How Whitney Houston proved that we are smarter than the machines
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 14, 2012 - As Facebook users have noticed, the newsfeed (main page where you view your connection's updates and posts) has begun to group posts by topic. So, on Super Bowl night, you would see "29 of your friends posted about the Super Bowl" and it would show you the first few, then an option to "see all 29 posts"). As with all Facebook features, I'm sure some hate this, while others find it convenient. Regardless of preference, Whitney Houston's passing threw its usefulness for a loop.
My feed included the following:
"4 of your friends posted about Whitney Houston"
"10 of your friends posted about I Will Always Love You"
"6 of your friends posted about the Star Spangled Banner"
"12 of your friends posted about Bobby Brown"
"3 of your friends posted about Jennifer Hudson"
"7 of your friends posted about I Wanna Dance With Somebody"
And so on.
Clearly, all of these posts were about Whitney Houston. And honestly, based on everything else it knows, I expected Facebook to know better. I mean, does the algorithm not catch these far-from subtle nuances? And if it doesn't, especially when it comes to breaking news, is it not editable in real-time to add key words to help it learn? If you're going to freak us out with scary relevant targeted advertising, could you at least aggregate our outpouring of Whitney Houston emotion with a finesse even slightly approaching that of her pitch perfect instrument? Can I get a witness?
To me, this is a perfect illustration of the fact that technology is only as good as the people - the actual, living, breathing people - who enable it. You can "Most Popular" and "Word Cloud" all day and it is always going to miss something. We are, and always will be, smarter than the machines.