Hooray for real, live human beings: the future of algorithms

Google photos app among those to have fallen foul of algorithms
Google photos app among those to have fallen foul of algorithms

After a series of high-profile algorithmical 'fails', ranging from a Google app misidentifying black people as gorillas to Facebook showing a user a picture of his recently deceased daughter, the human touch is making a comeback, writes Andy Pemberton, founder of Furthr

Programmatic advertising is hot.

Algorithms have long been used to drive search, but today 100bn ads a year are being served up by software systems targeting any digital device – from your smartphone and TV today, to the dashboard of your car and the thermostat in your home tomorrow.

And soon these devices will be able not only to deliver ad messages, but also track consumer response.

It’s a new era of ad accountability.

Much of what marketers do every day will also be completed by software-as-service-providers, too. Mar-tech is going to transform marketing forever, say experts.

But before we strap into this brave new world, allow me to sound a note of caution. Algorithims have their limits.

Whopping blunders committed by some of the biggest names in tech – all the result of algorithims – are surfacing each and every week. And they can be embarrassing.

Google had to issue a grovelling apology last week, when its new photo app misidentified images of black people as "gorillas".

Facebook had to apologise after it showed one user a photograph of his recently deceased daughter in its Year in Review feature.

Another man was sent a photo of his burning apartment under the headline "James, here’s what your year looked like!"

Researchers pointed out this week that female job seekers are much less likely to be shown ads on Google for highly paid jobs than men.

Luckily, the denizens of Silicon Valley are starting to take note.

Some are backing off investing in digital services that rely purely on algorithms without any human input. At the same time, a new breed of digital services includes significant human input.

"It’s all about curation curation curation," said tech site Mashable recently.

So there’s Apple's new music-streaming service, the standout feature of which is the genre and country playlists curated by real, live human beings.

Google's new music update for its Play Music service uses human editors to choose the best music for any given activity.

Snapchat is hiring journalists to report and edit content related to the upcoming US election.

Twitter is adding editors who can filter and aggregate tweets and links related to trending topics on the network, as part of what the company calls Project Lightning.

LinkedIn has just announced it is adding human editors to its Pulse news-recommendation feature.

Instagram has started doing some curation for its new Explore page.

And Apple is hiring editors for its News app.

It turns out that, under certain circumstances, an algorithim is no match for the nuanced work of real, live human beings.

Hooray for real, live human beings.

Next, it will be the work of the smartest marketers to blend human creativity with the split-second precision and awesome reach of marketing automation.

Good luck with that.

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