I never thought an Amazon.com book review would trigger a blog post about the shortcomings of artificial intelligence. Every time I think I’ve seen it all…
I read this great book, Song of the Tree Frogs, by John Kitson and decided to post a review on Amazon. I posted my review and went to bed around midnight. Shortly after sunrise, I woke to an email from Amazon about my review. It seems Amazon carefully considered it, but refused to publish it because it violated community standards. The letter did not say what Amazon found objectionable, but following the links in the letter, I found out I am prohibited from modifying and resubmitting my review and from submitting a whole new review. This is a great example of artificial intelligence run amok.
I’ll paste a copy of my book review and Amazon’s letter at the end of this blog post – you be the judge. Did I violate a community standard or did I trigger an artificial intelligence algorithm cooked up by a group of over-eager engineers holed up in a conference room somewhere?
This is more than sour grapes from one guy who ran afoul of the Amazon bureaucracy. Amazon’s automation hurts hard-working authors, but it’s not the end of the world if Amazon rejects a book review it doesn’t like. The problem is how dependent we become on this kind of automation. I’ll bet every penny of Amazon’s 2019 revenue that not one human being looked at my book review before I called to complain. And it’s easy to see how artificial so-called “intelligence” could find my review objectionable.
Artificial intelligence is everywhere and growing. But what happens when we turn it loose too soon and depend on it? A friend of mine nearly died a couple years ago when his brand-new Ford truck slammed on the brakes on a busy Interstate highway when tried to pass a semi-truck. Seems the truck couldn’t tell the difference between an impending collision and a big truck in the other lane.
What about medical diagnosis? Feed a bunch of symptoms into a AI system and spit out a treatment. If a live human doesn’t check this stuff, who’s responsible when the automation gets it wrong?
We deal with chatbots and computers over the phone who pretend to be people all the time these days. Want to mess up somebody’s carefully-crafted artificial intelligence dialog? Ask it a question like this: “What’s the name of the sport where tall guys stuff a ball into a basket?” I haven’t seen a system yet that can answer that question accurately.
I don’t think I’ll live to see the day when any algorithm, no matter how sophisticated, will ever totally replace old-fashioned human judgment.
Here’s the letter from Amazon, followed by book review it rejected. At the time of this writing I’m still trying to persuade humans to battle the machines.
From: Amazon Reviews [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, July 8, 2019 1:19 AM
To: Greg Scott GregScott@infrasupport.com
Subject: Your review of Song of the Tree Frogs could not be posted to Amazon.com
Thank you for submitting a customer review.
Thank you for submitting a customer review on Amazon. After carefully reviewing your submission, your review could not be posted to the website. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines:
* * * * * from D. Greg Scott on July 7, 2019
I didn’t like this book. And that’s why I liked it
From the first paragraph, I didn’t like “Song of the Tree Frogs,” because it confronted me with some of the ugliest human behavior imaginable. I wanted to hug both my grandsons after reading the first chapter. And every chapter through the whole book.
The other thing I didn’t like about this book is how it made me feel. Raw. Angry. Exposed. Guilty. Not because I ever abused anyone, or even wanted to abuse anyone, but because I wanted to bash Tony Williams’ brains in. I don’t like feeling that angry.
The author plunked me into Phillip’s head and I saw and felt the pain through his eyes over the whole story. And I realized, I’m not much different than Phillip’s dad. I grew up in an alcoholic household with lots of emotional abuse, and I could easily have become like Tony Williams as an adult. I don’t like to think about it, and I don’t like this book forcing me to confront it. It’s easier to hide.
And that’s what I liked about it.
One more nit. This really is a story about ugly human behavior. And yet, I didn’t see one word of profanity across the whole story. When other authors claim we need profanity to make our stories realistic, here is an example that demonstrates otherwise.
Well done. Every parent and every future parent needs to read this book.
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Amazon, take notice
Hey Amazon – here’s an opportunity to become a leader. Augment your artificial intelligence with some old-fashioned human judgment.
And if anyone reading this blog post wants to support hard-working authors, leave lots of reviews for the books you read and make your feelings known to Amazon about using algorithms to silence them.