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Shopping at Algorithm Cellars


There's no escaping algorithms, whether you're a Centrelink client, a social media user or a target of the fast-moving consumer goods sector.

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Some ghoulish god somewhere must know which algorithm wrote the algorithm for Centrelink.

Or indeed just how many past generations of algorithms we’d have to traverse before we hit a human. Like a living being, made out of meat. The sort of thinking creature that would be driven to drink by the very notion of the algotime which Centrelink’s algorithms have conjured and imposed.

Algotime? Dja like that? It’s a sort of post-truth time popular among business people who prefer to take money from other people rather than to actually pay money to them. Like through some quaint artifice like legitimate employment.

I didn’t spend my Exmess Holy Days worrying about email but the first one I opened on getting back to work this morning reported the actual employment of a human. Like somebody got a job!

“Complexica Pty Ltd,” the press release says, “a leading provider of Artificial Intelligence software for optimising sales & marketing activities, announced today that Doug Misener has joined the company as Corporate Strategy Advisor. An innovative and strategic thinker with more than 30 years experience in the liquor industry, Doug will advise the company on product development and go-to-market strategy in the fast-moving-consumer-goods (FMCG) sector.”

“Well that’s nice,” I was telling myself, “about Doug getting a job and everything,” when I reached the bit about his “optimisation of sales and marketing activities” ranging “through to sales force automation, CRM, and multi-channel quoting and order processing.”

Not exactly the sort of yarn you’ll find on the back of a good wine, but there you go.

Complexica “was founded upon the cutting-edge research of several world-renowned computer scientists,” the statement continues, “and possesses significant expertise in the areas of data mining, analytics, expert systems, optimisation, and cognitive computing. Our software applications are cloud-based and powered by our proprietary computational engine  – Larry, the Digital Analyst®  – which is based on a variety of smart and adaptive algorithms.”

So far, the most effective algorithm I’ve seen is the one US President-elect Trump must employ to compose his Tweets. I mean an elected President-in-waiting could not possibly write those things. Even Rupert Murdoch quit Twitter when he saw that Trump algorithm coming.

No other Tweeter in history has achieved such bulk post fame, like automatically, if gradually, and nothing has done more to promote what had looked like an increasingly fragile Twitter: a social medium whose algorithms taught themselves that they should get along very well with the Trump algorithm. It appears to be working.

Newsrooms all over the planet now hurl their entire reporting arsenal at attempts to read these tweets out loud, often before Trump gets to read them himself, it seems.

Before I mention Trump’s wine company, let’s get back to Doug.

He started working for Lion Nathan, looking after its Pepsi Cola before moving into beer. He was eventually managing director of Lion International, running markets in the USA, Canada, the UK, Italy and Japan.

Doug became CEO of Liquor Marketing Group, “which is one of Australia’s leading alcohol marketing groups with more than 1400 retail outlets that turnover in excess of $1 billion annually,” Complexica says.

“During his tenure at LMG from 2005 – 2016, Doug transformed the business by divesting its wholesaling division, overhauling its systems & processes, and achieving a debt-free position.”

The algorithms of Twitter and Centrelink may not be regarded as stock of great provenance right now, but with blokes like Doug out there you should have no doubt that the algorithm generic is already coming at you through direct liquor marketing.

Not to mention all those hectares of discount shelves. They’re fairly direct.

Labels, pricing, composition, source goods, target postcode, name of street, name of other customers in that street, list of their preferred potions, and their kids’: it’s all there quivering like a jelly on a plate. And it’s setting like concrete before anyone outside of the boardroom really gets to grips with its implications.

Take Woolworths. This company owns premium vineyards. It owns one of the biggest manufacturing and contract wineries in the Barossa. It is Australia’s largest contract wine bottler. It’s a giant liquor distributor; a transport company. It carries a great deal of inuring growers’ debt. It’s the biggest retailer of ethanol, much of which is wine. It is expert at direct liquor marketing by postcode and street. It sells you fuel; knows what you buy in the supermarket; where you actually walk in the supermarket.

Atop that manufacturing through-to-retail presence, Woolworths owns Langton’s, the key wine auction house whose tertiary prices set the pace at the fancy/premium/luxury/collectible/posh end, where provenance is everything.

To complement this, Woolworths now has its own liquor export outfit aimed solely at China.

Here was I, blithely attempting to tease the liquor business into the hybrid sort of blockchain/Bitcoin accounting that would guarantee, for example, a foolproof truthful log of every significant step of a wine’s provenance, and here we have another engineered digital architecture which could simply be concentrated on something quite the opposite. It will write its own pattern of evolution, and then ruthlessly try to follow it.

Colour of brand, amount of sawdust, sugar, fizz, alcohol, caffeine … all these things are now being built into products designed to fit your template. Once that’s settled, then the algorithm will strive to change your preferences, and that template, to suit its profit forecasts and restrictions, given the state of the ingredients markets these products require; tax regimes and so forth.

In the interest of its shareholders, Woolworths, just for example, would be derelict in duty if it did not pursue with thorough investigation the sort of direction Doug and Complexica are selling. Indeed it appears that Complexica would like to become a very serious rival to Woolworths if it can’t sell them its services. As if.

But, you know, given the spirit of the times, a good responsible managing director couldn’t help but sit back and compare the delicious profit the Centrelink’s algorithm’s raking in, even from folks who appear to owe it nothing.

To a good businessman, it’s a very tasty morsel indeed.

Maybe the government could sell it to Complexica, or to Woolworths. Coles. All of them. Lease it. Let it take over their direct-order businesses, sending the week’s booze specials SMS out with the odd payment advice or scarce job offer – even Centrelink must realise that somebody’s gotta have a job to hold all this business stuff up.

And what if I’m wrong about an algorithm writing Trump’s tweets? If he does write them himself, they still depend on the chaos of choice built into the Twitter algorithm. It could also mean that there’s a chance a human may be involved somewhere in his wine company. That’s the Kentucky wedding house with the labels that look like Champagne Krug.

Oh? There is a human? It’s his son, Eric? The one with the charity?

However you look at it, this PEOTUS some secret service folks have allegedly joked about code-naming #SCROTUS sure looks like he’s setting a brand new pace for the rights of some to take profits from the rights of others.

If he doesn’t understand algorithms yet, may Bacchus and Pan save us when he does. He’ll set the example for the whole planet. Wine, weddings, politics, bling, national security – whatever. It’ll be pillage. Of the public purse.

As that great mate of capitalism, Prime Minister Robert Menzies said:

“People should be able to obtain these benefits as a matter of right, with no more loss of their own standards of self-respect than would be involved in collecting from an insurance company the proceeds of an endowment policy on which they have been paying premiums for years.”

Oh, hang on. Ming was speaking on the establishment of unemployment and sickness benefits in March 1944.



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