Algorithms may be cleverer than humans but they don’t necessarily have our sense of perspective – a failing that became evident when Amazon’s price-setting code went to war with itself earlier this year.
“The Making of a Fly” – a book about the molecular biology of a fly from egg to fully-fledged insect – may have been a riveting read but it almost certainly didn’t deserve a price tag of $23.6m (£14.3m).
It hit that figure briefly on the site after the algorithms used by Amazon to set and update prices started outbidding each other.
It is a small taste of the chaos that can be caused when code gets smart enough to operate without human intervention, thinks Mr Slavin.
“This is algorithms in conflict without any adult supervision,” he said.
As code gets ever more sophisticated it is reaching its tentacles into all aspects of our lives, including our cultural preferences.
The algorithms used by movie rental site Netflix are now responsible for 60% of rentals from the site, as we rely less and less on our own critical faculties and word of mouth and more on what Mr Slavin calls the “physics of culture”.”