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Machine Learning, the Enjoyable Devil Pact

Machine learning is used by most online companies nowadays; it’s the science that gets computers to act without being explicitly programmed to do so, it’s the science that gave us self-driving cars, Google’s search results, YouTube’s captions, speech recognition and so on.

What machine learning does is it gets information from you and from millions of other people, and it learns how humans think, how they react, and what they want. It also learns how certain words sound when spoken and how they look when written in a hundred different handwritings. Google, a company that’s setting the trend for most other online giants out there, believes machine learning is the future, implementing this technology left and right into most of its products, and there are good reasons to believe the company is right.

The thing about machine learning is that it uses your data, the very same data that you might feel weird about any company having. On the other hand, there are immense benefits of trusting a company such as Google with your data.

Before you bite my head off, let me elaborate.

When it comes to data-processing companies, Google is probably right at the top of the food-chain. The company, which makes the bulk of its money from advertising, has branched out in so many directions that it’s not just about selling ads nowadays.

It uses machine learning to figure out how to provide you with the best search results for whatever it is you’re looking for. Since Google handles billions upon billions of searches per day, passing the 2 trillion mark in the past few years, it needed a way to learn how to better respond to people’s inquiries. It needed to know how to tell which sites had valuable information and which didn’t.

Furthermore, without machine learning, Google wouldn’t have been able to include those handy knowledge boxes where you get the response to your question without going to the trouble of actually tapping a single link.

Also, you know how Google can tell if you’ve taken a photo of a bird, your dog or your child? Well, it uses image recognition. Facebook does too, for that matter. Well, these too are features that we now have thanks to years of research regarding machine learning. It’s also the same way Google Maps knows the number of the street you’re supposed to get to, or that you took a picture in a specific national park.

About a month back, Google announced that Gmail blocks 99.9% of spam and phishing messages thanks to its machine learning tech, which is great news.

 

The cost of your easy life

Of course, all this sounds absolutely lovely, right? So many uses for this incredible technology, so many ways it can make our lives easier.

But there’s a catch! Google uses your very own data in order to make this happen. Before you start screaming about online privacy, you should know you signed up for this when you agreed to the company’s Terms and Conditions. It should also be mentioned that there’s no one at Google looking at whatever it is you were browsing the other night, or what you were searching for on its engine, or what emails you were sending. However, the system the company has in place, others too, simply scans through it all, looking for keywords, trying to make sense of the complicated paths we follow online.

Google, Facebook, and dozens of other companies use Artificial Intelligence, as machine learning, neural networks, deep learning and other similar concepts all fall under the same umbrella. They use it both for your benefit and theirs.

It’s only natural, of course. These are services we use for free online, and sometimes we take this for granted, without thinking of the millions of dollars being spent on employees, offices, research, and so on. So while we get the cool features making our lives easier, these companies found a new way to make a buck by doing a much better job at targeting ads to your screen. Relying on cookies alone is a thing of the past for these companies who take into account every minute thing you do online.

Facebook, for instance, will take into account the articles in your newsfeed that you actually interact with, whether that’s by clicking on them or reacting to them in some way. While this benefits you because you have a news feed that better reflects what you want to see, it also benefits the company because it knows to show you more of what you’re interested, bring you back again and again looking for those very same things. This translates into more chances of you clicking on those ads that they keep pushing your way – ads that are targeted to the smallest of details. When Facebook sells ad space on your wall, it does so anonymously, but it knows exactly the kind of things you might be interested in clicking on before you even realize it.

The more time goes by, the more these networks become better at predicting your behavior, knowing what you are looking for, and delivering that thing to you.

Those who enjoy their privacy beyond anything else may feel rather uneasy knowing that these companies are handling their data to such an extent, even if they do so anonymously. This data, however, is the price we pay for using most services we love nowadays. It’s also what makes our lives infinitely easier. Don’t believe me? Open Google Photos or Facebook and look for a photo you once took of your dog in a blue coat, use those specific terms, and see how quickly it gets back to you.

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