Danny Dunn

La machine Dujardin donnant la force motrice

Image by zigazou76 via Flickr

One book I remember vividly from my childhood was called Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine.  It was published in 1958 and I think I read it in middle school several years later (I’m not THAT old!).  The book is about a kid who finds what was an early computer (probably filled a room and didn’t have the processing power of one of today’s cell phones, I’m sure).  He uses the computer to do his homework but finds out that to do so he needs to program it.  In order to program it, he needs to understand the subject matter which, kids, is the point.  It’s also today’s business thought.

We all depend on homework machines today.  We just call them “systems” and they’re built around algorithms.  I find it interesting that so-called experts rely on these systems to do their work in areas such as media buying, SEO, SEM optimization, etc.  In may cases, these experts wouldn’t know if it’s really “garbage out” since they had little to do with the “garbage in”, the underlying algorithm, and they might not understand the subject matter well enough to pass that judgement.

Think about how many ads you’ve seen today.  How many of them were placed by machine?  Quite a few, probably.  But without the human touch, we get instances of machines thinking it’s a good idea to run travel ads on pages with footage of air disasters or ads looking for “Caribbean Singles” on coverage of the Haiti earthquake (seriously – true instances!)  No human ad planner or buyer would let that happen – hopefully the human salesperson wouldn’t either.  But the algorithms did.

Danny Dunn figures out in the book that the human touch is what underlies all the blessings of great technology.  If you’re thinking you can use the marketing and media tools out there without an underlying knowledge of the subject, you need to read the Danny Dunn book first.  Total reliance on algorithms is dumb.  Come to think of it, so are the machines that run them!


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