec. 7: University Honors Capstone Defenses

To read short descriptions of each lecture topic, visit www.BHSU.edu/Honors

For more information, contact Dr. Courtney Huse-Wika, director of the University Honors Program and assistant professor of English, at 605-642-6918 or email Courtney.HuseWika@BHSU.edu.