Using while not using: social interaction on auto-pilot

A patent document was published by the US Patent and Trademark Office on November 19, describing a system developed at Google that analyses a user’s accounts on social network sites in order to provide half-automated reactions to relevant activity within these. From the patent description:

There is no requirement for the user to set reminders or be proactive. The system automatically without user input analyzes information to which the user has access, and generates suggestions for personalized reactions to messages. The suggestion analyzer cooperates with the decision tree to learn the user’s behavior and automatically adjust the suggested messages that are generated over time.

Algorithmic social interaction

This is a great example of how technology-centric thinking can reduce the formerly conscious act of replying to a message of social relevance into a technological challenge – in part due to the enormous increase of noise between the signals thanks to today’s mass-broadasting systems – and offer to solve this challenge by throwing even more technology at it: by automating social interactions.

The patent documentation gives an example case:

Many users use online social networking for both professional and personal uses. Each of these different types of use has its own unstated protocol for behavior. It is extremely important for the users to act in an adequate manner depending upon which social network on which they are operating. For example, it may be very important to say “congratulations” to a friend when that friend announces that she/he has gotten a new job.

User activity from non-users

Beyond being a strange concept per se, the suggested tool adds yet another dimension of non-use to be considered: user activity generated without them being active (apart from approving the suggested replies). After all, the user is only active in the process of approving pre-designed actions, while their creation happens without their involvement.

Thinking it a little further

Would it be appropriate to indicate to others what messages have been auto-generated? What is the impact if they are not indicated? And is there a risk that the auto-pilots of users start to engage in semi-autonomous social activity detached from social reality?

To continue the example of congratulating a friend: If a user’s reaction to such news has been created by the auto-pilot and approved as part of a whole list of pre-generated reaction messages, what happens if that friend actually responds to that greeting while its sender didn’t even create the reply consciously.

Or what happens if the friend with the new job is also on “social auto-pilot”, whose algorithm decides that the incoming congratulations need to be replied to and suggests a ready reply to it? Are we a trisk of entering an eternal loop of social auto-pilots conversing between each other with no connection to the social reality of their owners?

(via BBC News: Google patents robot help for social media burnout)

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