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Opinion Editorials

Intelligent cars and plug-in monitoring, friends or foes?

(OPINION EDITORIALS) Intelligent cars and plug in monitoring seem great. But will they start self reporting? And what about insurance?

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A game called Go

There’s a game called go. For lack of a better word, it’s perfect. All you need is a grid, and stones in two colors. You play a stone at an intersection on the grid. When you place stones of your color on all the intersections surrounding a given space, it’s your space, and your opponent can’t play there, even if they have stones there already. The goal is to surround more space than your opponent.

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It’s simple enough to teach a toddler, and so complex there are more possible games than atoms in the universe. It’s 3,000 years old, and it’s a mathematical certainty there have never been two identical games. It’s as much intuition as intellect: play styles are so indicative of personality that companies have been known to use the game in job interviews. Go is one of the masterpieces of humanity, a microcosm of the H. sapiens mind.

This May, a computer program called AlphaGo beat the best player alive. I’m not here to talk about go. I’d like to talk about your car.

Your car, but not

More specifically, I’m here to talk about the robot apocalypse as it relates to your car, because a) the robot apocalypse is my jam; b) it has a surprising amount to do with a 3,000 year old board game, and the fact that Google can beat us at it.

Modulo singularity, computers can’t do anything we don’t tell them to. The power of AI is that we’ve told them, more or less, to think.

The danger of AI is that we haven’t settled on standards of what they are and aren’t allowed to think about.

That brings us to your car, because, in real terms, it’s not your car. Even if you own it, straight cash, your insurance company has a financial stake in it. Repair companies have to make pricing decisions for it. Governments have to regulate what you do with it, because you can use it to kill people.

Every one of those tasks gets easier with AI.

One little robot in your car, doing useful things for you from setting appointments to setting the AC, and suddenly the government gets to know when you ran over those nuns, the mechanic gets to know that’s where the dents in the bodywork came from, the insurance company gets to know it was your fault.

Maybe too smart?

The benefits of AI-enabled “smart cars” are myriad. I’m genuinely, personally psyched about it. That little robot promises to be a present help with everything from GPS to streaming media.

But the plain fact is, any smart car (not *that* kind of Smart Car) is going to be collecting data for the benefit of people other than you.

As we’ve covered in the past, AI is clueless about context.

Unless it’s told otherwise, it won’t know the difference between a hard brake to save a fluffy squirrel, and a pause to twirl your mustache before barreling down with malice aforethought on the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

Those pesky insurance premiums

So is the insurance company, or the dealership, or the mechanic gonna tell it otherwise? More importantly, are they gonna tell it otherwise if it isn’t specifically delineated as their job to do so? Because, at the risk of cynicism, failing to tell the AI the difference between squirrel-saving and rank villainy is a really good way to jack up insurance premiums.

Worse, albeit ethically better, what about an insurance company acting in good faith to remove the random human element from at-fault assessment, thereby ceding it to something that’s literally incapable of making subjective decisions?

Remember that game from earlier?

Which is what brings us around to go. AlphaGo was a Google project and like I said, it beat the greatest player alive at the greatest game ever made. Know how? Layers. It was built on the DeepMind framework, which consists (massive oversimplification incoming!) of a set of tasks, each programmed to do one thing, running simultaneously.

This one assesses how many moves have been made in a given area recently, providing data on which parts of the board are contested.

That one is a memory algorithm, going back through previous games and identifying similar situations. The other parses the memory data for moves mathematically compatible with the current board. And so on.

It better compute

It works. It’s brilliant. But it works because it’s incredibly fast and incredibly efficient at moving data between those processes. It can’t generate new ones. It’s still only an approximation of a human mind, a box of switches arranged in a brilliant order by brilliant people. Nuance is not an option.

As long as that’s the case, which is to say, until someone builds a computer that’s also a person, every implementation of AI will have the option of “does not compute.” Smart cars are in the immediate future, and in the short term “does not compute” is likely to mean jacked up premiums, jacked up prices, and, for the self-driving crowd, quite possibly jacked up rides. Drive carefully.

#SmartGO

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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Opinion Editorials

How to sound more confident in your next interview or office email

(OPINION/EDITORIAL) After COVID, collectively, our social skills need a little TLC. What words and phrases can you use to sound more confident at work?

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Interview with woman and a man opposite as they each sound more confident/

In-person work communications are on the rise, and it’s no surprise that, collectively, our social skills need a little bit of work. CNBC shares some examples of common phrases people tend to use when uncomfortable – and what you should use to replace them to sound more confident in your next interview or office email.

After explaining a personal philosophy or situation, it’s all too common to say, “Does that make sense?” Aside from occasionally sounding patronizing, this question more or less implies that you believe your worldview or lived experiences to require validation. CNBC suggests saying “I’d like to hear your input” or – if you’re in an inquisitive mood – asking “What are your thoughts?” instead.

This invites the interviewer to give feedback or continue the conversation without devaluing your own perspective.

CNBC also recommends getting rid of weak introductions, listing examples like “For what it’s worth” and “In my opinion” in order to sound more confident. Certainly, most of us have used these phrases to recuse ourselves from perceived criticism in meetings or emails; the problem is that they become an indicator of lacking self-confidence, at least for employers.

Simply jumping straight into whatever it is you have to say without the soft-paws introduction is sure to be appreciated by higher-ups and colleagues alike.

Passive voice is another thing you should remove from your communication when trying to sound more confident. For example, saying “I performed this action because…” instead of “This action was performed because…” shows ownership; whether you’re taking credit for an innovative decision or copping to a mistake, taking responsibility with the language you use is always better than removing yourself from the narrative.

“I’m not positive, but…” is yet another common phrase that CNBC eschews, opting instead to start with whatever comes after the “but”. It’s always good to maintain a certain amount of humility, but that’s not what this phrase is doing – it’s getting out in front of your own process and undermining it before anyone else has a chance to evaluate it. Regardless of your position or responsibilities, you should always give your thoughts the credit they deserve.

Finally, CNBC suggests removing perhaps the most undervalued phrase on this list: “I’m sorry.” There is absolutely a time and place to apologize, but “sorry” gets thrown around the office when a simple “excuse me” would suffice. Apologizing in these situations belies confidence, and it makes actual apologies – when they’re necessary – seem hollow.

The language people use is powerful, and as arbitrarily contrite as the workplace may inspire many to feel, humility can absolutely coexist with confidence.

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Opinion Editorials

10 tips for anyone looking to up their professional work game

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It’s easy to get bogged down by the details, procrastinate, and feel unproductive. Here are a few tips to help you crush your work goals.

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Self-reflection is critical to a growth mindset, which you must have if you want to grow and improve. If you are ready to take your professional game to the next level, here are some stories and tips to help you remain focused on killing your work goals.

1. Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy, as the quote goes. And, in the workplace it’s bound to make you second guess yourself and your abilities. This story explains when comparison can be useful, when to avoid it, and how to change your focus if it’s sucking the life out of you.

2. Burnout is real and the harder you work, the less productive you are. It’s an inverse relationship. But, there are ways to work smarter and have better life balance. Here are some tips to prioritize your workload and find more ease.

3. Stop procrastinating and start getting sh@t done. The reason we procrastinate may be less about not wanting to do something and more about the emotions underlying the task. Ready to get going and stop hemming and hawing, you got this and here’s the way to push through.

4. Perfection is impossible and if you seek this in your work and life, it’s likely you are very frustrated. Let that desire go and learn to be happy with excellence over perfection.

5. If you think you’re really awesome and seriously deserve more money, more responsibility, more of anything and are ready to drop the knowledge on your supervisor or boss, you may want to check this story out to see if your spinning in the right direction.

6. Technology makes it so easy to get answers so quickly, it’s hard to wait around for things to happen. We like instant gratification. Yet, that is another reason procrastination is a problem for some of us, but every person has a different way/reason for procrastinating. Learn what’s up with that.

7. Making choices can be a challenge for some of us (me included) who worry we are making the wrong choice. If you’ve ever struggled with decision making, you know it can be paralyzing and then you either make no decision or choose the safest option. What we have here is the Ambiguity Effect and it can be a real time suck. Kick ambiguity to the curb.

8. If you are having trouble interacting with colleagues or wondering why you don’t hear back from contacts it could be you are creeping folks out unintentionally (we hope). Here’s how to #belesscreepy.

9. In the social media era building your brand and marketing are critical, yet, if you’re posting to the usual suspects and seeing very little engagement, you’ve got a problem. Wharton Business School even did a study on how to fix the situation and be more shareable.

10. Every time you do a presentation that one co-worker butts in and calls you out. Dang. If you aren’t earning respect on the job, you will be limited in your ability to get to the next level. Respect is critical to any leadership position, as well as to making a difference in any role you may have within an organization, but actions can be misconstrued. There are ways to take what may be negative situations and use them to your advantage, building mutual respect.

You have the tools you need, now get out there, work hard, play hard, and make sh*t happen. Oh, and remember, growth requires continual reflection and action, but you got this.

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Opinion Editorials

The actual reasons people choose to work at startups

(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?

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leadership Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?

Well, yes and no.

The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.

When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.

Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”

Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”

It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are maybe a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.

However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.

Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?

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