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Algorithms give or they take - Seth Godin



If there’s scarcity, we need to make choices.

Who gets hired, what website shows up at the top of the search results, who gets a loan.

And while we can make those choices on a case by case basis, at scale, we rely on algorithms instead. A series of coded steps, inferences and decision-making heuristics that ostensibly get better as they gather more data.

At this point, it’s clear that algorithms are remaking our culture. They drive how social media networks surface content, how search engines highlight websites, how AI makes decisions about who flies or doesn’t, who gets a loan or doesn’t, it’s everywhere, all the time.

And algorithms are not neutral. They can’t be. Every decision has consequences, and unlike the pythagorean theorem, there isn’t a right answer, simply a choice about now or later, all along a spectrum.

An algorithm takes when it finds a selfish or defective element of society and magnifies it for short-term profit. It finds habits or instincts that individuals might have and exploits them to do something that benefits the algorithm-maker without leaving the culture or the user better off in the long run.

And an algorithm gives when it amplifies the better angels of our nature, when it helps us do the things we’d like to do in the long run, for us and the people we care about.

A challenge for anyone programming at a monopoly, a public company, a well-funded startup or even a non-profit in search of donors is this: Do you have the guts to build an algorithm you can be proud of even if it doesn’t pay off as well in the short run?

Because if the answer is no, blaming the system isn’t going to help anyone. You are the system, we all are, and given the power of invisible and leveraged algorithms, it’s essential that they be created and maintained by people who understand that they’re responsible for the impact they make.


Seth Godin Seth Godin is an Author, Entrepreneur and Most of All, A teacher

Seth is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, and speaker. In addition to launching one of the most popular blogs in the world, he has written 19 best-selling books, including The Dip, Linchpin, Purple Cow, Tribes, and What To Do When It's Your Turn (And It's Always Your Turn). His most recent book, This is Marketing, was an instant bestseller in countries around the world. Though renowned for his writing and speaking, Seth also founded two companies, Squidoo and Yoyodyne (acquired by Yahoo!). By focusing on everything from effective marketing and leadership, to the spread of ideas and changing everything, Seth has been able to motivate and inspire countless people around the world. In 2013, Seth was one of just three professionals inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame. In an astonishing turn of events, in May 2018, he was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame as well. He might be the only person in both.

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