Mark Thomas Miller

Zombification

There’s a new cigarette company in town, but its product is entirely pixelated. With monthly active users that are 4.7 times the population of the United States, it’s a rather big player in today’s world.

“It scares me what Facebook is doing with AI,” George Hotz [formerly employed by Facebook] says. “They’re using machine learning techniques to coax more people into spending time on Facebook.”

Business Insider

There’s a rather peculiar case here: while Facebook is doing its job as a business, the sheer scale of their operation may be a detriment to humanity. They’re using machine learning to create addictions in their 1.5 billion users per month, and their average US user’s browsing time is 40 minutes per day. (Globally, it’s 20.) Basically, Facebook is becoming a new form of cigarette.

With these statistics, humanity logs 30 billion hours into Facebook each month. This is three hundred sixty billion hours per year spent collectively on the service, which is the equivalent of 535,714 lifetimes spent on nothing but scrolling through news feeds.

What’s scary here isn’t the numbers, but the fact that Facebook is trying to increase them. This means that for every one minute Facebook’s machine learning is able to increase its average viewer’s time, an additional 18 billion man hours per year are being thrown away into a sea of blue pixels.

These effects don’t stem from Facebook’s morality – they come from something much deeper and more dangerous: humanity’s thoughtlessness. The company is run by humans who may question the first order consequences of their actions, but not their aftereffects. Very few people, if any, consider the implications that come from thoughtlessly operating an addictive company that consumes nearly every member of our planet’s first world countries.

Facebook is becoming a control center – a massive communications and organizational system – for humanity. It’s diversifying itself to become the fabric of our future lives. While their product can do good in the world, it can also wreak havoc on our productivity and waste the little time we have available.

Do you notice yourself mindlessly opening Facebook from time to time? Do you feel an addiction? Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s the machine.