W4: The War of the Algorithms
Hmmm, will the next major conflict be played out in ether of cyberspace?
I read today that engineers are developing a social media lie detector. This program will apparently search out rumours on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms and sort them into four categories: speculation, controversy, misinformation and disinformation.
How exactly this program will determine what constitutes a rumour was not revealed. No doubt it involves complex algorithms as long as a strand of human DNA. Millions of lines of computer code interacting like ADHD neurons at the speed of light.
I commend these engineers for putting their technical skills to a useful purpose. However, I am concerned that they may not fully debug the program before putting it into play.
I envision the engineers proudly pushing the button to launch the program amidst all manner of virtual fanfare – laser balloons, holographic marching bands and a celebrity host via his/her virtual presence device. The computer whirs reassuringly as the program boots up.
Fifteen minutes later, as the proud engineers are engaged in a Q & A session, the comforting whir turns into a low frequency hum. The low frequency hum gives way to a high pitched whine. Smoke begins to emanate from the hard drive.
The now concerned engineers frantically attempt to shut the program down. But it is locked in an endless loop trying to determine to which category to assign the rumoured death of Jackie Chan. In the midst of this malfunction, the bug is activated and all hell breaks loose.
Speculations spill over into controversy. Misinformation leapfrogs across circuits and attempts to usurp the memory space reserved for disinformation. Chaos erupts inside the program.
Algorithms which once existed in harmony mutate with unpredictable results. Separate factions form. The controversy algorithms, being aggressive by nature, launch an all-out offensive against the indecisive speculation algorithms. Misinformation and disinformation algorithms become engaged in a bitter civil war.
The social platforms which the program is designed to cleanse sense a threat and react to defend themselves. Firewalls are erected. Server resources are reallocated from their original purposes causing massive backups for end users who angrily stab at their enter key.
Twitter succumbs first. Its 140 character parameters were never engineered for this degree of discord. One by one the other platforms slow to a crawl and shut down. Facebook launches a final stand waging its brute force against the interloper. It holds on bravely for a few hours but finally crashes in a spectacular implosion which even Mark Zuckerberg cannot prevent.
Years later – when the debris has been cleared, networks purged and the social media platforms are back online – a new metaphor will be coined to describe the carnage. World Wide Web War, aka W4: The War of the Algorithms.
Rumour has it a theatrical movie is already in production.
~ Michael Robert Dyet is the author of “Until the Deep Water Stills – An Internet-enhanced Novel” – double winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2009. Visit Michael’s website at www.mdyetmetaphor.comor the novel online companion at www.mdyetmetaphor.com/blog.
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