How Dumb Can Smart Get?
AI and Big Data are the future, obviously. Humans are such feeble things and, anyway, free will has been proven to be an illusion. But with all our personal data on the big databases someone knows our own mind better than we do ourselves, don’t they?
It’s obviously already happening. What do they know that I need? Today, Amazon picks Gloomsbury, a R4 comedy send up of Bloomsbury. I have never knowingly bought an audio book; I don’t do radio comedy. So where’s the link? I just bought Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians but the algorithm can’t tell why I made such a choice: it thought I was interested in the Bloomsbury Group whereas I needed to read Strachey’s essay on Florence Nightingale — nothing to do with Bloomsbury at all. Their second recommendation is random: American Gods, Series 1. I’ve never bought or viewed anything on Amazon in this territory and never will.
Twitter is always telling me that “so-and-so hasn’t tweeted for a while. See what they said’. Is that supposed to be inviting? Don’t they know how people use Twitter? I catch a fraction of the tweets that come in every day but I strike gold often enough not to care about the ones that get away. If their algorithm was any good, this message would only pop up when someone I’m interested in has suddenly broken their silence. We follow most people only because they operate more or less in our general arena — we don’t hang on their every word. Most follows merely express a vague wish to put out tentacles. Twitter’s other killer is the pop up when I open my phone in the morning that tells me a couple of people who mean nothing to me are now following someone with 150 followers. What am I supposed to do with that? Feel sorry for them?
I use iTunes quite a lot (I don’t like streaming music), buying jazz from bop onwards, classic rock, some folk and world music and classical. So they recommend: Peter Paul and Mary’s execrable version of ‘Blowing in the Wind’ because I bought some Simon and Garfunkel; because I ‘bought music by Tony Bennett’ they recommend another version of the only Bennett track I’ve ever purchased: ‘Sunrise, Sunset’. If I’d bought Bennett wouldn’t the logic be that I’d want more Bennett? But of course it was the song I wanted, not Bennett especially, and one was enough. I’m a paid-up Beatles buff so did they have to tell me about George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass?
Perhaps best of all is LinkedIn. I’ve never seen the point of it but I joined because people pestered me. I’ve been a freelance writer for 35 years and haven’t applied for a job for decades, so they send me notices of executive jobs for 20–30 somethings. How about ‘Media Officer for Virgin’ or ‘Press Officer for Victoria Beckham’.
And it’s not as if these people are new to the game; they’ve all been doing this for well over 10 years. In the case of Amazon, when I log on they tell me I’ve been a customer since 1999 (they got that bit right). Twenty years and they still haven’t a clue who I am.