What I talk about when I talk about stupid algorithms
By hiding channels from subscribers who ‘disliked’ a video, YouTube undermines a user’s rights, does the content creator a disservice, and sets up a strategy that only serves its own interests
In 15 years, a company called Soul Connex will develop an algorithmic test that can determine, with 100% accuracy, who your soulmate is. At first, still incensed by the idea of romantic love, people will reject the proposition that an algorithm can unequivocally select the love of your life. Over time, however, they’ll realize that an increasing number of couples are hastening the happily-ever-after goal, and will embrace this ultimate dating technology.
In the mind of William Bridges (one of the writers of Black Mirror), this is the central thread of Soulmates, a TV show that debuted in October on AMC and has already been renewed for a second season. “So now we have death, taxes, and love. Certainty sucks,” one of the characters sums up in the first episode.
In the mind of historian and best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari, this scenario is no fiction, as we can tell by this excerpt from Homo Deus — A brief history of tomorrow:
- “If we give Google and its competitors access to our biometric devices, to our DNA scans and to our medical records, we will get an all-knowing medical health service (…). Yet with such a database at its disposal, Google could do far more. (…) The self-deceptions and self-delusions that trap people in bad relationships, wrong careers and harmful habits will not fool Google. It will not make decisions on the basis of cooked-up stories (…). ‘Listen, Google,’ I will say, ‘both John and Paul are courting me. I like both of them, but in a different way. Given everything you know, what do you advise me to do?’”
The sagacity of Homo Deus lies in not selling precast futures — or setting dates, for that matter. When it addresses the power of algorithms driven by advanced artificial intelligence, for example, it blends projections like the one above with other examples that have already come true. Harari deftly shortens the path between the future and the recent past, making his whole argument much…