Will improve your digital diet
Christoph Trattner actually wanted to be a chef. Now, he wants to help you avoid digital junk food.
"What you read online is not always healthy for you, but still you want more and more of the same. It's just like junk food!”,
Christoph Trattner says. The Austrian is concerned with healthy eating, and he considered becoming a chef, but he wound up doing research on artificial intelligence. He is now opening a laboratory at the University of Bergen that will make your newsfeed healthier and artificial intelligence even more intelligent.
Netflix. Healthy but tasty?
Trattner and his colleagues are planning to delve deeper into the technology behind the recommendations of content that you get, for example, on Netflix, Spotify or Amazon. If you have read a lot of news items about Trump lately, it's very likely that you will get suggestions to see a new article about Trump, but it is highly unlikely that a completely new angle will be recommended.
"Deep learning and advanced algorithms have come a long way in giving us the content we want online, but the technology falls short on one crucial point. It's not cool when the recommendation we get is almost identical in content to what we've just read or seen, and it's definitely not good when fake news is served up to us just because it's what the algorithms think we want”, Trattner continues.
At the DARS lab (Data Analytics and Recommender Systems), the researchers will develop data analysis and recommendation technology in the fields of food, energy, finance and media. The lab will be part of the MediaFutures initiative which will be a research centre for responsible media technology.
Trattner has worked extensively with recommendation technology in the field of health, and he thinks that the road from physical health to digital health is a short one. At the DARS lab (Data Analytics and Recommender Systems), the researchers will develop data analysis and recommendation technology in the fields of food, energy, finance and media. The technology will go a notch beyond what we see used today: more criteria will be developed beyond simply what the user has liked earlier.
“Take an avocado. It would be best if the algorithms recommended foods that you like and that are healthy and environmentally friendly, at the same time. The algorithm will recommend an avocado for you because it is healthy and popular, but it misses the point in terms of the environment. The same applies to consumption of news. Ideally, the algorithms should present news items that you want to see and read, that are true and that provide you with a new angle. Instead, new items currently confirm what you have already read, so the algorithm manages to capture two of the criteria, but not the third”, he says.
Unhealthy echo chamber
“This is how the so-called echo chambers occur”, Trattner explains.
"Echo chambers are highly problematic and, ultimately, they represent a problem for democracy. When everything you read about Trump is negative about him and corroborates your view of American politics, you don't become more knowledgeable.
As another example, take the news you read about the corona virus. Most of the items online resemble one another, and nuances are not brought out. With more intelligent technology, news producers get the tools that can help them analyse the articles that have already been written, the angle these have had and identify who the sender is. That way, they can more easily find new and interesting content and angles”, he says.
Responsible media content in MediaFutures
The new laboratory will be an important part of the MediaFutures research centre that UiB wants to establish. This is a research centre for responsible media technology and innovation, combining the research environment, technology industry and media actors to become the Centre for Research-Driven Innovation (SFI).
The new centre will explore methods by which to deliver content responsibly, so that the user gets the least possible image distortion or conformist news slant on what is happening in the world. Trattner is also centre director for MediaFutures, and the DARS lab is the start-up of research and innovation activities that will be conducted at MediaFutures.
"I think it's important to help people to have a healthy diet both at the dinner table and on the computer screen", Trattner says.