Why can’t AI, which is already used by major social networks to help moderate the status updates, photos, and videos users upload, simply be deployed in greater measures to remove such violence as swiftly as it appears?
A big reason is that whether it’s hateful written posts, pornography, or violent images or videos, artificial intelligence still isn’t great at spotting objectional content online. That’s largely because, while humans are great at figuring out the context surrounding a status update or YouTube, context is a tricky thing for AI to grasp.
Huge volume of posts
But with a huge volume of posts popping up on these sites each day, it’s difficult for even this combination of people and machines to keep up. AI still has a long way to go before it can reliably detect hate speech or violence online.
Machine learning, the AI technique tech companies depend on to find unsavory content, figures out how to spot patterns in reams of data; it can identify offensive language, videos, or pictures in specific contexts. That’s because these kinds of posts follow patterns on which AI can be trained. For example, if you give a machine-learning algorithm plenty of images of guns or written religious slurs, it can learn to spot those things in other images and text.
However, AI is not good at understanding things such as who’s writing or uploading an image, or what might be important in the surrounding social or cultural environment.
Especially when it comes to speech that incites violence, context is “very important,” said Daniel Lowd, an associate professor at the University of Oregon who studies artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Comments may superficially sound very violent but actually be satire in protest of violence. Or they may sound benign but be identifiable as dangerous to someone with knowledge about recent news or the local culture in which they were created.
“So much of the impact of a few words depends on the cultural context,” Lowd said, pointing out that even human moderators still struggle to analyze this on social networks.
Even if violence appears to be shown in a video, it isn’t always so straightforward that a human — let alone a trained machine — can spot it or decide what best to do with it. A weapon might not be visible in a video or photo, or what appears to be violence could actually be a simulation.
Furthermore, factors like lighting or background images can throw off a computer.
It’s computationally difficult to use AI to find violence in video, in particular, said Sarah T. Roberts, an assistant professor at UCLA who researches content moderation and social media.
“The complexity of that medium, the specificities around things like, not only however many frames per second, but then adding in things like making meaning out of what has been recorded, is very difficult,” she said.
“Hundreds of thousands of hours of video is what these companies trade in,” Roberts said. “That’s actually what they solicit, and what they want.”