Following Mark Zuckerberg the last few days testifying here in D.C. has been entertaining to say the least. A lot of it is just political theater, but there have been moments that make you think this is all the plot of some bad, bizarre science fiction novel.
Take for example, these three situations where Zuckerberg struggles to give any sort of a direct answer (which generally means “I know the answer but I don’t want to tell you”):
- When a user deletes their account, does the account actually get deleted and completely wiped off the server? Twitter users described Zuckerberg’s response as similar to the way Chester Cheetah stutters in answering questions in commercials. I’m going to take that lack of a direct answer as a “no, the info does not get completely wiped off the server.”
- When a person logs off Facebook, does this mean Facebook is no longer connected to a user’s browser? Zuckerberg’s tapdancing on this was really interesting because if a program I have terminated still stays in my browser and looks around, it’s not a program. It’s a virus. And since it’s Facebook, all users have already allowed it to come through the firewall and anti-virus protection. There’s nothing to stop it. Don’t think it happens? Search for something when you’re logged off. Then notice how Facebook miraculously shows you an ad for the same thing the next time you log on.
- Does Facebook accumulate information on people who have not even signed up for a Facebook account? Zuckerberg gave an answer that is basically “yes,” saying they need to do so for various reasons. As an example, if you allow Facebook to access your contacts, they’ll build what Zuckerberg calls a “profile” of each whether they have a Facebook account or not. Click on a link to a story on Facebook and you don’t have an account? They’ll grab info on your IP address, computer, phone, etc. and eventually match it up to other information they’ve gotten. Why? Because it’s what they do: gather and sell personal information.
But the part that really made me think of Zuckerberg as more like “Dave” in 2001: A Space Odyssey, was his insistence on Artificial Intelligence saving Facebook and the world. Indeed, there is actually a headline in The Washington Post this morning that says “Zuckerberg says AI will solve Facebook’s problems.”
Which is kind of frightening.
Artificial Intelligence is nothing new. It can be looked at much like you’d perceive an actuarial table on steroids. An AI program gathers as many facts as possible about a particular subject, then with the help of an algorithm, uses all the past factors as a way to predict a present or future situation. Us old-timers call it “experience,” but AI systems don’t sleep, eat French fries, or have senior moments....