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The Algorithm IRL

October 31, 2019

We’ve all stories,

I was talking to my buddy about getting new skis and the next time I logged into Facebook, guess what? SKI ADS!

It’s called “the algorithm.” I don’t know maybe it should be capitalized like The World Series, or The Prestige. But, it’s the computer code that companies like Facebook and Google use to create targeted ads for you.

How they work is a closely guarded secret. Well, we know how they work. They take information gathered from multiple sources and tied to you and use it to serve you very specific targeted ads. But, exactly how they do that is known to only the programmers and program managers.

It’s not all bad. In fact, the AI behind The Algorithm is designed to help you find stuff you need. And sometimes it’s actually enjoyable. A few weeks ago I clicked on an antique leather messenger bag. For weeks The Algorithm showed me pictures of Indiana Jones style clothing and accessories.

If you are not paying for the product, you are the product

We have to have ads, of course. We don’t pay for Facebook, or Google, or GMail, or any number of “free” services. The Algorithm is an attempt to not show pregnancy ads to middle aged men, and not show sailboat ads to someone living in the middle of the desert.

For the most part The Algorithm is a benevolant overseer. Like an overeager puppy it just wants to help you find stuff you want to buy. And often The Algorithm knows what you need almost before you do.

I recently noticed this in a real life situation. When I go to the airport I park in off-airport parking. It’s more secure and slightly cheaper. You self park and then take a shuttle to the airport.

I also tend to stop at Walmart on my way out of town and pick up snacks. I used to think I would spend the time waiting for the shuttle to transfer the snacks from the grocery bags to my carry on. The problem was that I never had time. The shuttle always found me too quickly.

And then I realized that I was a victim of the The Algorithm. The shuttle wasn’t just cruising the lot looking for passengers. The shuttle “found” me because it was looking for me. As soon as I entered the lot, the shuttle driver started following me. There was no other option but to for the shuttle to find me.

Sometimes The Algorithm does provide you things you want or need, like pictures of fedoras and bullwhips, or a ride to the airport.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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