Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty

I wanted to link to a couple of additional pieces related to today’s essay by Lauren Goode. Eric Meyer (via Andy Baio) wrote about what he called “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty” in 2014 after the death of his daughter:

Algorithms are essentially thoughtless. They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs. To call a person “thoughtless” is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.

Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out. The Year in Review ad keeps coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds, as if celebrating a death, and there is no obvious way to stop it. Yes, there’s the drop-down that lets me hide it, but knowing that is practically insider knowledge. How many people don’t know about it? Way more than you think.

It is also presumptuous to assume that most photos represent memories that a user would like to see right now.

Stephen Hackett also shared his story:

Over the last several years, I’ve been dealing with something similar. While not a broken engagement, I’ve been stopped in my tracks any time I come across — or am shown by a computer — photos of the time before our oldest son was diagnosed with brain cancer. When a photo would show up, I would tell my phone I didn’t want to be reminded of it anymore, but it would still be burned into my brain hours or even days later.

Hackett’s piece ends on a welcome, positive note — through therapy, he is working to overcome feeling stuck in these traumatic memories.

These are two very welcome pieces. For what it is worth, I think both these writers — and Goode — are very brave for sharing their stories. I appreciate it.