Gmail (Google) will be rolling out ‘Priority Inbox‘ sorting in the coming weeks to help users determine which emails are most important and should be answered first.
This service works based on emails that a user reads and replies to most often. Priority Inbox learns a user’s preferences and delivers their interests. It is part of a coming wave of intelligent machines. Google, for example, has started scanning books, not necessarily to be read by people, but by machines to create a more knowledgeable machine.
This is happening now, and I believe there is an inherit flaw in the way prediction software is thought about. Although, I am no expert. It comes down to the idea that calibrating results based on preference may induce an echo chamber effect, helping lead to a more insular society.
That is to say, the algorithm seems to be based on what the user believes is important, but what if the user’s preference is wrong? Not in a ‘their ideas are wrong,’ but maybe in the sense that a person can never know what they truly need. Or, maybe they never realized a sphere of knowledge existed (very common in our diversity of people) . For example, my father has recently been talking about block time management and being a ‘slave to email.’ It is interesting to think about if these personalized algorithms will reinforce bad habits and behavior or serve as a gentle nudge in the other direction.
Netflix, for example, has been holding a competition to improve its recommendations for movies (source). While the algorithm is designed to give an oddball every now and then, we see that this methodology could quickly become an echo chamber. It’s nice to have a computer’s help, but you have to wonder at what point the machine is thinking for you.
I believe it comes down to the principle that a machine is only as good as its operator.
In other news: Starting in January, I will be starting a business based on my existing freelance career. I will probably do something different with this site, although it is on the back burner at the moment. Technical walk troughs have been the most popular, so one of my goals is to increase the coverage of that here.