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Matrix Armageddon - Artificial Intelligence

Written by Yuliya Suleymanova, Gene Aaron

For over 2000 years all sorts of oracles, seers, prophets, and prognosticators had been foreseeing the upcoming End of Time, the Doomsday, the Apocalypse, the Armageddon. Each described many different scenarios but all are horrific and bloody. Some prophesy the coming of a messiah and some birth of the Antichrist, while others warn about nuclear war or a catastrophic climatic event.  Others however, mostly writers of sci-fi fiction and movie scripts, did warn us about how future intelligent machines, cyborgs, or even a digital matrix would overpower humans and destroy modern civilization as we know it. And now it happened! The prediction of Matrix Armageddon came true and is real! 

It came in the form of Big Data and new technologies and services, such as Social Media, Mobile Apps and Online Games, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Cloud Services, Super-computing, Virtual Assistants, and of course Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a core behind of it all.  Artificial Intelligence is not a new thing, but do we really understand it, and how it is being used? Do you realize how deep AI is woven into our daily lives? But first, let’s define the meaning and essence of AI. 

Artificial intelligence is a technology for mining for various consumers’ data, both structured and even unstructured, analyzing it, and defining behavioral and purchasing patterns with the purpose of predicting our behavior and decisions. It employs a variety of techniques and methods, such as Machine Learning, Statistical Analytics, Facial, Speech, and Image Recognition. The data which is being mined is a part of so-called Big Data and is based on our personal profiling and characteristics, and on recorded activity, such as likes, comments, blogs, and even private messages and emails.

AI is used mostly as an integral part by businesses for what they assume is targeted marketing and advertising and to offer products and services that they think a consumer is looking for and ready to buy. But that is not all. It is also used for influencing our decisions, our behaviors, and even indoctrinating into our minds certain ideas and dogmas for manipulating us as if we are a herd of cattle on the way to butchery.  Artificial Intelligence gets smarter as it processes more data and improves its machine learning algorithms and computation. It even uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) which has an ability to generate content to create e-mails, articles, and advertising texts in order to “talk” to us, to influence and “zombie” our brains. It uses Facial and Speech Recognition, Virtual Assistants, Location Tracking, and audio, visual, and text communications, and even Motion Tracking in VR games in order to “spy” on us, to collect and build our personal dossiers. If that is not a new world of digital domination and cyber occupation, if it is not a new form of robotic dictatorship, if not an Armageddon, then what is?  

The temptation to know our every move, record our every word, and to collect our financial and purchase history is tremendous. Businesses are hungry for such data and for “intelligent” predictions that such data can generate with use of AI algorithms and for technology which can help them to create and deliver advertising, marketing, branding, or even political messages and other content to all our online outlets.

Next question is how effective the Artificial Intelligence is and how big is a threat? Does it address a question of who are all those accounts it monitors, how real is what the account owners say on social media and in their communication and what are the consequences for brutal and continuous invasion of privacy of us, the consumers? While there are definite benefits in more precise targeting and adaptive advertising methods, the quality of such targeting and especially predictability of human behavior is questionable.

There are two major problems. First, it is the fact that consumer profiling and targeting is based on historical data. It is based on information, activities, and behavior patterns that happened in the past. However, all of us humans, tend to act spontaneously, under unpredictable circumstances, and most importantly our habits, our tastes, needs, and wants change over time, while aging, throughout changes in our life routine, and even under influence of random events, such as weather changes, mood swings, and simply random thoughts and fantasies that we have. 

Second problem is even more serious. It is authenticity of data and even authenticity of the accounts themselves. Some can argue that number of fake accounts, bots, professional trolls are within few percent margin across Social Media, but what makes it to be even more interesting is how people act online differs from what they really are and how they act in real life. Most people tend to create a specific “idealistic”, “happy” image of themselves and pick mostly positive information for their posts and comments, while others tend to show more “drama” than there really is. In addition to that, people like to make jokes, post sarcastic mems or collages, or post quotes, comments, and images, which belong to others. Many have more than one account on the same platform where they often appear under different nicknames or use different images for avatars. To all that not so reliable data, to say the least, we should add deliberate fakes and pranks and we will get a picture in modern cyberspace, which is in fact a distorted and misleading mockery of the reality which is being sold to advertisers for big fat bucks.

The losses that businesses carry by using AI for their marketing because of false assumptions, fake or unrelated content is difficult to calculate but we can easily say that they are in billions of dollars, which are completely wasted.  What is even more difficult to calculate, are damages to brands themselves from unnecessary, annoying, and spammy advertising practices. Now let’s take a look what “big’ guys, who use AI and Big Data the most, are doing. Amazon, Go Daddy, LinkedIn and many other nationally recognizable brands with gigantic budgets are still advertising not only on social media but also on traditional channels, such as television, radio, press, billboards, and others. We might question, why they do not use digital marketing exclusively? The simple answer will be – it is not as effective as people tend to believe. The results from digital marketing businesses achieve not because of the AI but because of investing in wide and repetitive distribution of their ads across multiple platforms, especially when combined with traditional media. Therefore, the most accurate answer is that predictions made by Artificial Intelligence do not work at all.  

Do the above facts mean that Artificial Intelligence and Cyber Surveillance is something harmless? Absolutely not.  As we all heard it, privacy is a big issue with social media, and a recent drilling of Mark Zuckerberg in the US Senate was a testimony of the hidden manipulations that Facebook has been doing for years. On April 30 - May 1, 2019 in San Jose, CA, Zuckerberg has announced that “The future is private.” Well it looks like “privacy” is going to be a “sexy” word in the content of social media for a while until another “hidden” privacy issue emerges, and the cycle will repeat. Facebook promises to create a new app for your desktop computer that will have all “privacy” covered. Following the trend, Alphabet Inc. (Google) announced that they will add new tools for users to control cookies on their Chrome browsers with initial purpose to minimize how advertising engines monitor user’s browsing activity. 

But wait! We all realize that this new feature will allow Google to further monopolize their advertising business and that these new Facebook apps will have even more opportunities to mine for our personal data using not only cookies, but also more sophisticated technology such as facial recognition and motion tracking. We all store our private information on our desktops, and then it would be even harder to keep your sensitive private data from “watching eyes and ears” of AI.  When a business model of Facebook and Google is to gather as much data on individuals as possible, and sell it to third parties, then building a new desktop app or cookie filter won’t make it more private even if you use the word "Private" a million times. It seems like the “Private” will remain a constant promise to be given to us only in some imaginary “Future” and never “Now”.

Another issue is manipulation and indoctrination of ideas, dogmas, and fake information. A known fact of manipulating people’s choices and values has been proven, as in the case of Russian influence in the 2016 United States elections documented by former FBI director Robert Mueller. But let’s set politics aside. What about online games, beauty tests, quizzes, “success stories”, life coach’s posts that trigger you to click on them and suck you into their “Funnels”, while you “agree” to give all these apps and sites access to your private information either from your desktop or cell phone, and often you are not even aware that you give permission to harvest your private data. 

We may say: why bother if AI analyses only old historical and often fake data? The answer is that AI is not that innocent and harmless at all. AI mines data and makes assumptions on what people’s values are, what they like to watch, eat, drive, and read. It continues to gather more data on us and becomes smarter, and then labels and segments us in a certain “box”, so that third parties can be more precise about who to target, what content to distribute, how often, at what moment, etc. People whose views and opinions, analytical skills, and critical thinking is not very strong, are a vulnerable target for such manipulations. If a person is not stable emotionally, then seeing disturbing images and posts, reading negative comments full of hatred and bullying, could be damaging. If this person is a child, then the results of reading, watching, and seeing such content could be detrimental to this child’s self-esteem and life. Ads and messages, generated by use of Artificial Intelligence are annoying and steal precious time from our lives, interfering with what we do, infecting not only our phones and computers, but our minds as well. What is even more dangerous, is that vast collection of our personal data and the deep integration with “smart” electronic devices makes identity and sensitive personal data theft more and more common, putting our well-being and even our lives in danger. And not only ours, but our kids, family members, and friends as well.

What can we do to protect our privacy and integrity of our identities? What can businesses do to maximize the effectiveness of their marketing and advertising activities? For consumers, the easiest, even though it is not so easy in reality, is to change certain habits, fight certain addictions, avoid tempting traps of entertaining apps and widgets, and learn about privacy settings, whichever are currently available. If most of us would stop using games, tests, click bates, if we would watch for warnings and disclaimers about collection of data, use of cookies, or our location, if we learn how to check the integrity of the information and its sources, then we not only would at least partially protect ourselves, but also reduce demand for such data from businesses, advertisers, propagandists, and even hackers, spammers and scammers. For businesses, our advice is to diversify their marketing and advertising strategies across omni-channel media, which includes traditional advertising and communication channels, such as TV, radio, and even direct mail and to plan and construct integrated marketing campaigns that would reach a wider range of consumers within controlled geographical areas and within reasonable budgets.

And that is not all. On a larger scale, as awareness of privacy issues grows and the word “Private” becomes more than “sexy” mem but a real trend, the new business models that are not dependent entirely on personal data and advertising, but are more interactive and consumer oriented, will emerge. 

However, despite all the threats, Artificial Intelligence can definitely bring a lot of value and good use for humans beyond just analyzing statistics but in scientific research, technological developments, organizing data, space exploration, climate issues, social issues, and even medical diagnostics and treatments. It can help us to move forward into the future instead of luring us into its hidden traps and holding us hostage. 

Suley Group, a new Seattle startup, is building innovative Cross-Industry Business and Media Ecosystem (CIBME), which will give people not only new forms of self-expression and social interactions, but also tools and controls of what they want to see, listen, and watch; what they want to read; what they plan to do and buy. This Ecosystem will provide businesses with the effective ways to build their brands and to find successful and effective way to promote their products and services, and to communicate with their consumers.

Altogether we can stop this Armageddon and conquer hordes of virtual machines and cyber goblins. Altogether we can harness the Matrix Monster and continue to evolve as conscious and intelligent beings instead of turning into virtual nods and speechless units of someone’s manipulative digital game. 

 

References:

Kietzmann, A., Paschen, J., Treen, E. (2018). Artificial Intelligence in Advertising. How Marketers Can Leverage Artificial Intelligence Along the Consumer Journey. Journal of Advertising Research

Mueller, R.S. (2019). Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/storage/report.pdf

Price. R. (2019). Mark Zuckerberg says 'the future is private.' But his definition of privacy might not be what you think. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-mark-zuckerberg-privacy-vision-2019-4

Haggin, P., & Copeland, R. (2019). Google Prepares to Launch New Privacy Tools to Limit Cookies. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/googles-new-privacy-tools-to-make-cookies-crumble-competitors-stumble-11557151913

 

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