Recommendation engines: data-driven self-help is the future of the internet

But “augmented introspection” will be impossible if technology is driven to discover and exploit user insecurities, writes Michael Schrage

Self-knowledge, self-improvement. Self-control. In his 1859 best-selling ‘Self-Help,’ Samuel Smiles celebrated the self-disciplined cultivation of character and capability. “The spirit of self-help is the root of all genuine growth in the individual,” that eminent Victorian declared. Smiles’ book not only codified cultural standards for industrial age ‘self-helpers,’ it launched the genre that made Dale Carnegie, Steven Covey and Oprah Winfrey inevitable. Never underestimate the market power and value of advice.

Time to turn the page on aspirational best-sellers: Self-help’s spirit and substance has gone digital. From Coursera, Udemy and instructional YouTube videos to Silicon Valley’s ‘quantified self’ – ‘self-knowledge through numbers’- movement, increasingly intelligent technology makes increasingly fertile soil for genuine individual growth. Today’s internet is already a global paradise for autodidacts; just ask your mobile. Machine learning everywhere transforms human learning everywhere. A smarter internet means smarter auto-didacts. Data-driven ‘self-help’ is the internet future.

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