Photo by @usgs

AI Applications and Locations

Can AI really be Used In the Same Way Everywhere?

The answer is no. Companies advertising solutions within the field of artificial intelligence seems to have ambitions of global application of their technologies, yet the world has a diverse population and various circumstances. With a growing number of users of Internet that has access to more bandwidth. We know that the use differs between different locations, but how? There are not all too many empirical examples of how AI impacts local population, although it is increasing. I will therefore first run through distribution of Internet and then enter a discussion in terms of examples relating to the use of smartphones.

Distribution of Internet Use

Current stats from world bank shows measures of the Internet being in percentage heavily distributed across the world, with an uneven spread in Africa and Asia as well as certain areas of South America.

However the highest concentration of Internet users is a different story, with India and China dominating in terms of number of people who have used the Internet.

Usage patterns has changed heavily as well during the last decade upwards toward 2016 where the use of mobile and tablet surpassed desktop.

Several countries have youth who spend a considerable amount of time on the Internet according to OECD.

That so to speak are the larger trends.

Different Use of Smartphones with Social Media

One aspect is looking at qualitative studies from around the world. In this regard the Why We Post project is of interest. Why We Post is a global anthropological research project on the uses and consequences of social media and was undertaken through fieldwork in a variety of different locations. I have not adjusted their insight that much, but will go into four of their points.

  1. Social media is not making us more individualistic
  2. For some people social media does not detract from education — it is education
  3. There are many different genres of selfie
  4. Equality online doesn’t mean equality offline

The project claims to have made a few discoveries to disprove some typical stereotypes in regards to the use of Social Media. Underneath are a collection of the different conclusions:

1. Social media is not making us more individualistic.

Individual-based social networking is said to have grown at the expense of more traditional groups. They found this in some instances, but more commonly they found social media being used to reinforce traditional groups, such as family, caste and tribe and to repair the ruptures created by migration and mobility.

In Chile men often work for long periods in the mines, away from their homes. Social media has a major role in helping family and community to stay connected. They look at how social media helps a mining family stay in touch.

In the context of a more general Italian preoccupation with style and appearance, we found that people posting styled photos of themselves on social media are simply conforming to deeper community values and social expectations, rather than displaying narcissism.

In Turkey social media is used to help repair traditional social groups, including the family and tribe, who might be separated by migration, while simultaneously enabling young people to develop one-to-one relationships via private messaging.

In Brazil Members of groups that don’t talk face-to-face offline, such as Pentecostals and the followers of a local folk religion (Candomblé), are willing to become friends with each other on Facebook.

In England they tend to see posting as a form of individual self-expression but the photos that people look at most on Facebook are the tagged photos shared by others. It is as though instead of going out wearing the clothes they chose, they have to appear in public with the clothes other people chose for them.

Industrial China. The evidence here challenges their discovery. When compared to traditional collective family life, social media does facilitate much greater individualism amongst young factory workers, but this has not yet reached the levels found in some Western countries.

2. For some people social media does not detract from education — it is education

They found that many schools in their fieldsites recognise that social media simultaneously assists informal learning as well as being a distraction from formal education. Often it mainly benefits low income families with poor prospects in formal education.

In Brazil with limited access to formal schooling, many people turn to social media, and particularly YouTube videos, as an important source of education.

In England although people often complain about social media as a threat to education, it has become a hugely valuable asset for communication between parents, teachers, and pupils in a primary school.

In rural China Social media is often regarded as a distraction, so parents try to prevent children from using social media, which they feel distracts from homework.

In Turkey they saw people worrying that social media and other online activities could become a distraction from education for a young child.

In industrial China the situation for factory workers is similar to the experiences identified in our Brazilian fieldsite, rather than those observed in rural China. Here people expect to work in factories and have less interest in formal education, and they turn to social media as a source of information and practical knowledge.

In Italy they found a contradiction seen in the fact that, even though most adults see social media as impeding formal education, they still mostly encourage their children to be on social media and adopt new technology, in order to be like everyone else.

3. There are many different genres of selfie

Perhaps because the word ‘selfie’ sounds like selfish, the activity of people taking their own photo with a smartphone and posting it on social media has become associated with self-obsession. But the research reveals a much more varied picture of selfies taken for different purposes.

In England they saw that there are three main genres of selfie posted by local school-children: `classic’ selfies showing only an individual, ‘groupies’ showing friendship groups (which were five times more common on Facebook) and ‘uglies’ showing individuals from an unattractive angle.

In northern Chile, rather than selfies representing an individualistic performance, they are a way for people to display visually their connections to others. People have also created a type of selfie entirely unique to their region: the ‘footie’. This genre of selfie depicts only a person’s feet while sitting watching TV, indicating relaxation.

In Italy by contrast this fieldsite shows young people are concerned with the 'classic' selfie (although that does include the group selfie), and their perceived obligation to look good. Often teenage girls will take dozens of photos and change make-up and outfits before settling on the right shot.

In Brazil they found an emphasis on the ‘classic’ selfie. The gym was a favourite selfie location for people aspiring to upward social mobility. It was a place where they could craft their image at the same time as crafting their bodies.

In Trinidad selfies taken by older teenage girls don’t just focus on the face or make-up — instead it’s the look or style of a full outfit that’s on show.

In rural China young women often use special apps to add cartoon-like effects such as stars, flowers and even moustaches to their selfies, before posting these ‘cute’ images on social media.

In industrial China young men are often just as concerned about their online appearance as women. Since they worry about their height, their selfies often depict them with hairstyles that make them look taller.

Many people in southeast Turkey feel Facebook should be a formal space, so they rarely post selfies, preferring images that are taken by someone else.

Similarly in south India, people from low income families generally don’t feel a selfie would show them in a good light.

4. Equality online doesn’t mean equality offline

Even though social media brings major benefits to previously excluded populations, such as ease of communication, this may not have any overall impact on exclusion, social differences, or oppression offline.

In India farmers value the advantages of social media but they don’t expect it to have any impact on wider inequalities.

In Brazil among low-income Brazilians, social media is a sign of upward mobility that may impress people of similar social standing, but it does not change the way people from higher classes regard a person.

In Chile in contrast to Brazil, people avoid expressions of inequality both offline and online. This is partly because in their fieldsite, people strongly identify with a sense of being marginal compared to more metropolitan regions. In response they had a strong sense of their own community solidarity.

In Turkey women can achieve more freedom online, where they can participate in activities away from the gaze of their families, but this has not led to more gender equality offline.

In industrial China possessing new smartphones such as the latest Apple iPhone is an important indicator of factory workers’ aspirations beyond their class. Yet online workers tend to communicate within their own class.

In Trinidad social media allows people to present themselves as from a higher class through the posting of images showing what is considered to be a high-class lifestyle, but this does not translate to enhanced social standing offline.

In rural China many Chinese social media platforms have game-like features that encourage users to collect points and display levels attained, often based on the amount of activity on a platform. This creates new forms of inequality online as poverty restricts the amount of time people can spend on the internet, therefore making it difficult to ascend the rankings.

Furthermore the study had more insights that can be explored

  • Discovery 5 It’s the people who use social media who create it, not the developers of platforms.
  • Discovery 6. Public social media is conservative.
  • Discovery 7. We used to just talk now we talk photos.
  • Discovery 8. Social media is not making the world more homogenous.
  • Discovery 9. Social media promotes social commerce not all commerce.
  • Discovery 10. Social media has created new spaces for groups between the public and private.
  • Discovery 11. People feel social media is now somewhere they live as well as a means for communication.
  • Discovery 12. Social media can have a profound impact on gender relations sometimes through using fake accounts.
  • Discovery 13. Each social media platform only makes sense in relation to alternative platforms and the media.
  • Discovery 14. Memes have become the moral police of online life.
  • Discovery 15. We tend to assume social media is a threat to privacy but sometimes is can increase privacy.

Global Applications in the Field of AI

When there is application in the field of AI it would be disadvantageous to assume that by making a solution it could apply to everyone across the world, yet we know that with a globalised world certain trends travel faster, like news and protests about the climate crisis or fake news.

When these type of solutions are built we have to ensure that we understand the use of the technology so that we can facilitate responsible use for each location where it is intended to be implemented.

The strange (and maybe great) thing about Why We Post is that it takes small snippets of insight as a falsification to the larger narrative surrounding social media. Bringing forward this insight it takes these snippets and says something about how social media is used differently.

This is #500daysofAI and you are reading article 177. I write one new article about or related to artificial intelligence every day for 500 days.

If you have a collection with empirical examples on the use of AI from different locations around the world I would very much like to redo this article. I have found a few, but I am looking for more.



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