Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a very hot field these days. Stories about AI seem to be popping up everywhere, on television, in newspapers and of course the Internet. Not surprisingly then, software engineers that understand this new technology are in high demand, being aggressively recruited by companies like Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook. Yes, that's right, Facebook! You might reasonably ask, why does Facebook need AI? The answer gives us a glimpse into where this technology is headed and is the subject of this post.
First let's start with a definition. According to the Oxford Dictionary, artificial intelligence is "The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages." Facebook currently has more than 1.7 billions users around the world, and each day its users post 300 million photos and share more than 4.7 billions pieces of content (Source: Zephoria). That's an enormous amount of data and Facebook sifts through every single byte of it. The company had revenue of $17.9 billion dollars in 2015, and analysts anticipate revenue of $27 billion in 2016. Facebook earns this money by learning everything it can about is users and selling that data to advertising and marketing firms. So anything that helps them understand more about us also helps their overall business, and that's where AI comes in.
In order to extract information from all of those photos and videos, Facebook uses a number of different AI tools. For example, they analyze photos not only to determine who is in it, but also where it was taken and what products might be in the picture. Facebook then uses this information to deliver customized content to each user, such as targeted advertisements and the NewsFeed users receive. The AI software even filters which posts users see from their family and friends. A recent study from MIT found that 62% of users didn't realize that the content they saw was being filtered, and many of them were not at all happy about it. So the next time you're on Facebook, ask yourself why these particular news stories or posts were chosen for you? Perhaps more importantly, ask yourself what are you not seeing?