A few months back, Facebook came under public scrutiny about how it curated its trending topic feeds, facing allegations that the editors of trending topics were skewing the results against “conservative” news stories. In response, Facebook said it would review how trending topics were curated, and as a result it switched to an all-algorithm-generated trending feed, and it fired all of its trending topic editors. The results have been … less than optimal, as detailed in this story by The Guardian, with the new algorithm generating stories that are only true by the barest of technicalities. (It should be noted though, conservative pundit Ann Coulter WAS prominently featured, though for being eviscerated at a comedy roast.)
As The Guardian story points out the previous (human) trending topic editors were there to keep bad topics from surfacing:
Under its old, human-assisted guidelines, Facebook trends had been monitored to weed out potentially offensive or inappropriate items. The dismissal of the trending module team appears to have been a long-term plan at Facebook. A source told the Guardian the trending module was meant to have “learned” from the human editors’ curation decisions and was always meant to eventually reach full automation.
This highlights an aspect of the future of work in our Futures of Work report, namely that rather than an all-automated workforce, one possible future is the human-machine cooperation scenario, in which people and machines work together to enhance mutual strengths.
Paypal founder Peter Thiel explained how this worked at Paypal when they attempted to automate fraud detection:
We tried to solve the problem by writing software that would automatically identify bogus transactions and cancel them in real time. But it quickly became clear that this approach would not work: after an hour or two, the thieves would catch on and change their tactics to fool our algorithms. Human analysts, however, were not easily fooled… So we rewrote the software to take a hybrid approach: the computer would flag the most suspicious transactions, and human operators would make the final judgment.
Even as work evolves, and automation and software take over more routine (boring) jobs, both workers and employers (and Facebook) have to realize that work will not just be for humans or for software, but, as Thiel highlights, for human-computer teams. Successful employers will be those that create systems that harness the best of both sides.
To learn more about The Futures of Work, you can download a free copy here.