algorithm

The title sounds funny, isn’t it?

In some of my previous articles, I highlighted about the filter bubble and how it affects us.

Google, Facebook, Amazon in their searches, feeds, and recommendations throw up what they want us to see. We do not realize the underlying biases behind the mechanics of those operations.  Since we find it to be reasonable, we do not want to dig deeper.

These three giants know everything about our behavior. Last week, I was doing a search on Nike and exactly after a day, I get an email in my gmail with the following subject

“Nike.com: New Arrivals, NIKEiD, Nike+, and More”

 

There are very persistent people apart from these as well. Dr. Batra somehow thinks I need hair replenishment, JeevanSathi thinks it has found me a right partner (when after 17 years of marriage me and my wife are still wondering about that!), Reader’s Digest always says I have won a million dollars and I have a pre-approved loan from Citibank for Rs 8,27,328 every day. All these guys are smart enough to beat the Spam filter of gmail and also you can never get to unsubscribe from them. Especially Reader’s Digest, I have unsubscribed five times now, and somehow it seems to me, every time I unsubscribe, the volume of mail increases!

These are the consequences of having something free. In other words, collateral consequences or damage.

I was riding to Whitefield in a cab couple of days back. Getting in and out of Whitefield is like knowing the secret behind getting in and out of Chakravyuha. Only a selected few know the art. I stuck up a conversation with the drive, and the conversation went something like this. I speak in Kannada, as the drivers open up more if I speak in Kannada. My attempt to translation is weak, but nevertheless, I will give it my best shot.

Me: How do you manage in this traffic daily?

Driver: I am used to it, Sir.

Me: How many hours daily you ride?

Driver: Fourteen hours Sir. I start at 4 p.m. and go till 6 AM in the morning

Me: Don’t you feel tired?

Driver: No Sir. I see this as the most optimum time. I have figured that this is the time that I can maximize the number of trips

Me: Since you start after 4 PM, you will get possibly many Airport trips?

Driver: No Sir, they will not give it to me. If I make two Airport trips daily, I am happy, but they will not give it

Afterward, we exchanged many things that are not relevant to this discussion.

However, the point of this article is

“No Sir, they will not give it to me.”

Who is this “they“?

Incidentally, “they” are a set of algorithms!

The organization that provides the cab services designs these algorithms.

Denying or not showing airport trips is just one of the aberrations

There is one more case of we seeing the cab arrival time is one minute, and the cab is just on the opposite side of the road. If the cab person has to take a u-turn and arrive, it adds ten minutes. Despite we knowing the challenges in taking a u-turn in any of the Bangalore traffic signals, we do the following,

  • Curse the cab driver
  • Cancel the cab
  • Give the person a low feedback

As a capitalist, my argument would be this is how the system is. Take it or leave it. You are not forced. Exercise your choice would be my answer.

But at those rare times when I my human side wakes up, I wonder if this is right?

Is this fair?

Are the drivers not being denied something fundamental?

If I am an engineer who is asked to code an algorithm like this which clearly introduces biases that are undetectable or transparent should I do this?

Is this any different from a person who encourages no smoking, but has a profession of selling cigarettes for a living?

Are the above two comparisons valid? Am I missing something?

Are the driver’s willing slaves to these?

What is fair? Who defines it? Who knows it?

As a consumer, I love these cab companies. It solves my pain of moving from point A to point B.

However, in my euphoria, Am I forgetting something? Am I forgetting the human who is taking me?

Who is responsible for them?

I am confused.

Something is not right.

I can sense only these. The initial joy by which I sensed in these drivers when these companies came up is slowly eroding.

The new buzzword called AI, Machine Learning, Deep Learning are claiming to take over our lives shortly, and I am clueless on how we can make them more humane!

Are we going to make an effort in that direction or remain conveniently ignorant?

What are your thoughts?

Is it just I am paranoid?

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

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