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Recommendation Algorithms & Lost Childhoods
For every passing day, I become less of an AI enthusiast and more worried about the future.
To be fair, my concerns are not limited to AI but start with the impacts of social media, smartphones, and especially TikTok. It’s a wonder how we as a society allow young folks and children unhinged access to powerfully addictive and manipulating recommendation algorithms.
I suppose it's not even meaningful to say "we as a society". There are such strong divisions caused by echo chambers on social media. To simplify: People from the political left are exclusively shown left-wing content and people from the political right are exclusively shown right-wing content. Each side becomes more and more convinced that they are right and the other side is nuts. We are losing common ground, common sense and recommendation algorithms on social media is the driver.
I found myself at Burger King the other day because I had to use the toilet. On the stairs, I say these two young girls grinning. They were maybe 6-7 years old and both had a large-looking smartphone in their small hands. Obviously, they were grinning at something they saw on the screens.
My first thought: these young girls have been robbed of their childhood.
The rest of their lives will be an endless rotation from one screen to the other. Their smartphones will be omnipresent companions. Very likely, they will have a hard time or may even be incapable of forming meaningful connections with other human beings and experience deeper emotions outside of constant dopamine spikes and dopamine drops.
When dopamine levels are high, they will grin in the same way as they do now. When dopamine levels are low, they will question what the meaning of it all even is. Until they grab the phone again and start swiping, scrolling, liking, consuming, and feeling validated by selfies and sexually suggestive bikini photos. Nothing in the natural world could ever feel as rewarding.
Like almost all people brought up in Western culture, they have lost touch with nature, outside and inside. They are blocked from experiencing the simple joys of being alive due to constant streams of thoughts. The same goes for their parents and institutions, and the systems that their lives are based on. No one is there to guide them in the right direction.
Back in my childhood, entertainment was made by and for humans and shown at scheduled time frames. It was by no means perfect or always great, but it was human. On the internet, we could sense the humanness of people we communicated with on MSN, Myspace, and various messaging boards. This is no longer the case. We live our online lives, increasingly our entire lives, under the mercy of recommendation algorithms. The content we consume and the avatars we engage with are increasingly non-human and filtered.
Big technology companies have done humanity a disservice by developing social media platforms, and now AI. I can almost guarantee that over the next few years, suicide rates will go up and birth rates will go down. Young people will have less sex, be more unhappy, anxious, depressed, and feel lonely, isolated, and directionless. Soon, humans may end up as dinosaurs, unless a collective change happens.
We need to ferociously regulate AI and BigTech, demand more transparency, accountability, data ownership, and more independent research on the many and extremely negative implications of AI and social media addiction. Not just for the sake of us but for the next generations.