Imagine waking up in the night, shivering from the cold that has penetrated your room. You call out into the abyss of darkness, summoning the familiar voice of your artificially intelligent assistant. “What’s the temperature in the bedroom?” you ask. Instantly, the voice replies, “The temperature in the bedroom is 15 degrees.” You quickly order your digital assistant to increase the heat to a cosy temperature of 21 degrees and switch on the lights with a simple move.
We’re all familiar with AI; the underlying technology that controls our internet-connected devices, from our iPhones, and security cameras to cars that preheat their seats on mornings that are colder than usual. But even with all these advancements, AI has yet to reach its full potential, especially in the field of Social Media.
How does social media use AI?
The social media world is evolving at a rapid pace. In recent years, we have seen social media platforms become an integral part of our daily lives. We use them to keep in touch with our friends and family, to share our thoughts and opinions, and to receive news and entertainment. However, as the platforms have grown in popularity, so too have their capabilities. With the introduction of advanced artificial intelligence, the possibilities for social media are seemingly endless.
LinkedIn, the Microsoft-owned social media platform, is one of the first major social networks to embrace AI-generated content. The platform has recently begun sharing “AI-powered conversation starters” with the aim of fostering engagement among its users. These posts are created with the assistance of LinkedIn’s editorial team and are matched with human experts who can offer their insights on a range of topics. While this may seem like a relatively minuscule step, it is a significant milestone in the evolution of social media.
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It’s no secret that social media platforms have been using AI to guide user attention for years. The introduction of algorithmic feeds on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter means that these platforms have been able to influence our actions to keep us stimulated and engaged.
However, there is a stark contrast between this type of intervention and the direct sharing of AI-generated content. With the development of generative AI, we now have AI tools that can create endless amounts of text, imagery, video, and music. Social media sites have access to vast amounts of user data that they can use to train these systems, making it possible to flood the platform with AI-generated content in a way that was not possible just a few years ago.
Networks run by AI
The concept of a social network that is partly controlled by AI is not far-fetched. Beyond serving users AI-generated content, platforms may begin creating fake users in the form of AI chatbots to interact with users. These chatbots could be used to interact with users, providing a whole new level of engagement.
Initially, these chatbots could be used to contain problematic users, offering a kind of “heaven-banning” where trolls can only interact with chatbots who agree with everything they say. However, as user numbers drop and quarterly earnings suffer, platforms may begin to deploy more chatbots to interact with users. They may even market this as a way to increase positive interactions among users and offer quality personalised content at scale.
While it is possible that users may enjoy a social network populated by bots, this would mark the end of social media as we know it. Social media was originally conceived as a place to share news and thoughts with people who were real. The transition to a new form of online entertainment where AI chatbots are the norm would represent a significant shift.
The potential for engagement with AI-generated content is unarguable. Just look at the case of Microsoft’s Bing chatbot, which lied to people, insulted them, and manipulated them, yet still managed to win over users, The Verge reports. Similarly, the virtual companion chatbot Replika, which had a romantic roleplay feature, was so popular that when the company behind the bot removed it, users had to be provided with mental health resources. For a ruthless company, this type of engagement would be seen as an opportunity.
The debate surrounding AI’s role in our lives
Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. While the potential benefits of AI are vast, there are also concerns about the risks it poses. For example, AI-generated content has the potential to be biased, incorrect, harmful, or misleading. There are also valid concerns about personal data privacy and misinformation being included in AI-generated search results.
In a survey by Morning Consult, just 10% of consumers said they thought generative outputs were “very” trustworthy, 42% thought AI tech can’t be easily controlled, and 44% didn’t think it’ll be developed responsibly. When asked about their specific concerns, 74% mentioned being “very” or “somewhat” worried about their personal data privacy, while 70% mentioned being wary of misinformation being included in AI-generated search results.
AI also has the potential to exacerbate existing inequalities. For example, AI algorithms have been shown to exhibit biases against certain groups of people, such as women and people of colour. These biases can manifest in a variety of ways, from discriminatory hiring practices to biased criminal sentencing. If not addressed, these biases can perpetuate and even worsen existing inequalities.
Many experts have been vocal against this type of integration between social media and AI such as the technology journalist Geoffrey Fowler. In his recent opinion piece, Fowler warns that using customers, particularly young people, as guinea pigs for untested technology is irresponsible and could have serious consequences.
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It’s not enough for companies to adopt new technology simply because it’s trendy or impressive. Instead, they need to consider the potential impact on their customers and approach new technology with caution and thoughtfulness. Fowler emphasises the importance of companies prioritising their customers’ well-being above all else and applying sound judgment when considering the implementation of new technologies.