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Could AI Make Social more Human?

Two bits of insight crossed my brain simultaneously (from some form of electronic communication, of course):

1. With social media, we contact about the same number of people who care about us as we did prior to social media, but encounter far more people, most of whom don’t know who we are.

2. The creative capacity of AI will put a focus on the genuine human-ness of people we encounter.1

There could be a great way these two situations work together. The types of AI that allow digital engineering of social personas could advance to the point where they are so polished and unhuman that inter-human social interactions are more real. Knowing the extent of AI engineering in a person’s profile could relieve some of the confused emotions we may feel interacting with people we we don’t actually know. When we are interacting with a real person, we will know it, because it isn’t AI. And it will be real.

AI can make flawless skin (i.e. image correction), eloquent elocution (speaking good), perfect grammar (and grandpa), and any number of other machine-assistable operations, easy. While many of us have laboured to perfect some of these operations, and it sets us apart from people who don’t do it as well, perfect execution of the machine-learnable will not be as defining as it was. 

While there are entire industries and careers built by people who have a large number of followers, I wonder how much AI will take over for currently human mega-influencers. Or the human influencers will let AI take over. If the type of creative that AI can create is no longer distinguishing, because it is accessible to everyone, will human influencers disappear? 

There could be a return to the era when mega-stars, celebrities, were remote, almost caricatures of the most beautiful, talented people that most of us would never interact with in real life. The AI generated personas will be personalities we admire from afar for their perfection. 

The human psyche to wants to believe super-people exist. We can strive to be like them but don’t really expect to achieve it, because such perfection is unrealistic. Based on what I’ve seen so far, AI should be good at taking a bunch of criteria of a wonderful human (beauty of mind, body and soul, funny, empathetic, social activist, creative, well spoken, good at cricket etc, and modified based on the viewers’ personal values and interests). And AI could make it happen in the required format – in this case, an internet personality.

Much as we want to believe that this new (from 2010’s) approach to stars is more human, interactive and authentic, if you look at the numbers, so many of the hugely popular influencer/creators have to be distanced from their followers. Because, who can respond personally to several million people, a day, month, year or even lifetime? No human, but AI can. 

Volume is important. There is some aspect of human sociability that requires we are able to say ‘I saw that’, whether it’s a recipe for cauliflower, election updates, or a discovery of alien life. It conveys community, awareness, and camaraderie. Thus, there needs to be things that go ‘viral’, so we have something to share with each other.

This brings me to a critical point, the nexus of the two observations above. With the rise of social media platforms, there’s been blurring of the boundaries between news, information of interest, antics of iconic people (we used to call them celebrities) and our friends, family, our loved ones. Posts from all of these categories scroll one after another on our social feeds, blurring the relationships and the validity of the information. Do we listen to our sister, Gwyneth Paltrow or the Canadian Dental Association about tooth whitening? If we take the advice of Gwyneth or the Dental Association, it won’t impact our social network. However, if our sister gives advice that damages our teeth,we feel betrayed or unloved, even though she only shared an article she read online.

Trouble is, on social media, it’s blurry if information, connection or caring is coming from someone we are socially connected to, or just connected to, and how much you care depends on your age. Yikes, there’s three distinct distinctions in that last sentence. Let me put it this way:

Social media:

  • has evolved to provide multiple types of inputs for the user:
    • generic information, such as the weather, 
    • valued-added information of personal relevance, such as the nearest grocery store with a sale on frozen pizza, 
    • connections or casual interactions beyond the data-byte, i.e. makes you feel good like sharing a smile with a stranger as you walk down the street on a sunny day or getting the same meme,
    • a way to connect with those we really care for – like when you know the digital hug is as real as if the person was in the same room as you.
  • users exchange information in the same basic way (post, see post, react to post) with people who
    • are famous, 
    • aren’t even people -like businesses or organizations, 
    • strangers – not famous or an organization, but they don’t know, 
    • they sort of know 
    • they know well
  • is consumed differently by different generations. My best interpretation is there are digital natives (born after the internet) and non-native, or digital immigrants (born before the internet). The difference is how information is obtained (online for the native) and how dependent the person is on it: for natives very, for immigrants, not so much. A digital native might consider the messages of someone they don’t know more genuine while an immigrant could discount the same as superficial.
  • consists of brief, superficial interactions, unless there’s a significant previous context.

Simply, social has scrambled our interpersonal interactions, because they all seem the same but are different.

I’m thinking AI generated personas on social can clarify this for us. Let AI provide all the information we consume that isn’t from a human we know. And thus, we will know when a genuine person is reaching out or reacting to us because it’s to us personally, an individual person. Because it isn’t AI.

1Based on what I heard on the “More or Less” podcast of Feb. 2 with special guest Casey Neistat 

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