Algorithms can be used to train your brain or to drain your bank

Algorithms can be used to train your brain or to drain your bank

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The flashing lights and ringing bells might look like fun, but it's addictive - algorithms make sure of it.
The flashing lights and ringing bells might look like fun, but it's addictive - algorithms make sure of it.
Photo: AFP

A casino is probably one of the biggest “playgrounds” for adults. The ads make it look like carefree fun, but in a casino, everything is orchestrated, from the layout to the carefully constructed service.

When it comes to playing card games, the odds are never in your favour, but the same goes for slot machines. Behind the button pushing and clinking of coins are complicated algorithms developed by behavioural scientists. As a result, slot machines now bring in 75 to 85 per cent of casino revenues.

Advances in data tracking have been put to use with loyalty cards, which allow casinos to gather large amounts of individual data that pinpoint peoples’ preferences and pain points. These personalised messages are all part of a central server that is called up instantly when you swipe in.

While these advancements may be good news for casinos, they can spell trouble for individuals. There have been calls to implement regulations to help individuals who get easily addicted to the offerings of casinos. Although laws stipulate that the casino cannot change the odds midway through the game, the loyalty programme’s algorithms are all there to keep the casino’s customers coming back for more.

You might be too young for casinos, but there is a similar aspect to gambling found in games such as Candy Crush or Minion Rush. Researchers have found that the same reward mechanism for attaining something higher plays a part in why these games are so addictive. 

But these algorithms can also be put to good use, particularly in the advent of online courses termed as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Finding the pain points of a student may help these courses fulfill what they set out to do – educate the student. If there is an algorithm to motivate students when they feel less inclined to learn, then students will continue with courses and get more out of them.

Algorithms are around us and part of our daily lives. Like anything, they can work for the better if put to good use. 

 

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Algorithms can be used to learn - or lose it all

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