I Am an Algorithm

In the ever-increasing frenzy to increase purchases, Amazon.com has announced that it now wants to ship packages before they are ordered.

The Seattle retail giant is developing a patented process known as “anticipatory shipping,” which aims to start the delivery of packages based on previous orders, product searches, shopping-cart choices, wish lists and even how long customers keep their cursors over items. The firm has a vast treasure trove of personal data that it hopes to mine.

By anticipating orders, the online store hopes to deliver items more quickly and thereby discourage shoppers from visiting physical stores. One of the ways it would accomplish this is by having anticipated items packaged and waiting at strategic hubs until the customer orders. Amazon also may box and ship products it expects customers from a specific area will want, again based on previous orders and other factors. It could even ship without an actual order in consideration of past patterns.


The move is part of a growing trend of companies that are using mathematical algorithms to calculate and anticipate customers’ needs even before they do. There are already smart refrigerators that indicate when to buy more milk or smart televisions that will predict which programs the owner will want recorded. Amazon’s new venture is just one more use of technology to shave off time in product delivery and increase sales. The retailer had also announced earlier its desire to use small drones to deliver orders to customers’ doorsteps.

While there are those who might welcome the development of “anticipatory shopping” as yet another convenience of modern technology, it does have its troubling aspects.

By reducing customer choices into algorithms, the consumer is reduced to proclaiming: “I Rent_a_stockam an algorithm.” A person becomes mathematically defined and shaped by the choices set before him. Gone is the human element and customer input which traditionally helped shape demand. More and more choices are put in the hands of machines who determine what is best for the consumer—and when things should be purchased.

Another matter of concern is the frenzy of mass and instant consumption. When consumption is reduced to a click or even an anticipated click, it becomes frantic and unbalanced. It leads to a culture of instant gratifications which fuels what I call the “frenetic intemperance” of modern economy where everyone must have everything instantly—or pre-instantly. This fast-paced rush has a corrosive and stressful effect on society and economy. It takes its toll upon the algorithm-individual.

So much of today’s postmodern economy is based on wrong premises and the Amazon Subscription5.2case is but one example. Technology exists to serve people not to insert them into frantic processes. People have natural rhythms proper to their nature and they should not be subjected to machine-like speeds that harm their wellbeing and favor their disordered passions. People are not algorithms. People should be treated like people.

  • RW

    Don’t worry, we will still have lawyers and government bureaucrats to frustrate and slow things way way down.

  • gayle

    all this while you are trying to market a book for sale

    • Maria

      He gave that book away for $0.00 at Christmas. Mr. Horvat wants more people to be exposed to his work, research, ideas and answers, not just profit from marketing his book.

  • donna

    i have no problem with this as a voluntary feature which a customer signs up for. can conceptualize certain people with over scheduled lives knowing this would be useful.

  • Marie

    I agree with you Mr. Horvat. I have put things on my wish list, but with no real intent to buy. I like it but can’t afford it. I think this will cause more of what problem exists today. People buying beyond their means…but now not by choice. Are they going to be privy to debit my acct. without my authorization? I don’t like this whole concept.

  • AngliGreek

    This is yet another insane invasion of citizens’ privacy. If this keeps up, the government (or business) will be telling us what’s in our minds before we even formulate a thought, thereby making itself god. And GOD is not pleased!

  • Carol S.

    Well this is just stupid!!! And this attempt will crash violently I’m thinking. There are other factors that the process doesn’t include. There can be a vast difference between wanting something and being able to afford it! What will happen when for whatever reason, people return these made up orders having never ordered or wanted it?? I guess that the 2.5 million dollars they spent trying to Pervert their state went to their heads. They think that with more money they can manipulate and control more people. And for an example, what if they bought some things for ChristMass presents for other people??!!! What will that do to their data?! One time purchases for other people; birthdays, Mothers or Father’s day, Valentines…. the list goes on and on! A person can put the cursor at a place for no other reason than to have it out of the way so that they can see something else!

  • Susan

    This commentary sounds like a secret endorsement. US law already says that you are not obligated to pay for any item shipped to you that you did not first order. If amazon wants to “gamble” that you will want it and be willing to pay for it if they ship it first (I am sure this feature would be for trusted customers only and not some fly-by-night operation that would loose Amazon money). Also the only way for a internet company to “not collect” info on you is to not use them or visit their site. Regular physical stores do the same thing through cash registers and discount cards. If you don’t want to be monitored always pay in cash and don’t ever give your name, even for returns.

  • Eileen L. (Bertrand)

    I object strongly to the idea–I certainly would refrain from using the “wish list”. It is yet another freedom waiting to be taken from us. I have the “Return to Order” book on my Kindle Fire and am in the process of reading it.

  • woulddragon

    Great! Wonderful! Terrific! First, when I tried to purchase an inexpensive item from Amazon.com with one of the “gift cards” I have with them, they suddenly jack-up their sales tax. Now this? I just wonder if I should start looking their gift-card horse in the mouth.

  • John Ritchie

    I can see how this type of marketing could contribute to pushing the boundaries of speed just to make an extra buck. I don’t want to be treated like an algorithm but like a real human being. Thank you for this post.

  • Luis

    I don´t like to admit it, but we are all victims. Chesterton warned that big business is as evil as big government. The concentration of suppliers in three or four drug store chains, three or four megabanks, three or four–maybe five or six–supermarket chains, three or four cel companies, might be efficiency, but the net effect is no good. We are victims.

  • Christine

    I think this is stupid and I’m sure I am not the only one .I myself would not want to buy from them if this is how they want to conduct their business.Forcing anything on a person is a way of discouraging them,hopefully people will send them a message by not buying from them.Bad business practice in my opinion.