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Opinion Editorials

New age stranger danger: teaching kids about AI

(OPINION EDITORIAL) The world is changing and so is technology. As tech changes so must we, in teaching kids about the dangers about AI.

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When I was younger, when my siblings and I would come home from school, we were required to nourish our minds for an hour (study, homework, read, do math practice, whatever we were feeling that day) and then we were banished from the house until dinner.

We had to go outside and create our own fun. We rode bikes to friends houses, we went “fishing” in the creek, sometimes before we left the house we’d search the couch for loose change and go to our favorite corner store and share a bag of skittles.

Our neighborhood was a safe one — it was one of those ideal 90s neighborhoods where our house was seated on the end of a cul-de-sac so there was little traffic and there were enough kids on the street to field two kickball teams.

Each parent on the street was allowed to reprimand us and there were rarely any locked doors. As a 10 year old it felt like ultimate freedom. But, with that freedom came a very important lesson in strangers and what to do if we were ever approached by one.

I’m sure stranger danger is still a thing taught by parents and schools alike but we went from don’t talk to strangers online or get in strangers’ cars to getting online to request a stranger to drive us somewhere.

With the advancement of technology has come a readiness to bring strangers in (/near / to) our homes. The most invitations coming from those personal assistants many homes can’t seem to function without.

Alexa, Google Home, Bixby or whatever assistant you may use are all essentially strangers that you are willingly bringing into your home.

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a college kid that didn’t know that the microphone on those things are always on — as such is true with the Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger apps.

In a recent article from Rachel Botsman (BOTSman, hmmmm), she describes the experience her three year old had with an Alexa.

Over the course of the interactions, her daughter asks the bot a few silly questions, requests a few items to be bought, asks Alexa a few opinions, she ultimately sums up her daughter’s experience as saying, “Today, we are no longer trusting machines just to do something, but to decide what to do and when to do it. The next generation will grow up in an age where it is normal to be surrounded by autonomous agents, with or without cute names.”

I’m not a mother and I’m definitely old enough to be extremely skeptical of machines (iRobot anyone?) but the effects smart bots will undoubtedly have on future generations have me genuinely concerned. Right now it seems as harmless as asking those assistants to order more toilet paper, or to check the weather or to see which movies are screening but what will it become in the future?

A MIT experiment cited in the Botsman article 27 children, aged between three and 10, interacted with Alexa, Google Home, Julie (a chatbot) and, finally, Cozmo (a robot in the form of a toy bulldozer), which are all AI devices/ toys.

The study concluded that almost 80 per cent of the children thought that Alexa would always tell the truth.

Let me repeat that — 80 PERCENT OF THE KIDS BELIEVE THAT THE AIS, CREATED BY COMPANIES WHO WANT TO SELL PRODUCTS, WILL ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH.

The study went on to conclude that some of the children believed they could teach the devices something useful, like how to make a paper plane, suggesting they felt a genuine, give-and-take relationship with the machines.

All of these conclusions beg the question, how can we teach kids (and some adults if we’re being honest) about security and privacy in regards to new technology? How do we teach kids about commercialism and that as innocent as they may seem, not every device was designed altruistically?

We are quickly approaching an age where the strangers we introduce our kids to aren’t the lurkers in the park with the missing dog or the candy in the van, but rather, a robot voice that can tell a joke and give you the weather and order +$70M worth of miscellaneous stuff.

So now, it’s on us. Children of our own or not, we have to start thinking about best practices when it comes to teaching children about the appropriate time to trust in a computer. If the 5 year olds with smart devices are any indicator, teaching kids to be stingy with their trust in AIs will be an uphill battle.

Kiri Isaac is the Web Producer and a Staff Writer at The American Genius and studied communications at Texas A&M. She is fluent in sarcasm and movie quotes and her love language is tacos.

Opinion Editorials

Ban cryptocurrency posts on Medium? How far is too far?

(EDITORIAL) With Facebook nixing all cryptocurrency ads, others ponder where else the hoaxes should be policed. But at some point, this all becomes censorship…

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I’ll be frank. I don’t understand the cryptocurrency industry, but I do understand content.

Ed Dunn believes that Medium should ban stories about cryptocurrency and initial coin offerings.

Facebook has just banned all ads about these things, whether the advertiser is a legal business or not. Some are calling this censorship, but I think it deserves a bigger discussion. Advertising is a much different animal than providing content on Medium.

What is Medium?

Medium is a private company that offers social journalism (read: it’s a blog platform). Amateurs and professionals are allowed to post on the platform, provided the content is within the terms and conditions.

Here are two pieces of the terms that I find relevant to this discussion:

(1) You’re responsible for the content you post. This means you assume all risks related to it, including someone else’s reliance on its accuracy, or claims relating to intellectual property or other legal rights.

(2) We can remove any content you post for any reason.

Medium makes it quite clear that they can and will censor your posts.

Generally, when I think of censorship, it relates to the government banning speech or public communication under the First Amendment. When the government attempts to suppress speech or communication, it is clearly against the law. This distinction is important in any discussion about censorship.

Medium is a private company, (as is Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Medium clearly has the right to remove any content, because that’s what the writer signed up for when they posted a piece. The question isn’t whether they can remove articles on cryptocurrency, but whether they should.

I firmly believe that platforms like Medium should have guidelines in place to prevent unethical hucksters from profiting. But on the other hand, how would that be practical? Who determines what is hype and what is mis-information? How does an algorithm account for an honest opinion versus someone who is using click bait to draw traffic?

If Medium bans all discussion on cryptocurrency, it effectively shuts down genuine writers who are working to understand and explain the market. The conversation shouldn’t be shut down, but there could be some kind of action taken to help the general public know what is legitimate and what isn’t (like a flagging mechanism other platforms already utilize).

This debate isn’t about a private company and how it deals with free speech. The conversation needs to start with how people can find authentic information in a world where anyone can say anything and have it shared in just a few seconds. It’s the loudest voices that get heard in platforms like Medium, Facebook, and Twitter, not the most reliable. In a Utopian world, that is how we would collectively enact change.

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Opinion Editorials

Sexist Doritos for ladies won’t hit shelves, PepsiCo’s response is baffling

(EDITORIAL) Doritos hinted at lady-friendly chips, the internet lost their minds, and we want to talk about the recent history for context (and their odd response to the whole thing).

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If you’re not convinced that we live in a sexist society, take a look at some of the products that are totally unnecessarily marketed towards women and girls. Although still reinforcing an arbitrary gender binary, companies can be somewhat forgiven for aiming their marketing of sex-specific products, like tampons, towards women. (Not that tampon ads are unproblematic, and not that women are the only people managing menstrual blood — but that’s another article.)

It’s when they start pumping out pink versions of products that have absolutely nothing to do with what’s between your legs that our society’s totally whack notions of femininity are revealed. Take for example, hand tools. Even if you’re banking on the notion that women are, generally speaking, smaller than men, the usefulness of a teeny-tiny, pink-handled hammer for whacking anything larger than a thumbtack is questionable. And don’t get me started on Bic’s Pens for Her. As a literate, college-educated woman, I’ve always had such a hard time using pens to write, until now! – said no one, ever.

Here’s the latest: some genius bros at PepsiCo are getting ready to launch a “lady-friendly” chip. According to their “research,” a quieter, less messy chip is more appropriate for the fairer sex. Global chief executive Indra Nooyi told Freakonomics Radio, “Although women would love to crunch loudly, lick their fingers and pour crumbs from the bag into their mouths afterwards, they prefer not to do this in public.”

Lady-Doritos will be less crunchy (‘cause everyone wants a soggier chip, am I right?) and will come in a smaller, handbag-sized package. No word yet whether or not women will get a discount for the reduced volume, or whether we’ll still pay the same price as our male counterparts with their giant man-bags of extra crunchy chips.

In the midst of a massive, cross-industry callout of sexual misconduct towards women, women fighting for equal pay, a conservative political backlash against reproductive rights, these bogusly gendered not-so-crunchy snacks are hardly the most misogynistic thing happening in America right now.

Nonetheless, it’s important to point out that products like this are a result of, and contribute towards perpetuating, the same gender stereotypes that underlie these more serious problems.

When we make diminutive tools for women we are telling them: you are smaller, your work is smaller, and you can’t or don’t need to do the same kinds of work as men.

When we make “pens for her” we are telling women: you are not competent like a man, you need a special tool to do the most basic of tasks. And when we make foods for women that are “skinny,” “guilt-free,” or less-crunchy we are telling women: you should be ashamed to eat, because the thinness of your body and the daintiness of your manners is what’s important about you.

Nooyi’s comments are especially problematic, juxtaposing how women would like to behave with what kind of behavior is appropriate in public.

The idea that certain female behaviors are not appropriate in the public sphere has a long history of justifying sexist ideas and even laws. Women have had a long, hard fight to be able to participate equally in the public sphere, whether it be working, getting an education, or voting. Apparently women have to defy their designated role just to enjoy a crunchy snack outside of their own home. (By the way, in true feminist fashion, Texas National Organization for Women is hosting a women’s public chip picnic at the state Capitol later this month.)

After the internet lost their minds over this, PepsiCo told ABC News, “The reporting on a specific Doritos product for female consumers is inaccurate. We already have Doritos for women — they’re called Doritos, and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day. At the same time, we know needs and preferences continue to evolve and we’re always looking for new ways to engage and delight our consumers.”

They say these chips will never hit shelves, they were just pondering product lines – their scrambling to rewrite history is confusing at best.

It’s enough to make a girl want to eat her feelings.

I could really go for a crunchy snack right about now. And I fully intend to lick all of the crumbs off of my fingertips – if I can find a brand that isn’t owned by PepsiCo.

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Opinion Editorials

Still no growth in the volume of VC-backed female entrepreneurs

(EDITORIAL) Although there is much ado about improving diversity in tech, the funding world may be all hat, no cattle, especially when it comes to female entrepreneurs.

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When we look back at 2017, we may very well end up describing it as a watershed year for women in the workplace. Despite years of progress, women still have to put up with pay gaps, misogynist cultures, and sexually coercive environments to make a living. Even female entrepreneurs that are in charge.

But over the past year, more women than ever before are calling out these unfair practices. The #MeToo phenomenon has put a bright spotlight on the pervasive problem of sexual misconduct in the workplace, and Silicon Valley is finally being forced to reckon with its woman-hating frat bro culture.

Despite generous media attention to these efforts towards gender equality, it remains to be seen whether or not these conversations will create real change.

Zooming in our lens to startups and entrepreneurship, a stubborn plateau of investment in women-founded businesses indicates that all of the hullabaloo about sexism is nothing more than hand-wringing, leading, so far, to little real change.

TechCrunch has been tracking over 50,000 global companies to assess how women are doing when it comes to investment in startups. Of the 54,702 companies who received initial funding between 2009 and 2017 only 16 percent had at least one female founder.

Although this number nearly doubled between 2009, at 9 percent, and 2012, at 17 percent, this percentage has stabilized in the past five years, hovering between 16 and 17 percent.

Companies founded exclusively by men continue to raise about 85 percent of seed money, with mixed-gender teams taking around 11 to 13 percent, and companies founded exclusively by a woman or women receiving only 4 to 6 percent of seed funds. Women-owned companies have also received only 3 percent of total venture investment dollars since 2012. In the early-stage venture phase, women-founded companies who have received venture investments only receive $77 for every $100 that male-owned companies receive, echoing the gender pay gap across industries.

It’s time for the tech industry to put its money where its mouth is. All of this lip service to creating a more woman-friendly work environment is meaningless until women in leadership are supported with the same dollars as male founders and CEOs.

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