In the age of the internet, algorithms make the world go round. From sorting search queries to recommending new entertainment, guiding gaming systems, and much more, algorithms are the unsung hero that many overlook.
With that in mind, we felt it time to pay algorithms their due, and look at some of the most influential that we experience every day in 2023, and examine what makes them special.
Social Media Algorithms
As of 2023, social media contains around 4.8 billion social media “user identities”. Though some users might have multiple accounts, even conservative estimates put the total number of social media users at several billion. Such a huge number of users means a huge amount of content data, where sorting and managing this data has become the job of algorithms.
On the simplest level, algorithms in social media can work to help users track down and make new friends. These algorithms work by taking a look at your friends list, comparing it to the friends lists of others, and checking which information overlaps.
If somebody knows a lot of the same people you do, then the algorithm can assume you’ll want to get to know other people in that social circle. With this assumption, the algorithm can feed you what it sees as the most likely friend suggestions.
Services such as YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok tend to lean on algorithms more in terms of recommended content. The algorithm here works thanks to tags that are associated with different content types. If you watch a lot of content that is tagged ‘cats’ and ‘funny’, for example, the algorithm will suggest a lot of content about funny cats.
In these content types of social media, the algorithms feed the ability to endlessly scroll content. With so much on the internet, we start scrolling through millions of videos, and the algorithm learns as we go. If you stop on one video to watch, you’ll be associated with its tags more often.
If you scroll past a video quickly, the algorithm learns you’re not likely to appreciate more in the same vein. Thankfully manual options can also help where the algorithm fails, so we can filter out any that feature elements like the Remember (Walking in the Sand) song we’ve heard a thousand times before.
Content algorithms share overlap in entertainment in the same way they operate in social media. These are famous for guiding recommendations on services like Hulu and Netflix, but this is only the beginning of how algorithms contribute to this space.
For a start, algorithms also suggest shows to the development side of the spectrum. Media availability is often driven by mass appeal, and understanding this appeal means using algorithms to determine recent trends.
After 50 Shades of Grey, algorithms knew that ‘billionaire fiction’ would be popular, so many copycats appeared in the entertainment space. The same applies to the MCU driving super-hero movie success, and well-received video game movies inspiring a new generation of game-film efforts.
With films, algorithms can be used to help in the creation and addition of special effects. As part of AI, this can start with face-mapping to replace stunt person faces with those of the actors. Going further, AI is then used in the creation of entirely digital environments to create realistic materials, lighting, and physics effects.
Outside of passive media and the written word, algorithms also play a key part in the expansive landscape of online casino gaming. Key among these algorithms is the random number generator or RNG system.
This is used by casinos to randomly generate outcomes to ensure true luck is involved, and that games can’t be cheated. Slots like Starburst and Rainbow Riches famously lean on RNG for spin outcomes for games available on PinkCasino mobile and desktop, but RNG applies to table games too. With no risk of cheating, these games are far more reliable, and they’re safer for both players and hosts.
As code from top to bottom, every video game consists of thousands or millions of algorithms, each cooperating to create a reliable final product. With a game, this is illustrated by the simple press of a jump button.
How high does a character jump, at what speed, for how long do they stay in the air, and what animations play out during this period? Each simple action is guided by a significant number of algorithms that need to be constantly checked against each other.
This checking can also be aided by algorithms to determine where bugs occur, and why they might arise. Algorithms built to check for bugs are illustrated with the systems governing code dumps that occur with in-game crashes.
When a game in development crashes, the culprit could be any of hundreds of subsystems, so algorithms can produce a readout of code activity shortly before a game-breaking error occurred. Algorithms in testing can also be used to repeat slightly different tests thousands of times faster than a human could, to check for every combination of every permutation of potential errors.
Finally, we can’t overlook how algorithms work in enemy systems to create in-game artificial intelligence. The way enemies respond, what they can do and see, and how they communicate are all aspects governed by algorithms, and these can be some of the most difficult components to build.
Good AI can make a game great, but good doesn’t necessarily mean smart. Ironically, one of the most important parts of game AI is ensuring it’s stupid enough to give the player a fighting chance, while not being so clueless as to ruin the feeling of a title.
Algorithms in 2023 exist as an extension of systems that have been on an upward trajectory for decades. Each lesson learned informs the next, leading to systems that increasingly improve at what they do.
We take them for granted, and we overlook their applications, but the simple truth is there is no digital age without algorithms dominating the landscape. They might operate in the background, but they run the show, and that’s only going to become truer the more reliant on technology we become.