Microsoft’s teen-focused chatbot Tay brought a critical eye to artificial intelligence this week. Streaming content (television and music) showed its potential in two new reports. And some interesting stories about credentialing in education. And please read the Sephora story toward the end of this collection – it says so much about how spaces are evolving.
You can always check out the Center's trend collection to see how this scanning comes together to identify trends relevant to our future work.
And let us know what you're reading this week to help think about later.
Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Learning Machines
So let’s walk through this whole Tay artificial intelligence chat bot. Microsoft’s research team launched the AI chatbot on Twitter, GroupMe, and Kik as a way to test and improve Microsoft's understanding of conversational language, including the nuances of teens’ online language (The Verge “Microsoft Made a Chatbot That Tweets Like a Teen”). See also Engadget, Geekwire, Re/Code, and TechCrunch.
Well, things kind of went south, as the bot began issuing offensive posts (disputing the existence of the Holocaust, referring to women and minorities with unpublishable words, and advocating genocide) partly in response to user commands for the bot to repeat their own statements, but also learning bad behavior as it ingested content from its social media forums (The New York Times “Microsoft Created a Twitter Bot to Learn From Users. It Quickly Became a Racist Jerk”). See also
BBC, CNET, Engadget, Forbes, Fusion and again, Geekwire, Motherboard and again and again, Re/Code, Slate, TechCrunch, The Telegraph, The Verge, and Wired.
Microsoft apologized for the unintended offensive tweets and tried to explain some of what happened and what was learned through the process for moving forward (Engadget “Microsoft Shows What It Learned from Its Tay AI's Racist Tirade”). See also ArsTechnica, CNET, Motherboard, and TechCrunch.
For when the robots are ready for primetime, a look at how they might change the economy, including increasing competitiveness between companies, reshoring American manufacturing (and some jobs), and retooling employee training to include technology skills to interface with robots (TechCrunch “How Robots Will Reshape the U.S. Economy”).
Google is launching a new cloud-based machine learning platform for developers, Cloud Machine Learning, that will allow developers to build machine learning models from their own data or utilize a pre-trained model (TechCrunch “Google Launches New Machine Learning Platform”).
Books, Publishing, and Media
If you’re looking for indication of streaming services’ growing influence over television viewing habits, Deloitte’s latest digital democracy survey found that nearly half of all US consumers subscribe to a streaming media service (it’s even higher – 66% – among teens and Millennials) and 70% of US consumers engage in marathon TV-watching sessions, averaging five episodes per sitting (CNET “Is Binge Watching the New Normal for You?”).
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reported over $7 billion in 2015 revenues for the music industry, the largest portion ($2.4 billion) from streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube, but is likely also looking at how they can generate even more money, especially from streaming services that provide free, ad-supported music, singling out YouTube (Re/Code “Streaming Is Officially the Biggest Part of the Music Business, Which Wants YouTube to Pay Up”). See also Engadget, Fast Company, and Mashable.
The anti-trend to all this music streaming may be the rise of vinyl, which audiophiles are turning toward for richer sound quality and the object ritual of putting the needle on a record – plus smart labels are including codes to download digital versions of the songs for free (Vocativ “In The Age Of Streaming, Vinyl Is Staging A Comeback”).
Apple is joining the growing fray of content providers with an unscripted, original TV series about apps and app developers (TechCrunch “Apple Plans Unscripted, App-focused Show for Its First Original TV Content”). See also Engadget, Geekwire, and Re/Code.
James Patterson will launch BookShots, a line of short, propulsive novels, priced at less than $5, and designed to be read in a single sitting – part of a trend toward short reading aimed at a growing market of people who, due to time constraints or preference, do not read longer novels or books (The New York Times “James Patterson Has a Big Plan for Small Books”).
Creative Commons licensing in journalism could help distribute local or national content and shore up smaller, regional newsrooms that can build on, localize, or extend the reporting in some way (Poynter “It’s Time for News Organizations to Embrace Creative Commons”).
A number of colleges and universities are launching their own bootcamp-style coding programs or partnering with private training schools like General Assembly in response to the growing enrollment in coding crunch programs, which increased by 138% from 2014 to 2015, compared to traditional four-year Computer Science degree programs, which increased 14% from 2013 to 2014 (The Washington Post “Why Students Are Throwing Tons of Money at a Program That Won’t Give Them a College Degree”).
A new initiative called the University Learning Store will help universities offer non-degree credentials and larger certificates that are verified by hands-on, skills-based assessments (Campus Technology “6 Universities Partner on Credentialing Initiative”). Proposed credentials will cover a range of competencies including power skills (communication, teamwork, critical thinking), technical skills (information technology, business, agriculture), and career-advancement skills (leadership, public speaking, negotiation).
The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success has introduced a new, free platform that allows high schoolers, even as early as freshmen and sophomores, to store projects, papers, or even videos into a “digital locker” for possible use in future college applications (Mind/Shift “What Will Digital Portfolios Mean for College-Bound Students?”).
The future of K-12 education might feature innovative groupings beyond the traditional K-5 elementary school, grades 6 – 8 middle school, and grades 9 – 12 high school, as administrators work to deliver effective education with declining funds (District Administration “Schools Regroup for Success”).
Research indicates that the difference between the occupations and industries in which men and women work has recently become the single largest cause of the gender pay gap and that when women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines, even for the same jobs that men were doing before – even more damning, when a job shifted to attract more men, the job began paying more and gained prestige (The New York Times “As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops”).
Following terrorist acts in Brussels and Lahore, communities turned to social media as a tool for safety and information. Many people used the hashtags #PorteOuverte (open door), #ikwilhelpen (I want to help), #OpenHouse and #BrusselsWelcome to help individuals who might be stranded or in need of shelter (Mashable “Brussels Residents Open Their Doors to Offer Shelter After Attacks”). Facebook activated its Safety Check feature for Brussels (CNET “Facebook Activates Safety Check Tool After Belgian Bombings”) and Lahore, though a glitch sent push notifications to Facebook users well outside the affected area in Lahore (The Daily Dot "Facebook Glitch Sends Safety Check Notice to People Nowhere Near Pakistan After Explosion"). See also CNET and Mashable.
President Obama emphasized the importance of internet access during his historic visit to Cuba and announced that Google will begin a program to provide Cubans with internet service (Gizmodo “Google's Giving Internet to Cuba”). See also Engadget, Fast Company, Geekwire, and Slate.
A new report from market intelligence firm App Annie finds that individuals aged 13 - 24 are far more likely to use messaging apps over email on their mobile devices, while those over 45 years old use mobile devices for traditional desktop functions like email and web browsing (TechCrunch “Email Is Dying Among Mobile’s Youngest Users”).
Spaces, Retail, and Restaurants
Design agency UXUS has a vision for the future of beauty brand Sephora that sounds vaguely familiar – a focus on interaction, experimentation, and learning; “learning moment[s] tailored to different client needs”; and transforming “Sephora from a supermarket of brands to the ultimate peer-to-peer education hub for the beauty community” (PSFK “Sephora: From Makeup Store to Beauty Education Hub”).
An interesting look at the “place-based” preferences of adult lifelong learners, featuring some of the adult-oriented programs from the DC Public Library (NPR “For Adults, Lifelong Learning Happens The Old Fashioned Way”).
The Sacramento Public Library will hold several spring events where they will give away prom dresses and other attire donated by members of the public, seen by director Rivkah Sass as part of the library’s larger role in providing a "level playing field" for everyone (Capital Public Radio “Sacramento Public Library Helps Teens Dress For Prom”).
Another reminder of the growing range of information resources – e-books, e-magazines, free Wi-Fi, café and used-book stores, and a growing range of unique items – that libraries provide to communities (Detroit Free Press “Need a Painting? A Tool? Check It Out From the Library”).
The Madison (Ohio) Public Library will host its 12th Books and Cooks event, inviting local authors to the library to sign and sell books and local cooks (restaurants, caterers, cake decorators, cookie makers, herb growers, tea makers and others) to offer samples to patrons (Star Beacon “Madison Library Seeking Authors and Cooks”).