back to article asks: Are sadistic AI price-bots ganging up on you?

Twenty years ago, the internet was promised to level the playing field allowing small fry to compete with the bigger, entrenched players. But online digital markets have tended towards monopoly, or a small number of dominant firms. The British government wants to know why. In August it established an expert panel headed by …

  1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    "a cabal of AI-enhanced price-bots might plausibly hatch a method of colluding that even their handlers could not understand, let alone be held fully responsible for"

    But no doubt some hackers would figure out how to game it to get lower prices for themselves.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      OH YEAH?

      It is my opinion that a regulator should drop by and ask for the symbolic pricing logic, no neural networks allowed.

      An article in the CACM by (Robin Hill I think) said that the handlers are ALWAYS responsible for the "method", because "the Algorithm" with a capital A does not decide to change prices all by its own volition. That is just a hand-washing gesture -- which should not wash. Sadly, the rest of the article was woke bollocks, trying to strenously avoid the conclusion that if the "AI" (i.e. the statistical filter) turns out to do something which can be construed as "racist discrimination", that jsut *may* have to do something with the underlying reality. Just saying.

  2. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Potential future comparison site.

    Your search for a $widget$ has these recommendations.

    Get your neighbour 'Fred' to buy it from River Inc, He's getting a better price at the moment..

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    News ?

    Nearly 10 years ago I was baking AI into a website for car insurance quotes. Only then it was an expert system, and it worked.

  4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Gouging is ok if...

    This ranges from personalised pricing – where the shop knows you're rich, or have just been paid

    Not Justified

    to to real-time dynamic pricing, such as putting the price up at the pumps just before the school run

    Justified as this pricing gives the Chelsea Tractor Woman a signal to not lock up the fracking pump queue and wait till 12:00. Psychologically the displayed price should be accompanied with a nice MRTG graph showing price evolution (in which case, war with Iran -> integer overflow)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gouging is ok if...

      Strange how you think some pricing is justified and others not - presumably your view is entirely dependent on whether it adversely affects you, surprise surprise. And judging from your derogatory comments about residents of Chelsea, you're not one of them. Maybe you could be a bit more diverse next time and include Jewish or racial slurs, as you're probably not in those groups either.

      Pricing is only justified by the supplier - they should be able to charge what they like (unless they're a monopoly). Value is what counts - that is determined by the customer only, no one else.

      You ALWAYS have a choice - no one makes you buy anything.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Gouging is ok if...

        For the downvoters, maybe you think the government should set prices. Or profit margins.

        What could possibly go wrong :/

      2. Rol

        Re: Gouging is ok if...

        Chelsea Tractor - definition from Urban dictionary:-

        Any expensive 4x4 that is driven in an urban environment as a status symbol (typically for the school run) and will never be driven off-road.

        And with a little stretch of the imagination and contraction of your funny gland, it still could be a gross slur directed at Chelsea, but for the historical evidence suggesting Chelsea was indeed the UK's leader in road traffic accidents involving children near schools and vehicles intended for countryside use.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Gouging is ok if...

          It seems to me that it is the Chelsea residents that have continuously sold this country's assets so they can buy foreign tractors and goods.

      3. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: Gouging is ok if...


        Chelsea tractor is just a name used for huge 4x4 vehicles, the size of a small truck, that are notorious for causing road gridlock doing school drop offs / pick ups (usually with 1 child in the vast vehicle) - even though said child could quite easily have walked to / from school with no car use involved.

        Leads to grim irony of awful pollution around schools, when developing mammals (i.e. school kids) are most susceptible to developing respiratory problems from it.

        Its not aimed at people in Chelsea, there are selfish, inconsiderate 4x4 users all over the UK (and equally selfish school run drivers of other cars)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My A(I)rse

    None of the successful dynamic pricing use AI. They all use optimal control - going as far back as American airlines introducing the first true demand driven dynamic pricing scheme nearly 40 years ago. Sleasy, ScumBag Air, etc all use a different take on a similar optimal control problem.

    AI - My A(I)rse. Someone clearly does not know how it is done and has not even bothered to do the technical background before asking the question.

    Disclaimer - I have actually worked on this for a living in one my past lives - both theory and practice on how to apply it to telecoms and IT services.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Someone clearly does not know how it is done

      Nobody knows how AI is done. We don't have AI, we have statistical analysis machines.

      And The Economist : if you think a company cannot be held responsible for it's pseudo-AI, you are totally smoking something you shouldn't.

      It's the companies' tool, if the company cannot manage it properly, it will be fined into oblivion. Or shut down.

      But it will be held responsible.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You meam like The Eurostar Ticket site ?

    The Eurostar Ticket site that gives you different prices for the same ticket when you connect from different PCs:

    PC #1: price is X

    PC #2: price is X

    PC #1: initiate Ticket purchase

    PC #1: cancel Ticket purchase on the last screen

    PC #1: price has gone up to X + Y

    PC #2: price is still X even after going away and coming back again.

    PC #1: price is still X + Y

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You meam like The Eurostar Ticket site ?

      Cancel second and third ticket.

      PC #4: price goes to X - Z < X

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "... the government established an expert panel...

    to look at how competition authorities handle the dominant players..."

    What you mean like OFCOM and BT, or the FSA and the finance industry?



  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And now for some jaded cynicism

    One of the strongest secret desires held by most politicians is that (the) people stop viewing them as witless crooked dipshits. As UK politicians are mostly lawyers and PPE graduates who take quiet pride in being too posh to have a clue about anything technical, it's easy for them to reach knicker wetting levels of excitement over something as "impressive" as "AI".

    You can take it as read that whichever bunch of spivs and shills are "in power", regulation in this area will be as effective as it is with regard to junk phone calls.

    Among the forthcoming cruel ironies will be a determination "not to stifle innovation", emptily mouthed by a government that has outstripped most others around the planet in doing exactly that.

  9. Roj Blake Silver badge


    If you can replace "AI" in a sentence with "magic" and it still makes sense, then either someone does not know what they're talking about, or they are trying to hoodwink you.

  10. Andy The Hat Silver badge


    Having been out of the AI loop for some years, how close is AI (as spouted here and by Google etc) to real AI? Is it, as I suspect, still programmed algorithms trawling even bigger data sets at a faster rate and still "20 years away" as it was 30 years ago?

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