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The algorithm

I work for a bank and one of my roles is delayed payments. Some of you may be familiar with this if you’ve ever made a large purchase, the payment basically gets stopped and the debit card/online banking is temporarily blocked.

Sometimes customers (quite reasonably) ask why the payment has been picked up. Usually our explanation is satisfactory (new recipient, new company, large amount etc) but sometimes customers like to argue the toss. Sometimes they’ll contradict whatever I’m saying just to be a contrarian. One night I had a particularly quarrelsome customer who claimed there was no reason to block his payment. I was feeling petulant so I responded:

“Well Sir the fraud prevention systems are governed by a computer algorithm, which we assume is inherently rational. If the system is not behaving rationally we can assume it’s one of three things. One, the system is broken. Two, the system has a rationale that we can’t see or understand. Or three, the system has become sentient and is doing this just to spite us. And I must say the last possibility keeps me awake at night.”

Stunned silence from the other end of the phone as the customer wonders whether the advisor is malfunctioning. He quickly mumbled some words of parting and left the call.

What do you think?

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