My daily experience with recommendation systems are seamless. They recommend what to read on Apple News, listen on Spotify, eat on Uber Eats, purchase on Amazon, watch on Netflix. These software programs take millions of data points, clean and segment the data, weigh different variables, and output recommendations that ensure we stay engaged with the platform for the next selection. As much as we want to believe that machines make all these decisions, data scientists are the ones that are deciding the inputs for these models. Ultimately, these choices introduce bias.
What if I'm missing out on an incredible book or song because the inputs don't capture interests of mine that I didn't even know existed?
Six years ago, I switched my book purchases to Google's Play Book marketplace. I loved the convenience of having my book highlights stored online and available for quick future reference. Google's recommendation system has an endless list of books for me to discover. And, for many years, I happily obliged and purchased their recommendations. What I've noticed recently, however, is that their recommendations are just not interesting anymore. I had a narrowly defined set of interests for book topics that I was looking for and I read them all.
Lately, I've been visiting independent bookstores and discovered many new, interesting books that I had never heard of. Books in different topics that I found interesting, but didn't know I wanted. One bookstore had an interesting quote that's stuck with me:
On the internet you can find what you're looking for; in our store you can find what you are not looking for (benmcnallybooks)
When you walk into a store, you're not browsing a store's products. You're browsing the store owner's taste. A store owner has carefully curated their selection based on their database of expertise, and can filter top selections from many categories. I may discover an interesting selection not because I'm interested in a topic, but because an expert knows a quality selection regardless of topic.
We all start consuming similar lifestyles as our lives become increasingly focused around digital platforms and their recommendation systems, We may not be discovering parts of ourselves because we didn't know they existed. So, get out into the real world and don't let data scientists control your life.