AI and Machine Learning: YouTube's Main Drivers to Success
Thu, February 2, 2023

AI and Machine Learning: YouTube's Main Drivers to Success

YouTube has shown how artificial intelligence can change our lives forever with a documentary that should not be missed / Photo by: Andrew Perry via Flickr


YouTube has shown how artificial intelligence can change our lives forever with a documentary that should not be missed. Produced and hosted by actor Robert Downey Jr., the “Age of AI” documentary aims to demystify AI because many people are still confused by it. It is considered one of YouTube’s highest-profile and biggest-budgeted factual commissions to date. 

While the documentary tackles various aspects of AI, the most emphasized is in its first episode, which showed an AI-powered baby called the Baby X project. BBC, a British public service broadcaster, reported that the project aims to teach a digital infant through a virtual brain powered by neural networks. Baby X is a great way to show the viewers how much work is involved in teaching an AI program, which includes helping it in understanding how to identify objects as well as developing human-like emotional responses. 

However, the project gets creepier and creepier as the layers of virtual muscles and a virtual brain powered by neural networks are shown. It aims to show that while AI has tons of benefits, it still needs improvements. "The message of the [first] episode is clear: machine learning can make us more human, not less, but we will have to think carefully about where we want to draw the line," Calum Chace, author of four books on the subject, said. 

The documentary also demonstrates how AI can be used as a marketing tool and tackles the most controversial aspects of it including privacy and data collection. However, this isn’t the first time that YouTube has used AI in its platform. Aside from featuring AI itself, it has also used the technology to gain sales and engage more viewers.

YouTube’s Recommendation Engine

YouTube is undeniably the most popular video platform. As of 2019, YouTube has more than two million users worldwide—up by 5% compared to 2018. It’s also worth noting that the total number of internet users worldwide is currently at 4.4 billion. That means YouTube users account for 45% of the entire population the world’s netizens.

According to Business Apps, an online review and rating firm that provides data and statistics, news, insights, and analysis of all mobile app industry, a 2019 study by the Pew Research Center revealed that the video platform’s users outnumber those of any other platform in the US. Only Facebook comes ahead of it with 2.45 billion users. 

There are several reasons why YouTube remains to be one of the most popular social media platforms. For one, it makes it so easy for content creators to share their materials with a large audience. There are various subjects or topics that a user can choose from—product reviews and beauty tutorials, documentary and gaming. As the years pass by, YouTube’s AI is getting better at making its users more engaged in its platform. 

YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan stated that AI-driven recommendations are luring users to watch on YouTube more than 70% of the time. On mobile, the average watching session lasts more than 60 minutes. According to Mohan, the company has been focused on AI and machine learning to learn what users like and make. "Our job is to give them a steady stream, almost a synthetic or personalized channel," he added. 

According to MIT Technology Review, an online magazine that provides its readers with technology-related information through articles, business reports, reviews, and more, YouTube’s recommendation system works by collecting the user’s preferences, which it learns by monitoring a user’s clicks, likes, and other interactions into a machine-learning algorithm. But as YouTube becomes more central in people’s information and news consumption, experts worry that this would push them further to extremes.

“YouTube should spend more energy in understanding which actors their algorithms favors and amplifies than how to keep users on the platform,” Jonas Kaiser, an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, said.

YouTube is undeniably the most popular video platform. As of 2019, YouTube has more than two million users worldwide—up by 5% compared to 2018 / Photo by: ttatty via 123RF


Taking Down Offensive Content

A 2018 report by YouTube revealed that during the last quarter of 2017, the company removed more than eight million videos. Through machine learning, it was able to flag more than 83% of the now-deleted videos for review, while more than three quarters were taken down before they got any views. According to Fortune, an American multinational business magazine headquartered in New York City, machine learning can help spot patterns and take action against any kind of offensive content by themselves. 

While algorithms can do most of the job, YouTube still requires humans to review potential content policy violations. Cecile Frot-Coutaz, head of EMEA, stated that YouTube’s “number one priority” is to protect its users from harmful content. Thus, it has hired full-time specialists with expertise in violent extremism, counterterrorism, and human rights. They even expanded their regional expert team. “At YouTube, we’ve staffed the majority of additional roles needed to reach our contribution to meeting that goal,” the team said.

AI has significantly helped YouTube in quickly identifying objectionable content. Before using AI, the company can only remove 8% of videos containing "violent extremism. But after machine learning was used, more than half of the videos removed had fewer than 10 views. According to Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, this work is driven by the pressure on brands, agencies, and governments against the platform. It also includes the backlash that's experienced if ads appear alongside offensive videos. 

Such is the importance of AI that is has become one of the main drivers of YouTube’s continued success.