Thursday, December 31, 2009

Amazon Confuses "Never Again" with Anti-Semitism

When I logged onto Amazon to search for a book, my page showed a recommendation to buy Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Amazon is proud of its search recommendations but maybe it has to finesse its engine. I am a Jew and don’t want to buy the unvarnished propaganda that helped justify hundreds of years of persecution and murder.

I presume the reason Amazon recommended the favorite screed of anti-semites is because I bought the genius Will Eisner’s commentary on The Protocols, The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He created this graphic novel because he was deeply disturbed that The Protocols, which purports to be the actual blueprint by Jewish leaders to take over the world, continued to be published and disseminated throughout the world. It is taught and held as literal truth in the Arab and American White supremacist movement.

It’s kind of like confusing Art Spiegelman’s Maus with Mein Kampf. The algorithmic connection is so offensive it makes me wonder about Amazon.

Google's Youtube is also trying to create better discovery in order to keep its viewers from moving their eyeballs away from the site. "Discovery" in this case means suggesting recommendations by mastering data-mining techniques. And as we see in the case of Amazon's recommendation for me, the meeting of the computer and human mind is flawless. Not.

Christopher T. Volinsky, executive director of statistic research at AT&T Labs Research, who led the team that won that $1 million to improve Netflix's search recommendations, thinks it's complicated but solveable. He said :

"I don't think the YouTube problem is different from the Netflix problem or the Amazon problem."

That it took his team of top computer scientists three years to make a modest improvement to Netflix, which has some 700,000 titles, illustrates the complexity of the task, Mr. Volinsky said.

As a longtime subscriber to Netflix, I suggest it doesn't recommend Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will because I picked Schindler's List even though they both took place during the thirties when the Nazis picked up steam.

Sometimes a computer is just a computer.

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