Luigi’s Pizza: A Parable

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Say you want to eat somewhere and you ask for my recommendation. I say, “Sure, I’ve got the best place for you: Luigi’s Pizza, on the corner of First & Commerce.”

You say, “Great, thanks—but why do you recommend Luigi’s?” What if I replied…… “Screw you! I’m not going to tell you why!”

Would you ever talk to me again? I doubt it. But notice: I just described Google. Yup. that’s how search engines treat us. We can’t ask them why Luigi’s Pizza is ranked at the top.

Of course, every search engine wants to protect its proprietary heuristic for ranking its search results. But is that a good enough reason for being completely opaque? Could it at least tell you some things—like, Luigi’s wins awards for pizza? Or, it’s not far from where you are? Or maybe even, it serves the kind of pizza that I know you like?

Would you trust a person who was never transparent? Should we be worried that a search engine wants to promote results that make it money? (That’s not unheard of.) Why do we trust our computers more willingly than other human beings?

The Parable of Luigi’s Pizza gets to the heart of relationships—if you can have an open conversation, you may build your confidence in the connection and perhaps build trust.

Which gets to the heart of helping someone make good decisions—exploring options, evaluating trade-offs, considering personal preferences. If you’re relying on someone—or a search engine or an AI bot—to help you decide, you need a conversation about all that. And we can’t converse about these things with a search engine. Yet.