Sunday, August 28, 2011


$23,698,655.93 is a large number.

A very large number indeed.

Its the sort of number which normally precedes the fantasy lottery game - what would I do if I won gazillions on the lotto? A big house? Boat? Aston Martin? Give some to the family, splash the cash then bugger off and live somewhere sunny where you look great and everyone laughs at your jokes.

Earlier this year this sum of money could have bought you one book.

A paperback book.

A not very rare paperback book.

A not very rare paperback book about the breeding habits of flies.

The world of Amazon went mad for a short while and created its own, single item, Tulip bubble, for Peter Lawrence’s The making of a Fly.

This was not the result of a deranged employee nor a devious student up to hi-jinx.

No this was the work of a faceless/nameless/emotionless algorithm, one which was programmed to set the pricing of products on Amazon.

Without wanting to keep typing the word algorithm I will, for the purposes of simplicity, call it ‘Skynet’

Skynet was originally programmed to ensure that the pricing of company A’s products was always priced slightly above company B’s pricing for the same product.

The reason for this was that company A did not actually have the product, in fact it had nothing other than Skynet and a bank account. It would buy the product from company B, ship the product to the purchaser and earn a small margin.

Company B’s Algorithm, lets call it Matrix, was also programmed to do the same thing and hey presto! We have a mirror, looking on a mirror, on a mirror, on a mirror…..

Skynet and Matrix slugged it out over a couple of days before someone, a human someone, called Sarah, stepped in and pulled the plug.

The result was a slightly overpriced book and an interesting insight into how computers are quietly ruling the world.

Imagine if Skynet was set loose on air traffic control, or oil production or city planning.

Imagine if someone allowed Skynet to take control of the military in country A and the Matrix was rolled out in country B?

I paid good money to watch Alien vs Predator and it was shite. I have heard that Cowboys vs Aliens is also not worth the admission fee.

Skynet vs Matrix anyone?