Read for Later - Chatbot Lawyers, Adult Summer Camp, and e-Skin

A slight slowdown in the pace of news this holiday weekend. This post feels somewhat shorter than those in recent weeks. But a good variety of news, everything from chatbots that fight parking tickets, to adults returning to summer camp, new support for citizen journalists, and an important focus on homelessness in the bay area and throughout our nation.

In the United States, we are celebrating Independence Day even as we receive news of tragic attacks on freedom in Baghdad, Dhaka, and other parts of the world. The positive futures we pursue for libraries and the world can’t seem to come soon enough.

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, as always, let us know what you're reading this week to help think about later.

Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Learning Machines

Facebook is adjusting its News Feed algorithm again, this time promoting posts from friends and family over posts from publishers, raising some concern among publishers who rely on the platform for a significant amount of the traffic they receive and the advertising that comes along with that reach (The Verge “Facebook adjusts News Feed to favor friends and family over publishers”). See also Daily Dot, Digiday, Engadget, Fast Company and again, Mashable, Nieman Lab, Poynter and again, ReCode and again, Slate, TechCrunch, and Vocativ.

The DoNotPay chatbot, built by a 19-year-old Stanford student, has successfully fought thousands of parking tickets by helping users appeal tickets after answering questions to determine if and how to fight the parking ticket and even generating a letter to send to the court (Vocativ “The ‘World’s First Robot Lawyer’ Is A Parking Ticket-Fighting Chatbot”). See also Engdaget, Fusion, Gizmodo, and Slate.  

Books, Media, and Publishing

As streaming subscription services seek to gain more viewers, Amazon Prime Video has secured rights to the majority of PBS series for children, hoping to lure more families to the platform (TechCrunch “Amazon Prime Video gets exclusive deal for most PBS Kids shows”). See also CNET, Engadget, Geekwire, Mashable, and The New York Times.

The Knight Foundation awarded The Poynter Institute $758,000 to rebuild News University, an online journalism education platform with over 400 interactive courses in multiple languages, further expanding teaching to individuals outside the news industry (Poynter “Knight Foundation gives Poynter $758,000 to remake online journalism education”).


A new report, “How Many Adults Identify as Transgender in the United States,” estimates that 1.4 million adults who live in the United States are transgender, doubling previous estimates from 2011 (BuzzFeed “The estimated population of transgender people in the U.S. has doubled to 1.4”).

Dozens of newspapers, blogs, radio stations, and TV channels coordinated this week to explore the issue of homelessness in the bay area, using timelines, infographics, photo essays, videos, and traditional stories to explore the issue and some potential solutions - mobile showers, community computer centers, addiction treatment, vouchers for subsidized rent, and the construction of more housing (Gizmodo “The best and worst ideas from San Francisco's big homelessness project”). You can see many of the stories at the The San Francisco Chronicle’s site

A new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that nearly four-in-ten blacks are doubtful that the U.S. will ever achieve racial equality and more than half of Hispanics have experienced discrimination or have been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity (Pew Research Center “On views of race and inequality, blacks and whites are worlds apart” and “Roughly half of Hispanics have experienced discrimination”). 


US Senator Elizabeth Warren raised concerns over a growing economy of superstars, where dominant companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon are able to use their size and influence to shape competition – Google used “its dominant search engine to harm rivals of its Google Plus user review feature;” Apple “has placed conditions on its rivals that make it difficult for them to offer competitive streaming services” that compete with Apple Music; and Amazon “uses its position as the dominant bookseller to steer consumers to books published by Amazon to the detriment of other publishers” (ReCode “Elizabeth Warren says Apple, Amazon and Google are trying to ‘lock out’ the competition”).  See also CNET and Geekwire.


A study from Moody’s Investor Services points to the growing appeal of private urban universities, outperforming their rural and suburban counterparts in enrollment and revenue growth (The Chronicle of Higher Education “Private urban universities beat rivals in enrollment and revenue growth, Moody’s says”).  

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University studied the impact of putting MOOC participants into study groups with different kinds of communication based on their stated preferences, finding that the groupings didn't "significantly influence students' course performance and completion" (current completion rates stand around 10%), but could point to improvements for future online courses (Campus Technology “Grouping MOOC students by communication mode doesn’t help completion”).

The Environment

A very interesting look at resilience in the face of environmental change and the significance of preparation, social inequity, affordability, housing, financial literacy,  and community connection in developing resilient communities (Fast Company “How MIT and San Francisco are testing a new approach to disaster prep”). 


Alvin Toffler, the futurist and author of books including “Future Shock” and “The Third Wave” and an advocate of identifying and monitoring ongoing patterns of change, dies on June 27 at the age of 87 (The Washington Post “Alvin Toffler, author of best-selling ‘Future Shock’ and ‘The Third Wave,’ dies at 87”). See also Gizmodo, The New York Times, and NPR.

Researchers are developing artificial electronic skin, or e-skin, that is flexible, bendable, and even stretchable that would turn skin into a touchscreen and even help replace feeling to those suffering from burns or nervous system disorders (Business Insider “The next wearable technology could be your skin”).

The Internet

Facebook is expanding its fundraising feature to allow individuals to create standalone Pages to raise money for their favorite nonprofits, initially working with 100 US-based charities with the goal of expanding (Consumerist “Facebook letting individual users set up fundraising pages for nonprofits”). See also Engadget, Gizmodo, and TechCrunch.

Politics and Government, the popular online petition site, will launch a new feature allowing petition signers to financially support campaigns through a donation button activated by petition organizers (Fast Company “ dives into crowdfunding”).


Google’s "My Activity" hub allows users to easily view the information the company is collecting about them across devices – in desktop browsers, smartphone apps, and services like Google Maps – and to change their settings (Business Insider “How to see everything Google knows about you”). See also BGR, CNET, Consumerist, and Vocativ.  

Spaces, Retail, and Restaurants

After studies revealed that only 2% of ads displayed intelligent women, only 3% of women are shown in a professional situation, and only 1% has a sense of humor, Unilever has pledged to no longer use sexist ads in the future – don’t worry, it’s not altruism, it’s just business, since the study also found that 40% of women could not identify themselves with women in ad campaigns (Retail Detail “Unilever wants to ban sexist ads”).

As consumers experience more integrated and efficient exchanges on online platforms like Uber or Lyft, they will quickly apply their newly-raised expectations to other brands or industries, creating a more demanding type of customer (ReCode “Platform thinking in the expectation economy”).  


I know some genius programming librarians are already all over this, but just in case….adult summer camps are booming as stressed adults look to unleash their inner child with activities like jewelry-making, canoeing, and kickball, while phones and technology are prohibited except for a designated technology area (The Guardian “Summer camp with an open bar: retreats for stressed-out adults are big business”). 

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality continues to explore new opportunities for storytelling, including Jesus VR - The Story of Christ, telling the story of Christ's life from baptism to crucifixion in a 360-degree immersive experience (Engadget “Jesus is coming... to virtual reality”).