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Redrawing the map of Great Britain from a network of human interactions

This is just about the most right-on, 21st-century paper and associated PR I’ve seen this year. MIT’s SENSEable City Lab has produced this little video to go with a paper by some of their researchers, led by Carlo Ratti:

[youtube url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-hlP8Ql384]

So we have a slickly produced YouTube video announcing an open-access paper about big data with a trendy creative commons 8-bit music track behind it. I don’t know whether to applaud them on a job well done or to have an adverse reaction against that much political correctness and PR budget in one place.

Pricing bot interactions

Carlos Bueno writes about a book “Computer Game Bot Turing Test”. This, he says, is:

one of over 100,000 “books” “written” by a Markov chain running over random Wikipedia articles, bundled up and sold online for a ridiculous price. The publisher, Betascript, is notorious for this kind of thing.

He writes that the pricing bots on Amazon Marketplace have got hold of this book and are “fight epic price wars” over it.

So with “Turing Test” we have a delightful futuristic absurdity: a computer program, pretending to be human, hawking a book about computers pretending to be human, while other computer programs pretend to have used copies of it. A book that was never actually written, much less printed and read.

He then talks about his own book (Lauren Ipsum; a children’s story about computer science) and how he saw pricing bots fighting over this. The book is print-on-demand, so a bot claiming to have a used copy could simply buy a new copy and resell it for a profit. Then the bots started to undercut the retail price! Finally, the Amazon pricing bot put his book on sale at 28% discount (and Amazon swallows the difference).

My reaction to this algorithmic whipsawing has settled down to a kind of helpless bemusement… After all, I no longer have a choice. The price is now determined by the complex interaction of several independent computer programs, most of which don’t actually have a copy to sell.

Read the whole story: How Bots Seized Control of My Pricing Strategy.

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