Governing Algorithms: A Provocation Piece

12 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2013 Last revised: 8 Apr 2013

Solon Barocas

Microsoft Research

Sophie Hood

New York University (NYU)

Malte Ziewitz

Cornell University

Date Written: March 29, 2013


Algorithms have developed into somewhat of a modern myth. They “compet[e] for our living rooms” (Slavin 2011), “determine how a billion plus people get where they’re going” (McGee 2011), “have already written symphonies as moving as those composed by Beethoven” (Steiner 2012), and “free us from sorting through multitudes of irrelevant results” (Spring 2011). Nevertheless, the nature and implications of such orderings are far from clear. What exactly is it that algorithms “do”? What is the role attributed to “algorithms” in these arguments? How can we turn the “problem of algorithms” into an object of productive inquiry? This paper sets out to trouble the coherence of the algorithm as an analytical category and explores its recent rise in scholarship, policy, and practice through a series of provocations.

Keywords: algorithms, governance, automation, computation, big data, sociology, law, public policy, control

Suggested Citation

Barocas, Solon and Hood, Sophie and Ziewitz, Malte, Governing Algorithms: A Provocation Piece (March 29, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Solon Barocas

Microsoft Research

641 Avenue of Americas
New York, NY 10011
United States

Sophie Hood

New York University (NYU) ( email )

Malte Ziewitz (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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