No sales meeting this Monday as it’s a public holiday here in the UK – which means that we’ll have to find a way of shoehorning that workload into conference calls while on the motorway tomorrow.
Which means I have a free choice of topic today. Tech related and life changing? With that title? Let me explain why I think that software might change the concept of beauty forever.
It started, as so many things do nowadays, on Facebook. I've spent a bit more time than usual there this weekend, and I’m starting to get frustrated by its algorithms that tell me what I want to see.
For example, just because I have a passing interest in the US elections doesn’t mean I want to be bombarded by right wing rags peddling their latest spin on certain republican candidates.
But Facebook tells me:
“to improve your experience, your feed will be ordered to show the moments that we believe you will care about the most” - and apparently that means I need a daily double-dose of the Donald.
And it’s not any better on any other social media. Instagram and Twitter – in fact the whole of the web is littered with and filtered by algorithms that are designed to curate what you see.
The theory is that the more you click through, the better the algorithm gets at filtering for useful information. And that feeds the advert engines resulting in better targeting and higher click rates.
But even if you don’t click through, the algorithms keep on working away, feeding you more Kardashian than you are ever kapable of konsuming.
Not that I think that either Trumpf or KK are the embodiment of beauty.
It’s not about what I think.
It’s what the algorithms think that I think that matters.
Now we know that the nature of beauty has changed over the centuries just from looking at artistic renditions of the same. Just take the female form as an example. Rubenesque plumpness has morphed into Kate Moss waif and size 0 models by way of Marilyn.
Much of this change of fashion has been led in the past by royal families and ruling castes making it up as they went along, with the population following if they didn’t want to lose their heads. More recently, it was Hollywood that drove the evolution of idealised beauty.
In fact, you might say that these two driving forces were the embodiment of a curating algorithm also.
But the nature of the algorithm is changing – it’s no longer vengeful monarchs or film moguls but computer software that is making these decisions for us.
Fast forward 50 years, what will mid-millennium generations see as beautiful?
Maybe nothing? Maybe their tastes will be changing so fast that evolution will no longer be able to keep up?
Are machine algorithms going to shape our ability to recreate effectively as a species? (Is this the way that species die out in the universe – as their algorithms take control of the nature of beauty and the species just loses interest?)
Just as we may need plant and animal genetic engineering to keep our current 7bn population alive on the planet, we may also need to unleash the genie of human genetic engineering - to ensure the survival of the species.
Many of us will have been asked to write essays on beauty while at college, and some have even parlayed this into financial success (h/t to Zadie Smith). It’s been debated by every teenager from Aristotle onwards.
But from here on in, that debate is being had – at furious pace and with ever larger data sets at their disposal - by competing software algorithms, not by human beings.
It's OK to cede control of certain things to software, but maybe we need to start to consider where to draw the line...