There are more than 1.9 billion users logged in to YouTube every single month who watch over a billion hours of video every day. Every minute, creators upload 300 hours of video to the platform. With this number of users, activity, and content, it makes sense for YouTube to take advantage of the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to help operations. Here are a few ways YouTube, owned by Google, uses artificial intelligence today.
Automatically remove objectionable content
In the first quarter of this year, 8.3 million videos were removed from YouTube, and 76% were automatically identified and flagged by artificial intelligence classifiers. More than 70% of these were identified before there were any views by users. While the algorithms are not foolproof, they are combing through content much more quickly than if humans were trying to monitor the platform singlehandedly. In some cases, the algorithm pulled down newsworthy videos mistakenly seeing them as “violent extremism.” This is just one of the reasons Google has full-time human specialists employed to work with AI to address violative content.
In fact, according to Cecile Frot-Coutaz, head of EMEA, YouTube’s “number one priority” is to protect its users from harmful content. In pursuit of that, the company invested in not only human specialists but the machine learning technology to support the effort. AI has contributed greatly to YouTube’s ability to quickly identify objectionable content. Before using artificial intelligence, only 8% of videos containing “violent extremism” (banned on the platform) were flagged and removed before ten views had occurred; but after machine learning was used, more than half of the videos removed had fewer than ten views.
One of the main drivers for YouTube’s diligence in removing objectionable content is the pressure from brands, agencies, and governments and the backlash that’s experienced if ads appear alongside offensive videos. When ads started appearing next to YouTube videos supporting racism and terrorism, Havas UK and other brands began pulling their advertising dollars. In response, YouTube deployed advanced machine learning and partnered with third-party companies to help provide transparency to advertising partners.
The company also has a “trashy video classifier” in use which scans YouTube’s homepage and “watch next” panels. It looks at the feedback from viewers who might report a misleading title, inappropriate or other objectionable content.
New effects on videos
Move over Snapchat, Google’s artificial intelligence researchers trained a neural network to be able to swap out backgrounds on videos without the need for specialised equipment. While it’s been possible to do this for decades—think green screens that are replaced by digital effects—it was a complicated and time-consuming process. The researchers trained an algorithm with carefully labelled imagery that allowed the algorithm to learn patterns, and the result is a fast system that can keep up with video.
“Up Next” feature
If you have ever used YouTube’s “Up Next” feature, you benefited from the platform’s artificial intelligence. Since the dataset on YouTube is constantly changing as its users upload hours of video every minute, the AI required to power its recommendation engine needed to be different than the recommendation engines of Netflix or Spotify. It had to be able to handle real-time recommendations while new data is constantly added by users. The solution they came up with is a two-part system. The first is candidate generation, where the algorithm assesses the YouTube history of the user. The second part is the ranking system that assigns a score to each video.
Guillaume Chaslot, a former Google employee and founder of an initiative urging greater transparency known as AlgoTransparency, explained that the metric used by YouTube’s algorithm to determine a successful recommendation is watch time. This is good for the platform and the advertisers, but not so good for the users, he said. This situation could amplify videos that have outlandish content, and the more people spend time watching it, the more it gets recommended.
Training on depth prediction
With so much data, YouTube videos provide a fertile training ground for artificial intelligence algorithms. Google AI researchers used more than 2,000 “mannequin challenge” videos posted on the platform to create an AI model with the ability to discern the depth of field in videos. The “mannequin challenge” had groups of people in a video stand still as if frozen while one person goes through the scene shooting the video. Ultimately, this skill of depth prediction could help propel the development of augmented reality experiences.
With the continuing crisis of mass shootings plaguing America, President Trump requested that social media companies, “develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike.” With the assistance of artificial intelligence, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook already work to delete terrorist content, but what’s new in the President’s request is that they work with the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies. There are many questions about how such a partnership would work, if social media channels could detect actual terrorists before they act and the potential to impact the civil liberties of innocent people. Whether YouTube and other social media companies could use artificial intelligence to stop terrorists while not infringing on the rights of others remains to be seen.