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Like most people, I have a problem with algorithms. Do you remember when they were a thing? There was this booklet, where if you wanted to multiply 467 by 283 you looked up their respective logarithms and then did something with the antilogarithms and followed a line of figures with your index finger, and hey presto, you had the answer, or ‘product’, as we technical people like to say.

For many years, I thought algorithms were merely antilogarithms spelt incorrectly (there was something about logs and bases which I vaguely remember but can’t quite put my index finger on). Then I learnt it was merely a technique used by websites or girlfriends to draw you closer into their orbits.

Your girlfriend discovers for example that you hate seafood, so she works out the algorithm by which she avoids all seafood restaurants when she goes out with you. This is known as the positive algorithm. Then there is the other kind.

You order a book or a chair or a phone on a website, and the algorithm tells the website that you love to read while sitting on a chair with the phone nearby. Soon it starts recommending to you related stuff. ‘Those who bought this combination of goods also bought a fancy car, two houses in London and three kittens newly delivered (delivery free)’ it says.

And it keeps offering you more combinations: ‘How about an island in the Pacific, a football autographed by Lionel Messi and a ticket to the musical Hamilton?’ it asks coyly, suggesting that this is what intelligent people or good-looking people or people with pots of money rush to that website for.

If you don’t respond after the fifth time, the website passes on all the information it has gathered to another website, thus subleasing your interests for a small amount. Now this second website tries another tack. Would you like to enlarge your thumb, it asks boldly. People who come to us usually want their stomach stapled too. We are willing to buy all the stuff you bought from the other website and give you in exchange a holiday in Bengaluru.

Now here is where it gets itself into a tangle. Because I live in Bengaluru – some might say I am on a permanent holiday here – and the whole thing falls flat. How do these algorithms meet and decide things? Is there an  Algorithm Chief whose every word is law? Can I meet him and request that he stop harassing me?

Occasionally they get it right. Recently, a young, smart algorithm recommended a book I had written, with a note saying this is the kind of thing I might like. Ah well!

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