Dictionary + algorithm + PoD t-shirt printer + lucrative meme = rape t-shirts on Amazon. Pete Ashton explains how programmers can accidentally generate pro-rape t-shirts to sell on Amazon (by swapping a list of all English verbs into the “Keep Calm and ____ On” meme), but then draws a conclusion about digital literacy that I think is exactly backwards.
This is a great example of what I think Digital Literacy should mean. The world around us is increasingly governed by these algorithms, some annoyingly dumb and some freakishly intelligent. Because these algorithms generally mimic decisions that used to be made directly by people we have a tendency to humanise the results and can easily be horrified by what we see. But some basic understanding of how these systems work can go a long way to alleviating this dissonance. You don’t need to be able to write the programmes, just understand their basic rules and how they can scale.
Is he suggesting that the problem here is that non-programmers don’t understand enough about algorithms? I think the problem here is that the algorithm’s creators didn’t think enough about the context of their program, aka the real world.
This reminds me of Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names and Time. Apparently we need a conversation on Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Words, too.