All the rage is about fake news and algorithms. Supposedly, they're threatening democracy. Is it true? Here's my biased and unproved opinion.
First of all, algorithms are the pillar of modern society. They put several people on the Moon and they basically are the root of everything computers do. Everybody here knows that but it's always good to remind what's what.
As any tool you can use it for whatever purpose you want to give to it. Some use it to save lives by advancing medicine while others use it to sell ads. I'm not judging, it's a free world.
While some of those algorithms are based on rules, others are based on statistics. Especially the ones doing artificial intelligence which is in essence a convoluted way to do statistical regressions. The problem is that statistics are so hard to understand and counter-intuitive that you usually can use them to prove whatever you want.
Take this news article about Google doing CSI-style face unpixelating. It induces that you can re-compose a face from a pixelated image, however that is false: you can simply create a new face statistically inspired by the pixel soup which sometimes happens to look like the real one. So for instance, it would be totally unusable for police work and even less in a trial.
This is probably the most important takeaway from statistics: correlation does not imply causation. In short, AI is an "educated dice roll". If the wind changes then it's lost. You cannot rely on it blindly.
Which brings us to another issue. Humans are built by confrontation. Did you ever see a movie where the main character does something important without some external force forcing his hand? In fact some of the best movies ever made, let's say Blade Runner, are the result of an accumulation of conflicts that have been atrociously terrible for the people doing it.
Because yes, artificial intelligence is, to some extent, a copy of human intelligence. We're also regression engines. But when we face the world, the randomness of what happens to us gives us new ideas. And that's the only way to get them. Otherwise we'd just stay on the same drifting boat.
But what if we put in front of our eyes a filter that is specifically trained to recognize what we already know and only show us that? How does Hugh Grant meet Julia Roberts if she only sees other stars? How can Pretty Woman meet Richard Gere if he only drives cars he knows how to drive? How could Shrek meet Fiona if his swamp wasn't invaded?
That's right, if you put this filter in front of your eyes you end up sad and alone. And that filter is precisely what Facebook and Netflix and Amazon and Google and every-fucking-body in the Silicon Valley are creating, based on artificial intelligence.
What does this give to us?
- Readers will only read about what they already know and endless repetitions of that
- Content producers will only create content that already exists, with less and less randomness each time in order to better reach their audience
In short, sad and alone.
Facebook is not responsible for letting the fake news in. What kind of divinity would they be to decide what is true or not? Rather, they are responsible for cutting out all the perspective that people need but don't want.
So how do you solve fake news? Throw random shit at people. Find out what's good in some circles and throw it in other circles. Make ideas flow around the world not just inside your 2 or 3 closed circles.
Are algorithm making us dumb? The one safely driving your subway probably doesn't but the one blinding you from the truth probably does. It's dumb algorithms that make us dumb. So let's start making clever ones.