The Vote-Stealing Algorithm in Plain View at the Gym

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VR Gym Bicycle

An anecdote about a videogame built into bicycling machines at the YMCA that reacts to user behavior in order to simulate a difficult road race with the right winner.

I can no longer run outside, my ankles and knees shot from the impact of running 45-minutes a day outdoors and regular trail climbing for 20 years in steep terrain. My last hike was in 2006, in the Balkans.

I like scenery and music when I do a 30-45 minute ride, at my YMCA I have a choice of three pieces, an elliptical, a stationary bike, and  an upright bike. Some are available with a choice of video programs, their technology stretching back a few years. (This is important to know, since very few people outside the computer-geek world even knew what an algorithm was in 2015.)

I can provide my own music or choose theirs. Depending on whether I’m listening to Three Dog Night or Chopin, I enjoy the passing scenery, and even pay attention to the bikers in front of me and those coming from the other direction, which, as they get closer, a little box appears telling me the name of the biker, and their country of origin. Another small dropdown tells me how many seconds I am behind the first five bikers in my visual horizon, allowing me to do a bit of racing with them, which sometimes I do. Mostly I enjoy the music and daydream.

As I near a biker he or she begins to fade and as I pass they suddenly appear on the drop-down as to how many seconds they are behind me.

I assume the programmers want to allow me to turn these rides into a competition, if I choose. I generally ignore this aspect, and pay no attention to the riders in front of me, from 10-seconds to 120-seconds. But on long snowy trails in the Alps, Tibet or Canada, I’d begun to notice at about the 20-minute mark there were always a couple of people I couldn’t easily pass, at least for several minutes. If I sped up, from 60 rpm to 70rpm, they would too. Then only this week I noticed what had not drawn my attention before, is that for about 5 consecutive times, while chasing two bikers, say 15- and 10-seconds ahead of me, every time I drew close enough to the nearest one, to cause her to begin to fade away, she would suddenly spurt forward to a safe lead, then level off, then allow me another go at passing. Up and back, up and back for five times, then finally I was able to overtake both.

So much for competition you can reach out and touch, for by then, looking further ahead I noticed that the three tiny specks that had been, 60-seconds ahead, and who I could normally catch in 2-3 minutes, had nearly doubled their lead.

Were these algorithms programmed to make sure I could not pass while concentrating on the nearest objective, but lose all sight of the final objective, which was to catch up with and defeat that little Kraut from Germany?

Now that I know the fix is in on my 20-30 minute trail, I plan go a full hour just to catch and beat that Boche bastard.

Just know that these sorts of algorithms have been around awhile, and if they can put them into gym games, they can certainly hide them in voting machines. Always keep you eye on the bigger game.

Go get ’em, @realDonaldTrump.

Fin

 

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