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.