Nataraj

Engineering @Microsoft | Creator of - https://anchor.fm/end-2-end

The Obvious Flaw in Recommendation Systems

Facebook has been the Uber of 2018. They had a negative breaking headline every other week, centered around issues of privacy, social engineering, and national security. The reason for this is the decade long dissemination of content without any regulation under the legal construct for a platform.
By not acknowledging itself as a media company they evaded all the rules that come along with it. Just think, would content flow with such irreverence on any other traditional media platform, and that too without any editorial oversight? Even now the reason for the outrage is because half of the country was pissed at the election result.
From now on, one half will always be pissed off at Facebook, but which half will that be might change, or worse might be controlled.
The outrage is guaranteed but the change is not.
The deeper structure reveals here is how these bubbles of information are formed. How the internet which is supposed to be an intellectual utopia with a vast abundance of knowledge has now just reduced to serve the most relevant ad; how you are suggested to watch the hippest TV show because you made the mistake of watching a hip show before (you can replace hip with original ); how you are suggested the same and same videos or news links to reinforce your pattern.
The amazing job done by collaborating filtering algorithms on Netflix, Google, Amazon, and Facebook is just the start of AI and we are no way closer to the singularity. But there is already a critical flaw with this algorithmic intelligence, in a qualitative sense.
The flaw is "Reduce everyone to one".
It means millions of people are being reduced to a couple of persons (or a couple of groups) in theory, making individuals more of the same and more predictable.
If everyone watched the same Netflix shows, buys the same stuff from Amazon, listens to the same songs on Spotify the idea of an individual personality will end. What will remain is a ‘group personality’ which you as an individual will belong to.
The biggest side effect coming from the reduction to a group personality is individuals losing their creativity or not forming their personalities that would have otherwise been formed. Not being exposed to cultures, content, product & news that would otherwise change you or make you a more creative being.
This is the result of a "push life".
We as individuals have become pushovers for the recommendation algorithms.
YouTube will push you to watch the next video, Netflix will push you the next episode to watch, Spotify will PUSH you the songs to listen (the modern version of billboard 50 but for your group).
Once you start watching Fox News or MSNBC, Google will only push news from those sources on your android mobile. Combine all of this with the blatant use of the literal push notification is basically taking control of your attention — whatever that is left of it. The pushover life is simple, easy, pleasurable, and non-creative, but most importantly very profitable for the companies pushing it.
The push life will never allow you to reach your true potential as an individual genetic combination, capable of something uniquely creative.
You will never discover that author that would have changed your life, you will never actually become you.
But this cycle can be broken, only if you choose to.
You can move to the pull life.
In pull life, you watch a video not because YouTube suggested it but you were curious about something. You buy something not because its bundled by Amazon but you need something and has been lingering on your mind for a while, you watch a new TV show because you got to know it’s directed by your favorite director. You listen to your next song because you heard it on your Uber ride or because some friend sent you.
This means you will not immediately watch the next stranger things on Netflix. This means you might not watch the most trending video on YouTube. This means you will not read the most trending book on Amazon. But this will mean you will let your mind roam free and listen to or watch or buy stuff or read because of your own interest and not because it’s the closest match of your collaborative filtering group done on a cloud service.
As Sammy Davis Jr would say —
I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me 
What else can I be but what I am
With push life you will never truly be you. But I want to be me so, I have taken the blue pill.
Do you want to be you?
PS — Those two lines above don’t reflect the greatness of the song, listen it here.


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