Are You What You Buy?

The only thing worse than being misperceived by a machine is being expertly perceived by one, says Walter Kirn about software that recommends the author books and movies.

The so-called "collaborative filtering" programs that work by relating my browsing and buying habits to those of other customers sometimes yield picks that seem positively bizarre, forcing me to reconstruct my shopping history as well as to speculate on the crisscrossed threads that knit together popular culture. One morning, for example, a book by Billy Baldwin appeared on my Amazon recommended list despite the fact that I’ve never shown any interest in the memoirs of minor tough-guy movie actors. I called my girlfriend over to my screen so we could laugh together at the mistake, but the laugh was on me, as it turned out.

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