Imagine you’re trying to decide which avocado to buy: The mental calculations you’re running about price and ripeness are just like an algorithm.
On a website called Automating NYC, the students endeavor to explain “automated decision systems,” which rely on algorithms to make decisions that impact people’s lives. To do so, they start with a visualization of a group of avocados, then ask the reader to decide which one to purchase. Because algorithms at their most simple are just a set of instructions, the students provide a short list of requirements for the hypothetical avocado you want to buy: It should be affordable, ideally organic, but less than $1.50, and it needs to be ripe (guacamole is on the menu for that night).
Then, you can hover your mouse over each illustrated avocado to see how much it costs, whether it’s organic or not, and how ripe it is. “All the calculations you’re doing in your head are an algorithm,” the students write. And once you can observe the way your brain works when choosing one of these fictional avocados, it becomes easier to understand how an automated decision system might do the same exact thing: Given a set of rules, it would try to rank each avocado based on how well it fits into the rules.