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Google Perspective tackles trolling but sounds a bit 1984-esque

(TECH NEWS) Google’s new internet troll catcher, “Perspective” plagues us with lingering questions about censorship and reminds us vaguely of Orwell’s 1984…

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Google launches “Perspective” to ward off trolls

Google has debuted Perspective, an artificial intelligence (AI) tool designed to moderate online comments. The tool is crafted with the intention of helping communities do more than just filter out curse words.

As the tech world fawns over the advancement, let us pause to talk about a substantial flaw in using AI to censor human behavior…

Language is a wonderful and beautiful thing

It is something so ambiguous, so contradicting, so clearly defined by its many grey areas; it is a perfectly human concept. Its innate human-ness has been further enforced with the introduction of Google’s “Perspective” API. Unfortunate, then, that the creation of Perspective and the reasons for its flaws are due to such negative circumstances.

Sticks and stones

Fact: Technology is amazing. Artificial Intelligence is making progress at a substantial rate, robots are ever-increasing in efficiency, and the Internet is leading us to a more connected world.

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Alternative Fact: Whatever people can do, technology can do better.

Reasoning: Nothing can beat human creativity when it comes to finding ways to hurt and demean one another.

Trollololol

There is no questioning that the online environment has a significant “troll” population.

For those that may be unaware, I’m not talking about the kind of trolls that live under bridges attempting to eat unsuspecting billy goats.

Like Sauron’s army in the Lord of the Rings, they march forward, leaving a swath of destruction in the form of poorly worded hate comments in their digital wake. In the Lord of the Rings those were Orcs, of course, but their use of the English language was pretty similar, hence the analogy.

Often, a troll’s verbal vomit is not to express their true opinions, nor is to stir up an interesting ideological debate. Instead, it is merely to stir up chaos, just because they can. Sure, trolls can serve a purpose by pushing more people toward the center as they rant on the fringe, but most people just see their behavior as abusive.

Text toxicity

In response to the often-volatile nature of the comment section, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, created its Perspective API. Using machine-learning, the service had been created to weed out the toxic language that so often turns a section created to express opinions and create open-ended debates into a War of Words. The concept is simple: using an algorithm, Perspective searches for pre-programmed words and phrases.

These comments and phrases are then given a “toxicity” ranking determined by the program.

Perspective is a great idea, created with what are presumably good intentions. However, there are a couple of major issues with the service.

Robots still don’t have feelings

The biggest, and most notable problem is that while it can detect toxic words and phrases, there is no way for it determine context, and even more so, sentiment.

Upon reading David Auerbach’s article for MIT Technology Review, I checked out the Perspective website for myself which offers a free test of the service. Drawing inspiration from Auerbach, I attempted several different phrases to determine their toxicity ranking.

Overall, the service could detect clearly mean or hateful phrases fairly well.

However, just by spending a few moments with it I was able to detect key words it would pick up, and by omitting or substituting said words, comments that would still be considered toxic by human eyes received a comparatively minuscule toxicity ranking in the system. A prime example of this would be the use of swear words, which very much differ in meaning depending on context.

Six degrees of censorship

Another, more potentially troubling issue, is the fact that Perspective was created and is maintained by human programmers. As such, what it deems toxic will generally tend to fall in line with the programmers’ own ideological views.

Though it may be unintentional, one would naturally input words or phrases that they, personally, would deem offensive, while potentially omitting phrases they may be unaware that others would find offensive. Even more so, however, is the fact that Perspective would be marketed to businesses.

In effect, companies would have the potential to be able to weed out comments that did not fall within the range their own ideological beliefs.Click To Tweet

This would be especially harmful in relation to entities such as news sites and forums, which should serve as platforms for users to express and debate their opinions.

Perspective’s potential

Let me restate my belief that Perspective is a great idea created with genuinely good intentions. However, it will be some time before it is, if ever, one-hundred percent effective. And, like all powerful things, it has the potential to be dangerous if used in the wrong hands by creating echo chambers and ultimately, by eroding free speech.

PerspectiveProbz

Andrew Clausen is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and when he's not deep diving into technology and business news for you, he is a poet, enjoys rock climbing, monster movies, and spending time with his notoriously naughty cat.

Tech News

Google is giving back some privacy control? (You read that right)

(TECH NEWS) In a bizarre twist, Google is giving you the option to opt out of data collection – for real this time.

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Open laptop on desk, open to map privacy options

It’s strange to hear “Google” and “privacy” in the same sentence without “concerns” following along, yet here we are. In a twist that’s definitely not related to various controversies involving the tech company, Google is giving back some control over data sharing—even if it isn’t much.

Starting soon, you will be able to opt out of Google’s data-reliant “smart” features (Smart Compose and Smart Reply) across the G-Suite of pertinent products: Gmail, Chat, and Meet. Opting out would, in this case, prevent Google from using your data to formulate responses based on your previous activity; it would also turn off the “smart” features.

One might observe that users have had the option to turn off “smart” features before, but doing so didn’t disable Google’s data collection—just the features themselves. For Google to include the option to opt out of data collection completely is relatively unprecedented—and perhaps exactly what people have been clamoring for on the heels of recent lawsuits against the tech giant.

In addition to being able to close off “smart” features, Google will also allow you to opt out of data collection for things like the Google Assistant, Google Maps, and other Google-related services that lean into your Gmail Inbox, Meet, and Chat activity. Since Google knowing what your favorite restaurant is or when to recommend tickets to you can be unnerving, this is a welcome change of pace.

Keep in mind that opting out of data collection for “smart” features will automatically disable other “smart” options from Google, including those Assistant reminders and customized Maps. At the time of this writing, Google has made it clear that you can’t opt out of one and keep the other—while you can go back and toggle on data collection again, you won’t be able to use these features without Google analyzing your Meet, Chat, and Gmail contents and behavior.

It will be interesting to see what the short-term ramifications of this decision are. If Google stops collecting data for a small period of time at your request and then you turn back on the “smart” features that use said data, will the predictive text and suggestions suffer? Only time will tell. For now, keep an eye out for this updated privacy option—it should be rolling out in the next few weeks.

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Tech News

Looking to refresh your virtual rooms? Check out Zoom’s Immersive View

(TECH NEWS) Zoom’s new Immersive View feature will help you feel like you’re back in the workplace or classroom again – or wherever you want to be.

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Zoom's new Immersive View allows users to be creative and place participants on landscapes, like this field of flowers.

If you’re tired of feeling separated from your coworkers, friends, or classmates, Zoom has a new feature that will make you feel like you’re all in the same place once again. At Zoomtopia, Zoom’s annual user conference, the company announced its Immersive View feature that they say will allow for a “more engaging and collaborative way to meet”.

With Immersive View, video participants can all be arranged in a single virtual space. Hosts can choose from one of Zoom’s immersive virtual scenes and embed video participants within that scene.

To make sure your scene is as natural as possible, hosts can move around and resize a participant’s image so they can look like they are sitting on a chair in a classroom or conference room. For added fun, you can even set a custom background. So, if you’d rather be part of the Galactic Senate Chamber, you can create your own scene.

Up to 25 video participants can be in the same virtual space. Any additional people after that will show up as a thumbnail strip on the top of the screen. And, at any time, you can change the view back to Speaker View or Gallery View if you want to.

How to get started with Zoom’s Immersive View
Immersive View is available on Windows and macOS for desktop. By default, all Free and single Pro accounts using Zoom 5.6.3 or higher will have the feature enabled.

To use the feature, first start your Zoom meeting or webinar on your desktop. In the top-right corner, click “View” and select “Immersive View”.

To place participants into the scene, choose between automatically and manually. By choosing automatic, as many participants as the layout will allow will be added to the scene. If you choose manual, you can add and remove participants as you’d like. Since Immersive View will use the first 25 participants, manual works well for larger meetings. If participant No. 26 needs to speak up, you can remove someone and add No. 26 in.

After you’ve made your choice, select one of the provided virtual backgrounds or upload your own image. If you choose to use your own custom background, make sure to follow Zoom’s virtual background specs for the best results.

Finally, click “Start” to launch your scene, and, now, you’re all set!

Those that aren’t using Zoom 5.6.3 or higher will not be able to see the Immersive View. Instead, they will see either the Gallery View or Speaker View with a black background.

Currently, Immersive View isn’t available in breakout rooms yet. Also, recordings of Immersive Views aren’t supported. Depending on your recording settings, recordings will appear in Gallery View or Speaker View.

Considering all the video call fatigue going on right about now, the timing of Zoom’s Immersive View feature couldn’t come at a better time. It will be refreshing to see a video call without just heads inside boxes.

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Tech News

Create a pandemic-friendly sign-in with this touchless technology

(TECH NEWS) In an era where touchless communication is paramount, Wellcome brings touchless employee and visitor sign-in technology to the workplace.

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Logo page for Wellcome, a touchless technology sign-in.

Touchless technology is becoming more and more common these days and for good reasons — health and safety. Due to the COVID pandemic, social distancing is crucial in helping decrease the amount of positive coronavirus cases.

Unfortunately, some work environments require in-person employees, contractors, and visitors. And now, some businesses are even starting to bring more of their workforce back into the office. While we can hopefully assume they all have some safety protocols in place, the front desk interactions haven’t changed much. This makes it difficult to manage and see who’s in and out.

But to fill in that gap, meet Wellcome. Wellcome is a touchless sign-in platform for employees and visitors. According to their website, the app “helps you manage the workplace effectively, making it safe and easy for everyone” who’s in the office.

And the platform does this by implementing the following features in its tool.

Employee Touchless Check-in
By uploading a list of employees to the Admin, employees automatically receive an email with a one-click “Wellcome Pass”. This pass can be added to their Apple or Android digital wallet.

Once at work, employees scan their pass on an iPad at the reception desk. Then, they will see a customizable confirmation screen with the company’s health and safety guidelines messaging. This reminder can help ensure everyone is following the rules and staying safe.

Visitor Touchless Check-in
For visitors without a Wellcome Pass, they can still scan the QR code on the iPad using their device. The QR code will direct them to a customized check-in form where they can select their host and fill out a health questionnaire on their mobile device.

COVID-Safe Visitor Screening
Based on how a visitor answers the health screening questionnaire, it will grant or deny them access to the office. This health COVID screening will help HR managers “protect the office by restricting access to visitors that might be infected.”

Host Notifications
Via email, Slack, and/or SMS, Wellcome will immediately notify the host when they have a visitor and send them the visitor’s contact details. It will also let them know if their visitor was granted or denied access based on the health screening. If a visitor is denied access, the host is instructed to not meet the visitor, but contact them another way.

Contact Tracing
If there is a potential or confirmed COVID-19 case at work, Wellcome makes it easy to identify and notify anyone who may be at risk. To do this, the HR manager just needs to search by a person’s name and date range in the Admin. Search results will pull up anyone that could have come in contact with the infected person.

The Admin will also notify all employees and visitors that need to self-isolate and get tested. If needed, Wellcome also lets you download and submit a tracing report.

Manage Office Capacity
Wellcome tracks workplace capacity and occupancy data to help maintain social distancing. If occupancy reaches the capacity limit, the Admin will be notified to “take steps to reduce occupancy in order to stay within the required limits.”

In the Admin Dashboard, reports are available to view the status of current capacity. It can also predict what the occupancy will be each day so companies can plan ahead.

Book Workdays
Employees have the option to pre-book when they want to come into the office. The app displays how many slots are available for each day, and it can send out a calendar reminder. Through the Admin, HR managers can see who will be coming into the office. This is Wellcome’s other way of making sure capacity limits are always within range.

Also, setting up Wellcome is pretty simple. All you need is an iPad. You install the app on it and leave it at the reception desk for employees and visitors to check-in.

For companies who have employees and visitors in and out of the office. Wellcome does sound appealing, and it looks like they will benefit a great deal from the platform. And, if you’d like to check it out, Wellcome lets you use the app free for 14 days. Afterwards, you can select a plan that works best for you.

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