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iCitizen: How one app got a huge room of millennials talking about the presidential debates

We millennials are, rightfully, stereotyped as to have our phones glued to our hands 24/7. So, it would only make sense that there is a potential for this generation to become involved if given a quick and savvy way to do so. Enter iCitizen



icitizen app

It’s not as hard as you might think

President Obama’s final State of the Union address has instigated a great deal of buzz throughout the country. As we say goodbye to his presidency and look toward the 45th, a recurring topic of conversation is how to get millennials involved in the voting process.

Now, to get us to do virtually anything, there has to be some sort of technological aspect involved. We millennials are, rightfully, stereotyped as to have our phones glued to our hands 24/7. So, it would only make sense that there is a potential for this generation to become involved if given a quick and savvy way to do so.


icitizen: “A hub for your civic life”

This is the mission of icitizen. Launched over two years ago, and rebranded and re-released less than a week ago, icitizen is working to bridge the gap between millennials and politics. With the slogan “A hub for your civic life”, icitizen works hard to provide politicians with information curated from the app.

The app is simple to utilize, as users can swipe right (if they care about a topic) or left (if they don’t care about a topic). Topics include everything from arts and culture, to parks and recreation, to voting and taxes.

The app was put to the test the night of the State of the Union, as representatives and members of icitizen came to Illinois State University in Normal, IL for a live-stream watch party.

Potential to make a change

While some students were incentivized by extra credit and free pizza, many students came for the opportunity to be civically engaged. Organizers and sponsors were astounded by the turnout, over 600 people, and we able to spread the word about the importance of being involved in politics and the community.

I had the pleasure of speaking with the members of icitizen following the address. Their mission is one of importance and their execution has the potential to make a change in how younger generations engage with politics.

TL: How did you come up with the idea?
Beth Huth [VP Marketing and Business Development]: icitizen has been around for about two and a half years. And it started from an idea from an entrepreneur in Nashville who thought about making the idea of communication between the citizen and politics an easier process.

He was flipping through channels and he would see polling results on one channel reporting ‘this’ and polling results on another channel reporting something completely different. And he thought, ‘what if we created a place that centralized voice for citizens to come and gain information on politics as well as express their voice on what they do and do not support.’

TL: Are you local to the area (Chicago/Southern Illinois)?
BH: we’re headquartered in Nashville and our CEO, Russ Reeder, was originally based in California and he just recently relocated to headquarters in Nashville. He is also now a co-founder with a company in rebranding and re-visioning icitizen. And, just four days ago, we launched version two of our app.

So, we’re excited about this partnership because this is the first time that we have had polling as well a relationship with AASCU, and our 400 different universities put to the test.

TL: And how has that been going so far?
Alex Schreiner [Partnerships & Outreach Manager]: well, three or four days into it, I could not believe how many students that we got to come to this event. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen so many students gathered in one place for something political that’s not a rally or protest. This was a nonpartisan event, and we packed this house with students from Illinois State University, from Heartland Community College.

I was blown away by the attendance and the participation, and the buy-in that we got from the schools that were involved in it.

So, I think that for us this was really encouraging that there is so much enthusiasm about our vision for what these events can look like, and changing the way that we ask students to participate in politics. [Because] the old way just isn’t working anymore.

icitizen app using

Illinois State University communication majors Adamm Isabelli and Alex Cesich put in their two cents using the icitizen app.

TL: Was that the big motivator for the rebrand and redesign? So that it could be targeted toward a younger audience?
BH: Absolutely.

You know, when I think about the future generations of our country, the people who are really going to make a difference, it’s the millennial generation.

In two years, over 36 percent of our voting population will be millennials.

So, when I think about voting, and I think about calling people to action to have a say in what is going on in policy and community, the old way, where you basically just find a voting place, is broken. Allowing millennials to engage with politics, such as any form of legislation or bills, or just issues that are driven in their world – having it on a mobile device is a huge motivation for us.

TL: Can you tell me a little about the role of polling in politics?
Mark Keida [Director of Polling]: The reason we include polling is because polling is a way that you can make your voice count. So, when you put a poll out there, and there’s no answer to it, we don’t know how you feel. When you think of the electors, and there are over 300 million in the country, we have 535 members of Congress, senators, and the House, plus our president. How do they know [what citizens are feeling]? Polling is one of the ways that we get the intelligence of what the people think. And so, we developed in our app a polling capability.

We did this for the event, we put out 30 different poll questions, and we will continue doing that all of the time as a part of our app, so that we can hear what people think. And then what we do is, with the issues that are most popular, share that data anonymously with elected officials. Alex mentioned that this world is real-time and ongoing, and everything is on the super-computer or smartphone. This is the way the world is moving. And, when you think of polling, it’s very old types of technology, but we’re putting it on an app so that this way you can do it in real-time.

Giving these elected officials a way of putting a finger on the pulse of seeing what people really think and what they really want, is democracy in action. It’s something that is done between elections.

So, it isn’t just voting every two years. The president talked about that tonight, you know, get involved between elections – don’t just vote during the election time. And, what icitizen is really trying to do, is help people: they’re passionate, they’re interested in getting involved, and they are on their phones all the time. So, we’re putting those two together and saying, “well how can we get people involved?” And the phone helps us do this.

icitizen app iphone

TL: How did you become involved with Illinois State?
AS: When I started working for icitizen, I was in D.C., and we were just starting the process of identifying really who were the most important markets for us to try and launch this to. And universities and schools are such an obvious choice. There’s been a tremendous need amongst these institutions for the type of information and data that we are able to provide and knowing what your students’ political sentiment is, and social sentiment of different issues.

So, we actually got an email from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities which said, “hey, somebody in our office just downloaded your app. Can we talk?” And then we found out that we were, basically, within a couple of miles from each other in D.C. So, I went into the office and sat down with members of AASCU, and, as we started talking, I think both sides realized at the same time that there is so much potential here for what this relationship can transform to in the next couple of years. We basically started talking about this event two years ago, and asked how we could make it a student-oriented State of the Union event.

Jen Domagal-Goldman [AASCU member] said, “you’ve got to meet these people from Illinois State. They are so motivated”. And she said, “if you want to do a live watch party and live-stream this across the country from the university – let’s have a giant gathering at one school and broadcast it to other schools that are interested. We think we have the perfect place, and it’s Illinois State”.

And, they were so right. They have connected us to Heartland Community College and the folks over there were incredible at working with us. And what we saw were ripple effects from one very small group of people at Illinois State University faculty, and it rippled across the entire school. I mean, they got everybody involved. We wound up having 600 people and we ran out of chairs. I never hoped, in my wildest dreams, that this would be the case in the first year that we’ve ever really tried anything on this scale. It’s amazing.

Taylor is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and has a bachelor's degree in communication studies from Illinois State University. She is currently pursuing freelance writing and hopes to one day write for film and television.

Tech News

Snap a business card pic, Microsoft app finds ’em on LinkedIn

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft Pix is teaming with LinkedIn in a neat way that will benefit networking, especially if you have any lazy bones in your body.



microsoft pix

Have you ever been watching some sort of action-adventure movie where there’s a command center with all sorts of unbelievable technology that kind of blows your mind? Well, every day we come closer and closer to living within that command center.

You may think that I’m talkin’ crazy, but check this out – there is a new technology that can scan a business card, and find the business card’s owner on LinkedIn. (Can I get a “say what????!”)

This app is courtesy of Microsoft and goes by the name Pix (it’s not new, but this function is).

The way it works is simple: Bill Jones hands you his business card, you fire up the Pix app (currently only on the iPhone. Sorry, Droids), you snap a picture of the card and the app takes the details (phone number, company, etc.) and finds Bill on LinkedIn. Bingo.

It also will automatically take that information and will create a new profile for Bill Jones within your phone’s contacts. After you scan the business card through Pix, Microsoft will ask if you want to take action.

At this point, Pix will recognize and capture phone numbers, email addresses, and URLs. If your phone is logged into LinkedIn, the apps will work together to find Bill’s profile. Part of me wants to think that this is kind of creepy but a larger part of me thinks that it’s really cool.

According to Microsoft Research’s Principal Program Manager, Josh Weisberg, “Pix is powered by AI to streamline and enhance the experience of taking a picture with a series of intelligent actions: recognizing the subject of a photo, inferring users’ intent and capturing the best quality picture.”

“It’s the combination of both understanding and intelligently acting on a users’ intent that sets Pix apart. Today’s update works with LinkedIn to add yet another intelligent dimension to Pix’s capabilities.”

Pix itself originally launched in 2016 as a way to compete against AI’s ability to edit a photo by use of exposure, focus, and color. This new integration in working with LinkedIn is a time saver, and is beneficial for those who collect business cards like candy and forget to actually do something with them.

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Tech News

Walmart and the blockchain, sitting in a tree

(TECH NEWS) Say goodbye to #foodwaste with Walmart’s new smart package delivery proposal featuring everyone’s favorite pal, blockchain.




Following the trend of adding “smart” as a prefix to any word to make it futuristic, Walmart now proposes “smart packages.” The retail giant filed for a new patent to improve their shipping and package tracking process using blockchain.

Last week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released the application, which was filed back in August 2017.

Officially, the application notes the smart package will have “a body portion having an inner volume” and “a door coupled to the body portion” that can be open or closed to restrict or allow access to the package contents.

In other words, they’ve patented a box with a door on it that also has lots of monitoring devices.

Various iterations lay claim to all versions of said box include smart packaging utilizing a combination of monitoring devices, modular adapters, autonomous delivery vehicles, and blockchain.

Monitoring devices would regulate location tracking, inner content removal, and environmental conditions of the package like temperature and humidity. This could help reduce loss of products sensitive to environmental changes, like fresh produce.

Modular adapters perform these actions as well, and also ensure the package has access to a power source and the delivery vehicle’s security system to prevent theft.

Blockchain comes into play with a delivery encryption system, monitoring, authenticating, and registering packages. As it moves through the supply chain, packages will be registered throughout the process.

The blockchain would be hashed with private key addresses of sellers, couriers, and buyers to track the chain of custody. Every step of the shipping process would be documented, providing greater accountability and easier record keeping.

This isn’t Walmart’s first foray into the world of blockchain. Last year they teamed up with Nestle, Kroger, and other food companies in a partnership with IBM to improve food traceability with blockchain.

Walmart also took part in a similar food tracking program in China with last year as well.

And let’s not forget Walmart’s May 2017 USPTO application to use blockchain tech for package delivery via unmanned drones. Their more recent application builds on the drone idea, which also proposed tracking packages with blockchain and monitoring product conditions during delivery.

In their latest application, Walmart notes, “online customers many times seek to purchase items that may require a controlled environment and further seek to have greater security in the shipping packaging that the items are shipped in.”

Implementing blockchain and smart package monitoring as part of the shipping process could greatly reduce product loss and improve shipment tracking.

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Experts warn of actual AI risks – we’re about to live in a sci fi movie

(TECH NEWS) A new report on AI indicates that the sci fi dystopias we’ve been dreaming up are actually possible. Within a few short years. Welp.



AI robots

Long before artificial intelligence (AI) was even a real thing, science fiction novels and films have warned us about the potentially catastrophic dangers of giving machines too much power.

Now that AI actually exists, and in fact, is fairly widespread, it may be time to consider some of the potential drawbacks and dangers of the technology, before we find ourselves in a nightmarish dystopia the likes of which we’ve only begun to imagine.

Experts from the industry as well as academia have done exactly that, in a recently released 100-page report, “The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, Mitigation.”

The report was written by 26 experts over the course of a two-day workshop held in the UK last month. The authors broke down the potential negative uses of artificial intelligence into three categories – physical, digital, or political.

In the digital category are listed all of the ways that hackers and other criminals can use these advancements to hack, phish, and steal information more quickly and easily. AI can be used to create fake emails and websites for stealing information, or to scan software for potential vulnerabilities much more quickly and efficiently than a human can. AI systems can even be developed specifically to fool other AI systems.

Physical uses included AI-enhanced weapons to automate military and/or terrorist attacks. Commercial drones can be fitted with artificial intelligence programs, and automated vehicles can be hacked for use as weapons. The report also warns of remote attacks, since AI weapons can be controlled from afar, and, most alarmingly, “robot swarms” – which are, horrifyingly, exactly what they sound like.

Read also: Is artificial intelligence going too far, moving too quickly?

Lastly, the report warned that artificial intelligence could be used by governments and other special interest entities to influence politics and generate propaganda.

AI systems are getting creepily good at generating faked images and videos – a skill that would make it all too easy to create propaganda from scratch. Furthermore, AI can be used to find the most important and vulnerable targets for such propaganda – a potential practice the report calls “personalized persuasion.” The technology can also be used to squash dissenting opinions by scanning the internet and removing them.

The overall message of the report is that developments in this technology are “dual use” — meaning that AI can be created that is either helpful to humans, or harmful, depending on the intentions of the people programming it.

That means that for every positive advancement in AI, there could be a villain developing a malicious use of the technology. Experts are already working on solutions, but they won’t know exactly what problems they’ll have to combat until those problems appear.

The report concludes that all of these evil-minded uses for these technologies could easily be achieved within the next five years. Buckle up.

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