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Artificial intelligence is right up there with robots taking over our jobs. This is the first in a series on how big tech like Facebook uses AI to manipulate you.

The number of AI applications has increased rapidly. We speculate and marvel about what AIs will be able to do in the future. But what we don’t realise is that AI has already had a huge impact on the goods and services we use every day.

We covered ‘Can you trust Facebook’ here and the answer is a deafening NO. Now we look at how Facebook uses AI to manipulate you. Yes, if something is free, the product is you.

How Facebook uses AI to manipulate you

Facebook says it brings people closer together. That is bloody rubbish. It is first and foremost one of the world’s largest covert data harvesters in the guise of making social connections easier.

Bernie Brode

So, we asked Bernie Brode, a US expert on AI that has spent a lifetime delving into the inner workings of cryptography and now the confluence of nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. He is eternally curious about where that ‘intersection’ will lead us. Bernie writes

What is AI?

The simplest answer is to use a computer to make decisions and draw conclusions that mimic what a human could do – only a hell of a lot faster and with Everest’s of data.

It is based on machine learning – giving a computer a problem and basic instruction on how to solve it. By sheer processing speed, it arrives at the right answer. For example, machine learning in medicine enables a computer to faster recognise cancers tumours simply by recognising healthy tissue first.

That is a simple example, but AI is no more omnipotent, devious, or evil than we are. We created it to serve us and answer the questions we ask it. And that brings us to Facebook and what questions Mark Zuckerberg et al. ask it to solve.

How Facebook uses AI to manipulate you

Facebook was one of the earliest, large-scale adopters of AI and Deep Learning systems. This should come as no surprise: 1.2 billion people upload 136,000 photos and update their status 293,000 times per minute.

Until recently, Facebook only derived value a.k.a. monetised it, from a tiny fraction of this largely unstructured data. Unstructured data is ostensibly data with few obvious threads between it, and we will come back to that later because that is the creepier part – the evil use of AI.

Let’s start from the premise that its sole raison d’être is to make money predominantly from advertising – its notable profitability depends on that.

1. Textual Analysis

Facebook’s oldest and most developed AI system is DeepText. This system uses neural networks that ‘read’ through the billions of posts and tries to understand their meaning. It is a highly autonomous system that not only processes text automatically but teaches itself.

This system is the most important use of Facebook’s AI. It is the primary means to serve ads. By scanning through all of your messages, DeepText is works out what kind of products you could use and serves you with relevant ads. More on that soon.

2. Facial Recognition

DeepFace is another Facebook developed AI system. It is far more controversial and intrusive than DeepText. It recognises faces in photographs and is eerily accurate. According to Zuck’s crew (his PR people prefer we call him that as it supposedly humanises him), it can recognise 97% of the time if two photographs are of the same person. Humans can only get it right 96%. Uh oh.

DeepFace is the most controversial AI system at Facebook. It’s a key driver of why people question whether they can trust the company. Or whether they can trust tech companies in general.