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“This Automated Life” – a Webby Talk

Artificial Intelligence – AI – What’s the future for it? What’s happening now? Will robots and computers eventually begin to understand all of our personal preferences and make decisions for us? Some of these changesĀ – some ominous, some pleasant – are already happening, affecting areas like commerce, culture, security, and entertainment, to name a few, yet the future isn’t as dystopian as one might expect.

Perhaps in honor of my presence, a cat picture was used early in this presentation

I had the pleasure of attending a presentation Thursday night at General Assembly’s NYC HQ titled “This Automated Life”, hosted by Webby Media Group CEO David-Michel Davies. He opened the forum by asking how the audience would think one could identify a picture of a cat – an easy task for most humans, but difficult at times for artificial intelligence to comprehend if the picture isn’t framed in an ideal form. Davies pointed out this challenge isn’t unique to just cat pictures, as plenty of examples exist across social media where even the eye struggles to distinguish at first glance between mops and shaggy dogs, or croissants and cats.

But AI is already making key decisions in our daily lives. Davies detailed how Facebook already weeds out potentially 1,500 to 2,000 posts per day from across the typical user’s friends, likes, groups, etc. and boils that down to roughly 15-20 items for one’s Newsfeed. Outside of social media, successful uses include Tess, an automated messaging-based mental health therapy app, as well as Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s use of software that can diagnose tuberculosis via x-rays.

Davies continued to explain how other examples of AI analysis exist in human resources, creative professions, transportation (self/partially automated vehicles), and public safety. However, the success of using AI in these fields has so far varied greatly, often depending on cultural acceptance of technology in daily life. In China, for example, facial recognition software is used to publicly shame jaywalkers, who transport planners blame for roadway accidents. Some KFC locations in China are also utilizing facial recognition software to guess what a customer will want to order. In the United States, though, Webby Media Group’s research presents a different picture of how Americans feel about artificial intelligence now and in the future.

Webby Media Group surveyed roughly 3,000 people in the U.S. to gauge awareness of AI in their daily lives, as well as assess their opinions on the technology going forward. The results showed major contrast in acceptance and usage. 65% said automation has made a significant impact on daily life, while 79% said they had used some form of AI in the past 12 months. The growth of AI in daily touchpoints has less acceptance, with 53% stating they were uncomfortable relenting choice of music to an algorithm (i.e. Spotify), while food recommendations (56% uncomfortable), finances (60% uncomfortable), and health decisions (79% uncomfortable) showing even less tolerance for the influence of AI. The survey-takers believed they will still rely on interpersonal touch for some important decisions, as 72% would believe a person’s restaurant recommendation over a computer’s, while 86% stated a human would be more trust-worthy than a computer when it comes to an important medical decision.

As for what’s possible within the next decade, the respondents continued to exhibit confidence in evolved use of existing technology. For example, 65% said AI could create music, and 80% believed self-driving deliveries would be commonplace. While music streaming platforms like Spotify do not create music (yet), it can suggest similar tracks, and the slow growth of self-driving cars and trucks via Uber, Tesla, etc. signify the (hopefully) eventual proliferation of automated vehicular transportation.

Davies listed four main takeaways:

  • AI is changing us as human beings
  • We must be hyper-conscious of concerns
  • We must have high expectations for the future of AI
  • And, we must earn trust with ideas that ultimately make life easier

I found his last point to be most important as conversation continues to grow around the proper deployment of artificial intelligence. In my opinion, having AI handle self-driving cars, simple medical assessments, basic aspects of early childhood education, and nutritional advice, for example, would actually make life easier. But suggestions for restaurants, group activities, or financial decisions would, to me at least, feel invasive and annoying. I recognize I’m part of a generation that is extremely tech savvy but somewhat wary of social media as the platforms have evolved. What I would post daily on Facebook 10 years ago I wouldn’t even share now on Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter as I’ve become less enthusiastic about sharing things publicly. And I certainly don’t have much of a need for an Alexa or Google Home at present time. Kids in high school now though? They’re all over Snapchat – of its 158 million daily users, the vast majority are aged 18 to 24 years old. Augmented reality, facial filters, location-based features, and other special effects are common now, but what will be common in a few years? And how will Gen Z’s acceptance of current tech help them utilize AI more than my generation?

My remaining questions after the presentation focus on how AI will impact content strategy and content marketing. Given the value of data in the field, it’s a matter of when, not if, software will begin to make recommendations on how to best spread content around within the media landscape. But will AI understand the value of creative brilliance over sheer quantity of impressions? Can publishers compete with Facebook, Google, and Amazon for bandwidth within their AI? We shall see. But fears of a dystopian automated future shouldn’t be boiling over yet.

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