Artificial intelligence techniques are already being used by the intelligence community to analyse large numbers of articles, blogs and websites in order to assess moods and trends. The next step will be for these kinds of approaches to be rolled out with increasing frequency in the consumer sector (which is already the case to an extent in terms of online product recommendations and behavioural advertising) to generate valuable data for suppliers of commercial products and services. This will increasingly be about second guessing what options particular users want and providing them automatically. As users become increasingly at home with such services their behaviour and approach to using information and technology will be accordingly altered.
Some advanced that this will be a positive time saving development – and has significant implications in relation to new approaches to education. Is it relevant to teach children to memorise key facts or statistics that they can easily find out through a search engine? In a context where information is progressively easier to identify and acquire, education approaches should focus more on how to authenticate and exploit this information rather than committing it to memory.
There is a distinction between finding the information you need and finding the information that commercial entities have persuaded you that you need in order to maintain their revenue streams. While the use of automated filtering and personal tailoring of information and services is valuable in helping us navigate the vast and expanding universe of available content and services – the importance of choice should not be ignored. Choice is a central concept within economics, and where the availability of choice is constrained or reduced then arguably freedom is constrained or reduced as well. These restrictions may serve to undermine opportunities for spontaneous or creative discovery of ideas and concepts which exists outside our day to day terms of reference (serendipitous discovery). It was advanced that citizens need to be educated and provided with tools which effectively constitute sharp needles they can use to puncture their filter bubbles.
The concept of the online filter bubble was substantially derived from the work of American legal scholar Cass Sunstein. Sunstein argued that individuals with certain political and ideological leanings tended to consume media and information which confirms their preconceived beliefs and inclinations (Democrats watching CNN and Republicans watching Fox News). For example it could be argued that if reading your daily Twitter feed (news feeds from Twitter users you are following) doesn’t regularly make you irate or upset then you are probably not following a sufficiently diverse cross-section of society.