Whatever happened to last year's breakout stars?
Last winter, Google blew it. It’s declaration for an out-of-control flu season, based on an analysis of how many people were searching for information on flu symptoms, turned out to be terribly wrong. In January 2013, Google reported that more than 10 percent of the U.S. population had the flu. But the Centers for Disease Control’s final numbers added up to only 4.5 percent.
A recent report from Google finds a useful villain to blame: the media!
“We have concluded that our algorithm for Flu and Dengue were susceptible to heightened media coverage,” said Google. Media reports about Google’s Flu Trends tracker encouraged people to go to Google and search for information about the flu. The higher query volume convinced Google to sound the epidemic alarm.
Information Week’s Thomas Claburn notes a paradox:
The lesson here is rich with irony: To effectively assess data from a public source, the algorithm must remain private, or someone will attempt to introduce bias.
Google has discovered a new twist on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: The act of reporting on your observations (in this case, how many people are searching for information on flu symptoms) alters what is being observed.
The more one thinks about this, the more disturbing it becomes. Google’s original breakthrough was to rank search results according to how many incoming links from other sources a particular Web page had. But the fact that those pages then rose to the top ensured that they would remain there, because they’d received Google’s seal of page-rank approval. Through its discovery and reporting of which pages were the most popular, Google influenced the enduring popularity of those pages.
Google’s report on the Flu Trends failure promises that its algorithms have been tweaked to take into account potential media-induced bias. But it’s hard to see how Google can meaningfully take into account Google-induced bias. Google’s explicit mission is “to organize the world’s information.” What the company needs to realize from its Flu Trends adventures is that to organize something is to change it.
UPDATE: Commenters here and on Facebook have noted that I have a poor grasp of quantum physics, and have improperly confused the Heisenberg uncertainty principle with “the observer effect.” My apologies: I never should have brought Heisenberg into this story, because what I was trying to communicate stands on its own — the act of observing, or organizing, the world’s information has an unpredictable impact.
The star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” charmed practically everyone at the Oscars, where she was the youngest best actress nominee ever; she went on to film a remake of “Annie” opposite Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Jepsen, who had 2012’s song of the summer with “Call Me Maybe,” released the fifth and final single from her debut album in January 2013. She toured the U.S. in mid-2013 -- just as Daft Punk and Robin Thicke battled to succeed her as icons of the summer.
Honey Boo Boo
2012’s biggest reality star, the young pageant contestant Alana Thompson, had a quieter time this year, with a second season whose ratings were strong but whose buzz was a bit muted. America was, by now, accustomed to young Thompson, and outraged or scandalized reactions were reserved for other TLC programming, like “The Man With the 132-Pound Scrotum.”
Ocean missed out on the top Grammys for which he was nominated in early 2013; he bounced back quickly with featured appearances on albums by Kanye West, Jay Z and Beyoncé, and is at work on a new album. Things are looking up!
The “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike” star had a marginally less charmed 2013, with “White House Down” failing to connect with moviegoers and “Foxcatcher” delayed until next year. It may get worse before it gets better: His big 2014 sci-fi flick, “Jupiter Ascending,” looks … well, a little weird!
With their third album in 21 months hitting No. 1 immediately upon its fall 2013 release, the boy band that broke into America in 2012 would seem to be here to stay for a while. Still, they looked a bit nervous in their reaction shots during the Video Music Awards’ ‘N Sync reunion; maybe not this year, maybe not next, but eventually, the Justin of One Direction is going to break out. For now, though, things look good!
Lana Del Rey
The famously uncomfortable “Saturday Night Live” musical guest overcame endless mockery from 2012 to land her first top-10 hit in the summer of 2013 -- a remix of a year-old song, “Summertime Sadness.” As the co-writer of “Young and Beautiful,” the love theme from “The Great Gatsby,” Del Rey is such a front-runner for the best original song Oscar (last won by Adele) that there has been a direct-mail campaign to academy voters against her. The song was also played at the most romantic event of the year: Kanye West’s stadium marriage proposal to Kim Kardashian.
Wilson, who charmed fans of 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” had a rockier 2013, with her sitcom “Super Fun Night” struggling creatively and in the ratings. Her next planned movies are both sequels, to “Kung Fu Panda” and -- hoping lightning will strike twice -- to “Pitch Perfect.”
Another 2012 music icon, Gotye won the record of the year trophy at the 2013 Grammys for “Somebody That I Used to Know.” He released no new singles in 2013, and has told the press he has been struggling to complete new material. Good luck, Gotye!
The golden boy of the 2012 Olympics, without feats of aquatic derring-do to distract the public this year, saw his always-tenuous persona completely shift from “amiable jock” into “utter dolt” with his E! reality series. Worst of all, the series was canceled.
In 2012, the young actress -- best known for her role in the indie “Winter’s Bone” and a supporting part in the “X-Men” franchise -- had marquee roles in the first “Hunger Games” film and in David O. Russell’s comedy “Silver Linings Playbook.” In 2013, she played to her strengths: After winning an Oscar, she starred in the second “Hunger Games” movie, on whose publicity tour she managed to charm everyone in America, and had another role in a David O. Russell comedy, “American Hustle,” for which she might just win ANOTHER Oscar. By 2014, she may end up running a major studio, or serving as president.
The breakout bikini model of 2012 made a repeat appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue -- and got to do high-fashion spreads in Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair. She was cast in a Cameron Diaz comedy, too. Some types of appeal are eternal!
E. L. James
The “50 Shades” novelist now gets to help share some input into a movie adaptation set for release in 2015. She probably never needs to work again! Isn’t that great? Isn’t that … just … great?
The “Gangnam Style” phenom performed at New Year’s 2013, but will spend New Year’s 2014 flipping channels to find his pistachio ad, his goofy antics having been outdone in the past year by “The Fox” singers Ylvis. Nothing meme can stay.