Where a human still beats an algorithm

Written Jul 6, 2016

“Algorithms don’t understand the subtlety and the mixing of [music] genres. So we hired hundreds of the best people we know.” - Jimmy Iovine, on curation in Apple Music.

Though we increasingly hear about the successes of machine learning algorithms, there are areas where the human touch still has the upper hand.

Below is a list of a few human-curated tech products, and here is a more detailed write up on this topic.

Apple Music. Jimmy Iovine, head of Apple Music, says “music deserves elegance” and that current “utilities” are “sterile,” and “programmed by algorithms and numbing.” He and his savant-like knowledge of the music industry - he worked with stars from John Lennon to Dr. Dre - is, according to some, the chief product Apple bought when it spent $3 billion on Beats.

Twitter Moments. This news feed is human-curated, and has attracted a lot of attention for that fact.

theSkimm news : “Each writeup in theSkimm, which is entirely written and edited by the duo, features a brief synopsis of the news, some background and analysis, and the takeaway, or (you guessed it) theSkimm.” Contrast this with the increasing number of machine-written news.

Even PayPal fights fraud with a combination of machine learning and human analysts. Sharing the same co-founder as PayPayl, the secretive data analysis startup Palantir has found success with a similar formula.

The takeaway seems to be that an optimal approach to many tech problems consists in intelligently combining the strengths of technology and homo sapiens.

Drop me a line if you know of more examples.