How Long ’til Computers Start Buying Books?

September 14, 2011 | 2

Do “algorithms and online recommendations threaten to replace [publishers] as arbiters of quality”? This Economist riff on e-book publishing says so. Elsewhere, at least 20 companies are using computer software instead of human beings to write their articles.

works on special projects for The Millions. He lives in Baltimore and he frequents dive bars. His interests can be followed on his Tumblr, Nick Recommends and Twitter, @nemoran3.


  1. Recommendation algorithms will have to improve mightily to be even halfway useful. I always play around with them at length–I work at an indie bookstore and since I can’t read everything I’m always searching for ways to give recommendations in genres I’m unfamiliar with–and am always disappointed. Just a few weeks ago I was testing out a new one. I put in A.S. Byatt; it simply suggested more A.S. Byatt and her sister Margaret Drabble–not at all helpful. I continued to test it, entering titles of books in my direct physical radius. When I got to F. Scott Fitzgerald the useless software recommended …. Nicholas Sparks. Why? Because they both write about relationships.

    Computers have a long way to go before they can even dream of replacing a human recommendation.

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