Becoming More Like Algorithms

April 28th, 2012

It is often said that plastic surgery does not enhance a person’s beauty but simply provides a means for the surgeon to manifest their own idea of beauty through other people – further, that the number of such distinct faces in Hollywood is barely greater than the number of plastic surgeons.

What we see is a number of metrics are used to determine a ‘good’ face – certain lips, eye shapes, cheek bulges, line of nose and jaw – to be more beautiful is stricter conformance to the surgeons criteria.

Similarly there are now companies which purport to determine one’s online influence, the companies again take narrow metrics (Web 2.0 presence primarily), blend through an algorithm and spit out a result at the other end; there are people stupid enough to think this result matters and who will pay for advice on how to get a better result i.e. become more conformant to a particular company’s algorithm.

There is an implicit credulity in these scenarios that makes no sense – why would you trust a stranger’s idea of betterness over your own instincts (let alone one stranger vs. another). The problem boils down to a sense of insecurity and conditioning.

In plastic surgery it may be the combined forces of the media to portray a certain body type, on the web there are certain traits which gain most attention – insight is often overlooked in preference to boosterism, the performer who keeps the plate spinning gains more attention than the potter – and interaction rarely amounts to little more than petty ridicule.

As we know the use of metrics to assess people isn’t a new phenomenon, credit rating agencies sway the ability of people to gain loans and your flight data are catalogued by security agencies for watch lists. In addition anonymity and atomisation are nearly always inversely proportional to traction – the braggard or chancer is favoured as the focus of the spectacle.

Whereas a silicon valley company can expect to garner some interest and narrow influence due to a bit of parasitical number crunching it will have little long term effect as people become bored with the personality pyramid scheme it embodies, something as vacuous and thin as the ‘Hollywood face’ or the ‘No-fly list’.

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