What series of events–what algorithm–led to this bird in my tree?

I often ask this question any time I’m entering or leaving my driveway.

A tiny owl of some sort has decided to make its home in a small tree in my front yard. The tree is really close to the driveway. I could probably jump up and touch the owl if I wanted to, though I wouldn’t, because he very well may chomp off a finger. And I’m quite fond of my fingers.

πŸ“NOTE: My family has taken to calling this bird Hootie. We’ve also defaulted to referring to the owl as a he. We do not know the bird’s gender and all inquiries into the matter have resulted in blank stares. Because the other members of my family value their fingers as much as I value mine, none of us has attempted a physical examination.

Video proof of Hootie

I simply cannot justify why this owl has made his home in the tree in our front yard. There must be far better trees he could have chosen. Trees with higher branches. With better coverage. And these far better trees aren’t far away. Hell, he’d need to look no further than the other side of our front yard.

Yet here he is.

For some strange reason, I feel honored that he’s chosen our tree as his home.

Every morning and evening when I go to and from my car, I look up to see if Hootie is in the tree. And I can’t explain the excitement I felt when one morning I looked into the tree and saw his eyes were open and staring back at me. Up until that point, I’d only seen him with eyes closed as he snored away in broad daylight. Only a few mornings ago, my son who’ll start middle school next year was excited to finally see Hootie’s eyes open.

This whole situation makes zero sense for a couple reasons:

  1. Why is this bird here?

  2. Why does my family care so much?

But we do. It’s something out of the ordinary. It’s a simple pleasure we’ve learned to enjoy.

Yet when I think about this bird-brained situation, I can’t help hearing in my head:

This does not compute. This does not make sense.

If you had told me before this bird showed up that I could be excited about having an owl in my front yard, I would have laughed and said no way.

But the reality is there’s no way I could have optimized for this experience. This experience was not on my radar. Yet it’s something I look forward. It is, in its own way, inspiring.

This situation doesn’t feel like optimization. It feels like serendipity.

But AI in the forms of social media engagement algorithms1 have removed serendipity from our lives and have instead replaced it with the likes of the masses. These algorithms don’t cater to your specific tastes. They offer the most mainstream versions of the content they think you’re interested in, leading to a more-often-than-not generic experience.

Would AI have ever thought to put a bird in my front yard to make me happy?

Maybe, if you ask those who think human beings are just a bunch of data we’re unaware of–and little more. Maybe the data was already there to pick through and make the call. But what if it wasn’t?

This does not compute.

Yet it is.

And I’m so glad.

With each passing day, Jake LaCaze is learning to embrace the joys uncertainty sometimes brings.

  1. Social media engagement algorithms and the illusion of choice on jakelacaze.com ↩︎