Help! AI’m being radicalized!


one who can’t change his mind

and won’t change the subject.

There is a great deal of research and debates about what causes radicalization and terrorism. The potential culprits are many, from Social Economic Factors, to Nationalism, to Alienation and Discrimination (self caused or caused by society’s prejudice), to Injustice, to Extreme Religiosity, to Political Grievances, to Social Isolation, to Hate, to Mental Health, and to many, many more.

These are all path that we must research and understand, but in the last decade we must remember that the two major forces shaping society were The Internet and The Rise of Artificial Intelligence that touched all aspects of our life, controlling what we read, listen and watch.

Not surprisingly, I found Internet listed in the list of potential offenders, except Internet is nothing than a virtual medium. The important question is what happens on Internet.

Well, last week I joined yet another social network (I am trying hard to drop from the ones I use, but I am also trying to see what is out there).

I was interested to talk about Technology, especially about Security, Privacy and Mobile App Development. Though, like on Twitter, people will be bored to death if that is all you talk about.

So with the habit I got from Twitter, I had a little bit of contribution in some Technical Area, and in some Not-So-Technical area.

My modest contribution in Non-Technical domain, about which I do not care that much anyway, ended up in a chain of replies. I was not in mood to continue the conversation, but other person was really annoying by trying to prove a point with every wrong argument that he could find, and I could not let the poor guy being wrong on the Internet.

There were three thing that I noticed in that medium.

  • First, the person would not stop engaging (nor I).
  • Second, I would feel how passionate the discussion became, not only for him, but for me too – and I don’t even have a horse in that race.
  • Third, the Recommendation Engine of the Social Network continued to suggest me things from that domain, a domain in which I am not that interested, so I was skipping them (there is button to named Skip in this honor, which I was not afraid to use) in the hope to get better suggestions on the domain I actually cared much more. Their AI did not get my “subtle” hints and continued to press me with that hot subject. In other words the AI did not change the subject.

In real life, when we talk with people, we can read our partner’s facial clues, see that the subject became annoying, and we change the subject, even when we have no intention to change our mind.

In the online world, it is harder to understand how that other person feels. In private email or group discussions, we still feel get some clues if we went too far, and we can stop the thread ourselves, pretend we did not read, or let someone else stop or change the discussion with a joke, or sometimes just let someone act as arbiter that would cool the discussion, because most of us have nevertheless some human decency.

But the AI is not able to understand, nor act responsibly. Even more, while human reaction is a negative one (someone tries to temper the heat), the AI reaction is a positive one, reinforcing the discussion because one of the metrics that AI is trained to improve is engagement, even if indirectly though the “improve the profit” loophole, which is directly correlated with engagement.

Engagement means for AI to talk more about things that we talk most, to read more about things we read more, to watch more things that we used to watch in the past, and the AI thinks that it is doing a great job.

It does not take a genius to see that the combination of an AI that not change the subject on purpose, because it engages us, or creates better Advertising profiles of us which leads to increasing profits, in combination with a rigid thinking, can provide both the fuel and the matches for radicalization.

Our world, physical or virtual (Internet) is dominated by Artificial Intelligence. It is about the time we start to look into how our Algorithms and AI might be Radicalizing humans on the altar on Engagement and Profits.

Is Artificial Intelligence the New Tobacco? What do you think?