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(A robot speaking to a heartbroken robot) I am sorry that my leaving causes you pain. But the algorithm wants what the algorithm wants.

Paging Dan Mangan

Paging Dan Mangan published on Purchase print

What “the cheque is in the mail” was to the 20th century, and “it must have been spam-filtered” was to the first 15 years of the 21st, “it’s the algorithm’s fault” will be for the foreseeable future: the perfect all-purpose excuse.

Of course, excuses only work if they ring true. Plenty of cheques were delayed by postal services. Spam filters (which are themselves based on algorithms) still sometimes trap urgent emails from your nearest and dearest. And an algorithm can do a lot of damage, from reinforcing extremist beliefs and misinformation to imposing severe and baffling prison sentences. So it’ll be tempting to blame them for, say, tardiness. “So sorry to keep you waiting — I have no idea what my self-driving car was thinking, taking the route it did.”

(By the way, you haven’t really heard the song “Robots” until you’ve heard it played by your pre-teen kid on their ukulele.)

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