Limitations in the WordPress Notifications algorithm

Ted and Brandon’s most recent episode of the „Concerning AI“ podcast is a very rewarding listen… – mainly because of their thinking with respect to compassion towards (or against) algorithms.

Having compassion towards or against an algorithm seems like a very strange concept, and I feel I very much agree with Ted and Brandon’s thinking during the episode, but I also want to use the suggestion as a „what if“ sort of springboard.

Ted and Brandon provided several examples algorithms (and/or tools). Perhaps the quintessential example is the hammer (for pounding nails). Another example they provided was the so-called „Google“ algorithm (presumably counting the links that point to any particular internet address, in order to „load the value“ of that address. Another algorithm they mentioned was an „alpha“ (sp?) Go algorithm. One they didn’t mention was the Facebook Group algorithm, which they employ for the purposes of facilitating discussions related to the podcast. Another algorithm (or perhaps „procedural code“ might be a more appropriate term) they didn’t mention is the WordPress Notifications procedure (or function?) … which attempts to notify the management of a site running WordPress when content on the site is mentioned. I am not exactly sure how it works – but I think both sites might have to be running WordPress (or at least software that is compatible with the notification procedure / function)… thereby enabling one site to send the other site some message indicating that the latter site was referenced by the first site. In traditional publishing, such references were called „footnotes“, and there was indeed also a tool in the paper era that notified authors when something they wrote had been cited (these were referred to „citation indexes“).

I am belaboring this one algorithm (or procedure or function or whatever sort of code it might be) primarily because I think it could be coded better. As far as I know, whenever I mention the site concerning.ai in general, the concerning.ai site is not notified. The only way the concerning.ai site can be notified by my mentioning it is if I mention a particular piece of content – for example: Episode Number 14. I think it would be nice if the site would be notified even if I only refer to the site in general.

Ted and Brandon discuss that they don’t feel as if they can empathize with any of the algorithms they mention – but I feel the probably do. If they want to play Go, then they will probably be more likely to „hang out“ with a Go algorithm. If they want to meet people, they might be more likely to „hang out“ with a Facebook algorithm. If they want to watch Youtube videos, they might search for such information directly on Youtube, or perhaps the might utilize the Google search algorithm (in particular because Google and Youtube are apparently very closely related).

I have a hunch that the best way to think about this is via the concept of relationships. When my aim is to pound nails, then I will probably develop a close relationship with a hammer. If my aim is to play Go, then I could develop a relationship with algorithms devoted to Go (perhaps alpha-go.com or maybe play-go.net etc.), or perhaps I could input strings into some other algorithm (e.g. Google, Facebook, Youtube, etc.) and use whatever output I get in order to reach my goal. This might also work for the goal „have a conversation“. Indeed: many written texts are in a way conversations, and we often develop relationships with codices that are no longer limited to the life spans of their authors, etc. I don’t even know who invented hammers. I mainly simply think of them as „hammer“.

Please note that I have tried to make this post very brief. Lawrwnce Lessig has argued about the code in so-called “artificial languages” being like laws. I could equally well argue that the code in laws codified in so-called “natural language” are actually code. For more on this, please consider also reading “How to Constrain the Freedom to Choose the Best of all Possible Worlds During an Era of Uninterrupted Progress“.

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