Views and announcements

AI Con highlights: new careers, fake news and social media addiction

  • It’s been a week since Belfast’s inaugural AI Con took place at the Europa hotel, where the 400-strong audience heard from various experts throughout the day on how AI is changing the world and thriving in Northern Ireland.

    Seedcamp venture partner, Stephen Allot spoke in the early morning of the use and misuse of AI.

    Mr Allott focused on how artificial intelligence is used for personalisation, addiction and propaganda. One of the main topics he touched on was the prominent point of social media addiction in the modern world.

    “Social media companies are deliberately addicting users to their products for financial gain, Silicon Valley insiders have told the BBC’s Panorama Programme,” he said. He showed video footage of ex-social media platform employees and software specialists that explained the issue further.

    “It’s as if they’re taking behavioural cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface and that’s the thing that keeps you coming back and back and back,” said former Mozilla and Jawbone employee, Aza Raskin.“Behind every screen on your phone, there are generally like literally a thousand engineers that have worked on this thing to make it maximally addicting,” he added.

    In 2006 Mr Raskin, a leading technology engineer himself, designed infinite scroll, one of the features of many apps that is now seen to be as highly habit forming. At the time he was working for Humanized - a computer user interface consultancy.

    RELATED: AI Con: the original story

    Mr Allott also discussed the fact that “computational propaganda is widespread”, referring to the book, “Computational Propaganda” that is based upon a series of case studies in a number of countries between 2015 and 2017. The book includes qualitative and quantitative analysis of how tools like social media bots are used to manipulate public opinion, also touching on how various political parties worldwide use social media to subtly spread disinformation, hate speech and junk news.

    Some information that came from the book and Mr Allott’s presentation are as follows:

    1. Organised social media manipulation campaigns which have taken place in 70 countries, up from 48 countries in 2018 and 28 countries in 2017. In each country, there is at least one political party or government agency using social media to shape public attitudes.
    2. Authoritarian regimes in 26 countries are using computational propaganda as a tool of information control in three distinct ways; to supress fundamental human rights, discredit political opponents and drown out dissenting opinions.
    3. Facebook and Twitter attributed foreign influence operations to seven sophisticated state actor countries (China, INDIA, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela) who have used these platforms to influence global audiences.
    4. China has become a major player in the global disinformation order. China’s new-found interest in aggressively using Facebook. Twitter and YouTube should raise concerns for democracies.
    5. Facebook remains the only platform of choice for social media manipulation. In 56 countries, we found evidence of formally organised compuational propaganda campaigns on Facebook.

    Following Mr Allott, Dr Anna Jurek from Queen’s University, Belfast (QUB) informed the audience of how the university’s School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is using data science and “emotional analysis” to detect ‘fake news’ – an epidemic sweeping the globe since mid-2016 when most popularly discussed during the US presidential election.

    QUB is taking an evidence based medicine approach to medical facts verification (as medical fake news threatens our health), and is assessing the coherence of political news using topic modelling, amongst other initiatives.

    RELATED: AI Con: NI could be Centre of Excellence in artificial intelligence

    Despite these negative connotations, AI Con showed that to simply view the tech in this way would be counter-productive, as AI opens up so many more opportunities than problems. It is creating new careers, as explained by Adrian Johnston, director at Digital Catapult Northern Ireland. He said that the jobs children now will have in 10 years probably haven’t been invented yet, and that it is a myth that AI and emerging tech is driving unemployment. Web developers, UX designers and software engineers are only a few examples of top-grade careers that AI has helped create in recent years, and due to a current skills shortage for these jobs in NI, the pay for these roles is substantially higher.

    Mr Johnston also detailed some shocking statistics, such as how every two years as much information is created as there is from the dawn of civilisation to 2003. He noted that AI is enabling data growth, innovation and disruption, and is not just for large, expensive corporations.

    With a thriving AI community now in Northern Ireland, that is still increasing as the country’s first AI-dedicated conference has shown, it is hard to imagine a current or future world where artificial intelligence won’t be at the heart of all businesses.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

    Got a news-related tip you’d like to see covered on Sync NI? Email the editorial team for our consideration.

    Sign up now for a FREE weekly newsletter showcasing the latest news, jobs and events in NI’s tech sector.

Share this story