The business world

Algorithms and armies

Businesses are finding AI hard to adopt

“FACEBOOK: THE INSIDE STORY”, Steven Levy’s recent book about the American social-media giant, paints a vivid picture of the firm’s size, not in terms of revenues or share price but in the sheer amount of human activity that thrums through its servers. 1.73bn people use Facebook every day, writing comments and uploading videos. An operation on that scale is so big, writes Mr Levy, “that it can only be policed by algorithms or armies”.

In fact, Facebook uses both. Human moderators work alongside algorithms trained to spot posts that violate either an individual country’s laws or the site’s own policies. But algorithms have many advantages over their human counterparts. They do not sleep, or take holidays, or complain about their performance reviews. They are quick, scanning thousands of messages a second, and untiring. And, of course, they do not need to be paid.

And it is not just Facebook. Google uses machine learning to refine search results, and target advertisements; Amazon and Netflix use it to recommend products and television shows…