Algorithms Could Save Book Publishing, But Ruin Novels

“Part of the beautiful thing about books, unlike refrigerators or something, is that sometimes you pick up a book that you don’t know,” says Katherine Flynn, a partner at Boston-based literary agency Kneerim & Williams. “You get exposed to things you wouldn’t have necessarily thought you liked. You thought you liked tennis, but you can read a book about basketball. It’s sad to think that data could narrow our tastes and possibilities.”

In the recommendation age, algorithms have the power to confine us in “taste bubbles”, where we are only able to reinforce existing tastes, rather than develop new ones.

Automatic recommendations based on existing data can be really useful, but serendipitous discovery still plays a vital part in the way we shape our tastes. If skating where the puck is going is our preferred strategy, we are going to miss out. A lot.

November 14, 2016

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