AI wins

Will AI take over human society?

It’s too late to ask that question. Because, based on a number of recent developments, it appears that artificial intelligence has already hijacked the world.

By this, I don’t mean that computers have attained sentience and conspired to conquer the planet. Rather, I’ve come to believe that algorithms and automatically generated content now overpower any possible efforts by humans alone to set the tone of the conversations we have on a daily basis.

Consider, for example, the recent discovery by Elon University’s Jonathan Albright of more than 78,000 AI-generated videos on YouTube that appear to be “harnessed as a powerful agenda booster for certain political voices.”

These videos, being publishing on some YouTube channels at the rate of one every three to four minutes, feature a series of images, presented slideshow style, taken from various places on the Internet with computerized voiceovers reading content from online news sites and other sources. Their topics? Lots about global politics, ranging from “netanyahu russia jerusalem” to “trump kremlin president” to “erdogan turkey regime police.”

“Everything about these ‘A Tease…’ videos suggests SEO, social politcs amplification, and YouTube AI-playlist placement: In addition to the video titles being keyword-packed and URLs pasted all over the video descriptions, the spoken text that’s already published on news sites should help to boost the overall relevance of these videos and any associated news-related ‘channels’ on YouTube,” Albright writes. “FakeTube is here, and AI-generated videos are probably being made faster than they can be identified.”

And then consider this research from data scientists Alessandro Bessi and Emilio Ferrara: “Social bots distort the 2016 U.S. Presidential election online discussion.” Yes, they said, social media can promote democratic conversations about important issues… but a large proportion — about one-fifth — of the pre-election comments made online appeared to have come not from humans but from bots.

“[I]t is important to stress that, although our analysis unveiled the current state of the political debate and agenda pushed by the bots, it is impossible to determine who operates such bots,” Bessi and Ferrara write in their study’s conclusion. “State- and non-state actors, local and foreign governments, political parties, private organizations, and even single individuals with adequate resources (Kollanyi, 2016), could obtain the operational capabilities and technical tools to deploy armies of social bots and affect the directions of online political conversation. Therefore, future efforts will be required by the machine learning research community do develop more sophisticated detection techniques capable of unmasking the puppet masters.”

Add to developments like these things like the growing threat of weaponized botnets to Internet security or Google’s opaque and questionable autofills to search queries like “Are Jews…” and “Are women…?”, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that various forms of artificial intelligence now have more power over our lives than other real-life humans alone do.

It might not yet be Ray Kurzweil’s much-anticipated Singularity. But it is already singularly alarming in its implications for where we’re heading.

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