September 2023

47 46 Algorithms - Can They Change Your Mind? Recent research shows how social media algorithms tend to show a very limited viewpoint to the user. This function of algorithms takes advantage of how we think and has the power to change our beliefs. The Polarization Puzzle Polarization, the division between two groups or beliefs, has always been part of human society. Social psychology studies such as Henri Tajfel’s social identity theory and historical records reveal how humans favor people in their community while being biased against outsiders. Democrat and Republican, Protestant and Catholic, Upper class and Lower class, polarization between social groups has persisted throughout history, reflecting our innate social tendencies. Concerns are now being raised about how AI affects people’s beliefs compounded by the addictive nature of social media. AI's Role in Amplifying Polarization While polarization isn't a new phenomenon, Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms have significantly amplified its effects, especially on platforms like YouTube. These algorithms are designed to keep us engaged. They do so by tapping into our fundamental human psychology by tailoring user recommendations that reinforce existing preferences. The YouTube Algorithm YouTube's recommendation algorithm is a prime example of AI in action. Investigations by organizations such as the Wall Street Journal, and numerous other studies, reveal how this algorithm recommends content aligning with past viewing habits, shaping the viewer’s experience. However, its true power lies in how it capitalizes on human tendencies. The Quest for Community Humans naturally seek out conformity with likeminded individuals. This is most famously shown by Solomon Asch’s Conformity Experiments, in which participants chose going with the group over the objectively correct answer. YouTube's algorithm leverages this innate desire for community by continually recommending content that aligns with a user's existing beliefs. In doing so, it steers users deeper into their preferred ‘rabbit holes’ and fosters a sense of belonging within specific ideological communities. This relentless conformity pushes us further away from opposing perspectives. Although the social media recommendation algorithms aren’t inherently malevolent, they have significant consequences. The Path Forward In essence, AI algorithms are the engines behind the polarization machine. They understand our psychology, and use our psychological tendencies against us, leading us further into our own echo chambers. While AI may not be solely responsible for polarization, understanding and recognizing the role of AI algorithms and their impact on our beliefs will allow for more responsible use of technology. In today’s digital landscape, AI recommendation algorithms are far-reaching. We must recognize the impactful role they play and the power they have in contributing to polarization. By Matthew Yu, Grade 12, Skyline High School, Seattle