Amazon Algorithm Makes Decision about WOLF STREET, Hilarity Ensues

If the broader ramifications weren’t so serious!

This just happened to me this morning. It would be purely and immensely hilarious, if its broader ramifications that impact our lives every day weren’t so serious.

It has to do with algorithms – software programs designed to replace human brains everywhere human brains used to make decisions. It has to do with how they can go haywire, how they don’t see the obvious, don’t even look at the obvious, and make totally stupid decisions.

In this instance, the algo made the entire company look idiotic. It’s so funny, I’m still grinning – at Amazon’s expense.

But if this sort of corporate algo fuckup happens in your medical situation or a credit application or while looking for a job, you could be in deep trouble. And it’s likely happening there too.

Some background: I have two books on Amazon and link to them on WOLF STREET. I sell a few of them a week. It’s not even pocket money. But it’s fun knowing that someone is interested in my books. They’re entertainment, and hopefully they’ll make someone laugh.

Back in the day while I still used the predecessor site, I had an associate account with Amazon. When I switched to WOLF STREET in July 2014, I let that account go and forgot about it. The other day, I remembered it and decided to log in and check it out. Turns out, Amazon had closed it. No big deal. It told me to open a new one. So I jumped through the necessary hoops, supplying all the tax and banking info, and opened a new one, tying it to my site,

Everything was hunky-dory and worked, until this morning, when I got an email from Amazon, from no particular person but from some nameless algo that doesn’t even know how to spell (though that would be the least you’d expect an algo to get right). Here it is, typos and all:


Thank you for applying for the Associate program. Upon review, we are unable to accept your application. A part of our criteria is that your site has to be established with enough unique content. We rejected your application due to one or more of the following reasons.

– Lack of content which is original to your site and beneficial to your visitors

– Pages that are mainly empty when advertisement content is removed

Unfortunately, we arent able to review an application once its been rejected. If your website has been further developed and now contains appropriate content, youre welcome to submit another application by using the following URL:

So this algo said that the very WOLF STREET  you’re looking at doesn’t have “enough unique content,” that pages “are mainly empty when advertisement content is removed.”

There are thousands of unique articles written by me and other authors on this site, plus over 31,000 unique and often excellent comments written by readers. And that silly Amazon algo failed to see them – and made a decision based on this failure.

“Pages that are mainly empty when advertisement content is removed.” Hilarious. I mean, such a HOOT!

Who wrote that algo? Humans, for sure. So we don’t blame the algo. That’s useless. We blame the humans at super-duper high-tech outfit Amazon that concocted this critter. And we blame management for allowing it to exist and make decisions that are just ludicrous.

When an algo like this goes haywire, it’s an institutional problem. Bezos did it.

In this particular instance, Amazon’s decision has practically zero impact on me. But algos like this are running our lives, from the mundane, like what ads you see on your computer or smartphone, to the crucial, like medical treatments and credit applications (mortgages, auto loans, etc.). Algos are used by financial firms to trade and manipulate the markets. They’re used by recruiters – and so your career depends on them. Algos are used for a million things.

They impact many essential parts of our lives – and most of the time, we don’t even know. It’s just when we notice that something went wrong that we begin wondering. But often times, we don’t even know something went wrong. The algo just did something in the background in a picosecond, and it’s undermining something that could be crucial to us. And there won’t even be a human available to fix the situation.

Which gives me second thoughts about self-driving cars: they’re driven by algos, and those algos make life-and-death decisions all the time.

When I wrote about self-driving cars the other day, it generated a torrent of excellent comments, at last count 152. It’s all part of the “Pages that are mainly empty when advertisement content is removed,” as Amazon’s algo put it so eloquently. Many of these comments are pooh-poohing the concept of self-driving cars, sometimes for the same reason I stated here, that an algo might go haywire and make the wrong decision. So I’ll eat a little crow. Read…  Self-Driving Vehicle Revolution to Wipe Out 4 Million Jobs

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  96 comments for “Amazon Algorithm Makes Decision about WOLF STREET, Hilarity Ensues

  1. Nik says:

    Wolf…think you got it..Wrong. ‘Big Brother’ did it..Orwell told me So…! lolol

  2. David Rabinovitz says:

    Not just algorithms… corporate America hires a lot of cheap labor to interface with customers – it is an expense and does not generate any meaningful revenue. In 2008 I laughed to everyone that would listen that those under-skilled – or possibly under-trained – credit card call reps were now the people handling the oodles and oodles of defaulted mortgage transactions – and the banks were getting what they paid for. We bought a condo in FL for $60K when the mortgagee had turned down $70K from the condo association president 6 weeks prior (and they never called him back); we offered $39K for another 2 bedroom townhouse, lost the deal, and then the lender/seller called back weeks later that the other buyer had fallen through and would we still be interested – but the screwed up the numbers and told us we could buy it for $32.9K. Just last week I received the following from Verizon… (me phone got way too wet at Red Bull Flugtag in Boston when I elected to watch from the Chahlz Rivah in ah kayak….

    I swear it’s true….

    We’ve received and inspected the value of your used device. The actual value of your device is $35.00, which is different than the original estimate due to the following reason(s):
    Your screen was unresponsive or had cracks or dead spots
    You will receive your Verizon Wireless account credit within the next 2 weeks.
    For additional information, visit our website.
    Download a Verizon Resale Tax Form for your records.
    Thanks for participating in the Verizon Device Trade-In Program.
    Device Trade-In Information
    Submission Date: 08/22/2016
    Submission ID: 5127180250
    Device: Galaxy S® 4 in Black Mist 16GB
    Appraised Value: $17.50

    Thank you. If you return the phone to me and I smash it with a hammer and further damage the screen or reduce the responsiveness will that further increase the value and if so by how much?

    One would expect that someone would have realized the message didn’t match the circumstances. Computers and poor human planning… Just as you found at AMZN.

    • Intosh says:

      But customer service is switching to algo, aka Bots. No longer the possibility to ask to talk to the supervisor or to transfer you to another agent. With a human agent, you can at least try to extract and understand the reasoning behind their responses; but with a Bot, good luck wit that. A bot will be “happy” to argue with you all day long.

  3. Marty says:

    “And there won’t even be a human available to fix the situation.” One of the maddening things about Amazon esp as a seller, you can’t pick up the phone and call someone to get a problem resolved. It’s all bots, period.

    “… that an algo might go haywire and make the wrong decision. ” Now think about a cashless world economy.

    “So I’ll eat a little crow.” Proof that you are a thoughtful, mature, stand-up guy!

    • Meme Imfurst says:

      Don’t forget who also owns The Washington Post now, with a seriously reduced reporting staff and single agenda.

      Katherine Graham rolls over in her grave to see what was the most respected paper in the world turned into a fish wrapper.

      • Toddy says:

        I don’t think there are many people outside the US who ever knew what the Washington Post is. I bet most of them would think its the mail carrier for politicians.

        Sigh. Americans are sooooo self important. It’s exhausting.

  4. t says:

    There’s an exceelent brand new book on this:

  5. CrazyCooter says:

    Actually, Bezos is a fairly political animal these days (e.g. he bought the Washington Post) and probably doesn’t like your political/economic leanings. I think these info tech big wigs (Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc) are extremely biased at the top level and push that bias down the food chain in the ways they run their business.

    A.K.A. working as intended!



    • David Calder says:

      I think Crazy Cooter is on to something.. Bezos’ editorial board is calling for Snowden’s prosecution so why not delete Wolf Street in the process! Make it a clean sweep.. I beat Mr. Bezos to the punch and deleted Amazon months ago..

      • Meme Imfurst says:

        Follow the money.

        Single agenda

        Quid pro quo

        Remember you make it happen, your support is necessary.

      • EVENT HORIZON says:

        I have never purchased anything from Amazon. There are numerous other sites. I’ve always had a “feeling” about the creep who owns it.

    • PuzzlePieces says:

      I’d venture to say political and cheap labor active. For example, if you examine Amazon’s job board system, there are usually 1 to 2 dozen “coder” positions open at any given time but ALL are in India; their AWS services help desk are almost entirely run in India now…with McDonald’s axing 70 accountants to replace them with H1B in the past week (must be really tough to find accountants in the US) we all see where things are going even for “non-techies”.

      But how does this relate to Wolf’s post about an algorithm problem? With shifting labor and operations to another country, if you point out a valid problem with an algorithm, you will be ignored…unless you can get the MSM on your side. The MSM are in the pocket of the multi-nationals and traditionally (the biggest shift occurring in the past 8 years) lean left – that usually translates into “your input means nothing”. Without the MSM on your side you may try a government solution – the only problem with that is, labor and management is in a different country (excellent move on the part of multi-nationals to play off sovereigns against each other to their benefit) so you get nowhere there. In the end I think the best that can be hoped for when dealing with a multi-national is being able to point out an issue and move on to something else…well, that is, until control of the Internet is passed outside the US. At that point, under threat of being shut down for non-compliant speech, the issue may be skipped entirely and the march to the new Orwellian system will be complete.

  6. TheDona says:

    OMG! Your site used to be called Testosterone Pit!?! The irony of the algo has me in stitches.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Yup. Even my wife hated that name. ISPs blocked it. Even friends wouldn’t click on links to it. But Amazon accepted it.

      • TheDona says:

        Thanks for changing the name! I would not have clicked the link either. I came on board and have been a daily reader for about a year and a half. Your data is awesome, your writing style is humorous and approachable, your info appeals to all levels of sophistication…and of course your commentators are a wonderful community. :-)

        And a big Thanks for the education on the bond markets. My elderly relatives would have fallen prey to their brokers on the yield chase if I had not read your site.

        Next up perhaps is an article Derivative CDs?

  7. Ptb says:

    Humans are pretty good at making mistakes too. And at taking risks that endanger others. In my area there’s a country road where I’ve seen people passing slower drivers in very dangerous places. I wonder how many Google cars would do this?

    • Ricardo says:

      All depends if google earth/map/satellite has you positioned. If not that google car might miss deadmans curve (with reference to Jan and Dean).

  8. polecat says:

    Bezos …..

    ‘To Mars …. And Beyond’

    Yes Folks, Sep right up ! The Bezos Algos are gonna send us to the planets ……. !!

    ok … Jeffrey …. pull the other one !

  9. Steve says:

    I can relate to this topic, used to sell stock photography online through several different agencies. A single algo change at one of the agencies dropped my income from $2000 a month to $200 almost overnight. A little different because it was not a mistake, they just wanted to target different content. Makes it very hard to run a business if you are dependent upon algos that are often changed on a whim.

    • kitten lopez says:

      YES! algos changing your business OVERNIGHT happened here with both my best friend/roommate AND me on our different small businesses. that’s precisely why i’m trying to figure out how to start a viable underground somehow.

      i have no hope for the younger generation, especially after reading that creepy article about Japanese young people fearing sex and intimacy and getting off on robot sex. here in america, it’s hairless women and now men. EW. that is SO wrong on so many levels.

      so i think it’s up to us middle aged folks to make one last creative stand because we at least remember how it used to be to be awkward, not know everything, be okay with embarrassment and blast through it to the other side. we remember how to follow through and not flake because something’s happening in REAL LIFE.

      i mean… we’ve got no choice with algos like that, do we??? because you can’t even get a job through such algos. have you SEEN those things regardless of how high or low the job is???

      • Petunia says:

        The key to getting your resume chosen by the bot is to use the exact wording used in their ad. They are scanning for the key words and phrases they use. If you use different wording and descriptions, it will skip you. You can just add them to the bottom, I’m not kidding.

        • kitten lopez says:

          Miss Petunia-
          i really wish you’d run for president.

        • hidflect says:

          I did this. Made a word cloud of about 200 relevant terms. Dropped it to 1ppt font, coloured it white and stuck it at the end of the document. The phone never stopped ringing.

        • kitten lopez says:

          “I did this. Made a word cloud of about 200 relevant terms. Dropped it to 1ppt font, coloured it white and stuck it at the end of the document. The phone never stopped ringing.”

          BRILLIANT!!!!! god, i love this site and all you folks here.

      • Meme Imfurst says:

        WELCOME to 2016:

        • Our Phones–Wireless

        • Cooking – Fireless

        • Cars – Keyless

        • Food – Fatless

        • Tires –Tubeless

        • Dress – Sleeveless

        • Youth – Jobless

        • Leaders – Shameless

        • Relationships – Meaningless

        • Attitudes–Careless

        • Babies – Fatherless

        • Feelings–Heartless

        • Education–Valueless

        • Children–Mannerless

        • Country–Godless

        We are SPEECHLESS,

        Government is CLUELESS,

        And our Politicians are WORTHLESS!

        I’m scared – Shitless! Try to Relax with Exlax!

  10. Tom Welsh says:

    “Who wrote that algo? Humans, for sure. So we don’t blame the algo. That’s useless. We blame the humans at super-duper high-tech outfit Amazon that concocted this critter. And we blame management for allowing it to exist and make decisions that are just ludicrous.

    “When an algo like this goes haywire, it’s an institutional problem. Bezos did it”.

    Perfectly expressed, and exactly right. This is a statement of principle that cannot be repeated too often, or spread around too much. It should be stamped in luminous letters 6 inches high in front of every corporate executive’s desk.

  11. zoomev says:

    In some respects, regarding Amazon, it’s worse than you suspect. The Amazon mechanical turk project has placed programmatic interfaces (API’s) in front of living human beings. The algo could be nothing more than some poor Indian being asked by a computer to analyze your page. With the quality of their work going unverified.

    An example, some coder in the US writes a program that scrapes webpages and then makes a function call with your webpages as a parameter. The function then sends the data off to India. Someone analyzes your pages and makes a “return”. The code then takes the human generated results and continues executing sending you a thanks but no thanks email.

    Discouraging as so many levels.

  12. Petunia says:

    Amazon runs a cloud for the CIA, no wonder they have no idea what’s going on.

    • TheDona says:


    • Maximus Minimus says:

      It would be strange if the CIA did not get their hand on it. That would easily explain all the missing Amazon profits.

      • NotSoSure says:

        Profits are for capitalists. The USA is now close to a communist country, so Amazon is a very apt representation of said country.

        Somewhere out there, Marx is smiling.

        • JerryBear says:

          Marx is smiling. not because anything in our society matches his vision which it does not, he was big on direct democracy, but because his predictions that Capitalism would inevitably destroy itself which it is well on its way to doing. Capitalism cannot exist in a society where money has lost its meaning and value has become arbitrary.

    • kitten lopez says:

      you are funny as hell, woman.

  13. matt says:

    when you remove the human element from life, it is over as we now know it. Say goodnight Gracie

    • JerryBear says:

      If any of you have read Frank Herbert’ Dune, maybe its time to start the Butlerian Jihad. “Thou shalt not make a machine in the image of the human mind!”

      • Semper Gumby says:

        Hi JB. I believe Capitalism is just about dead. We are entering the age of Corporatism and all its glory on the way to….

        • d says:

          We have been in the age of Globalised Vampire corporatism for sometime.
          Nations are starting to wake up to them.

          I believe the “Taxman” will put and end to their powers .

          Then we will have to deal with The “Globalised Taxman”.

          Lennon and McCartney, warned about him, in the early 60’s.

    • Squid says:

      Goodnight, Gracie!

  14. Ha Ha –

    Forget the crazy Algos- Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on it’s way……..


    • TheDona says:

      Maybe AI can do better than Fake Intelligence we have now. At least the greed factor won’t come into play.

      • Toddy says:

        Are you kidding?! That’s the singular core element of an AI system. Do some research. The very definition of greed is the kernel algorithm of just about any flavor of AI.

    • Petunia says:

      There is no such thing as AI. Trust me.

      • Marty says:

        This is what my computer game son says. We were just talking about this tonight. He said that he can beat any game with AI because they are predictable. And that there has been zero advance in gaming AI since 2005ish.

        • Meme Imfurst says:

          Quantum computing is here. Built and running.

          Imagine running EVERY possibility in a Femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second).

          And who is a major financier of this sub zero Kelvin device?

          HFT funds….now name one….. Citadel

          Your son has a new challenge, so do ‘investors’.

        • Toddy says:

          That’s not accurate. More accurate would be to appreciate how much more adept your gamer son has become at reading NPC cues (ask him, he knows what that is).
          Like every system that’s driven by a feedback loop (player versus AI), BOTH parties advance their intelligence by learning how to recognize patterns more effectively.

          So your son thinks AI hasn’t improved. But that’s only his perception because as his play style increases in tactical complexity, so does the software analysis in the game systems.

      • Wayne B says:

        what about Artificial Antagonism?
        I once got this error message “Error: the operation completed successfully”

  15. nick kelly says:

    But remember, these robots are soon going to be doing everything better than humans.
    The post from WR is just another reason I’m skeptical.

    I can’t help noticing some of the usual paranoia/ conspiracy theory: it’s not an idiot bot losing Amazon an excellent customer- it’s intentional.
    No doubt a thousand similar declines go out every day.

    If the bot was smarter it would have an auto look- up of the author/editor, see a thousand cross references.
    It would then pass the prob onto a smarter bot who might pass it on to a human.
    If these algos, robo programs etc. can replace financial advisers, to name one supposedly endangered species, it is simply proof the latter were not doing anything difficult to begin with.

  16. Islander says:

    Wolf, don’t be so sure this was done by an algo, no matter what language they sent you. Let me give an example of increasing political censorship: Youtube has recently and drastically started removing ads from ‘politically sensitive’ content, robbing creators of much needed income. For example my favorite political show China Uncensored, which is incredibly funny and worth supporting btw, just lost all ads.

    They are still collecting through Patreon but it’s not the same. Of course it’s not illegal for a private company to regulate content posted within its ecosystem. But the trend is worrying, especially as China U. Seems like a rational and fair show performing a valuable service, just like your website. The chance that your inconsequential misadventure was intentional is not zero.

  17. Maximus Minimus says:

    I see news articles written by algos every day. Or maybe it is humans who have been algosized. Who can tell the difference!?

  18. Southwesterner says:

    The robot-driven car crashed. The algo-driven business will lose $. Eventually. Maybe you all would get into a self driven car, but I won’t.

    I’m looking forward to the new net I get snippets of info about on various sites….coming to you from Eurasia.

    • d says:

      All electronically controlled things are seriously allergic to salt water.

      The life expectancy of the “self driving car” along with all other Algo driven devices in the maritime coastal environment is very short no matter how well they seal it.

      iphones die just a quickly as ZTE’S once a small amount of salt water enter’s through the battery panel seals.

      Electronic Navigation aids cost a fortune, not due to what is in them, but due to what it costs to try and seal them, to give a reasonable life expectancy.

      Want to maliciously kill an electronic device? Simply place a container of salt water repeatedly beside the air intake and wait.
      Algo devices will have to move out of their hermetically sealed environments and when they do nature will massacre them.

      Moths, Spiders, Roaches, and Ants can short anything electrical, they can enter. Ants live quiet happily in Automotive ECU’S, until the day their damp nest, grows to the point where it shorts said ECU.

      • EVENT HORIZON says:

        Can a “self-driving” car spot and avoid pot-holes? What size?

        Can a “self-driving” car react to a tire blow-out? A bird hitting the windshield? A tree branch falling? How fast? Litter being kicked up by a gust of wind? A shopping cart rolling down hill? Hail? Power outage that shuts down all street lights and all traffic lights? A small dead animal in the road? Is it really dead? Drive around of over it? Oh, it’s not an animal, it’s a little toddler…………..(100 Million Dollar Law suit Mr Amazon and Mr Google)……Really? Dream on.

        I won’t “bore” you all to death, but I can list an INFINITE number of normal, routine traffic events that no level of today’s computing can handle because the situations are INFINITE.

        Sure, you can use your math coding for trading stocks (coding on top of coding to do ONE THING, buy or sell), but driving a car is an art and you can’t teach that.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          But humans can’t handle them either, as attested to by 38,000 deaths in 2015 due to vehicles driven by HUMAN drivers, plus about 2 million injured. Humans are TERRIBLE drivers. And they BLIND at night.

  19. Patrick says:

    Yeah, I’m guessing if Jeff Bezos’ WaPo keeps profiting from sources like Snowden, only to turn around and sell them out; the only ‘content’ they’ll have left is advertisers.

    • Petunia says:

      You have raised a serious issue. All the newspapers that used Snowden as a source for stories support immunity for him, except Bezo’s Washington Post. Amazon does have a database contract with the CIA and most likely the 600M they make from the govt is the reason for their decision. What other stories are they slating in the govt’s favor for that money? Do they favor Hillary because she spends more than Trump?

      • kitten lopez says:

        Miss Petunia-
        you’ve made it so i can’t even READ other blogs. i spend only so much time online before i feel itchy and wrong and sick, like i’m watching TV inside on a sunny saturday afternoon. all my blog/comments reading time is here because of YOU now.
        tried to read the comments under the creepy guardian article about the asexual/workaholic/tech-relationships-only generation and couldn’t make it past three lame and boring or OBVIOUS or creepy comments below it without that itchy “go out and play/it’s a sunny day” feeling taking over.

        • Petunia says:


          To be a good techie you have to enjoy your own company because it is a solitary profession. Most of us enjoy what is going on in our heads more than what is going on outside of it. We think people who need too much attention are creepy.

      • Marty says:

        Petunia, this is a problem that hasn’t originated with Bozo/Snowden. You must be aware of operation mockingbird, followed by the Clinton Crime family era consolidation of media into the hands of six corporation.

        We have a saying around the house. There are three multinationals in that market, and they are merging tomorrow.

        You might find this book interesting–Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, Kristina Borjesson. Couldn’t put it down.

        • ERG says:


          It takes anyone with basic observational and critical thinking skills about 48 seconds to realize the ‘Free Press’ are no more than an arm of the Golden Rule* Establishment.

          *The Golden Rule: The people with all the gold, make all the rules.

        • Petunia says:

          I think this will be the first election to confirm that the media has become irrelevant. The propaganda on the news stations, which is what I used to watch, is intolerable now. It might signal the end of cable or the beginning of alacart tv. We’ll see.

        • EVENT HORIZON says:

          I honestly can’t remember the book (America’s 60 Families come to mind ?), but it was a book written in the early 1900’s. In it, the author pointed out that J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller realized that if they could control just 25 (maybe 23) US newspapers, they could influence national politics.

          They bought control of every newspaper on their list.

  20. Thomas Malthus says:

    Speaking of hilarity….

    I think most people know that a lot of clicks generated on Facebook are fake….

    So to prove a point I tried to launch the following campaign:

    Image of man with comb over

    Header: Cure Baldness

    Click here for the miracle cure for male baldness

    I think tried to target women under 20 in Asia.

    And guess what – Facebook people rejected the ad.

    Obviously they know what I am up to — they know that due to click fraud this will still generate a lot of clicks and burn through the allocated budget….

    And that they will be exposed….

    This is the Enron of the digital space. If click fraud were eliminated the FB share price would collapse

  21. JimQ says:

    “It’s just when we notice that something went wrong that we begin wondering. But often times, we don’t even know something went wrong. The algo just did something in the background in a picosecond, and it’s undermining something that could be crucial to us. And there won’t even be a human available to fix the situation”
    How does this differ from dealing with the IRS or the VA? Same never ending auto-attendant/do-loop.

  22. Chicken says:

    If you had registered as Calculon, member of The League Of Robots, you would’ve received complementary services.

    Robots are great writers.

  23. Humpty Dumpty says:

    John Von Neumann devised the “algo” and with it he configured the first atomic bomb. An algo is its own universe; it is also a synonym for the ‘aliens’ or ‘zombies’ taking over while we snooze.

  24. Tim says:

    “Which gives me second thoughts about self-driving cars: they’re driven by algos, and those algos make life-and-death decisions all the time.”

    It would certainly make contract killing by large corporations very easy. Critical folk such as yourself should beware.

    They’d drive your car off the golden gate bridge then lock the doors and windows! Or maybe a special switch to re-direct the exhaust into the air vents?

    Or maybe just drive your car to a hidden site where you’ll be taken care of?

    The grim possibilities are endless

  25. Bobcat says:

    An old truism goes, “if you like law and sausage, you shouldn’t watch either being made.”

    This applies to software too. Much of the software we find ourselves at the mercy of is of poor quality. Unfortunately, this crapware is being used in high stakes decisions.

    Lawyers with technology expertise will be needed to successfully bring lawsuits against companies who hurt consumers and businesses with flawed algorithms and it will not be easy. They will face obstacles in getting access to the source code. Even if they have that, it may not be obvious from inspection what the flaw is. It may be necessary to run the code in a debugger to demonstrate the flaw.

    Technology has outpaced the legal system’s ability to cope with the imperfections. No politician today is talking about this kind of stuff. It isn’t even on their radar. The day is coming when a faulty algorithm causes a loss of life. That is what it will take to focus attention on this. Even then, the result is likely to be bad law.

    • d says:

      “The day is coming when a faulty algorithm causes a loss of life. ”

      That day is far back in history.

      The day is coming when a faulty algorithm causes a huge loss of life. To huge to find a Rug for.

      Then, Algo’s, will move onto, the political radar.

    • kitten lopez says:

      BOBCAT: “Much of the software we find ourselves at the mercy of is of poor quality. Unfortunately, this crapware is being used in high stakes decisions.”

      yeah, my best friend, James, was a mechanical engineer and also wrote code and says the same thing about a lot of it being crap code built upon prior crap code. / like Petunia, he agrees: “there is no AI. it’s a myth to scare and impress.”

    • EVENT HORIZON says:

      Don’t worry. It is only a short matter of time before one of these “self-driving” cars causes a 100 car pile-up due to a Winter “white-out” in the Rockies and the 10 Million Dollar, per accident, per passenger X 100 cars La Suit, ends up on the desk of Mr. Amazon.

      Damn, I wish I was a Lawyer.

  26. Edward E says:

    The planet is entering a magnetic fields reversal, low and often chaotic field strength for hundreds of years. That may also have some effect on the conditions of the stratosphere and ozone distribution. Dr Leif Svalgaard has shown us that during periods of low or small sunspot activity the chances of sudden strong Carrington event type flares actually increase a bit.

    In the last five years I have had a day or two where all of the numerous electronic devices we have to work with today were malfunctioning at the same time for hours. Space weather would be showing an incoming solar storm at the same time.

  27. Graham says:

    The art of computer programming:

    “Getting your software to behave in the manner that you fondly imagine it should – rather in the way it actually does”.

    That’s my quote based on 32 years of experience :D

  28. obxer says:

    One day back when my daughter was in high school, she received an “F” on an essay submitted as an assignment for a literature class. Turns out, an algorithm routinely used to check for plagiarism determined that her paper exceeded the threshold of similarity (for example 33%) to another previously submitted paper that had been entered into this database. Believe it or not, content of all papers submitted for this type of check become part of the database as it grows exponentially with time.

    The culprit essay that she plagiarized was one that she had written the previous year, obviously because the material was in her head. There is no recourse to appeal the decision since how could a computer make a mistake.

  29. Joe says:

    Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, …. they are all stupid apps. Facebook is for sheep having too much time themselves taking notice other peoples’ lives that they hardly know. Or exchanging flare comments because I am right and you are wrong. I give those people a challenge – can you name all those people one by one from your Facebook account. You know who in time of difficulties and you keep that handful of friends. Real friends, you pick up where you left, not messaging, thumbs up, or liked everyday.

    Twitter is another app for sheep people like to follow the herds. Take notice of everything what celebrities say.

    LinkedIn – endorse skill, job anniversary. Give me a freaking break. Never stop sharpening your skills and you will do fine without any help of this shit.

    • EVENT HORIZON says:

      So I guess that means you won’t “friend” me on Facebook?

    • Graham says:

      But you have to use LinkedIn now, Microsoft NEEDs you to after having blown over $26,000,000,000 on it.

      Still the funniest thing I’ve learnt this year :D

      Imagine all those techies at Microsoft, chiselling away at MS Office etc so their share options pay out, just to see the boss blow it all in a mad impulse. Crazy.

  30. Copernicus says:

    Excellent article. Once again.
    The wider implications are terrific, we are in the first generation of algo manufacturing. It’s as cottage industry. There is a potential overlap between this, the crash of 1987 and the financial crisis.
    The crash was super charged by a single portfolio insurance concept which became self-reinforcing. The financial crisis was preceded by the notion that risk was spread out in such a way that it disappeared; in fact it was everywhere.
    It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see the all those middle-class investors (and institutions) making algos to trade the market are all making the same algo. Essentially a person that cuts his loses very quickly. These algo’s may not net out to nothing. They could it fact act (inadvertently) as one team of unimaginative algos, which does with many hands what portfolio insurance did alone.

    Also recruitment will not change much the individuals in recruitment are the personification of algos. Never say the truth in a CV HR is looking to match shapes of the words; human or algo. Simply repeat the exact words in the brief explanation of the job. The algo will highlight you as a contender.
    A real person

  31. Tim says:

    “Open the app, Hal.”

    “I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave.”

    • kitten lopez says:


      “Open the app, Hal.”

      “I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave.”


      • kitten lopez says:

        i don’t know if this comment will make it through, Tim, but i had to risk wasting the time to come back and jot down this li’l story because san francisco tech people are here in droves like a summer of love for building APPS right now.

        our renting tech neighbor is apparently in negotiations to leave his rent-controlled apt. so they can rent it out for even more (this is happening to people more and more again), and he’s still here but has been suddenly doing daily all nighter meetings in his back yard laughing and yelling and playing loud music like no one’s around, keeping us all up while they all sit around after their days jobs, around a fire pit with their laptops open.

        i’ve BEGGED them to keep it quiet as James wakes up at 5am and it’s been too hot to close the windows even as the smoke from their fires come in.

        i’d beg them to keep it quiet. they ignored me and would never even turned around to acknowledge me. they’d just keep giggling like i was a mosquito.

        i finally lost it and at 1:30 am this past monday, as i put my towel on, went outside, and stood over them on my staircase and hosed them all down and had to force myself to stop as it felt so wondrously free.

        i knew if they called the cops, i wouldn’t even have to answer the door and the cops couldn’t bust down my door without a warrant.

        i learned that when the techie kid staying in the airbnb across the street came out and punched me that sunday afternoon for hating the music i was dancing to because he’d stayed up all night doing code.

        the cops came and all he had to do was not answer the door and the cops left. i was scared for the next couple of months he was there.

  32. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your lack of original content. I mean, you’ve been saying for a while now that the housing economy is going to go down and that’s not original. EVERYONE’S been saying that.

    Oh wait. No they haven’t.

    And hey – I’m one of those people who bought your e-books!

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Thanks for buying my books!!!

      When are you ready to contribute another one of your insightful DC real-estate articles to WS, to add to the pandemic “lack of original content?”

      I had some communication with Amazon about this – and actually, I think their situation is even worse.

  33. JerryBear says:

    Has anybody checked out the news site ?
    The mainstream media has furiously denouncedit which always piques my interest.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Well, it’s owned by the Russian government. And I just did an interview with Max Keiser for his Keiser Report, which runs on RT (I think it will air on Friday).

    • Thomas Malthus says:

      It is on my list of regular reads.

      It has a pro Russia bias… but nowhere near as biased as most US sites are towards US foreign policy.

      Always good to have different perspectives.

  34. AnnaLog says:

    Sometimes, like now, people crack me up. “Telsa car hacked.” THAT surprises anyone??? Not only because the technology exists so that everything we do is watched and recorded, but there is Michael Hastings, the many “mysterious” jet explosions, crashes and disappearances, “news” like this:

    BTW, “researchers” = two grad students. :-P That hack was over three years ago.

    Like many of you, for better or worse, I was raised by humans, we had a garden and some small livestock, responsibility fell on our shoulders at an early age helping with the family business – “contracts” were made by Dad’s word and a handshake – not lawyers.

    “Modern” kids, like those two grad students, were distracted/babysitted by TV and video games; they never had a 22 or experienced the simple primitive self-sufficient act of shooting, skinning and cooking a squirrel or rabbit. They know screens and computers. ,”food” in cans and Styrofoam containers, drugs and injections from trustworthy men in white coats.


    So the stories about the boat and Tesla high-jacks make it to the “news”. Blogs such as Wolf Street are what is left of/available for news … and given how so much “information” is fabricated, intentionally or by biased bots, the old saying, “Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you say” is more relevant and timely than ever. (Sorry Wolf, I love you and your blog, I really do, but … ;) wellll, the “but” is that I read the comments before deciding to spend my time reading your story. :-)

    “… the system can be used to throw aircraft off course as well. “This experiment is applicable to other semi-autonomous vehicles, such as aircraft, which are now operated, in part, by autopilot systems,”
    That’s from one of the GPS hack stories … ain’t the next War gonna be “interesting”?!?!

    FYI, the chips forced on us in our (USSA) credit cards can be removed; generally the card reader will request that you insert the card three times, then tells you the chip malfunctioned, swipe the card. If you have an RFID card, punch holes in it to destroy the antenna (it is laminated in the middle).

    What is really funny concerning this story is that today at WalMart I had a question about one of the products I was buying, so the clerk rung up my other purchases (no problem with my “chipless” card) and went to ask a supervisor my question about the product. Question answered, but I could not buy the product with my credit card because my credit card company algorithm decided two purchases at WalMart in five minutes was worth putting a hold on my card. I use a bland flip phone, which I always leave at home, and when I got home there was an automated message from my bank about possible fraudulent activity on my credit card. Joy!

    The only way out of this stupidity is to quit using computers. The one I am typing on now – AFAIK you can’t buy a computer without MS or Apple on it – I (professionally) wiped the drive, and installed a Linux system (Mint). New EVERYTHING, I check into my e-mail accounts (Yahoo and G-mail), go to YouTube and, Voila! lists of “recommended” videos from the past 10 years. YouTube and Google are married!!! Last month I bought a sewing machine online and now every site I look at with advertising has the ONE sewing product I looked at on Amazon about five years ago.

    Sometime earlier this year I read that the NSA is overwhelmed with irrelevant info. Imagine that! :-P So my revenge joy is to go on Amazon at least once per week and look at irrelevant products. I started a Wish List I named REALLY IMPORTANT PRODUCTS and my first product was the worst-rated wine Amazon sells. I put a case of it on my wish list. Next time I’m feeling frisky it is going to be a pregnancy tests. Then a mans baldness remedy. Synthetic oil for a race car; diapers, TVs (I have never owned a TV, and never will) … Fun with Algorithms, Yes! Ooh, a blonde wig, false eyelashes and a penis enlargement apparatus, sexy lingerie in size two and 16, duct tape, hidden cameras – so many useless products and so little time!!!

    Sorry about the long post, this will probably be my only one, as far as I can see, the best way to resist is to support people, not the “system”. I strictly eat organic food, mostly purchased with cash at my local farmer’s market, Twice a month I drive my 10++ year-old car an hour to purchase raw milk in glass jars; today I drove an hour to buy three pounds of organic pork … Yeah, this inconvenience sucks, but the only way to kill the beast is to not feed it. Grow your own or barter with those who do, buy used at thrift stores, etc.

    I’m FLOORED this video hasn’t been blocked by YouTube, watch it before it is:
    If that link doesn’t work it is, “I’m allowed to rob you”, Larken Rose.

    And for the living, loving humans ’round my age:
    From the Big Bang thru “us” to the possible future.
    Technology could be so AMAZING, but, but,,, sigh.
    Drop acid, not bombs, eh?
    So much for slogans.

    And if you are the religious type who doesn’t believe in evolution we can still be Friends:
    LIFE is beautiful.
    “Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.”
    We can’t solve, or stop, this technology problem so:
    Get off your computer and lets dance together on the beach!


  35. “It’s just when we notice that something went wrong that we begin wondering.”

    Aye. And it’s often too late to fix the damage.

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