Humans? or Robots? You Decide

by Jerry Lademan

When you think of the word “curator”, the image that jumps to mind may be someone pouring over dusty artifacts in a museum or library, deciding what goes where. That image may someday be much different and much more modern.

Apple has announced plans for a new online news service. What makes this idea different from other similar ventures is that a company which has made untold billions with machines says it will build its new brand using humans—curators–to help manage its content.

Has Apple stumbled on to something? Hardly. In a sense, great communicators have always been great curators too.

Radio is about selection. From picking the right music in a rotation to the selection of stories in a newscast, we constantly make choices—in other words we curate. It’s not that different from an art museum curator selecting only the best for the exhibition and putting away the pictures that don’t belong on the walls.

The problem is that with so much to choose from, we have handed some of our decision making over to the computers. Algorithms have replaced old fashioned judgment. While collating vast troves of data using microchips may be efficient, it isn’t foolproof. Just ask Siri. Apple’s oracle may give you great directions, but at times her answers can confound a third grader or send you down the wrong path. While she can find all the pizza restaurants within five miles, Siri has never eaten at a single one of them to tell you if they are really as good as the “five star” reviews suggest. Another example: auto correct providing what the program “thinks” is the intended word. Take its unfiltered suggestions at your own risk.

With the information avalanche, now more than ever it make sense to find experienced “curators” to make sure only the very best content cuts through the clutter. Apple apparently gets that and it’s hard to argue with one of the biggest and most profitable enterprises in history. Computers excel at providing information, but so far even the best software falls short of profitably separating the wheat from the chaff. Who will curate the future? The minds at Apple think they know.

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