CBC contributor Ira Basen had a major feature published in the Nov. 27 Globe and Mail about the growing power of algorithms in the human decision-making process.
I pull out an excerpt that’s journalism-related:
In journalism, the judgment of editors is also yielding to the authority of algorithms. “I don’t give people what they want,” Esquire editor David Granger boasted this year at a forum in Toronto.
“I want to give them what they never could have expected.”
But editors such as Mr. Granger can misjudge their readers’ appetites and interests, and ultimately lose money. Meanwhile, their corporate bosses notice that the same massive databases being used to determine our credit worthiness could also predict what stories we will read or watch on TV.
Want to eliminate the guesswork about what audiences want? Just look at the topics they are searching for and serve up stories to match.
Short-circuiting our more complicated desires
Christopher Anderson, who teaches at the City University of New York, is not convinced that using search engines to “give people what they want” is really a step forward.
“I think it’s dangerous when you boil down what people want to a simple mathematical formula,” Mr. Anderson says. “The real danger of these algorithms is that they’re reducing the scope of what ‘want’ means. Want is complicated, and it’s more complicated than clicking on a link.”
The story didn’t mention that Google News is already assembled by algorithm.
From my archives:
- Here’s an excerpt of a 2009 Clay Shirky meditation on Algorithmic Authority.
- From Nov. 5, 2009: The news consumer of tomorrow, as envisioned by Google CEO Eric Schmidt
- Shirky took part in a panel discussion in Toronto on Oct. 2, 2009: What’s next for the future of news?
- Feb. 18, 2009: A Google boss’s crystal ball reading about online journalism and stuff