Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Where Echidne Grumbles About Algorithms

I use the Google US news page as a quick glance-through about the day's events when I start writing.  Some months ago it added a section on that page which is intended to match the interests of the user. 

That would be me, in this case.  I copied my "For You, Based on Your Interests Section" today, even though it's a bit more relevant for my actual interests than it has been in the past:

I have never watched a single episode of the Game of Thrones (I get enough of that by watching real-life politics), and I have no idea who Ariel Winter is.  I have not searched for anything related to the Game of Thrones or Ariel Winter ever.

So how does that list reflect my interests?  What is the algorithm Google uses there?

This is a trivial topic.  But note that such choices can involve steering, of making people keep on reading what they may have read in the past (or, more likely, what the algorithm thinks people in their demographic group want to read). 

That's dangerous in the field of politics, because we are already getting different news and believing in different "facts," depending on which party we more closely align with. 

The algorithms Twitter, Instagram and Facebook use to "increase engagement" seem to be designed to increase angry bickering between total strangers.   That is a less trivial topic.