It’s been announced that Facebook has a new, 8-man “AI Team” working away at specific issues and opportunities for what’s being called “deep learning.” In the MIT Technology Review, Facebook’s CTO Mike Schroepfer is quoted:
“The data set is increasing in size, people are getting more friends, and with the advent of mobile, people are online more frequently,” Schroepfer told MIT Technology Review. “It’s not that I look at my news feed once at the end of the day; I constantly pull out my phone while I’m waiting for my friend or I’m at the coffee shop. We have five minutes to really delight you.”
Of course, Facebook is not the first social media or technology giant to begin putting a serious emphasis on artificial intelligence. Google’s recent “deep learning” projects include the identification of cats from still images on Youtube, as well as hiring Dr. Ray Kurzweil as Director of Engineering.
Facebook – it seems – can’t hope to stay ahead of the game of capturing attention without doing some serious investing in artificial intelligence. On one level, the platform itself has to be more and more interesting and relevant to it’s users. If Facebook can make better assumptions about what we’ll want to see when we skim our various screens and pages, they can keep up there longer – and hopefully – they can be not only more engaging, but more useful a tool and medium of connection in our lives.
On the other hand, Facebook needs our attention to stay alive. Eyeballs on pages in how ads get seen, and how ads get clicked, and how Facebook gets paid. Hence, there is an art and science to what ads will be best placed in front of what users at what time, and AI can help with that.
Invariably, an additional AI emphasis will be – in part – secretive. Invariably, some people will become increasingly nervous about this – on a conscious or subconscious level. A recent article on Technorati (which is no longer available) involves a picture of a Terminator robot, and makes quick reference to “Skynet” (the self-aware computer system that decides to destroy humans in the “Terminator” movie series).
I’d rather not be pessimistic, but I think that aiming to understand how Facebook will collect and use this data is a more than reasonable desire, especially with how much of our lives and now spent and shared there. Will we have any say or control over how these algorithms alter our Facebook experience? If Facebook knows that we’ve been through a break-up, will it keep our minds occupied with the ongoings of our previously significant other? How would it be able to tell if our attachment in this relationship was significant or shallow? How might that alter the updates it presents to us, the ads it serves us, and the experience we have on the platform?
If Facebook could, it would want to know all of this, and find intelligent ways to leverage the data. If you’re overwhelmed by the prospect of what else Facebook could harvest, etc…, then I’d recommend not “Facebooking” anymore. I’m not there yet, personally. Maybe I don’t have enough to hide, but I’m more interested in understanding what Facebook is up to and how these AI enhancements will treat my information than I am about running away for the sake of doing so.
It seems to me that the future will unquestionably involve greater “deep learning” elements in finance, in government, and in our online media. The fruitful conversation seems to be the policies and applications of these technologies, and exactly HOW they are permitted (in business and otherwise) to permeate our lives. No Terminator robots yet, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled.