Former YouTube engineer Guillaume Chaslot, an artificial intelligence expert who once worked to develop the platform’s recommendation algorithm, says he discovered the severity of the problem, which he believes he helped create, on a long bus ride through his native France in 2014, the year after he left the company. A man sitting on the seat next to him was watching a succession of videos claiming that the government had a secret plan to kill one-quarter of the population. Right after one video finished, another started automatically, making roughly the same claim.
Chaslot tried to explain to the man that the conspiracy was obviously untrue and that YouTube’s recommendation engine was simply serving up more of what it thought he wanted. The man at first appeared to understand, Chaslot said, but then concluded: “But there are so many of them.”