Six Technologies Getting us Through the Pandemic

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With COVID-19 lockdown restrictions issued across the globe, millions of us have been forced to hunker down “in place”, or severely limit our movements outside of the home. On learning this, most will have reached reflexively for the nearest device — if we didn’t learn it from that device to begin with. Yet mostly we are cinched in a love-hate relationship with the presiding artefacts of our time; and often we resent tech’s power over us

Nevertheless, new circumstances can breed new attitudes. Despite having spent the last few years debating whether or not technology will destroy us, March 2020 could be the month that at least partially redeems our faith in technology by demonstrating how fortunate we are to have some incredibly sophisticated tools in our homes.

For many, they are currently the sole portal to the outside world. 

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The Evolution of Human-Centered Tech @ Last Month’s CES 2020

An edited version of this article appeared on the H+K Strategies website earlier this month. File:Ces-consumer-electronics-show-las-vegas-greg-bulla.jpg

The dust has now settled after the madness of the world’s biggest annual tech fest, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, NV. Since the show’s kick-off in early January, a parade of weird and wonderful new devices have dominated tech news and bylines; from lab produced pork to RollBot, Charmin’s robotic savior for those “stranded on the commode without a roll.”

The event itself really isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of companies vying to embed their (often ridiculous) tech gadgetry into our lives – both at work and at play. There is, of course, lots of money to be made from finding that elusive sweet spot; the point at which problem-solving, convenience, and affordability converge.

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If Virtual Reality is Reality, is Virtual Abuse Just Abuse?

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“If you’ve got something that is independent of your mind, which has causal powers, which you can perceive in all these ways, to me you’re a long way toward being real”, the philosopher David Chalmers recently told Prashanth Ramakrishna in an interview for the New York Times. Chalmers invoked remarks by fellow Australian philosopher Samuel Alexander who said that: “To be real is to have causal powers”, and science fiction writer Philip K. Dick who said that, “a real thing is something that doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it.” 

Professor Chalmers’ comments were made in reference to the new and increasingly sophisticated world of virtual reality; something he believes has the status of a “subreality” (or similar) within our known physical reality. A place that still exists independent of our imaginations, where actions have consequences.

Chalmers draws parallels with our trusted physical reality, which is already so illusory on many levels. After all, the brain has no direct contact with the world and is reliant upon the mediation of our senses. As the mathematician-turned-philosopher points out, science tells us that vivid experiences like color are “just a bunch of wavelengths arising from the physical reflectance properties of objects that produce a certain kind of experience in us.” 

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Sure, AI can be creative, but it will never possess genius

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Sarah Bernhardt plays Hamlet, London 1899

“What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, 
That he should weep for her?” 

The close of Act II Scene ii, and Hamlet questions how the performers in a play about the siege of Troy are able to convey such emotion – feel such empathy – for the stranger queen of an ancient city. 

The construct here is complex. A play within a play, sparking a key moment of introspection, and ultimately self doubt. It is no coincidence that in this same work we find perhaps the earliest use of the term “my mind’s eye,” heralding a shift in theatrical focus from traditions of enacted disputes, lovers passions, and farce, to more a more nuanced kind of drama that issues from psychological turmoil.

Hamlet is generally considered to be a work of creative genius. For many laboring in the creative arts, works like this and those in its broader category serve as aspirational benchmarks. Indelible reminders of the brilliant outlands of human creativity. 

Now, for the first time in our history, humans have a rival in deliberate acts of aesthetic creation. In the midst of the avalanche of artificial intelligence hype comes a new promise – creative AI; here to relieve us of burdensome tasks including musical, literary, and artistic composition.  

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Will Every Kid Get an Equal Shot at an ‘A’ In the Era of New Tech & AI?

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“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

These are the inspirational words of activist Malala Yousafzai, best known as “the girl who was shot by the Taliban” for championing female education in her home country of Pakistan. This modest, pared-down idea of schooling is cherished by many. There is something noble about it, perhaps because harkens back to the very roots of intellectual enquiry. No tools and no distractions; just ideas and conversation. 

Traditionalists may be reminded of the largely bygone “chalk and talk” methods of teaching, rooted in the belief that students need little more than firm, directed pedagogical instruction to prepare them for the world. Many still reminisce about these relatively uncomplicated teaching techniques, but we should be careful not to misread Yousafzai’s words as prescribing simplicity as the optimal conditions for education. 

On the contrary, her comments describe a baseline. 

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Three Things I Learned: Living with AI (Experts)

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Credit: Tanisha Bassan

There is strong evidence to show that subject-specific experts frequently fall short on their informed judgments. Particularly when it comes to forecasting.

In fact, in 2005 the University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Philip E. Tetlock devised a test for seasoned and respected commentators that found as their level of expertise rose, their confidence also rose – but not their accuracy. Repeatedly, Tetlock’s experts attached high probability to low frequency events in error, relying upon intuitive casual reasoning rather than probabilistic reasoning. Their assertions were often no more reliable than, to quote the experimenter, “a dart throwing chimp.”

I was reminded of Tetlock’s ensuing book and other similar experiments at the Future Trends Forum in Madrid last month; an event that (valiantly) attempts to convene a room full of thought leaders and task them with predicting our future. Specifically, in this case, our AI future.

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Tech for Humans, Part 2: Designing a Human-Centered Future

YouTheData.com is delighted to feature a two-part guest post by Andrew Sears. Andrew is passionate about emerging technologies and the future we’re building with them. He’s driven innovation at companies like IBM, IDEO, and Genesis Mining with a focus on AI, cloud, and blockchain products. He serves as an Advisor at All Tech is Human and will complete his MBA at Duke University in 2020. You can keep up with his work at andrew-sears.com.

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In Part 1 of this series, we explored the paradox of human-centered design as it is commonly practiced today: well-intentioned product teams start with the goal of empathizing deeply with humanneeds and desires, only to end up with a product that is just plain bad for humans.

In many cases, this outcome represents a failure to appreciate the complex web of values, commitments, and needs that define human experience. By understanding their users in reductively economic terms, teams build products that deliver convenience and efficiency at the cost of privacy, intimacy, and emotional wellbeing. But times are changing. The growing popularity of companies like Light, Purism, Brave, and Duck Duck Go signifies a shift in consumer preferences towards tech products that respect their users’ time, attention, privacy, and values.

Product teams now face both a social and an economic imperative to think more critically about the products they put into the world. To change their outcomes, they should start by changing their processes. Fortunately, existing design methodologies can be adapted and augmented to build products that appreciate more fully the human complexity of their users. Here are three changes that product teams should make to put the “human” in human centered design:

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Tech for Humans, Part 1: The Paradox of Human Centered Design

YouTheData.com is delighted to feature a two-part guest post by Andrew Sears. Andrew is passionate about emerging technologies and the future we’re building with them. He’s driven innovation at companies like IBM, IDEO, and Genesis Mining with a focus on AI, cloud, and blockchain products. He serves as an Advisor at All Tech is Human and will complete his MBA at Duke University in 2020. You can keep up with his work at andrew-sears.com.

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“Ideate.” “Prototype.” “Iterate.” “Empathize.” These words have become mainstays in the modern tech product team’s vocabulary, thanks in part to human-centered design.

Human-centered design is an approach to product design that is based on building empathy with the people who will be using the product. The assumption is that, by understanding the needs, preferences, and desires of the end user, the product team can build a product that customers will find both useful and easy to use. Within this mindset, great products are those that integrate seamlessly into the user’s life and help them to accomplish tasks more efficiently.

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AI needs cooperation, not an arms race

This article by Fiona J McEvoy (YouTheData.com) was originally posted on All Turtles.

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Writing in the New York Times recently, venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee signaled an important, oncoming change in the way we think about artificial intelligence. We are graduating, he cautioned, from an age of discovery and vision into a more practical era of implementation.

Lee is promoting his new book, titled A.I. Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, and he suggests that this transition from lab to launchpad may naturally privilege Chinese advantages—like data abundance and government investment—above the research capabilities and “freewheeling intellectual environment” of the U.S.

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