AI is Actually Keeping Us Apart: Thankfully the Olympic Games are Here

Sometimes there is nothing better than a shared moment. The Olympic games are a cultural event and one that often brings us together – at least in conversation of the previous day’s highlights. However, events like the Olympics are increasingly rare as a bonding experience and we can only wonder if AI is to blame. 

Streaming video services seem to be all the wonder, with subscription services increasing 21% from 2020 to 2021. A typical household now has four streaming services among market leaders Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Disney+. Disney which only started in 2019 has amassed an incredible 222 million subscribers. As a result, fewer people have a common platform with TV cable households decreasing from 76% in 2015 to 56% in 2021. A Pew research study shows 17% have never had cable TV.

Cable TV is not a solution for our ‘togetherness’ but the evolution onto streaming platforms gives those providers an analytics data playground to better customize content and limits recommendations (not surprisingly) to shows you will likely watch. Data collected for every stream chooses another short-list of ‘next up’ videos over-and-over again, repeating a data cycle and building on the algorithm. Collaborative filtering is a common algorithm which is reinforced by your viewing habits, and tends to show you similar programs repeatedly. If you like rom-coms, well you might like to watch more of them.

AI choosing what and when you watch something can be great, but often misses a human connection.

AI choosing what and when you watch something can be great, but often misses a human connection. Even when your friends might be watching the same series it is hard to know what they have watched, paused or skipped altogether. Some may recall the 1983 final MASH episode, viewed by 105 million. That record number of viewers was only surpassed by the 2010 Super Bowl. By contrast in the streaming era the nearest cultural cinematic event was Game of Thrones finale viewed by a mere 19 million. 

The Olympics are special, in part because they are infrequent and our FOMO drives our need to watch.  We share in the joy and sometimes the agony of the athletes. We marvel at their athleticism and their artistry too. Like Eileen Gu’s marvelous free ski or figure skater Kamila Valieva’s superhuman performance. The next day we all have something to talk about besides the weather and we ‘feel’ connected sharing similar emotions – the highs the lows and the in-betweens are an innate human experience. Like it or not we are a social species and having common bonds, well, feels natural. AI seems to be quite unaware of this. 

AI and its pesky minion Machine Learning are getting to know you better than ever. The benefits of the resulting recommendation engines often find things I actually do like. It almost seems magical that a machine can know me so well. But sometimes it is lacking.

If watching the suspenseful action of Olympic curling is not your thing. If you do not feel the connection of talking over your morning coffee about how ‘Canada can really toss the Rock’, then maybe these bonding moments are not for you.  I get it. The Olympics might not be as thrilling as the latest episode of Reacher. However they are a wonderful event that not only showcases the best athletes it can also bring a world closer together. Sometimes I wish my AI would realize this and do the same. Instead of showing me a movie it knows I would really like, I wish I could say “Hey Alexa show me something that my friends really like, and we can talk about later”. Sometimes that human connection is completely lost on Alexa.

My Opinions are clearly my own.

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