Prediction Engines Are Like Karma: You Get What You Stream

Sharing is only ethical when there are few resources, at least according to how it is typically regarded. It is kind for a youngster to share her lunch with a classmate who doesn’t have one, or for the rich to donate money to the needy. However, I find it difficult to imagine that giving up a certain profile would be admirable when there are plenty to go around.

The revelation that you view other people’s inclinations and preferences as a type of contamination, a threat to the purity of your own algorithm, is what bothers you, not the fear of selfishness. When you insist on having your own digital dominion, it implies that you think your taste is so distinct and exact that any change to its regular pattern will destroy its integrity at its core.

Prediction engines function fundamentally like unseen systems similar to karma, which track every action you take and reward you with something of equivalent worth. You will soon find yourself in a library dominated by graphic titles if you watch a lot of true-crime documentaries. Your suggestions will become an unlimited banquet of millennial nostalgia if you often stream sitcoms from the early 2000s. The idea that one receives what one sows and that every action has an equal and opposite consequence is not just spiritual platitude; it is a rule written into the fundamental design of our digital cosmos. Users rarely fully understand how these prediction technologies operate.

(On TikTok, theories on how the algorithm works have became as voluminous as academic discussions about the metaphysical makeup of angels.) Nevertheless, we like to think that there are some cosmic laws at work, that each of our deeds is meticulously recorded, and that we are, at any given time, deciding how our future enjoyment will be by what we choose to dwell on, interact with, and buy.

Perhaps it would be beneficial to look more closely at that feeling of control. You mentioned that you wanted your recommendations to reflect your own preferences, but what precisely is taste and where does it originate? Although it’s typical to think of one’s tastes as unique, they are really influenced by a variety of outside circumstances, such as our environments, upbringing, ages, and other pertinent information. These factors follow clear patterns that apply to all populations. Using demographic profiling, it has been demonstrated how simple it is to find trends in huge samples.

Political opinions may be anticipated based on fashion choices (L.L. Bean customers tend to lean conservative; liberals like Kenzo), and personality qualities can be inferred from the type of music a user enjoys if the data collection is large enough (fans of Nicki Minaj tend to be extroverted). Although the specific reason for these connections is unknown, the fact that they consistently occur shows that none one us is really in control of our own destiny or the development of a unique self. Our actions follow recognisable patterns that are influenced by societal factors functioning below our consciousness.

And, well, if it weren’t the case, prediction engines couldn’t function. It’s comforting to believe that your private profile’s suggestions are as distinctive as your thumbprint. However, those recommendations are based on the viewing habits of millions of other users, and the better the platform predicts what you’ll watch, the more likely it is that your behaviour will be consistent with that of other users.

You have thousands of shadow selves out there who are streaming, viewing, and buying many of the same products you are, like quantum entangled particles that mirror one another from opposite sides of the universe, according to the term “user similarity,” which describes how automated recommendations analogize the behaviour of customers with similar habits. Your selections are influenced by their decisions just as their decisions will influence the information that is promoted to users in the future.

Karma is sometimes perceived, at least in popular culture, as a basic type of cosmic retribution, although it is more properly understood as a concept of interconnectedness. Everything in the world is interconnected, forming a massive web of interdependence in which the effects of every action resonate across the whole system. It might be difficult to realise how connected our lives are with the lives of others for those of us who have been schooled in the dualities of Western philosophy and American individualism.

We have only recently been made aware of what some of the oldest spiritual traditions have been teaching for millennia: that we live in a world that is chaotic and radically interdependent, one in which the distance between any two people (or the space between any two vectors) is frequently smaller than we might think. This is thanks to information technologies and the large data sets they produce.

With all that in mind, Islands, sharing your profile may be more of an acknowledgement of your dependency than an act of giving. The person you live with has already influenced you in a variety of ways, gently influencing what you think, what you buy, and how you speak. If your choice in movies differs from theirs now, it doesn’t guarantee it will always do so. In fact, the longer you live together, the more likely it is that your tastes will converge. This may be a good thing.

The self-replicating misery of karmic cycles, similar to how one cigarette may turn into an addiction or how one lie can result in a series of subsequent lies, is something that the majority of us have at some point encountered. Similar to automated suggestions, narrowly recursive habits can produce more and more of the same, trapping us in a one-dimensional echo of our prior decisions. You might be able to get some fresh air in that dark, gloomy cave your individual preference where the past keeps resonating and isolates you from the huge universe of possibilities which lies beyond by purposefully making your profile visible to others.

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