Over my coffee, I discover the most recent you’re-part-of-Silicon-Valley’s-little-aquarium story on The New York Times, which tells me OKCupid studied a bunch of people because science. We can’t get enough of such outrages, of course. And there is no right to privacy, or to being unmolested in your pursuit of love.
But dang it, as one user said, “…that is not cool, really,” and she said it after some thoughtful consideration. One researcher compared the experiment, in which the output to love seekers included some false information to see just how Heisenberg-y we are in such contexts, to a drug test participant getting a placebo. OKFine, but what drug test participant thought they were on the way to find love, and was paying time and effort in the pursuit? And whatever that participant signed, you know it was way less than a Web EULA. (“Eula” is a pretty name. Maybe she’s free Friday night.)
I cover search technology, and one of the major changes we see coming during the next 10 years is more emphasis on transparency. People have to know why they are getting search results. Watson now will be used in the critical task of helping veterans muster out. IBM has invested significantly in explaining how Watson arrives at answers in its specific goals, and making that understanding available, especially in diagnostic applications in medicine.
Transparency is key. If Amazon suggests a book to me, I can click to find out why. If Pandora suggests a music track — I can find out why. The vogue for affecting people’s lives without giving them the chance to unsheath the logic and see the truth, or something closer to it, violates that trust. Without transparency, systems don’t achieve their potential.