TikTok and AI: The reason why you spend all your time on the app

850 million monthly users. 155 countries. TikTok has a global impact, launching ordinary teenagers to superstardom. How does the giant use AI to take over the planet?

The app can get to know you so well it feels like it’s reading your mind
— Bloomberg

It wouldn’t be an AI Daily article without mention of algorithms. And this is no different. TikTok uses algorithms to indirectly keep track of user preferences (that is, without explicitly asking you about your preferences). TikTok keeps tabs on the likes and comments of the user as well as the watch time (how long you watch the TikTok before swiping up). Some TikTokkers attempt to purposefully create longer videos to thereby game this algorithm. However, as the videos are (on the whole) so short, the algorithm quickly accumulates a vast data-set for each user and with Machine Learning, the larger the data-set, the greater the predictive accuracy. As such, TikTok’s “for you page” becomes closer to the “only you could choose this page” the more time you spend on the app.

TikTok also uses AI on the video-production side to simplify video-editing and suggest enhancements like cool filters or hashtags. One prevalent theory suggests that TikTokkers’ initial content is pivotal in their future on the app: the better your initial content, the more likes and views you get in a short space of time, the more viral you become. Seeing this, the algorithm will then show your videos to a wider audience. As such, if your initial content goes viral, TikTok’s algorithm provides you with the audience to build upon this initial growth.

In that sense, TikTok is unique: unlike Netflix or Facebook or any other service that uses AI, TikTok make the recommendations for you, rather than suggesting films in the case of Netflix. This puts increased pressure on the algorithm to get things right but also increases the ‘explosivity’ of the app - hence it is ultimately unsurprising that TikTok has become the all-conquering global phenomenon we see today.