With 1.2 billion users, Facebook has to have some way of sorting data into relevant content, like Google indexes websites with PageRank.

You might have read recently that Facebook has announced plans to expand its use of artificial intelligence into its billion-member social network software, with the aim of getting to know you better and providing you with more relevant content in newsfeed rankings. With 1.2 billion users, Facebook has to have some way of sorting data into relevant content, like Google indexes websites with PageRank.

The move comes as Facebook users have been increasingly complaining that stories they want to see are not appearing in their newsfeeds, however, can cutting edge software really think like a human and determine what we want to see?

This intelligence software will analyse content, understand natural language and learn from our behaviours, such as deciphering the meaning behind what we share - teaching computers to decode the complexities of human language.

Facebook's Artificial Intelligence lab will be the largest research facility of its kind in the world, with bases in New York, London and California - and all for Facebook! In a bid to keep users engaged and improving consumer experience, as well as increasing revenue growth through ads, it's easy to see why Facebook is investing such large amounts of time and money in artificial intelligence.

 

But is this kind of artificial intelligence helpful or a hindrance? The ultimate outcomes of this artificial intelligence are yet unknown - it could simply improve user experience by generating better friend recommendations and news feeds, auto fill the location of every photo you upload and view, or it could even go as far as gauging your mood from your recent interactions, or generating ads that are relevant to your latest status. Such artificial intelligence will undoubtedly lead to the development of a whole host of consumer facing applications.

What we have yet to explore however, is the isolating effects this could have on our social interactions if we are only shown and targeted with content Facebook thinks we want to see. For example, more and more of us are now using Facebook as a source of national and international news, with few businesses or news channels without a social presence. This could lead to a social bubble where we are only open to content that is relevant to our perceived interests, without a wider appreciation for activity going on outside these boundaries.

However, whilst Facebook is undertaking such a massive artificial intelligence programme, we should note that they are not alone with many other organisations doing the same. In fact, Facebook have already been using artificial intelligence for some time, using algorithms for its social network graphs and news feeds.
But will there become a point where the quest for generating revenue from ads surpasses consumer needs? Will we find ourselves in a world where the use of a social platform is misconceived as an online shopping store? The danger of such artificial intelligence is that our interests, likes and conversations are misused to enable advertisers to target us with unwanted ads and include us in searches available to every Facebook member. In addition we may face the loss of control over what content we can view without even realising it.

The news follows announcements in April 2013 that more than 1 trillion social connections on Facebook are now searchable with questions like find 'friends of friends who are single in San Francisco'. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook commented last year that his vision was for Facebook to "understand the world" and have people able to "easily ask any question to Facebook and get it answered". Zuckerberg has even referenced used of voice recognition in the past.

But should we be seeking to protect our privacy? Artificial intelligence that analyses our every move sure sounds like a scary concept!

The dangerous side to making such intelligence readily available, is that it might be misused for online stalking and bullying. In addition, Facebook doesn't always alert it's users to changes which impact on privacy, for example, a recent change to Facebook's features have even quietly disabled opt out for timeline search. There is a worry that the integration of Facebook into our daily lives means that most people will continue to make use of the social platform, even if privacy concerns are heightened in the future. This is particularly true for people who do not keep up to date with the quiet changes that Facebook makes to its privacy settings, or those who do not understand the implications.

Whilst we await the outcomes of Facebook's Artificial Intelligence Programme, perhaps this can serve as a gentle reminder for us all to be more vigilant when posting information online and to keep a better track of our privacy settings!

 

10 facts you didn't know about Facebook

1. Facebook hires hackers
In 2006, Chris Putnam hacked into Facebook and made thousands of profiles look like MySpace profiles. Facebook hired him.

2. Facebook doesn't allow breastfeeding photos
Facebook was criticised by mothers when it yanked photos of breastfeeding babies that women had posted on their personal profiles because it deemed them a little too revealing.

3. Facebook causes divorces?
A third of all divorce filings in 2011 contained the word "Facebook".

4. Facebook was almost shut down
A lawsuit by ConnectU claimed that Zuckerburg stole the idea and technology for Facebook but the case was settled out of court.

5. Facebook is a dumping ground
25% of people have been dumped over Facebook.

6. FAD is a mental illness
Over 350million people suffer from Facebook Addiction Disorder.

7. Burger King gave away free burgers to users who unfriended people on Facebook
In January 2009, an advertising campaign from Burger King titled "WHOPPER Sacrifice" rewarded Facebook users a free "Angry Whopper" for publicly deleting 10 friends, who would then receive a blunt message informing they were deleted for a free hamburger. The campaign's tag line was "Friendship Is Strong, but The Whopper Is Stronger."

8. Hack Facebook and end up with $500 in your hand

9. Court notices and summons sent through Facebook are legal and binding in Australia

10. A quirky fact
Adding the number four at the end of Facebook's URL will redirect you to Mark Zuckerberg's personal wall.