Thursday, March 7, 2013

Algorithms and Rape T-shirts

Startled by the title?  You should definitely go read this blog-post.

Long story short: there was a Twitter-storm over some offensive T-shirts sold by a vendor on Amazon.com that seemed to encourage rape ("Keep Calm and Rape A Lot" went one, etc.).  Well--it then turns out that the T-shirts don't exist. Or rather, these T-shirts are made on the fly when someone orders them.  So how did they come to be on Amazon?  This is the fun part--they were generated by algorithms.  An algorithm that probably looked at the most popular Google Searches online and then arranged the search words in a template, made an image out of them, and put them up on Amazon.  If someone buys it, the shirt gets made (literally printed out), and sent.

Exciting, isn't it? 

Henry Farrell on Crooked Timber compares the scenario to the singularity science fiction of Charlie Stross**.  And quotes this great line
Amazon isn’t a store, not really. Not in any sense that we can regularly think about stores. It’s a strange pulsing network of potential goods, global supply chains, and alien associative algorithms with the skin of a store stretched over it, so we don’t lose our minds.  
I think we're entering a brave new world of content farms and search engine optimization.  Exciting times, I think. 

**  Charlie Stross is one of those science fiction writers who gets raved over at Crooked Timber whose writing style just doesn't work for me.  I did get through three-and-a-half of his Merchant Princes books before giving up.  Even worse was Accelerando (ebook available for free), his singularity book, which I gave up on after a few pages--again, the writing was just not to my taste, which meant that all the rich ideas in there were inaccessible to me.  But I still hope to read him sometime. 

2 comments:

tomslee said...

Glad to see someone saying how I feel about Stross and Crooked Timber. Also, unfortunately, China Mieville after his first two books.

scritic said...

Ha - I'm glad to see someone who feels the same way about Stross also! I kept thinking there was something wrong with me.

I tried Mieville's The City and the City and gave up after a few pages; but that was my own fault, the writing seemed okay. But I'll give his first two novels a try; the first one seems like it's a good deal shorter too.