How AI can help create more caring company cultures / Humans + Tech - #90

+ New AI tool aims to analyze and improve classroom discussions + Smart technology (probably) isn’t making you dumber + Other interesting articles


AI seemed to dominate the articles this week. Some are beneficial and promising uses of AI that can help us a lot if implemented correctly. I particularly enjoyed the article from PwC’s Anand Rao on how AI can help create more caring company cultures.

How AI can help create more caring company cultures

Anand Rao is a Global artificial intelligence leader at PwC. PwC has been using AI to design their office spaces with optimal social distancing and alternative uses for office space. From experience, he says that a compassionate workplace performs better. As we continue to face challenges with the pandemic, and we will probably face more as people start returning to offices, Rao believes that there is a significant opportunity to use AI to build and guide emotional support at companies [Anand Rao, QUARTZ].

Loss. Grief. Fear. These emotions have gripped everyone over the past 14 months. This mental and emotional damage from the pandemic could linger for months or even years from now. While widespread vaccine rollouts might bring some relief, the reverse-culture shock of returning to office life could exacerbate the trauma.

But what if organizations could pair AI with HR and performance systems already in place to identify and provide the individualized, personal support employees need through the changes and continued uncertainty ahead?

Rao identifies three main areas where AI can help create a more compassionate workspace—trauma, employee burnout, and employee choice.

I found the ideas presented very interesting and well thought out. I urge you to read the full article. I agree with Rao’s conclusion that responsible AI that respects employee privacy and ensures fairness, transparency and accountability will be vital in implementing these successfully.

New AI tool aims to analyse and improve classroom discussions

U.S. students underperform in math skills compared to their peers in other countries. Researchers at UC Boulder's Institute of Cognitive Science have developed Talk Moves to try and assist teachers in imparting knowledge to students in better ways. It is an AI tool that uses natural language processing (NLP) models to help teachers have constructive discussions in the classroom [Oliver Peckham, datanami].

Talk Moves uses transcripts of classroom discussions and analyses them to evaluate what worked and what didn’t.

Based on its analysis, Talk Moves can then output classifiers to identify which students are responding (and how often), which the developers hope will both spur engagement and improve equity in classroom settings. “A big goal of accountable talk is equity, because we want all students listening, participating, talking and being a part of that community,” Jacobs said.

The application has already been put into pilot use in two Colorado school districts, where teachers are helping to both test and design the evolving tool. “I’m always trying to improve conversations that happen in my math lessons and to help students have discussions with each other to explain their thinking. The application lets me see how I’m doing at meeting that goal,” said Kristin Holmquist, a fifth grade teacher at Eagleview Elementary School.

Smart technology (probably) isn’t making you dumber

Any new technology comes with its sceptics. As smartphones and computers have become commonplace in the last two decades, many sceptics claim that they are damaging our cognitive abilities. However, researchers Lorenzo Cecutti, Anthony Chemero & Spike W. S. Lee have published a paper in Nature Human Behaviour, arguing that there is no clear evidence for the lasting detrimental effects of digital technology on cognitive abilities. Still, digital technology may be changing predominant ways of cognition [Derek Beres, Big Think].

According to co-author Anthony Chemero, the idea that smartphones and digital technology damage our biological cognitive abilities is not backed up by science. Instead, he claims that we are developing different relationships to cognition due to smart devices. "What smartphones and digital technology seem to do instead is to change the ways in which we engage our biological cognitive abilities."

Other research claims the opposite.

Other research disagrees with that conclusion. The famous London cab driver study showed that cabbies had larger hippocampi and better memory than non-drivers. Other research shows that GPS reduces spatial awareness and mental mapping. Studies such as these indicate that — as the cliché goes — if you don't use it, you lose it.

Overall the authors argue that technology generally makes life better. Every benefit comes with a cost, and it’s how we use it that matters.

Other interesting articles from around the web

👓 Warby Parker’s new iPhone eye test is its next step into telehealth [Ruth Reader, FastCompany]

In the US, it is compulsory to have a current prescription when ordering new eyeglasses. Warby Parker has developed an eye test using an iPhone app to renew their prescriptions via the app. It’s available in 29 states. A doctor still verifies the results before they are approved, but it allows many to renew their prescriptions from the comfort of their homes.

The app, which is changing its name from Prescription Check to Virtual Vision Test, renews prescriptions for anyone 18 to 65 years old with a single-vision distance prescription and no eye health concerns. Users fill out a quick, five-minute questionnaire, then prop up the iPhone and stand 10 feet away with their current prescription glasses or contact lenses on. As the phone shows a series of letters, the user reads them out and the phone app will record the responses. Within two days, a doctor reviews the results and either approves or asks the person to get an in-person exam. Users will be charged for the test only if they are able to renew their prescription. Sadly, it’s still not available for Android users.

📱 Instagram ‘pushes weight-loss messages to teenagers’ [Jim Waterson and Alex Hern, The Guardian]

Researchers used “mystery shopper” techniques to set up a series of Instagram profiles mirroring real children to understand how instagram’s algorithms work.

One account that was set up in the name of a 17-year-old girl liked a single post from a sportswear brand about dieting that appeared in her Instagram explore tab. She then followed an account which was suggested to her after it posted a photo of a “pre- and post-weight loss journey”.

These two actions were enough to radically change the material suggested to the fake teenage girl on Instagram. The researchers found her explore feed suddenly began to feature substantially more content relating to weight loss journeys and tips, exercise and body sculpting. The material often featured “noticeably slim, and in some cases seemingly edited/distorted body shapes”.

Instagram has acknowledged the issue and resolved to fix them.

🕵️‍♀️ Pegasus scandal: Are we all becoming unknowing spies? [Gordon Corera, BBC]

The recent Pegasus scandal revealed that the Pegasus spyware from Israel’s NSO group targeted 50,000 phone numbers, including Arab royal family members, business executives, journalists, activists, and politicians. Our phones contain vast amounts of data, not just of ourselves but also of our friends, families, and colleagues.

Now, almost everything they might want to know - what you say, where you have been, who you meet, even what interests you - is all contained in a device we carry all the time. 

Your phone can be accessed remotely without anyone even touching it and you never knowing that it's been turned from your friendly digital assistant into someone else's spy.

The ability to remotely access that phone was once considered something only a few states could do. But high-end espionage and surveillance powers are now in the hands of many other countries and even individuals and small groups.

Quote of the week

"You put all this technology together with a naked human brain and you get something that's smarter...and the result is that we, supplemented by our technology, are actually capable of accomplishing much more complex tasks than we could with our un-supplemented biological abilities."

—Anthony Chemero, Department of Philosophy and Department of Psychology, University of Cincinnati, from the article, “Smart technology (probably) isn’t making you dumber” [Big Think]

I wish you a brilliant day ahead :)