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Mar 26, 2024

Behind the Scenes of AI Power: How Can TikTok and Other Algorithms Unknowingly Influence Us?

by Hugues Foltz Executive vice-president

Artificial intelligence

We often talk about these famous algorithms that dictate the content we come across on social networks. Once you search for a pair of boots, you will be bombarded with shoe advertisements for the following weeks.

It has been found that approximately one-third of our purchasing decisions on Amazon are influenced by the algorithms that govern the site. Similarly, when we make a choice on Netflix, more than 80% of the decision-making process is influenced by the platform itself. These statistics are quite astonishing and highlight technology's significant role in our daily lives.

The philosopher Spinoza believed free will to be an illusion. His reasoning was that although we are conscious of our actions, we are unaware of the causes that lead us to make certain decisions rather than others. Considering the influence of algorithms on our decision-making, I agree with Spinoza's perspective.

There is already substantial evidence indicating the significant influence that AI can have on our lives. For instance, let's mention this new wave of fake influencers created entirely by AI, which once again raises concerns about unattainable standards of beauty and lifestyle.

More worryingly, certain AI models can introduce subtle prejudices into our thinking. For instance, speech recognition software trained on a specific group of people, such as Americans, may struggle to understand different accents. This can lead to further discrimination against already vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Have you heard about the differences between TikTok's offerings in China and the United States? If not, get ready for a hair-raising comparison.



Although TikTok is owned by the same people in both countries, the version offered in China has a child-friendly feature, offering only educational videos and imposing a daily limit of 40 minutes for users under 14. Never heard of these regulations? No wonder, this version is not available here.

In other words, the Chinese model of this social network is modified according to a few rules that disproportionately alter the outcome. In Canada and the United States, TikTok's algorithm is famous for quickly identifying its users' interests, allowing it to provide them with the most personalized content possible. It doesn't matter what the content is, how old the user is, or how much time they spend on the application daily.

So, what difference will this discreet algorithm manipulation make to children's lives? A recent survey asked pre-teens about their career aspirations. The most popular answer in the USA was "influencer," whereas in China, the most popular answer was "astronaut.


How should we understand the significant contrast in outcomes resulting from exposure to two unequal algorithms? How should we respond to the realization that even a slight dissonance in the code of an apparently harmless application can have such a profound impact on the future of not only individuals but also entire nations? Are we accountable for the models that are an essential aspect of our daily lives? Do we have any agency in this matter?

In the long term, awareness of such possibilities could lead to complex, discreet, and devious domination by the major corporations in the digital world. Indeed, as we have just seen, algorithms possess the power to alter the rules of the economy, voters' political choices and individuals' daily lives. So, are they a threat to free will?

Artificial intelligence, for its part, pushes algorithmic techniques even further by allowing models to be built from data. These are no longer created by developers but by a machine that has been given a goal. So, who really knows what this set of algorithms is made up of? What biases might they be composed of? No wonder artificial intelligence is so controversial, with so many ethical issues at stake and obvious social risks.


It is, therefore, crucial to carefully assess the effects of algorithms created by companies on their users. In fact, a system should be established to educate individuals about each model's functioning and its potential risks.

In fact, transparency is one of the primary guidelines to ensure the safe and ethical use of artificial intelligence. It is essential that the various applications and platforms consistently report how they operate and what calculations they make. Furthermore, they should be capable of explaining to their users how their algorithms reach their decisions.

As we wait for further research to investigate the relationship between algorithms and the human and social sciences, and for regulations to be established, the best solution is to stay conscious and, most importantly, cautious about algorithms' influence on our everyday lives.