An unexpected ‘revelation’ by Facebook (also known as the mother of all algorithms) gives us an important insight about the digital-human marriage, with implications beyond social media.
The digital transformation world tells us that massive digitalization is as certain as death (unless you are Ray Kurzweil ) and that the robots will win the battle. It’s not science fiction because it’s not fiction. Amazon and Facebook in particular know you very well. You are somewhere in the Algorithm, perhaps a minuscule bip, or bit, but there you are. In fact, you are the product, not Amazon goodies or Facebook friends. Yes, may the Algorithm be with you.
Algorithms (and in some cases the whole Artificial Intelligence) are present everywhere, from doctors protocols in hospitals, terrorism risk assessment or the adds coming in front of you on screen that suddenly know that you may want to buy a shirt, since yesterday you were browsing for some. (Unless you use add blockers as I do)
The Facebook storm-in-a-cup-revelation is not related to what you may call Facebook’s major interaction features, but its news trending box. That trending box on the right is, for all purposes, a news feed. Conservative commentators in the USA have complained that this trending news feed is completely left wing biased, and only FOX news (bastion of the conservative flame) is seriously represented. In contrast, The Guardian and the BBC ( assumed left wing organizations in US conservative view) ) are over represented. Surely, somebody is manipulating those algorithms, they say. And that is not fair, the rather angry conservative media says.
Mark Zuckerberg has denied this and called them bluff, inviting conservative media for a chat. I don’t think it has happened yet. But, on that context, something was revealed. There was not a left wing conspiracy algorithm, but human beings making decisions. Do you mean left wing human beings? Not quite. Apparently those Facebookies in the payroll decided to exercise some judgement. Inundated by the volcanic output of the Algorithm, they decided that even when something was trendy in Texas or Alaska, and it was perhaps good for Texas or Alaska, humans needed to decide.
As far as those Facebookies, they would check with the front page of the BBC or The Guardian to see if that was worth the effort. A task, I am sure, that another algorithms could have done. So Facebook has plainly disclosed a secret weapon: human judgement (translation: does the British BBC think this is a trend?). I am not arguing about whether this is a good or bad human judgement ( a terrible one as far as FOX is concerned) but the existence of the judgement itself.
So there is 99.5% algorithmic, automatic, news digitalization that could become a trend, and, then, that 0.5% of a Facebookie with a late and a Mac checking manually whether the BBC or the Guardian agrees. Wonderful.
Yes, it is a wonderful anecdote, but, don’t you think it should make us reflect that the human is still ‘needed’? With a late, of course.
I know, I know, I am stating the obvious. Well, I am not sure, I did check with the Robots and they think I am nuts.
May the Algorithm be with you, and may Fox with with you as well, if the BBC says so. Which, as far as I am concerned, the reality check it’s a relief.