AI Will Soon Transform Social Media; The Question is How?

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Many misconceptions surround AI, beginning with establishing its working definition. Just what is artificial intelligence? An explanation I recently found summarizes this technology’s capacities in a simplistic way: AI refers to any task completed by a program or machine that, if a human performed the same activity, we would say it required intelligence to complete.

Essentially, AI is a tool for humankind. In the past few decades, we have witnessed the rise of other unprecedented tools that have reshaped our capabilities and, in many ways, how we relate to each other. Without a doubt, the biggest breakthrough of the past century is the internet. More than TV and radio, it has transformed the fabric of modern existence, influencing not just culture and business, but also how we connect to others.

The internet gave rise to yet another juggernaut development with uncanny implications upon our daily lives. I am talking, of course, about social media. It’s no secret this tool has been used to influence discourse, amplify voices, boost revenues, and reimagine relationships. Individuals who didn’t grow up digital natives, with the internet in their back pockets, can hardly conceive of a time before Facebook. (I mention this platform and not say, MySpace, as the latter has faded into irrelevance, whereas Facebook is going strong. We need only witness the introduction of its own currency as a recent example.)

Today’s generation doesn’t have any concept of life without social media. Likewise, neither will future generations. This technology will be taken for granted in much the same way we think little of electricity until the power goes out. What’s so interesting about this moment is that AI is now poised to become the next big breakthrough technology. Like Facebook, within a few years, AI will become such a mainstay of our daily interactions that future generations won’t be able to contemplate what life was like without it.

In order to understand AI’s larger implications, especially how it pertains to social media, my co-author Michael Ashley and I had the good fortune to recently interview growth strategist Brendan Kane for the release of our new book, Own the AI Revolution: Unlock Your Artificial Intelligence Strategy to Disrupt Your CompetitionThe author of One Million Followers, which details how he generated a “massive following in 30 days,” Kane is a social media wizard. He has built online platforms for A-list celebrities, including Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Charles Barkley, and Adrianna Lima, and advised

Based on such a remarkable pedigree, it made sense for me to consult with none other than Kane to understand AI’s social media promise. One of the most interesting takeaways from our conversation arose from AI’s ability to “understand the times.” In essence, this technology can observe and react to cultural events to create virality. For context on this point, it’s important to recall our earlier definition of artificial intelligence: AI refers to any task or activity completed by a program or machine that, if a human performed the same activity, we would say it required intelligence to complete it.

What this means is that AI works in the same way a person might when designing a social media post. It takes in information, analyzes it, and decides what might make for the most impactful content. The difference is, whereas a human is limited to how much data he/she can process for meaningful pattern-forming, an AI can sift through and crunch a Herculean amount. Bolstered by immense processing power and uninhibited by memory challenges, AI can reflect on a seemingly endless amount of data points, making inferences a human would be hard-pressed to duplicate. In other words, an AI has the potential to act as a 24/7 meme machine.

“AI can absolutely follow the news cycle and suggest what could go viral,” says Kane. “When I was working with Katie Couric, we conducted over 200 interview campaigns, testing something like 75,000 variations of content in the process. We eventually got to a place where we could determine what themes and topics to cover before they happened and whom to interview — down to exact questions.”

As evidence of this phenomenon at work, Kane mentions what might seem to be a macabre topic on its face. “Yes, I know it sounds a little twisted, but celebrity death can be a viral thing. I don’t know what it is, but whenever someone very famous dies, people suddenly want to click on anything related to learn more information.”

Whether it be a celebrity death or any other event, an AI can take salient data points to analyze trending topics, advising how to best position content based on the news cycle, informing pieces down to the headlines, whom to quote, and how to construct the writing — all in an effort to fashion posts that resonate with the public. “I mean, wow, you could really optimize like crazy from an AI perspective,” says Kane. “Just rapidly iterate to construct an article, seed it out for an hour with one headline, then measure the response.”

Again, similar to the way human intelligence functions, AI’s great advantage as a tool is its responsiveness — its ability to adapt according to input. Therefore, according to Kane, under this scenario, a computer could measure public responses to the posts it recommended creating, then adapt accordingly. For instance, it could tweak a headline, switch out an image or video, and/or amend content as needed due to received responses.

“To better appreciate how an AI could keep iterating and reiterating, finding that perfect viral sweet spot, I am reminded of Dr. Susan Weinschenk’s book, Neuro Web Design,” says Kane. “In it, she presents an illuminating case study. It so happened a book wasn’t selling well. Rather than update the content, the marketing team swapped out the cover and title. Voilà! It went to bestseller status. Successes like this intimate the potential of employing AI optimizations on the fly; playing off of data trends to deliver desired outcomes.”

Paradoxically, Kane suggests AI could also assist us in developing a healthier relationship with social media. According to TechJury, more than 3 billion people actively use these platforms, leading to average daily usage of nearly 2.5 hours. These statistics drastically increase when it comes to the younger demographic. Common Sense Media reports teens spend nine hours a day online, mostly centered around social media. At the same time, many applications, such as Facebook and Instagram, now offer dashboard tools offering a raw count of how long users have spent on them, including weekly averages.

Once again recalling AI's unique ability is to make sense of patterns from large data sets, Kane suggests AI can offer social media addicts help. By assessing the big picture, it can help us more consciously use social media. Not only can the technology provide information on its impact on our overall health, but it can also offer suggestions as to how to improve our behavior.  "It's interesting," says Kane. "People sometimes need to be scared into action. We all look at our mobile devices and our computers on a daily basis and see a large number on the screen. But what does that tangibly mean to our overall happiness?"

Kane's opinion is that AI can take this same data and provide insightful analyses of what it portends for our overall well-being, mitigating social media's addictive elements. "If you look at Facebook, Instagram, YouTube — ­any of these platforms are using behavioral psychology to train you to use the app over and over because that's how they make money," says Kane. "They get you addicted to the platform. Is it any wonder why? They were designed by the same logic informing slot machines: using variable rewards to keep you coming back for dopamine hits." Kane is, therefore, suggesting AI could be deployed as a countermeasure. Using its ability to synthesize vast data streams, it could offer a different feedback loop, promising healthier outcomes.

Kane’s thinking is needed more than ever at the dawn of the AI age. The gifted English writer and graphic artist Alan Moore once summed up the propensity for any tool to be used for good or bad. “Technology is always a two-edged sword. It will bring in many benefits, but also many disasters.” As we have already witnessed with social media, there is great potential for either outcome. Now that we are on the brink of taking AI even more mainstream, it's up to us to view such innovation through a prism more benefiting humanity.


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Neil Sahota (萨冠军), contributor, is an IBM Master Inventor, United Nations (UN) Artificial Intelligence (AI) subject matter expert, and Professor at UC Irvine. With 20+ years of business experience, he works with clients and business partners to create next generation products/solutions powered by AI. His work experience spans multiple industries including legal services, healthcare, life sciences, retail, travel and transportation, energy and utilities, automotive, telecommunications, media/communication, and government. Moreover, Neil is one of the few people selected for IBM's Corporate Service Corps leadership program that pairs leaders with NGOs to perform community-driven economic development projects. For his assignment, Neil lived and worked in Ningbo, China where he partnered with Chinese corporate CEOs to create a  leadership development program.

Neil is also an active volunteer. With the UN, he’s a founding member of their Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Social Good Committee. He is currently working with them to develop a report on the Economic Impact of AI as well as a model to incentivize member nations to invest in emerging technology to help fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals. In IBM’s Academic Initiative program that creates partnership opportunities between the IBM and the country’s top universities. He also serves as a business mentor for IBM’s Extreme Blue program that is an incubator for new product ideas. With Neil’s guidance, IBM developed new products and services in the areas of Business Analytics, Smarter Healthcare, Smarter Energy, Mobile Channel Development, and Social Media Solutions.

Moreover, Neil partners with entrepreneurs to define their products, establish their target markets, and structure their companies. He is a member of the Tech Coast Angels and The Cove Fund Investment committee and assists startups with investor funding. Neil also serves as a judge in the Butterworth Product Competition, mentor in the K5 Launch accelerator program, and coach for various start up competitions.

In addition to his professional work, Neil has taught part-time for the past eight years at UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UCLA, Oregon State University, international programs, corporate education, and K-12. He has help create Master’s degree programs in Innovation and Entrepreneurship as well as Business Analytics. He has created certificate programs in AI, Business Analysis, Predicative Analytics, and Project Management. In addition, he has created over thirty courses over all education levels.