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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

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.)

An algorithm is elected President

IFTTT 2016!

IFTTT 2016! published on No Comments on IFTTT 2016!

As long as algorithms are going to run our lives, we might as well have a chance to vote for the damn things.

And if that sounds like hyperbole, consider how much time you spend on, say, Facebook. And the fact that what you can and can’t see in your newsfeed is governed by an extremely complex (and proprietary, and secret) algorithm — including  whether you see a prompt to vote on election day. So is whether your account gets suspended.

Ditto Google Search, which is how a whole lot of people find things on the web. Google’s search algorithm can turn one page into an overnight star, while causing another one to sink into obscurity. The same degree of analysis and necromancy that used to go into studying the workings of the Kremlin is now focused on trying to reverse-engineer (and then game) that algorithm, which in turn constantly mutates like the Enterprise rotating shield frequencies to deflect Borg attacks.

One change in that algorithm, and entire sites can disappear, forgotten overnight as though they’d never existed. Or entire countries. Just ask the one-time citizens of Magnitoccia, a nation that made the mistake of accepting guest blog posts two months ago. One moment, the world’s leading exporter of blister packs; the next, poof.


Hey, Donna Papacosta and Steve Lubetkin’s new book is out — featuring all-new Noise to Signal cartoons!


The Canadian federal election is in full swing. So while much of the world focuses on the Donald Trump clown show, we get to focus on much more high-minded stuff. Like a Netflix tax that absolutely no party in the campaign is supporting, but which our Prime Minister insists is imminent unless we re-elect him.

I realize that few people come to a tech-and-society gag cartoon for Canadian election endorsements and recommendations (yay Mira!), so I’ll try to confine my commentary here to snark. (“Hey, speaking of algorithms, how about that Justin Trudeau? x = audience.WantsToHear; say (x), amirite?”)