Companies using VR to develop employees' soft skills / Humans + Tech - #63

+ Has Big Tech become our puppet masters? + Tweaking AI software to function like a human brain improves computer's learning ability


After reading the article from ScienceDaily on how two neuroscientists are tweaking AI to learn concepts more efficiently based on how our brains learn, I realized that we are still learning how we learn. How meta :)

How companies are using VR to develop employees’ soft skills

The soft stuff is the hard stuff. Companies are increasingly finding it difficult to find people with the right soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and leadership. The pandemic has made this more challenging since there is reduced access to in-person training and education.

Some companies are using virtual reality (VR) to bridge that gap and training their employees in an immersive VR experience where they can role-play to interact with customers and other stakeholders to learn these skills [Jeanne C. Meister, Harvard Business Review].

According to Christopher Dede, a Harvard School of Education professor whose work focuses on applications of VR for education, “The future of VR is being immersed into an environment blending physical and digital worlds, where users interact via a headset, their computer, or their mobile device to role play with an avatar or learn a new skill.”

VR simulations are being used by many companies for customer service training, developing presentation skills, and employee evaluation.

VR simulations allow employees to learn and practice in a close-to-real-life situation without damaging relationships. 70% of employees at H&R Block who trained using VR simulations say they prefer it to traditional learning tools.

Cognizant uses a VR-driven training program to help their employees improve their presentation skills. Feedback is provided through analysis by various AI tools, which analyse the presentation for keywords, emotions, tone, and body language.

As Kshitij Nerurkar, North America Head of Cognizant’s Learning Academy, explains, “Practicing client presentations is just one of VR’s many soft skill applications, enabling new hires to practice presenting without needing to be in a classroom, and then receive instant feedback to fine tune their communication and data-storytelling skills.” This capacity for immediate feedback and essentially limitless rounds of practice (without relying on expensive, human training resources) is a key advantage of VR-powered learning tools.

I haven’t experienced a VR-simulation of any form, so I don’t have a personal opinion on it. But, I find it very interesting how the adoption of these technologies has accelerated due to the challenges we are facing with the pandemic. It’s a testament to how adaptable humans are and how we find solutions to all our challenges in one way or another.

Has Big Tech become our puppet masters?

In the last 5 years, it has become evident that the big social media players (Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and YouTube) have a big say in swaying society's outlook. They have particularly been irresponsible and have turned a blind eye to the spread of hate and racism on their platforms. They have courted those in power and imposed bans on Trump only after he incited a mob to storm the US Capitol. And more curiously, the ban only came after the Democrats had secured the Senate majority once Biden is sworn in on Jan 20.

Tefo Mohapi, brings up the Ugandan elections and Facebook’s ban of accounts related to Uganda’s sitting government and asks are they our new puppet masters? [Tefo Mohapi, iAfrikan]

As we speak, social media is blocked in Uganda after President Yoweri Museveni ordered telecommunications companies to restrict access to social media platforms. It's important to note at this stage that Museveni has been shutting down the internet and restricting social media in Uganda for over a decade especially around elections.

All along these years, Facebook and other Big Tech companies didn't even bat an eyelid.

This year, however, Facebook decided to ban accounts related to Uganda's sitting government citing that they were fake and duplicate accounts looking that were posting election-related content multiple times. Museveni didn't waste time and cited this as the reason for restricting social media platforms in Uganda because "Facebook is taking sides in Uganda's upcoming elections."

These developments are disturbing in that they seem to indicate that Big Tech, can, if it so wishes, control narratives that can eventually influence who gets elected.

Are they our new puppet masters?

They are private companies and free to do what they want with their platforms, but the biggest issue is the inconsistent application of their policies. In this graphic below from iAfrikan, it is evident that Facebook’s application of their policies has been erratic and as per their discretion, not as per the policies that they’ve set out.

I agree that it’s not an easy position for platforms to be in. Most situations are in grey areas, where it’s not clear what the best option is. And with billions of users, they are not going to be able to please everyone.

But social media is no longer a place where we only socialise. It has become the hub of our media consumption, source of news, opinions, work, and entertainment. Platforms hold immense power in controlling and influencing what we see, what we consume, and our choices. Are they using this power responsibly?

When it appears that platforms are aligning their interests with the those in power in the respective countries they operate in, then we have to question if the interests of their users and society are their priority or not. As social platforms, their impact on their users and society should be their foremost priority. If not, we should stop using their services — they can’t exist without us.

Tweaking AI software to function like a human brain improves computer's learning ability

One of the biggest mysteries of the brain is how we learn new concepts with such efficiency. For example, after encountering just a few different dogs, children can differentiate between cats and dogs. In contrast, AI needs to be trained on thousands and sometimes even millions of pictures before it can recognise and differentiate objects with the same accuracy.

We still don’t know how our brain’s internal workings allow us to learn so efficiently. Training AI to learn more efficiently is also a way for us to understand how our brains enable us to learn. It’s a feedback loop.

Two neuroscientists from Georgetown University Medical Center say that they have programmed an AI to use a much faster technique for learning new objects, based on a model designed to mirror human visual learning [ScienceDaily].

"Our model provides a biologically plausible way for artificial neural networks to learn new visual concepts from a small number of examples," says Riesenhuber. "We can get computers to learn much better from few examples by leveraging prior learning in a way that we think mirrors what the brain is doing."


"Our findings not only suggest techniques that could help computers learn more quickly and efficiently, they can also lead to improved neuroscience experiments aimed at understanding how people learn so quickly, which is not yet well understood," Riesenhuber concludes.

We are still learning how we learn :)

Quote of the week

“The future of VR is being immersed into an environment blending physical and digital worlds, where users interact via a headset, their computer, or their mobile device to role play with an avatar or learn a new skill.”

—Christopher Dede, Profession, Harvard School of Education, from the article, “How companies are using VR to develop employees’ soft skills” [Harvard Business Review]

I wish you a brilliant day ahead :)