AI is the new UI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the new User Interface (UI), writes learning technologist Donald Clark, introducing us to 7 ways AI is already shaping our online experience - and competence development in the workplace.

By Donald Clark

AI is the new UI. Whenver you go online, the invisible hand of AI shapes the experience. This can be through invisible filtering (spam detection sophisticated encryption and so on. It is also through explicit algorithmic recommendations, such as Google (pure AI), social media where your timeline is algorithmically determined, Amazon where recommendations are given or Netflix where what is presented is decided by the maths.

  1. Search

Search is intrinsically algorithmic. In real time it is constantly updating its Bayesian probabilities as you type each individual letter. More than this, it draws upon what other people have searched for and network patterns. In other words this online experience is profoundly AI-driven. You have been using AI, daily, for years.

  1. Social media

Social media is a compact between you and the provider. You want social activity, they want to sell ads. AI shapes your timeline and presents memories and friend recommendations, based on the proximity and activity of others. AI therefore helps expand your social network. It also helps target ads. So your social  and consumer lives are being shaped by AI.

  1. Shopping

Buy something online, like a book or appliance, and the options and prices you see are most likely determined by an algorithm. Amazon’s algorithms take inputs such as what you’ve bought before, viewing history, repeat clicks, dwell time, your past search patterns, recently reviewed items, what’s in your cart, what site you were referred from, demographic data (where you live and what type of person you’re likely to be), user segmentation (if you bought books on photography, sell you cameras and accessories) and so on. They supplement this with aggregated data from other customers to produce different sets of recommendations. Buy and you’re been heavily influenced by AI.

  1. Travel

When you book a flight use the ‘incognito’ version of your browser. You may find yourself saving considerable sums of money. That’s because the pricing is often determined by what they think you can afford to pay, rather than a fixed price. The same is true of Hotel and other travel sites. Hotel sites also play this game,

  1. News

Sure you may receive news that has its source from Russia or some other deliberate and malevolent source. Bots are particularly bad – automated fake people online. On the other hand we have a plurality of sources, way beyond what used to exist with traditional TV and newspapers, where the owners often did, and still do, have commercial and political agendas.

  1. Finance

Whenever you do a financial transaction online, a whole pantheon of AI techniques is used to check for security through encryption, identity checks, velocity checks and so on. You should be glad that this works as it would not be possible to pay for anything or do any online banking without AI.

  1. Entertainment

Netflix, Amazon Prime… they manipulate your choices, like Amazon, although by a different approach to algorithmic recommendation, to push you towards choosing films and TV series that suit your preferences. But beware they may also suit the preferences of Netflix, as they want you to watch content they have produced, as opposed to paying for licences. Netflix even use AI to determine what to produce, such as actor choice, genre and plots.


Companies do lots of A/B testing to determine their algorithmic approach, as well as lots of data analysis. They then nudge you, in realtime, in one direction or another. It is easy to see this as dystopian – evil manipulation of our brains – and that is possible. However, it is not in the interests of Google to give you inauthentic or fake answers to queries. Neither is it in the interests of Facebook or Twitter to give you friend recommendations or ads that you’re not interested in. Similarly with Amazon and Netflix. However, they may want to maximise their profits, so be aware of what they are doing.