Gregory Shapiro: Slave to the algorithm

I was performing at a gig about AI: Artificial Intelligence. The speakers were talking about the importance of Dutch innovations like Bluetooth and WiFi. I said, “WiFi is like our new god. Nowadays you don’t pray by kneeling; you pray by holding your phone up high enough to get good connectivity.”

Next, we’re expecting Dutch innovations in AI and machine learning and self-teaching algorithms. The machines are getting smarter - smarter than us. I said, “Soon we won’t just be replaced by machines; the machines will be our bosses.” And as I left the gig and walked past the Google office on Debussylaan, I realized “I’m already working for the machines: Every time I post on YouTube, I’m working to please The Algorithm.”

If you ever ask Google employees “Why don’t I show up higher when people search my name,” they will answer “It’s The Algorithm! We don’t understand it ourselves.” Which - legally - is the only practical answer. But I believe it’s also 100% true. No one understands The Algorithm. All we know is that The Algorithm is constantly changing and updating. Sometimes I’ll get a pop-up from YouTube; “How well do you understand the success rate of your channel,” and I always click Not At All. Yet I do know the answer: it’s because I haven’t sacrificed enough to The Algorithm.

Then there was the fake Instagram account in my name, called “greg_shapiros.” It was posting online photos of me and commenting “Hope u do enjoy ma show and some of ma movie, right??” So I reported it to the IG help desk, which I quickly realized was a chatbot. Yes, I’m sure the account is not linked to me. Yes, I’m sure it’s trying to pose as me. It’s even sending people to an email address unrelated to me. “We will help you within 24 hours.” Great! I checked Instagram the next day, and I couldn’t log in. I couldn’t even see my own account. The only thing I could see was the fake account. Because the machines had removed the wrong account: MY account. Hooray, THE FUTURE IS HERE!

Eventually, I did get my Instagram account back. And my YouTube show just passed 4 million views, thank you very much. But am I searchable enough? Am I relevant enough? Only The Algorithm knows. And “The Algorithm works in mysterious ways.” It reminds me of the old joke about the scientists who build a super computer to ask the question, “Is there a God?” The machine replies: “There is now.”

Gregory Shapiro (b.1968) is known from Comedy Central and as the voice of Trump in the viral video ‘Netherlands Second.’ His solo show The Madness of King Donald: A Trump Survival Guide can be seen in Boom Chicago comedy theater and Griffioen Theater Fall 2019.