Bug in the System

What can a mistake in a computer program from 1843 tell us about modern-day biases in software algorithms?

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About the Show

Journey into the past and you’ll discover the secret history of the future. From the world’s first cyberattack in 1834, to 19th-century virtual reality, the Economist’s Tom Standage and Slate’s Seth Stevenson examine the historical precedents that can transform our understanding of modern technology, predicting how it might evolve and highlighting pitfalls to avoid. Discovering how people reacted to past innovations can also teach us about ourselves.

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The first-ever computer program was written in 1843 by Ada Lovelace, a mathematician who hoped her farsighted treatise on mechanical computers would lead to a glittering scientific career. Today, as we worry that modern systems suffer from “algorithmic bias” against some groups of people, what can her program tell us about how software, and the people who make it, can go wrong?

Podcast production by Bart Warshaw and Kate Holland.