Peter A. Lawrence‘s The Making of a Fly, which for a moment last week would have run a cool $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping) on Amazon. This unthinkable sticker price for “The Making of a Fly” on Amazon.com was spotted on April 18 by Michael Eisen, an evolutionary biologist and blogger.
What Eisen detected is which Amazon sellers have been regulating algorithms to set the cost of the products they sell. Each day, the single seller, profnath, would regulate the cost of The Making of the Fly to be 0.9983 times the cost of the alternative seller, bordeebooks. In response, bordeebooks would increase the cost by 1.270589 times profnath’s price. Eventually, the dual sellers’ pricing algorithms towering the cost of the content to waggish levels.
Ultimately, Eisen brought courtesy to the towering pricing mishap, as good as profnath forsaken the cost to the distant some-more in accord with $ 106.23. (Bordeebook’s cost was still 1.27059 times aloft than profnath’s, during $ 134.97.) But this extraordinary story serves as the undiluted e.g. of because computers can’t be trusted.
The incident highlights a little-known fact about e-commerce sites such as Amazon: Often, people don’t create and update prices; computer algorithms do. These algorithms vary widely in quality, however, as the Amazon case shows.
Some of these algorithm services give clients control over their equations, letting them edit them as they go. That doesn’t always work out well.