Introducing a new Theory: The RecommendularityPosted: August 20, 2010 Filed under: Random Ideas, Trends 4 Comments
The Singularity is the technological creation of smarter-than–human intelligence. I present something that is akin to this theory though on a much smaller scale: the recommendularity.
The Recommendularity is the technological creation of better-than-human intuition recommendations. By this, I mean that an advanced recommendation algorithm with sufficient data will be able to predict how a person will like something better than the person himself or herself.
In recent years the internet has seen a proliferation of recommendation engine based products:
- Music: Pandora
- Movies: Netflix
- Shopping: Amazon product recommendations
- Content: StumbleUpon
I greatly enjoy using each of these products along with millions of others. And the best thing is: the more that you use them the better they get.
Recently, something crazy happened. When it comes to movie recommendations, I now trust netflix more than my own intuition. The process has been slow and gradual. Overtime I have fed more film ratings into the system–now over 1,000. Also the netflix algorithm has been constantly improving during the same period of time.
Netflix, realizing the importance of the accuracy of their recommendations hosted a million dollar prize competition for who could improve their recommendation algorithm the most. Beyond this being a damn good publicity stunt and way to get more than their money’s worth of labor, this is just a hint to what may be in store.
As recommendation technologies improve and these technologies begin to have access to more and more data about us, the recommendations that they will be able to make will only improve.
It is too early to predict the nature and shape of this improvement curve. On the top end it could follow an exponential improvement curve like Moore’s Law. On the opposite end, there could be a natural limitation to how good recommendation engines can get leading improvement to reach a screeching halt.
Even if there are limitations to how good the recommendation engines get, there is still a ton of room for growth in the amount of information that can be fed into a recommendation engine leading to great improvement in the results.
(This is where the SciFi part begins)
Where could this lead given enough time? (Hopefully, in our lifetimes)
Recommendation engines will be better than humans at making nearly any decision. People will rely on the personalized recommendations to make more and more decisions in their lives–anything from where to eat lunch, to where to go to college. Eventually even the the most important decisions in life could be left to an algorithm.
Ultimately, choice will remain with the individual but as the computer recommendations get better and better more and more weight will be placed upon a machines recommendation.
The recommendularity represents the ultimate discovery tool. It will help ensure that everyone gets everything out of the world that is best for them according to processing the preferences of people with similar interests.
I noticed this a while ago with Amazon.com. Then it gave me some really weird ones when I bought books as gifts.
The one thing recommendation systems can’t account for (currently) is aspirational tastes – liking things because our friends like them and our desire to be like our group.
Good point Andrew. The same thing has happened to me. Ever since I have bought head phones on Amazon, it keeps recommending head phones to me.
With a bit of extra information though, this problem could easily be remedied.
If people begin trusting recommendation engines more than their own intuition, it might be pretty tempting to manipulate them for a little extra pocket money.
In the same way that it would be tempting for Google to change their algorithm of search results for a bit of extra money.
If a company did alter the algorithm, users might stop trusting the system altogether.
StumbleUpon already inserts ads into the stream of pages. Users haven’t seemed to mind because the targeting is pretty good. So as long as the recommendations are still of some value, that could be a part of the monetization strategy.