Wow, what a great documentary! They have done a tremendous job in pin-pointing and thoroughly covering the problem from multiple angles and point-of-views.
The problem is that we have created this whole new space, that for a lot of us has become an important portion of our lives, that also barely has any regulations. As mentioned in the movie, never before people with money had such a great tool to have a slight imperceptible change in our behavior without us having a clue about it. Our attention is being sold to the highest bidder in the form of tradeable human-futures. Social media, as a tool, has been repeatedly used for nefarious purposes to make us believe things that are not true. One of the symptoms of this problem is Trump getting elected in 2016 and a little shy of half of the votes again going in his favor in 2020 when it’s evident that his inactions have resulted in a quarter-million dead Americans and counting.
In this new space, we have also made AI in charge of maximizing revenue that in-turn shows us the thing that sells the most, i.e., fake news and conspiracy theories. When we think about AI taking over the world, we often think about powerful evil robots with heavy artillery taking over the world with force and brutality. However, in reality, how that might happen is very different. Social media is a perfect example of how AI could potentially destroy civilization as we know it today, i.e., us asking it to achieve something and it exploiting a vulnerability or cheating its way out, to achieve what we asked it to achieve. We have all experienced it while training classifiers to differentiate between an image of a cat or a dog. We are now witnessing what that looks like at a civilization-scale when we ask AI to maximize clicks and views. It exploits the vulnerabilities in our monkey-brains and does exactly what we asked it to do by promoting content that sells. Just that, that content happens to be fake and results in extreme polarization. These fake news have real consequences! Another interesting message from the movie is that while hoping for AI to cross the point where it surpasses human abilities and strengths, we failed to notice that AI has already crossed the point where it surpasses human weaknesses.
The good news is, we are still in charge of these systems. These systems are not on the loose (yet). We just have to assign a fiscal incentive to gain back the control and divert them from achieving this dystopia. I don’t think outright abolishing these platforms is the way to go because these platforms are also means for us to communicate, be creative and uplift each other, especially during the hard times of the pandemic. Therefore, it’s incumbent on us to talk to our loved ones and educate them about the consequences of using these platforms so that they don’t fall prey to malicious actors.