How is personalization, data and Artificial Intelligence shaping the way we think?

Is technology shaping the way I think? Am I a sum of my likes, my preferences, my ethnicity, and where I live? Do I have a uniform that defines me in the virtual world and I don’t even know about it? Do you?

Artificial intelligence has evolved and is definitely changing our lives for the good in some ways. So, I’m not saying it’s all bad. Google translator applies Neural networks to translate different languages. I’m sure you experience and perhaps enjoy the convenience when buying a new lawn mower or laptop on Amazon. Machine learning algorithms or ‘recommendation engines’ regularly make suggestions that predict and claim to personalize content for us.

Recommendation engines, therefore, can be viewed as a way to narrow you down to “likes.” Data-driven campaigns are just the right kind of magic that marketers are rushing to tap into. Content is served up through algorithms, through hashtags, follow recommendations, and that is how your news feed gets populated.

What if you are served your own beliefs or worse disinformation. It’s not even deliberate in most cases, as these variances are being predicted on certain algorithms that the machine has learned from your clicks. You are what you click. It does this based on an algorithm and delivers content to you without your permission. I’m sure you already knew that. You’re probably reading content where people are on your side of the story, and therefore when you come across another point of view, it’s pretty much shocking. It’s nice to have my content personalized based on what I like and my interests, however, it feels like it’s unfair to be told what you should and shouldn’t consume. Are we living in a digital prison?

Tom Goodwin explains that although it allows people to live a more comfortable life, we’re not being exposed to other perspective and points of view, and that limits food for thought for a diversity of thought, new ideas, and influence. We need to re-define personalization engines, audit algorithms and offer fresh perspectives and new ideas instead of ‘based on what you like, we think you would be interested in such and such’.

An app with an algorithm claims how to distinguish beautiful selfies and tell you which selfies to delete. Does this imply that such algorithms can dictate how we see ourselves? We carry assumptions that beauty can be defined as universal and timeless and can be easily reduced to a particular combination of data. The idea that everything is reducible to data is also beginning to affect the way people perceive their environment and everyday relations. Should we trust algorithms to tell us what aesthetic choices to make?

AI algorithms shape what we see and think. I could even say that it’s altering our judgments.

Artificial intelligence algorithms are embedded in social media. It is evident that these algorithms infiltrate our society and our perspectives. A.I. algorithms encoded with societal prejudices spread inaccurate information deliberately, and accelerate untruths we start to believe. As they begin to amplify echo chambers of public opinion, they hijack our attention and even impair our mental wellbeing. Since algorithms produce predictions as outputs, the sample data that is fed for the model to process might be already infiltrated with biases.

‘Automated Decision System Task Force’, an initiative by New York City, has deployed a panel to study and examine whether the algorithms contain biases to make decisions resulting in racially biased policies. The Economist: Is it possible to live free of the ubiquitous digital technologies and algorithms that track and influence us? If not, can we really be free?

According to this argument HBR, on why we need to audit algorithms, these are some of the questions we need to ask when auditing models “How do I optimally model and use the patterns in this data?“Is the distribution based on today’s reality the appropriate one to use?”

As AI transitions from experimentation into real-world decision-making environments, it is imperative for humans to act on these predictions, make good judgments and design ethically in order for the technology to succeed. We need to audit AI algorithms, build and design products with empathy and with the integration and combination of multi-disciplinary teams from social sciences, psychology, behavioral economics, human-centered design, and ethics to ensure societal values are reflected and respected. Artificial intelligence is fundamentally based on algorithms and predictions.

It’s time to re-imagine and re-define how information is conferred to people. Designing is fundamentally human, we need to get better as designing ethically and putting people first.