If You’re Scared of Artificial Intelligence, You Should Know It’s Already Everywhere

In March, the dating app Bumble banned guns. Daters swiping left or right on each other’s alluring poses now aren’t allowed to use a photo of themselves holding a firearm on their profile. The ban came over a year after the service put a restriction on shirtless bathroom mirror selfies. “We wanted Bumble to feel truly like a dating app,” says Alex Williamson, Bumble’s chief brand officer, as to why they don’t allow those not-so-classy shirtless bathroom mirror selfies. That type of photo, after all, exudes a hook-up vibe, which is not what they’re going for at Bumble, Williamson says. But how to enforce it?

In addition to employing more than 4,000 human moderators, the company turned to machine learning to look for those guns and six-pack photos. “You hold a gun in a certain way, and you hold your phone in a certain way in front of a mirror to take a selfie,” says Williamson, explaining how it works, “and that’s how the machine learning picks up on that.”

To some, artificial intelligence and machine learning (a subfield of AI) seem scary. Pop culture has bombarded us, repeatedly, with the same silly rise-of-the-machine-type scenarios. The fact that at a recent Google event the company revealed an AI-driven voice system that can convincingly make human-sounding phone calls to restaurants and hair salons probably didn’t help.

Nor does the fact that Elon Musk takes a dark view of the potential dangers of the technology. But, the simple fact is that you’re already encountering AI all the time in your regular life. It’s taking on futuristic tasks like helping self-driving cars see objects like traffic lights, but it’s also behind more everyday services you might encounter, including helping you decide what to have for dinner.

A real-estate quant in the cloud

People on Bumble are looking for dates. People who go to Zillow are checking out real estate, and today, the website can tell you the estimated values of some 100 million homes. Curious about the current value of the place where you grew up, or the home you bought a decade ago? You can see a Zestimate, as they call the feature, of its value. But that Zestimate is not a back-of-the-envelope calculation: An AI system comprised of over seven million machine learning models powers the service, and they say it has an error rate of just about 4.3 percent.

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