How Dangerous is TikTok in the era of the Black Box Internet of A.I.?
TikTok's Artificial Intelligence Paradigm
TikTok's Artificial Intelligence Paradigm
6,000 + words: estimated reading time 25 minutes.
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This past week I've been thinking a lot about TikTok's influence as an A.I. consumer behavior modification chamber at scale. Imagine an echo bubble with predictive power of algorithms looking to shift the ideology of an entire generation? That's TikTok in the age of consumer A.I. app products and hacking of users.
TikTok is a Mental Health Timebomb of Algorithmic Influence
So you don't think that adorable app is a National Security concern right? As screen time keeps increasing the dangers of TikTok to our mental health are just beginning to surface.
The United States should use artificial intelligence to defeat China’s censors and undermine social stability in case Beijing attacks Taiwan, a US-based think tank has advised.
Supposedly, such a move would expose the Chinese population to information beyond state propaganda and distract authorities from offensive military operations, according to the Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP). The Virginia-based non-profit grew from the former National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI), an independent commission in the US government.
The only problem with this? China has already done the same, and it’s called TikTok. In case you hadn’t noticed. This is the weaponization of A.I. and China is far ahead in its invasion of our collective psyche. So let’s get into it:
TikTok’s maker ByteDance, has known ties with China’s Central government and CCP. Nearly six in 10 Western teenagers count themselves as daily users of the app, yet little is known about the impacts on the brain. One thing you can bet on, it’s worse for our mental health than Instagram. Insider whistle-blower reports already blew that story open.
The impact of that explosive growth and the ‘TikTok-ification’ of the internet at large on social media users remains little understood, experts warn, exacerbating concerns about the impact of social media on our habits and mental health. Even as National Security warnings have been made, TikTok is not banned even as the U.S. is pressuring Europe to sanction China in the chip sector.
The United States reportedly is calling on the European Union to impose a semiconductor export ban on China. Chinese analysts and media is portraying that as a tough sell, due to the lucrative market but Western consensus is in “hard-stance” mode vs. China’s rising threat. Yet why is nobody talking about the weaponization of TikTok as an A.I. threat to the West?
TikTok is a Weapon
The idea that TikTok is an A.I. weapon of Western influence is not new.
ByteDance is an A.I. company masquerading as a consumer apps Entertainment company. GenZ grew up on YouTube, Snap and increasingly on TikTok. The mental health and subtle behavior modification of ideology of the app has not been well studied. The lack of understanding in how TikTok affects its users is particularly concerning given the app’s massive popularity among young people, experts say.
TikTok is a dangerous experiment in foreign interference and its likely to show up on how it impacts the 2024 U.S. Presidential elections in a big way. Is TikTok an A.I. experiment of China on the world that’s too big to fail? I give a U.S. and Europe TikTok ban as a fairly likely scenario sometime in the 2020s. India was right to ban TikTok in 2021.
The majority of US teens have accounts on TikTok, with 67% saying they have used the app and 16% saying they use it “almost constantly”.
This suggests that of all apps, TikTok is the most likely one used against American belief systems and trust in a way that undermines trust, National Security and damaging behavior modification at scale, not just for mental health, but on view of American democracy and capitalism among young people. In 2020, Donald Trump wanted to ban TikTok and WeChat from U.S. app stores.
The Dangers of Algorithmic Recommendation Systems
TikTok’s algorithmic recommendation engine is the fastest to recognize the cognitive interests of a user in the world, likely better than YouTube at this. One report in 2021 showed more than 70% of extremist content found on YouTube was recommended to users by the algorithm. And it incentivizes users to share attention-grabbing content that gets picked up by the feed.
TikTok is uniquely performative
According to the Guardian, there are inherent dangers of the copy-cat trends. For instances the creepy challenges lead to real harm. The “Benadryl challenge”, wherein participants took a large amount of antihistamines in an attempt to produce hallucinogenic effects, led to at least one death. A new lawsuit claims the “blackout challenge” led to deaths of several young girls.
TikTok also appears to be “faster than any other platform at detecting interest”, said Marc Faddoul, co-director of Tracking Exposed, a digital rights organization investigating TikTok’s algorithm.
Mobile video that’s performative is an optimal way to hack into the psyche of young people, how they consumer media and even impact what they believe or prefer over time.
Concerns around TikTok have increased with reports of links to the Chinese government with ByteDance hiring former employees of Chinese state media publications. Chinese companies in order to thrive now have to internalize state doctrine in Surveillance Capitalism with Chinese characteristics.
With regards to TikTok there have been many warnings from many sides, but not much action in the U.S. to regulate the app. Researchers are still parsing what that uncanny tailoring means for users, particularly as it relates to targeted content around mental illness and other sensitive issues.
“The app provides an endless stream of emotional nudges, which can be hard to recognize and really impact users in the long run,” Faddoul said.
I’d argue it’s not simply the mental health danger, but the long-term ability of TikTok to influence and impact American society and ideology in ways we do not understand yet from quiet quitting to a mistrust in democracy and American Capitalism, which has already been on the decline without any nudging from Chinese made apps. That algorithms made in China rule the entertainment and media consumption habits of American and European youth is a bit weird if you buy into the Cold-war rhetoric.
Isn’t China supposed to be the evil empire? If so, why would you not ban its weapons of mass influence? The algorithm may replicate existing inequalities that heighten mental health concerns for minority groups, researchers say. Censorship on TikTok is another thorny issue, where it must oblige Chinese regulations (which do not meet global standards on human rights).
TikTok might not only be not safe, it could easily be turned into a weapon. Researchers say the Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated the impact of the platform on users’ lives, especially young ones. When Covid-19 hit, and the world went into lockdown, TikTok’s use exploded. Young people apparently are consuming less Netflix, YouTube and socializing a bit less since the screen-time addiction got a bit more severe.
For instance during the Covid-19 lockdowns, the app was flooded with young people posting about the ways in which the pandemic was upending their lives. This thus magnifies a sort of collective mental health echo bubble that these young people live in, an algorithmically controlled reality. TikTok is like a behavior modification chamber, a private pilot or beta of a Matrix with a brain-computer-interface (BCI) that they must be working on too for later.
China can crunch a lot of data that can be used for cybersecurity, A.I. surveillance, predictive analytics, and behavioral control later. Just as Facebook and Instagram gave American National Security sector a lot of potential data to crunch. Since TikTok is grower faster than Instagram or Facebook ever did, it will soon be the biggest global app of algorithmic influence.
TikTok can also be made by the CCP into a super-app with more Government policy control over other parts of the world. ByteDance spent $19.2 billion on marketing, about 31% of its $61.7 billion in total revenue in 2021 alone, according to the WSJ and as later again reported by The Information. So why would they do that? Weakness of the company now called Meta means TikTok can displace it for younger citizens and app users.
U.S. Think Tanks are about 5-8 years too late to advise the Biden Administration and the DoD to use A.I. against China. China is using algorithmic influence against the rest of the world to help achieve its own long-term objectives. An all out TikTok app ban in the only answer, if the U.S. and Europe really believe China is a global threat in A.I. and technological supremacy.
TikTok since it’s so sentiment based is also very easy to manipulate. Trends can be amplified at any given time, including challenges. TikTok’s unique “platform spirit”, a term coined by researcher Michael Ann Devito to characterize the nature of content and communication on a given app is primed for manipulation on TikTok. It’s the best example of behavior modification at scale in the 2020s we have today, and it’s owned by ByteDance a company with its HQ in Beijing.
ByteDance has garnered public attention over surveillance and privacy concerns as well as allegations that it worked with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to censor content pertaining to the ongoing Uyghur genocide and other topics deemed sensitive by the CCP. For years there’s been debates and rumors that TikTok is a National Security threat for U.S. military members using the app. They finally banned it in February, 2020.
TikTok calls itself an Entertainment app, but is really an A.I. app. The key factor being its recommendation algorithm and positive, addictive and sensationalistic content. Just the kind of content to promote misinformation that goes viral and not just censorship, but active weaponization of ideological and emotional motives. An entirely new behavioral reinforcement paradigm and chamber of algorithmic influence.
If you were a Police State and wanted to spread your influence globally, wouldn’t you want to build a tool like TikTok? It’s the perfect weapon, too popular to throw shade on easily. So big a business that’s it’s difficult to ban. With more tentacles of social commerce (E-commerce paired with live-streaming) and super-app features coming. Too good to put down, and that’s the problem.
The SCSP report, titled “The Future of Conflict and the New Requirements of Defence” and published earlier this month, said disrupting China’s ability to control information could help to destabilize its society. That’s exactly what TikTok is doing to the U.S. with its own productivity crisis and now suddenly “quiet quitting” went viral? How do you suppose that happened? The same “lying flat” we see in Chinese youth is spreading to Western youth, again from where?
If you think Democracies will be tested, you haven’t seen anything yet on TikTok. While Facebook and Instagram are losing real users, TikTok is just getting started as an A.I. consumer apps experiment. Who needs censorship when you have mass-influence of the world’s most popular “Entertainment” destination and algorithm?
“The platform spirit of TikTok seems to be about posting very loudly about very intimate and intense things,” Register said. “And people are encouraged to be vulnerable to fit that spirit.” This also suggests that China is priming America and Europe’s youth to ideas more in line with the CCP and less proud of being American. It’s very easy to use such a system to create ideological and behavioral modification. It would also be hard to prove you are doing so in the back-end.
This has given rise to viral videos using a wry, ironic tone to share often devastating personal stories. The personal sharing can lead to nihilism, dystopian views and less hope in the future, something GenZ are already somewhat inclined to including a mistrust of Capitalism, democracy and a wider open mind to some aspects of socialism, obviously not those necessarily with “Chinese characteristics”. But a noticeable amount of divergence to cause problems in the future. Now what if when TikTok reaches three billion users, that could be throttled by some CCP influence within ByteDance at an opportune moment in history sometime in the near future?
This is the uncertain future we face with a tool like TikTok. The temptation, motive and ability to influence algorithmically the brains of young people is just too great for China not to use it. And it makes an embarrassment of American innovation in the process with Facebook’s stock plummeting. Snap or Instagram or YouTube as important as they are in contemporary internet culture don’t approach the fame, personal narratives, and “stupid playful glamor” seen on TikTok. It speaks the language of youth and young minds are incredibly impressionable.
TikTok is especially popular in the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, Mexico and many other countries all over the world. If the CCP wanted to build a way to influence foreign nations through thought-control, it would have invented an app like TikTok that uses superior A.I. and product innovation to subtly influence global minds, culture, ideology and online trends.
Keep your enemies close, but try not to spend too much time on TikTok. I have to go now, the algorithms are calling.
As I track A.I. from unique perspectives in a variety of Newsletters, I’m starting yet another one, it’s called Future Watch, hosted on beehiive. It’s related to the Machine Learning Times. I’m personally trying to find a model where I can write about A.I. all day long from different perspectives that might be of use to readers. It’s not going that great for monetization, but I’m a fairly stubborn curator and creator. If you are as passionate as I am about A.I. ,why not support me in my mission?
TikTok's Hyper Addictive Feed an A.I. Parlor Trick of Behavioral Hackings
Our relationship to our mobile device has intensified as app-product engineers seek the secret sauce to behavior modification.
TikTok is evolving into the biggest threat of the internet on people we've seen in quite some time. How could an entertainment app full of videos of young people be harmful, after all?
Even when significant mobile phone and app usage is correlated with mental health problems, people keep doing it. In fact young people are doing it more and more - Globally, people average 6 hours 58 minutes of screen time per day. Daily screen time has increased by nearly 50 minutes per day since 2013. The average American spends 7 hours and 4 minutes looking at a screen each day.
Nearly one of those hours on average, is spent on TikTok.
In 2022, certainly TikTok is the most addictive Entertainment consumer app. It’s now the best algorithm at understanding the profile of a user and feeding them just the right content.
TikTok’s trick to hack the brain of young users is likely due to bleeding edge personalized A.I. A psychologist said the personalized algorithm on TikTok may be leading young people to get addicted. You think?
Wired wrote a recent Op-Ed about how TikTok’s glamour and dominance isn’t about its algo but about our increasingly personalized relationship with our phone.
TikTok's artificial intelligence algorithm is key to its breakout success. If you have just a few minutes to spare, here's what you need to know: TikTok uses a best-in-class AI-based recommendation algorithm to drive user engagement. This algorithm is better than that of its competitors such as YouTube and Instagram. But has our relationship to our phone changed over the last decade?
TikTok does not require the user to declare explicit interests, it just knows how to entertain, lure and build up their anticipation them better than YouTube and Instagram and the difference is noticeable even to someone not prone to checking such apps. Across the world, the average TikTok user spends 52 minutes on the app each day.
TikTok’s shocking popularity in recent times and with the most momentum on the internet has sparked endless discussions about its stickiness—as if it were capable of hacking our normal cognitive pathways and transmitting messages straight into our brains. The irony of this is Facebook’s dominance for so many years created a competitor even it couldn’t beat or compete with. GenZ just picked a better user experience.
If you are a young person, few apps could define your entertainment habits like TikTok can. On average, tiktok users spend 26 hours per month and 2.3 years of their lifetime on the app.
Social media addiction may reduce productivity and success in work, education, and other areas of life. So is this A.I. for good in reality? TikTok’s success has in part reduced Meta’s stock price to roughly one third of its former luster, is it lobbying to ban TikTok for “National security” reasons yet?
TikTok as the Modern Day A.I. Oracle
TikTok is both an A.I., screen time and just an example of how good app-product engineers have gotten highly mobile native GenZ to follow their algorithms and their recommendations. It’s a triumph of engineering and marketing, but also a dangerous window of the future potential of what A.I. will do to our brains.
And frankly, I don’t think it’s fully appreciated. There are also various kinds of nefarious content trends on TikTok, from Time-Travelers to personal disclosure you don’t find on other apps. The personal content incentivized on TikTok makes it more sticky for young people still exploring their identity and creating their own distinct culture.
For the most part, critical analysis attributed the platform’s effectiveness to its seemingly all-powerful algorithm. Technology critics like Eleanor Cummins (Wired) and Rob Horning, for example, unpacked the ways users saw the algorithm as a tool for self-discovery—how it seemed to be “showing you who you’ve always been,” ensuring an endorsement of content it delivered. TikTok is a bit like an A.I. Oracle.
TikTok it would seem, can teach you about what an A.I. thinks you like, or perhaps a side of yourself you didn’t even know existed. Wired continues: Others have dissected the cultural appeal of the algorithm, claiming that it fills a void in contemporary spiritual life by positioning itself as a data-backed deity that reads our swipes and likes much like the ancient oracles did our palms and stars.
What’s clear to me is TikTok is a Chinese attempt to create a cultural medium of influence by carefully moderating what’s on the app and how it excites our attention and catches our time and GenZ symbolism. This is no ordinary brain hacking of app-product engineering, as TikTok spreads to 2 Billion users faster than any other app in history.
TikTok, known as Douyin in its home market, was launched in China in September 2016 and it’s A.I is so good, neither YouTube or Instagram or Netflix, have any answer to its dominance as a personal recommendation engine. While Byte Dance throws piles of cash in its marketing, it has so much momentum it’s a triumph of consumer-AI in a certain sense. China + 1 America 0.
TikTok-addicted students delete app during exams
TikTok is so addictive, students need to delete the app during exams, like seeing less of your boyfriend or girlfriend during periods of study. Many mobile natives are nearly or always constantly on their phones, so the dominant app is going to have a huge impact on them and their formative years.
Nobody really knows what the A.I. of TikTok is doing to our brains. Presumably ByteDance, the company behind TikTok knows and perhaps the Chinese Community Party.
Wired goes on to argue that the overriding focus on the algorithm—and the content it delivers—has caused us to overlook a central part of TikTok’s operating logic: the phone. GenZ have grown up with mobile in a way us older folk can barely fathom, it’s a far bigger part of their identity and direct access to the internet and being online at nearly all times.
90% of tiktok users access the app on a daily basis.
TikTok Brings the Phone to your Soul with A.I.
TikTok as a leading “entertainment” app clearly has the potential to become a serious Super-app like WeChat, or Kakao or Grab or Meituan that allows consumers to access other services, utilities, payments and so forth. Supposedly this is what Elon Musk wants to do with Twitter.
Thus then we can conclude that GenZ is also the most A.I. native generation, since they are more influenced by algorithms than any other cohort in history. Taken in a historical or sociological or even anthropological light this is quite the feat of engineering: Take, for example, the transition from the cinema to TV that occurred in the mid-20th century and enabled moving images to enter our homes. Once constrained to the theater, this content began to live alongside us—we watched it as we got ready in the mornings, ate dinner, hosted guests, spent time with family.
TikTok has unlocked the psyche of GenZ and all that it has to offer whether for entertainment, education, peer sharing or topic discussion and more immersive Creator capabilities relating to music, shorter attention spans and other GenZ themes embodied in the product and the product hacking of our resistance to the habit formation around the usage of a mobile app.
The Augmented Internet
Just as our relationship with media shifted when it entered our homes, it has continued shifting as it invades our smartphones. These devices, which are tightly integrated into the ways that we think and process information, have allowed TikTok to position itself as an extension of our minds.
TikTok highlights consumer trends and behavioral conditioning in product-app engineering that uses A.I. to entrap a user in feedback systems that are optimized for consumer consumption and young people, namely those under 25.
Music, tribal dancing, exaggerated and personal sharing - all tap into a primal part of our brains. TikTok is like the rapture, and opening its app bombards the senses with a primitive indulgence of the celebration of an A.I. moderated environment tailored just for you. It’s designed to hack you and open up the floodgates of what makes short videos fun in the first place, pushing just the right buttons of emotion, attraction and feel-good dopamine loops.
Only perhaps Instagram at its height in 2015 could even remotely come close to the seduction-trap of algorithms that is TikTok today in 2022.
Behavior Modification by A.I.
With TikTok, however, transcendence is exchanged for immanence within the app. Where Google wants to give you access to the world, TikTok promises to reveal your deepest desires. - Wired.
There is something raw and alluring about TikTok, celebrative and yet tantilizing. It’s clearly been engineered to prey upon the vulnerabilities of the young brain. It’s even gotten users to keep creating that kind of content to the point where it doesn’t feel exactly human any longer. It’s modified behavior according to its preferred incentives and kind of content. In effect, it’s succeeded in modifying behavior nearly completely with A.I.
The Profitable A.I. Hack
All of this brain hacking is going to be very profitable for ByteDance. In 2021, TikTok generated four billion U.S. dollars in advertising revenue. This figure is expected to double by 2024 and more than triple by 2026. If Meta’s stock keeps falling Advertisers will begin to abandon it even faster.
TikTok is also becoming an E-commerce giant at home with Douyin and shows some courage to explore this with TikTok in other countries. TikTok is hiring logistics and e-commerce industry veterans in Seattle and Los Angeles to oversee the design and creation of its own U.S. fulfillment network, according to a series of job listings first reported by Axios last month in October, 2022.
TikTok’s format on your phone is also very well designed and a break from Silicon Valley. Wired notes that while Youtube and Instagram’s interfaces are hyper-mediated control panels (with screens within screens and links exploding outwards) that let you traverse the seas of content, while TikTok’s is a full-screen diary of your unmediated inner self. Now imagine of TikTok’s A.I. behavior modification algo turns your inner self to Ads, products and buying?
Clearly it thinks it can find the secret sauce of monetization as well. Others why would it be spending all of these $Billions in marketing and growing faster than any other app or platform in the history of the internet? A consumer devouring A.I, and maybe the first.
As of September, 2022 TikTok owner ByteDance saw its valuation drop a quarter to US$300 billion after latest share buy-back. In reality, the intrinsic value of what TikTok can become is likely underestimating that valuation. With ChinaTech in the dog house both with U.S. sanctions and with the CCP, it makes you wonder.
A Triumph of Surveillance Capitalism 2.0
TikTok is what happens when a company goes all-in with A.I. with nearly military precision backed by the most powerful authoritarian Government in the world. It will warp your existence.
Just ask Mark Zuckerberg if TikTok has warped his existence?
GenZ don’t needs friends or mates in quite the same way us older folk do, they grew up with the BFF, their phones. An essential but often overlooked aspect of this effect is the “extremely individualized” connections we have with our smartphones, which Zane Burton characterizes as a dominant feature of these devices. TikTok managed to perfect its A.I. and careful app design at just the right moment to sync with the most vulnerable folk, the GenZ people who were using their phones 24/7 already.
That is then the perfect weapon for China to push its influence on the world. The joy-button of being tracked, engineered and bullied by a subtle and manipulative algo to do effectively, its bidding. Unlike Youtube, which is watched across a range of machines (phones, TVs, laptops, desktops) it’s hard to imagine what it would mean to watch TikTok on another device. Tiktok is the prefect embodiment of a mobile-native platform.
Tiktok is the prefect embodiment of a mobile-native platform.
The Wired article really got a lot of things right in their assessment of why TikTok is so sticky and why it’s grown so fast relative to the current wasteland of other social media apps out there. A.I., design and really good timing.
Originally launched as a short-form video sharing platform, primarily for lipsyncing and dancing videos, TikTok has grown into a fully-fledged video service, with content available for all types of viewers and the biggest A.I. brain hacking experiment ever conducted.
It’s been a tremendous success. Students are saying: She said: "I delete and reinstall TikTok periodically because I noticed I spend too much time on it and get very addicted. Yes we have noticed as well!
If Facebook normalized the end of privacy and Ads, TikTok is normalizing behavior modification at scale, as “no big deal”. Just don’t call it A.I, Silicon Valley and the CCP won’t approve. They’d prefer we see A.I. with some shade of rose-colored glasses reserved for higher purposes. A world where we don’t associate personal apps we love with surveillance capitalism and mind-control.
The Chinese who built TikTok didn’t have to copy, they just build a better version of what we had. The central architecture of this experience (from swipe to vertical video to full-screen display) is built around our familiarity with the parameters of the phone. There will be nearly 100 million TikTok users in the U.S. in 2023. People who just want to be loved through their phone.
TikTok as a Pandora’s Box of Sensory Anticipation
TikTok is sticky also by creating habit forming self dosing of dopamine.
Rather than see specificity and device limitations as an inconvenient hurdle to omnipresence, TikTok embeds itself within them—taking advantage of the fact that mobile technology limits how people engage with content and leaning into these constraints (e.g. the user only sees one video at a time and can only proceed linearly to the next video by swiping).
In periods of isolation with Covid-19 or in those moments of occasional loneliness for remote workers, TikTok’s crucial intimacy and confessions and doses of young attractive people creates a sense of the in-app memory of pleasure. A.I. is thus replacing human intimacy here, just like Instagram once did when it felt true to its original mission statement.
We when of course begin to associate the TikTok app with digital pleasure. We want to repeat the process like well-trained app users and the digital internet junkies that we have become. All of this is normalized somehow since “everybody is doing it”. The mobile phone has created obesity, mental health and lower productivity problems in society of course that glossed over, because A.I. is good right? Algorithms are here to help guys.
TikTok enables us to run on animalistic instinct, seeking the next high as a time to video ratio where our brain is just craving the next “hit”.
The Paradox of Flow State and Infinite Scroll Mode
This narrow focus enables a “flow state” to open up between the platform and spectator, as attention is entirely channeled to the content at hand. The immediacy created by this user-platform flow allows TikTok to forgo the reflective processing associated with active viewership. TikTok enables us to run on animalistic instinct, seeking the next high as a time to video ratio where our brain is just craving the next “hit”. The A.I. has essentially turned us into a dopamine-bot.
As critics writing on algorithmic identity first noted, when everything is running smoothly, the user feels completely synchronous with the platform. TikTok’s flow state may be when we are mostly vulnerable to conditioning, either by influence or by association. It’s clever and rather seamless, a kind of in-app hypnosis.
We don’t have to imagine a distant future with neural implants to witness the porosity between mind and world.
Advent of the Invisible BCI
This is the ideal bot then that we can re-program in subtle and in ingenious ways. Moreover, our intimate relationships with our smartphones pave the way for the personalized experience characteristic of the platform. As John Durham Peters tells us, media infrastructures succeed based on what remains “off the radar, below notice, or off stage.” This is the back-door that if I was was working in National Security I’d have to study more closely.
It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before, it’s A.I. at the intersection of cybersecurity in a way that’s like an invisible (or virtual) computer brain interface. It’s like a primitive BCI with more predictive triggers and and in-app engineering controls than the Chinese perhaps ever hoped to achieve.
TikTok finds a way to breach our internal walls and barriers. TikTok takes the fusing of identity of GenZ with their phones and pushes it to new boundaries of addiction and habit formation. It’s nearly impossible to copy or reproduce for Instagram Reels or anyone else for that matter. Not only is the A.I. superior, by the design, the product-marketing, the psychology behind the engineering and the CCP drive to make it a channel for mass-influence.
TikTok fuses identity with digital consumption with special triggers and has many tricks up its sleeve, as you can readily experience.
Nothing spells A.I. Supremacy quite like TikTok in 2023. And we’re about to see what it can do as ByteDance grows into a more dominant company as Facebook apparently stutters into huge layoffs and significant valuation turmoil and loses the trust of major advertisers to reach consumers. TikTok deserves some credit, the app embodies A.I. like no other app before.
We don’t have to imagine a distant future with neural implants to witness the porosity between mind and world. TikTok fuses identity with digital consumption with special triggers and has many tricks up its sleeve, as you can readily experience.
The Mass Consumer Influence Wars
While the U.S. tries to sanction China with chip bans for its A.I. focus and economic gains, TikTok is already winning the mass-consumer influence of contemporary apps in the GenZ cohort. It’s expensive to market an app to 2 Billion users, and ByteDance was big enough with some significant backers to do it.
But TikTok won’t be the last Chinese app and ByteDance is just one stellar company among many. As the U.S. just has Google, YouTube, Amazon, Apple and a handful of players, China has many. In E-commerce alone China has many players that are expanding globally. Alibaba (AliExpress) going to South Korea, Pinduoduo (Temu app) now has a discount app in the U.S., things are starting to move.
China has had a much more dynamic mobile app culture and spirit of innovation for years. From Meituan to Bilibili, it’s convenience and entertainment at a different scale, a scale of the size of many Americas put together from a technology leader. While China might be in denial that it’s in a recession with more Covid zero lockdowns, the U.S. is in a denial if they think TikTok is an isolated incident.
Outlook on Nefarious A.I. and Mobile Native Platforms
A.I. is a tool and humans are going to use it for some pretty nefarious purposes. If our phones are extensions of our inner purpose and motivation, an app can tap into some of our most private data and means of behavior modification at scale - or mass consumer and ideological influence.
TikTok generated an estimated $4.6 billion revenue in 2021, a 142% increase year-on-year. In 2023 it will continue its disruption of Facebook and Meta’s apps namely Instagram. Then it will only have YouTube to contend with for video content, yet another platform that isn’t optimized for mobile. YouTube has a decent algo but lacks the same flow-state appeal of user-generated-content. It’s extremely unlikely Instagram Reels or YouTube shorts can compete with TikTok for many of the reasons I’ve mentioned above.
What does a TikTok cyborg look like I wonder? One that uses Generative AI, dances and makes fun of society? That’s not a person, it’s a puppet.
GenZ are very attached to their phones. “The device is on me at all times, and I rely on it to navigate the world like I would any other sense—when it unexpectedly dies, I feel as if I have lost access to a part of myself.” One wonders if TikTok is also a part of GenZ identity the way Snap has been for so many young people in the U.S.
You have to wonder at what legit transhumanists think of TikTok’s incredible algorithmic influence on the human condition? As technology theorist Anne Balsamo writes, “I incorporate [my phone] as a prosthetic extension of my corporeal being … I become the cyborg I always wanted to be.” What does a TikTok cyborg look like I wonder? One that uses Generative AI, dances and makes fun of society? That’s not a person, it’s a puppet.
I hope this has given you some sense of the future of apps and monopoly capitalism and where it is leading as Chinese companies become more innovative than Silicon Valley as ByteDance the maker of TikTok is showing. A.I. regulation also means regulating BigTech and the leaders in every space in a way that protects civilization's mental health, future and democratic paradigms, in addition to our human rights online.