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YouTube’s Recommender AI Still a Horror Show, Finds Major Crowdsourced Study

For years YouTube’s video-recommending algorithm has stood accused of fuelling a grab bag of societal ills by feeding users an AI-amplified diet of hate speech, political extremism and/or conspiracy junk/disinformation for the profiteering motive of trying to keep billions of eyeballs stuck to its ad inventory. And while YouTube’s tech giant parent Google has, sporadically, responded to negative publicity flaring up around the algorithm’s antisocial recommendations — announcing a few policy tweaks or limiting/purging the odd hateful account — it’s not clear how far the platform’s penchant for promoting horribly unhealthy clickbait has actually been rebooted. The suspicion remains nowhere near far enough.

New research published today by Mozilla backs that notion up, suggesting YouTube’s AI continues to puff up piles of “bottom-feeding”/low-grade/divisive/disinforming content — stuff that tries to grab eyeballs by triggering people’s sense of outrage, sewing division/polarization or spreading baseless/harmful disinformation — which in turn implies that YouTube’s problem with recommending terrible stuff is indeed systemic; a side effect of the platform’s rapacious appetite to harvest views to serve ads. That YouTube’s AI is still — per Mozilla’s study — behaving so badly also suggests Google has been pretty successful at fuzzing criticism with superficial claims of reform. The mainstay of its deflective success here is likely the primary protection mechanism of keeping the recommender engine’s algorithmic workings (and associated data) hidden from public view and external oversight — via the convenient shield of “commercial secrecy.” But regulation that could help crack open proprietary AI blackboxes is now on the cards — at least in Europe.

Phone zombies on the road

“It’s People Like Us uses dashboard cameras to capture the driving behaviour of five young motorists, all of whom willingly signed up to the project, and each of whom is revealed as a serial offender when it comes to using their mobile phones while driving.”

Is the future of screen culture watching on fast-forward?

Make note of the screen culture symptoms: lack of linear narrative, increase in speed, shorter attention span, skimming, less engagement with content/meaning, “efficiency”, increase in scatterbrain, etc. Also, the descriptions about how this behaviour effects the perception of reality.

“I watch television and films in fast forward. This has become increasingly easy to do with computers (I’ll show you how) and the time savings are enormous. […] I started doing this years ago to make my life more efficient.

[…]

As I’ve come to consume all my television on my computer, I’ve developed other habits, too. I don’t watch linearly anymore; I often scrub back and forth to savor complex scenes or to skim over slow ones. In other words, I watch television like I read a book. I jump around. I re-read. Sometimes I speed up. Sometimes I slow down.

I confess these new viewing techniques have done something strange to my sense of reality. I can’t watch television in real-time anymore. Movie theaters feel suffocating. I need to be able to fast-forward and rewind and accelerate and slow down, to be able to parcel my attention where it’s needed.

[…]

We risk transforming, perhaps permanently, the ways in which our brains perceive people, time, space, emotion. And isn’t that marvelous?”

The Outrage Machine

This short video explores how the online world has overwhelmingly become the popular outlet for public rage by briefly illustrating some of the many stories of everyday people which have suddenly become public enemy number one under the most misunderstood of circumstances and trivial narratives. With the web acting like a giant echo-chamber, amplifying false stories and feeding on the pent-up aggression of the audience watching the spectacle, The Outrage Machine shows how these systems froth the mob mentality into a hideous mess, as a good example of where the spectacle goes and how its intensity has to keep ratcheting up in order maintain the audience attention, in a culture of dwindling attention spans, distraction and triviality.

Filmmaker and author Jon Ronson also recently wrote a book about this topic too, which is quite good. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. His TED talk is essentially a 17 min overview:

And a longer presentation with interview and Q&A from earlier this year: