I might trust the algorithm if I thought it were any good.

Responding to this weekend's outrage following Twitter's potential replacement of their reverse-chronology timeline with and algorithmic feed, Alex Tabarrok responds at Marginal Revolution, insisting that we must defer to the algorithm:

It is peculiar that people are more willing trust their physical lives to an algorithm than their twitter feed. Is the outrage real, however, or will people soon take the algorithm for granted? How many people complaining about algorithmic twitter don’t use junk-email filters? I want ALL my emails! Only I can decide what is junk! Did junk email filters ruin email or make it better?

Facebook moved to an algorithm years ago. At the time, the move caused complaints but I think algorithmic feed has made Facebook more relevant, especially in recent years when the algorithm has gotten quite good. The profits agree with my assessment. Many people don’t understand that there is no serious alternative to an algorithmic feed because most people’s uncurated feeds contain well over a thousand posts every day. It’s curate or throw material out at random.

My initial response is that I would be more inclined to defer to the algorithm were the algorithm not complete shit, constantly showing me ads for products I have already purchased.

To address Tabarrok's points more directly, though, I am as skeptical of self-driving cars as I am of the garbage Facebook thinks I want to see and most of the things Netflix thinks I want to watch. That said, I would seriously hope that before self-driving cars are allowed on the road at scale, there would be some regulation and government oversight to make sure that they are at least as safe as cars driven by humans, which–lets face it—is a pretty low bar. The same can not be said for Twitter, Facebook, or most of the other algorithms trying to convince us they are anything more than "People who liked this also like that."

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