Facebook has made a huge reveal about their current plans to expand their research into AI. Acquiring AI researcher Yann LeCun(Who does sport a very interesting track record), the social network is moving it’s main AI Lab to New York City. There has already been speculation about what direction the lab will be taking its research, and some have taken the direction that the move is Orwellian in nature. I have actually talked briefly about this before in this post. Most of what I said then still stands. However, there is a bit I might add to what I thought.
Basically, what has been verbally said from the new head of this lab has me a bit worried. He explains a basic principle of intelligence by saying “In some ways you could say intelligence is all about prediction. What you can identify in intelligence is it can predict what is going to happen in the world with more accuracy and more time horizon than others.” This is an accurate statement, and not really a cause for alarm. It is when he specifies the purpose of such a statement that I, and even where most people, begin to understand the vast implications that this step will have. “Being able to predict what a user is going to do next is a key feature.” This sentence alone should create fear in any person that considers themselves rational. Now, the company claims that this will be used in an attempt for the company to better personalize the website and services to each individual. This is true, and will most likely happen. However, if you take into consideration the amount of actual data we as consumers are going to get about how this system will work, or how much data it will go through, it becomes about a lot more than personalization. Most users will probably not realize or be notified that their data is being used to predict what they are going to do next. This is very clearly crossing a line when it comes to how much power a company takes when it comes to personal data.
There will be those who disagree with what I am saying here, and will probably think that what I have to say is crossing into ‘paranoia’ territory. If Facebook had no history of doing exactly what I have described above, then I would be inclined to believe there is some truth to the title. However, the history of Facebook has spoken for itself. The very cycle I have described above has happened in the social network’s own history. Yet, this has put the whole situation on a whole new scale. One that should make most people cautious at the very least.