I think Facebook, Amazon and TiVo are triplets separated at birth. Okay, so they’re fraternal… but they’re multiples of the same genes. Let me explain.

All three tools have been taught and molded into useful and gratifying weapons in our every day arsenals. But, they have the same personality flaw — they presume a lot of things about us based on our previous behavior. Facebook, for example, looks at my current friends and provides me with a list of people they think I’d be interested in “friending” (love that new gerund in our lexicon, by the way). Facebook assumes that, because I went to college at Transylvania, I must know everyone else who went to Transy at any time in the past 20 years. Facebook is bigoted, essentially. I live in Louisville, therefore I must know everyone else who lives in Louisville. I have blond hair, thus I must know everyone else who has blond hair. Stop with the assumptions, Facebook!

Amazon has the same problem. Based on what I have bought in the past, it makes recommendations on what I should buy in the future. For the most part, this is actually pretty cool. I have stumbled upon quite a few little gems I’d not have otherwise discovered. But, it’s the strange connections Amazon makes that cause me to lump it with its evil birth brothers. I recently purchased a CD by the band Fleet Foxes. Now, Amazon assumes I want to read a bunch of National Geographic nature books about foxes and buy the DVD of some Jodie Foster movie made in 1980. Stop, Amazon!

And the last of the demonic triplets: TiVo. Patton Oswalt does a great comedic bit about TiVo and its learning habits. I can’t really do better than the bit, so I won’t try… but the basic idea is that he programmed his TiVo to record a particular Western (“The Man From Laramie,” I believe) and came home a few days later to find his hard drive full of everything on television that had anything to do with horses, featured horses, discussed or addressed horses or had horses anywhere in any image in the program. TiVo got a little too aggressive with its assumption that it knew what he wanted to see.

In short, all of this artificial intelligence has its advantages… and its disadvantages. Oh well, I’ll take the bad with the good, I suppose!


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