Super Crunchers: the social effect

Ian Ayres interesting new read Super Crunchers predicts a world in which humans’ intuition is increasingly replaced by machines mining enormous databases of information for connections that humans cannot perceive (who buys what products or what products to recommend based on past purchases, what illnesses could explain what symptoms, who would make good employees, etc.).

The book leaves me wondering what the human effects will be of this. Ayres predicts that humans will provide input to this machines (e.g., providing the three potential product names that will be tested by human behavior, or programming the machines or figuring out how to store these data).

I think there will be other social effects upstream and downstream:

1) many workers will feel that their work will be threatened and refuse to code information that is in their head or miscode information to make the computers’ performance look worse and try to preserve their jobs. [The WSJ had a story maybe 8 years ago set in the deep south about workers not trusting management and fighting their efforts to code their knowledge, for exactly these same reasons.]

2) will recommender systems erode one of the benefits of friendships and psychologically make us feel that friends are less valuable? (i.e., we’ll rely more on the wisdom of crowds rather than the idiosyncracies of specific friend that may have less predictive accuracy in telling us things we might like)

3) America is almost unique for most Americans’ belief in God and participation in religion. Part of what underlies this involvement is a search for meaning and a belief in what is unknowable, must be taken on faith or experienced. In the same way as science seems to conflict with faith, the cold calculations and regressions of *Super Crunching* are at odds with serendipity, epiphany, and a mysterious unfolding. How will the tensions of *Super Crunching* and faith play themselves out: with lesser degree of faith; with limits on our adoption of super crunching; or with us living what appear to be paradoxical lives that celebrate faith and super crunching.

4) how will supercrunching help when faced with problems for the first time or where you need new paradigms?

5) will supercrunching lead to a race to the bottom: will humans following computer scripts preempt important interactions or flexibility?

I’d welcome your comments about what you predict Super Crunchers’ social impact will be.


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