Artifact co-founder Kevin Systrom doesn’t believe in AI doomerism


News aggregation startup Artifact co-founder Kevin Systrom doesn’t believe in AI doomerism, even as he’s developing a new app that’s embracing novel AI technologies. The Instagram co-founder, speaking onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt 2023, said it’s good that people are questioning the potential impacts of AI but feels it’s more likely that people will become “super-powered” because of these technologies.

“My sense is when new technologies arise, people always look at these new technologies and say to themselves, jobs are going to go away. It’s going to kill this. These are the problems with it,” he said. “And if you just look back in history at every major revolution, whether it was the internet, the PC, the mobile phone — imagine how many things have been unlocked in our lives because of those?” Systrom continued.

“Sure, jobs have gone away. Classroom teaching and education has changed where you used to trust that people wrote their own papers — now they don’t, potentially. We just adapt. We just find ways to adapt, and then all of a sudden, you find that new jobs exist,” Systrom added. “People are super-powered because of these technologies. And I think that’s much more likely to happen,” he said.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

His position stands in contrast to many in the AI space who are warning of the potential existential AI risks. This includes those signing the recent statement urging global attention to AI, including OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis, veteran AI computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton, MIT’s Max Tegmark, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, Grimes the musician, and podcaster Sam Harris, to name a few.

Systrom’s app, co-founded with Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger, leverages modern-day AI in new ways to craft a better news reading experience — an area that could be potentially fraught given the abundance of clickbait and fake news. With Artifact, users receive a personalized news reading experience, plus the ability to curate links for others.

The app uses AI to do a number of things, including summarizing news articles, rewriting clickbait headlines in more factual ways, and personalizing the news selection that’s presented to its end users.

The power of AI also allows Artifact to prioritize and surface the best content, which isn’t necessarily those stories that get the most clicks. In fact, says Systrom, one of the surprising things about Artifact is that it can uncover popular unknown writers.

“The ones who do really well, you probably don’t even know their name. And that’s one of the most exciting things about Artifact . . . I actually think there’s an opportunity for more and more of these writers to be discovered as independent personalities,” he said.

Personalized news app Artifact becomes a discovery engine for the web with new Links feature

Plus, AI’s understanding of what stories are doing well on Artifact is something that extends beyond click-through rates. Systrom contrasted Artificat with another app (which he didn’t name) that had recently launched a tab that would feature positive stories, instead of the top stories that tended toward the shocking and negative. The app in question, SmartNews, operates in the same space as Artifact but has a different approach.

“I was thinking to myself like, or you could just produce a product that doesn’t push people to terrible, awful things all the time,” Systrom said. “I think there’s a level of quality — or at least a level of integrity — that we’re trying to shoot for editorially speaking, to make the experience much more than just plane accidents and stuff that draw a lot of eyeballs and clicks,” he noted.

Systrom shared that his inspiration for building Artifact was in part due to the potential he saw coming with AI. In social networking, AI now dictates what you see, the founder explained. It’s not about just who you follow; it’s also about your interests.

“That was really exciting to me, and I think we saw that in TikTok,” Systrom said. “So, that was the passion. What’s a big problem in the world?  . . . Information consumption, news consumption, specifically at the peak, is an enormous problem today.”

His goal was to create an app where news headlines aren’t just being created and shared to game some algorithm, but because they’re actually interesting and useful information. That has led to Artifact’s latest release, Links, which lets anyone share a URL they believe is notable enough to resonate with other readers. This also feeds into the personalization algorithms, helping people discover new content they may not have otherwise, again aided by AI.

As for what comes next for the app? Systrom doesn’t know, saying Artificat is still exploring product-market fit. He does believe that machine learning, LLM (large language models) and mobile are key to the app’s potential success, but the startup is still trying to figure out how to achieve scale.

“The thing that has very clearly resonated with people is not being locked into a set of specific publishers, but rather allowing people to go far beyond that and discover interesting links anywhere via artificial intelligence,” he concluded.

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