On any given day we can find a story in the media about technology and its impact on society. But of equal importance are the ways in which new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics are shaping the media itself.
The volume of content and the speed at which it is disseminated have both increased dramatically in the past ten years because of new technology platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The types of news pushed through these platforms or what we see when visiting them is being orchestrated by algorithms underpinned by advanced data analytics. And the ways in which we process, cite, and assess stories are all influenced by the types of screens we use and company we keep online.
Together, these technologies can spread information and disinformation equally and in real time. Its power over how we think, speak and interact is enormous.
I recently spoke with Pooja Malpani, Head of Engineering at Bloomberg Media Group to learn more about these technologies and how they have changed the way we consume news. Even though Malpani builds and manages technology for the organization’s news and entertainment divisions, she reminded me that all media content is first shaped by society’s acceptable standards.
These can be social norms, economic status, or legal standards. While some might argue that these standards have slipped mightily over the past few decades, no one would disagree that change has been the one constant. What was acceptable 20 years ago would likely appear dramatically out of place today.
Today, content is all around us. She says this is driven partly by an explosion in the number and types of consumer devices and connectivity that has given consumers more choice in content providers. A decade ago, Malpani says a person might have considered switching TV provider once every few years. But now, consumers can switch streaming services or cellphone providers seamlessly, all while continuing to consume content across a variety of devices and screen sizes – mobile phones and tablets, computers, personal assistant services, gaming consoles, and more.
However, Malpani was adamant that if you peel back the surface, the one technology that has had the greatest impact on media consumption is data analytics. This can take many forms and has a number of contributing technology types, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. But the headline is that data is personalizing media consumption…in both positive and negative ways.
This reliance on data shapes content discovery, how content is delivered, and even business models. Malpani says her organization is one of many using machine learning to select and package content for its audience.
She shared that Bloomberg leverages artificial intelligence to analyze thousands of news story characteristics that users care about to provide a smarter feed of fresh news over its Terminals. This is analogous to the algorithms that power what music we hear on streaming channels or what Netflix offers up as our next suggested show.
Malpani says that algorithms and machine learning are also being used to help power content discovery, specifically video and image search. And they are an increasingly important part of most media strategies. Brands are analyzing user data to target their most relevant user segments and to determine which content generates the best revenue.
Of course, all of these rely on the data that we as users create on a second-by-second basis as we click our way through life. Malpani says our behaviors and decisions are the lifeblood powering the algorithms that serve up the content we then consume next. It’s a fascinating circle of life where the content our future selves see is determined by the sometimes-innocuous seeming choices we make today.
Despite the prevalence of technology in media today, Malpani was quick to point out that we have not yet reached the pinnacle of technological evolution. Even with AI, she says we are in the early phases of machine learning and have a long way to go before we begin to plateau. Deep learning is only as good as the training data the algorithms are fed, we are still bound by the limits of processing power and storage available for large data sets, and the balance between automation and human oversight will continue to evolve.
It’s no surprise that Malpani was a math buff growing up. Her father ran a marble and granite business and would use a calculator to tally accounts. She found that she could often compute numbers faster than he was able, even with a calculator. In middle school, her math teacher would ask her to show the class how a problem was solved. Other parents even asked her to provide math tutoring for their own children, helping her make pocket money during school.
This talent inspired her to pursue a career as a mathematician and logician and helped her find her way into a computer lab as a teenager. She found the lab to be an escape from her other courses. She enjoyed writing algorithms to solve computational problems and – in her words – “geeked out” on optimizations. Malpani eventually found a community of fellow students who were similarly drawn to computers, helping her remain committed to a college education rooted in computer silent and an eventual career in technology.
Malpani feels more women should consider tech and media related fields. Women are key consumers of media and should have input into its creation and delivery. She sees it as a diverse, rich industry that reflects a variety of perspectives, and that women should be represented. For her, technology and media are as viable career paths for women as teaching or medicine.
Malpani did say that women entering the media field do not necessarily need a degree in computer science to be successful in technology adjacent jobs. It helps, but women can learn technological tools and languages as they switch domains and tasks.
Ultimately, she expects the exponential growth we have seen in technology over the last few decades to continue gathering momentum and to grow in its impact on the world of media. Regulation will be forced to adapt and evolve alongside new AI-driven offerings like facial recognition so that it can strike a balance between data privacy and personalization. Linear media subscribers and print consumers will continue to decline in favor of digital subscriptions.
But whatever direction the world of tech-driven media takes, she hopes that more women will be part of it – enriching the industry and enjoying long, successful careers as a result.
Credit: Google News