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Design approach may help fix bias in artificial intelligence

An approach called feminist design thinking could serve as a valuable framework for developing software that reduces algorithmic bias in a meaningful way. In this context, the application of feminist design thinking would mean incorporating the idea of equity into the design of the algorithm itself.

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Bias in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning programs is well established. Researchers from North Carolina State University and Pennsylvania State University are now proposing that software developers incorporate the concept of “feminist design thinking” into their development process as a way of improving equity – particularly in the development of software used in the hiring process.

“There seem to be countless stories of ways that bias in AI is manifesting itself, and there are many thought pieces out there on what contributes to this bias,” says Fay Payton, a professor of information systems/technology and University Faculty Scholar at NC State. “Our goal here was to put forward guidelines that can be used to develop workable solutions to algorithm bias against women, African American and Latinx professions in the IT workforce.

“Too many existing hiring algorithms incorporate de facto identity markers that exclude qualified candidates because of their gender, race, ethnicity, age and so on,” says Payton, who is co-lead author of a paper on the work. “We are simply looking for equity – that job candidates be able to participate in the hiring process on an equal footing.”

Payton and her collaborators argue that an approach called feminist design thinking could serve as a valuable framework for developing software that reduces algorithmic bias in a meaningful way. In this context, the application of feminist design thinking would mean incorporating the idea of equity into the design of the algorithm itself.

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“Compounding the effects of algorithmic bias is the historical underrepresentation of women, Black and Latinx software engineers to provide novel insights regarding equitable design approaches based on their lived experiences,” says Lynette Yarger, co-lead author of the paper and an associate professor of information sciences and technology at Penn State.

“Essentially, this approach would mean developing algorithms that value inclusion and equity across gender, race and ethnicity,” Payton says. “The practical application of this is the development and implementation of a process for creating algorithms in which designers are considering an audience that includes women, that includes Black people, that includes Latinx people. Essentially, developers of all backgrounds would be called on to actively consider – and value – people who are different from themselves.

“To be clear, this is not just about doing something because it is morally correct. But we know that women, African Americans and Latinx people are under-represented in IT fields. And there is ample evidence that a diverse, inclusive workforce improves a company’s bottom line,” Payton says. “If you can do the right thing and improve your profit margin, why wouldn’t you?”

The paper, “Algorithmic equity in the hiring of underrepresented IT job candidates,” is published in the journal Online Information Review. The paper was co-authored by Bikalpa Neupane of Penn State.

Technology

In politics and pandemics, trolls use fear, anger to drive clicks

“As consumers continue to see ads that contain false claims and are intentionally designed to use their emotions to manipulate them, it’s important for them to have cool heads and understand the motives behind them.”

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Facebook users flipping through their feeds in the fall of 2016 faced a minefield of targeted advertisements pitting blacks against police, southern whites against immigrants, gun owners against Obama supporters and the LGBTQ community against the conservative right.

Photo by @uck from Unsplash.com

Placed by distant Russian trolls, they didn’t aim to prop up one candidate or cause, but to turn Americans against one another.

The ads were cheaply made and full of threatening, vulgar language.

And, according to a sweeping new analysis of more than 2,500 of the ads, they were remarkably effective, eliciting clickthrough rates as much as nine times higher than what is typical in digital advertising.

“We found that fear and anger appeals work really well in getting people to engage,” said lead author Chris Vargo, an assistant professor of Advertising, Public Relations and Media Design at University of Colorado Boulder.

The study, published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, is the first to take a comprehensive look at ads placed by the infamous Russian propaganda machine known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and ask: How effective were they? And what makes people click on them?

While focused on ads running in 2016, the study’s findings resonate in the age of COVID-19 and the run-up to the 2020 election, the authors say.

“As consumers continue to see ads that contain false claims and are intentionally designed to use their emotions to manipulate them, it’s important for them to have cool heads and understand the motives behind them,” said Vargo.

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For the study, Vargo and assistant professor of advertising Toby Hopp scoured 2,517 Facebook and Instagram ads downloaded from the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence website. The committee made the ads publicly available in 2018 after concluding that the IRA had been creating fake U.S. personas, setting up fake social media pages, and using targeted paid advertising to “sow discord” among U.S. residents.

Using computational tools and manual coding, Vargo and Hopp analyzed every ad, looking for the inflammatory, obscene or threatening words and language hostile to a particular group’s ethnic, religious or sexual identity. They also looked at which groups each ad targeted, how many clicks the ad got, and how much the IRA paid.

Collectively, the IRA spent about $75,000 to generate about 40.5 million impressions with about 3.7 million users clicking on them – a clickthrough rate of 9.2%.

That compares to between .9% and 1.8% for a typical digital ad.

While ads using blatantly racist language didn’t do well, those using cuss words and inflammatory words (like “sissy,” “idiot,” “psychopath” and “terrorist”) or posing a potential threat did. Ads that evoked fear and anger did the best.

One IRA advertisement targeting users with an interest in the Black Lives Matter movement stated: “They killed an unarmed guy again! We MUST make the cops stop thinking that they are above the law!” Another shouted: “White supremacists are planning to raise the racist flag again!” Meanwhile, ads targeting people who sympathized with white conservative groups read “Take care of our vets; not illegals” or joked “If you voted for Obama: We don’t want your business because you are too stupid to own a firearm.”

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Only 110 out of 2,000 mentioned Donald Trump.

“This wasn’t about electing one candidate or another,” said Vargo. “It was essentially a make-Americans-hate-each-other campaign.”

The ads were often unsophisticated, with spelling or grammatical errors and poorly photoshopped images. Yet at only a few cents to distribute, the IRA got an impressive rate of return.

“I was shocked at how effective these appeals were,” said Vargo.

The authors warn that they have no doubt such troll farms are still at it.

According to some news reports, Russian trolls are already engaged in disinformation campaigns around COVID-19.

“I think with any major story, you are going to see this kind of disinformation circulated,” said Hopp. “There are bad actors out there who have goals that are counter to the aspirational goals of American democracy, and there are plenty of opportunities for them to take advantage of the current structure of social media.”

Ultimately, the authors believe better monitoring, via both machine algorithms and human reviewers, could help stem the tide of disinformation.

“We as a society need to start seriously talking about what role the platforms and government should play in times like the 2020 election or during COVID-19 when we have a compelling need for high-quality, accurate information to be distributed,” said Hopp.

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Technology

Video game experience, gender may improve VR learning

Males were far more likely to have video game experience, the survey found, and also learned more in the VR simulation, suggesting that either gender or prior video game experience could impact the success of VR-based learning.

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Students who used immersive virtual reality (VR) did not learn significantly better than those who used two more traditional forms of learning, but they vastly preferred the VR to computer-simulated and hands-on methods, a new Cornell study has found.

“We didn’t know exactly what we were going to see,” said Jack Madden, doctoral student in astronomy at Cornell University and first author of “Ready Student One: Exploring the Predictors of Student Learning in Virtual Reality,” which published March 25 in PLOS ONE. “But it’s amazing that this brand-new technology performed just as well as these tried-and-true methods that are used today in classrooms. So at least we’re not harming students by using VR.”

Though the virtual reality experiment didn’t change learning outcomes overall, the researchers found that students with more video game experience learned better using VR than those with little video game experience – a finding that correlated closely with gender.

The study – which has new implications as learning around the world shifts online to combat the spread of coronavirus – aimed to take a step toward determining whether new educational technology tactics, while popular, are actually effective.

“There’s been a big push for enhanced technology in classrooms,” Madden said. “I think we can be in awe of these fancy, shiny devices and it might feel like they’re helping, but we need to know if they actually are.”

Males were far more likely to have video game experience, the survey found, and also learned more in the VR simulation, suggesting that either gender or prior video game experience could impact the success of VR-based learning. Reviewing prior work, the researchers found that video games requiring players to navigate 3D spaces are more popular among males than females.

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The tech industry – as a whole – has long been criticized for being too male-centric.

In February, for instance, a study noted that “it is imperative that we construct mechanisms and policies that acknowledge the importance of inclusivity, diversity, and non-discrimination, also for the LGBTQ+ community in the development and use of robots and AI.”

“This is an interesting finding, because it could potentially imply that if you can provide learners with that experience, then you could show broad benefits from immersive learning,” said co-author Andrea Stevenson Won, assistant professor of communication and director of the Virtual Embodiment Lab at Cornell. “However, more study is definitely needed.”

“If you’re unfamiliar with navigating this kind of 3D space, you’re not going to learn as well in it, so that could be a barrier,” Madden said. “One of the conclusions of our work is that we need to do a better job of asking questions around things that might be gendered, like video game experience. There’s a lot of finer detail you need to know to make VR learning successful.”

The study’s co-authors are Natasha Holmes, the Ann S. Bower Assistant Professor in A&S; Jonathon Schuldt, associate professor of communication; and communication doctoral students Swati Pandita and Byungdoo Kim. The research was supported by Oculus Education.

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NEWSMAKERS

With quarantine in place, Pornhub sees surge in traffic

Pornhub’s worldwide traffic was 5.7% higher than usual. Searches with “coronavirus” and “Covid” have also steadily grown since the end of January.

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Photo by @charlesdeluvio from Unsplash.com

It’s still all about sex.

With over a billion people now under quarantine (as of March 25), people are finding ways to… spend their time. And apparently, one of those ways is to enjoy sex, not necessarily engaging in the act but as consumers of what’s available online.

Pornhub reported that nowadays, approximately 120 million people visit its site on a daily basis, with the company noting that “perhaps more interesting, we found that people were choosing to visit Pornhub at different times.”

Wednesdays marked the biggest traffic growth, with the worldwide traffic surging 5.7% higher than usual.

At 2 a.m., traffic was 11% higher than usual, but dipped 9% below average at 8 a.m. This difference was noted by Pornhub because usually, 8 a.m. is one of the most popular times to visit the site. But the change may be because “people who did not need to commute to work the next day stayed up later and slept in longer than they normally would.”

Throughout the day, Pornhub noted that traffic was 11% above average at 1 p.m., then dipped 6% at 4 p.m., with another increase of 8% at 7 p.m.

Here’s an interesting thing: a new kink may be emerging.

Pornhub reported that searches containing “coronavirus” first appeared on January 25 and have continued to grow. In the past 30 days, more than 6.8 million searches containing either ‘corona’ or ‘Covid’ were reported; so enter “Covid porn”.

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

How a custom playmat improves your card gaming experience

Whether you are playing your favorite hearts, rummy, or spades, you want to enjoy it to the fullest. Below are four ways a custom playmat improves your overall gaming experience.

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Today, every gamer is looking for a certain level of satisfaction. As more games emerge, players have more variety to choose from in a crowded marketplace. Despite all these varieties, vintage games such as cards and chess are still popular. These old –age games don’t have much variety, but players still yearn for exhilarating experiences. Those who are used to the same type of game do not want the same experience repeatedly.

They want to spice up their playtime by getting the thrill out of the game every time they indulge. Card games are a bit uninspiring if you have been doing them for years. It gets even more annoying if your playing area is not enterprising. Playmats are offering a different proposition to card playing. They spice up the playing area giving the game a much-needed thrill. They will always give you an experience that you have always wanted, especially in crowded gamers lodges and tables.

Whether you are playing your favorite hearts, rummy, or spades, you want to enjoy it to the fullest. Below are four ways a custom playmat improves your overall gaming experience.

It Gives Card Playing Territorial Integrity

Imagine playing randomly from the kitchen table to a wooden log outdoors. It is hard to maintain territorial gaming integrity, but a playmat does that effortlessly. Everyone can see the gaming space, which is fantastic. Even if you are playing outdoors, you will ensure that the playmat is in a place that it can fit.

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If you are playing in a gamers lodge or table, cards can fall anywhere in the table. A mat will solve that problem easily because you will not need to tell anyone that you have claimed your spot. People will easily see.

Protect Your Cards

Over time, cards will wear off, but without a playmat, they will not have time to serve you to their potential. Rough handling, dirt, and rough edges will ensure that your cards will be in tatters in no time. You will not have those awesome cards that you enjoy using for long.

You may not know this; some people use their cards for decades. You are probably used to playing cards for a few years, and the park is unusable. A playmat shields the cards from all those hazards that will destroy your cards.

They Customize The Experience

Do you want the card-playing expertise to have a sense of style or theme? Well, you will need a custom mat to achieve this. A custom theme will also suffice. Popular themes include famous media figures and legends. Popular comics are customizable and easy to identify. I prefer to use seasonal items to spice up things. At least every season, I look forward to a vintage theme and feel.

You will be choosing something that says something about you. According to yourplaymat.com, including different materials and inspirations for your design can spice things. Popular culture and subcultures offer great thematic choices. History is also a good starting point if you are looking for some inspiration. Nobody will be there to judge you on this one. You will be choosing a mat that makes your card playing experience personable.

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To Work In A Clean Environment

Have you ever tried to shuffle a dusty pack of cards? If you have, then you already have an idea of what it is like to work in a dirty environment. Picking cards on a sticky area, dusty surfaces, and rough areas are not fun, nor is it not healthy either. A playmat is essential nowadays, especially for people who love a good game. Don’t let your gaming be a torturous experience; make it fun. 

Some materials will require regular washing, but others need some wiping. The beauty of buying custom mats is that you choose between materials, too. Synthetic materials are durable and do not need extensive cleaning after use.

Gamers do not want to endure their favorite pastime. You also do not want to pass the time while playing. It is time for them to enjoy their lives. Card playing is a tradition that has lasted for centuries, and a lot has improved about strategy and resources, but the people have remained committed.

They want to enjoy it no matter the environment. They do not wish to dust or sticky surfaces to ruin their experiences. A playmat will sort out all those problems to make sure that your spades or gin rummy are perfect. For the peace of mind and health of your peers and you, you will need a playmat that will ensure that the playing area is ready. 

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Even seniors can benefit from using technology – Here’s how

The biggest struggle in terms of demographics in ages when it comes to technology are the older generations. This has nothing to do with their refusal to learn, but more the times these innovations were introduced.

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Everything these days is centered around technology.  Children grow up surrounded by it, forcing people to adapt to an ever changing society.  If you aren’t prepared to change along with technology, you may get left behind. 

The biggest struggle in terms of demographics in ages when it comes to technology are the older generations.  This has nothing to do with their refusal to learn, but more the times these innovations were introduced.  This translates to a tougher time adjusting even if they were to embrace it because of how far into their lives they have to now learn something new.  But once they embrace and are able to use technology, there are so many ways that they will find a benefit in their lives.

Accessibility

Accessibility is one of the biggest beneficiaries seniors will find when it comes to adopting the technology.  Some seniors find it hard to get around, due to an illness or their old age. So being able to access information about things they need like treatments, medicines or medical devices is made easier for them with the help of technology. All they need is a gadget that connects to the internet and they can easily visit CPOE and read up on their different medical-related content. Helping them make smarter medical decisions. There have been many innovations made that seniors might find that wouldn’t be available if technology had not been a contributing factor.

Friends and Family

With technology, keeping in contact with our friends is made easier.  Things like social media allow us to connect and communicate in ways that we would never have been able to do decades ago.  As funny as videos are of parents trying to figure out video applications like Skype, these programs are perfect for keeping in touch over distance and despite such busy schedules.  Studies show that as we age, our circle of friends gets smaller, and once in old age, your spouse becomes the person you spend the most time with.  If your spouse passes away, the quality of life for the other person sees a drastic negative impact.  This can be attributed to the lack of social support that we have later in life.  With increased connectivity to the world around us, it can be easier to attain and maintain the need for social interaction that is a human necessity.  

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Love

In the day and age of online dating and technology-driven relationships, seniors can find these types of apps to benefit their lives.  As discussed, it can be a difficult time when one loses a partner, especially when you lose that social connection to someone.  If that person did decide they are still seeking new relationships knowing they are more than capable of sharing their love, there are many ways to still find that opportunity. 

They may not be inclined to look into popular apps like Tinder, but using one of the many apps directed towards seniors and finding quality relationships may be just what you need to get back to finding meaningful and quality relationships again.

Activeness

The great thing about technology is the versatility it provides.  Similar to accessibility, technology can do so much more to promote a  healthy lifestyle.  Activity devices like smartwatches and trackers can do wonders to provide both motivation to stay active and give you the information regarding your health like heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking.  Having this information readily available and easy to access can do wonders in promoting an active routine in your old age.

Mental Ability

As we grow older, we understand that the body needs to get in proper amounts of exercise in order to stay healthy and in shape.  The mind is no different because as you age, you must keep the brain as active for it to stay healthy and in the right shape.  There are applications and programs made to promote brain health and keep you alert and sharp.  These will act as daily exercises to prevent problems that might arise associated with old age.  Mental games help slow down or stop things like dementia, or might be important tools to regain mental activity in the case of a stroke.  The brain, in these cases, may have lost certain abilities, and exercises provided by certain applications can prove to be beneficial.  

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Because many people either grew up in the middle of this change or with technology already prevalent, they never had to make those adjustments.  As we get older, it is important to maintain certain lifestyles that promote things like good health, accessibility, and connectivity.  As daunting as technology might be, there are so many ways to benefit even in old age.

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Study charts rising trend of image-based sexual abuse

Image-based sexual abuse is the non-consensual taking, sharing or threatening to share nude or sexual images of a person, including the use of digitally-altered imagery.

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Photo by Leon Seibert from Unsplash.com

Image-based sexual abuse is increasing, according to new research.

A survey of more than 2,000 Australians found 1 in 3 had been victims of image-based abuse, compared with 1 in 5 in 2016. The survey also found the perpetration of image-based abuse had increased, with 1 in 6 people surveyed reporting they had taken, shared or made threats to share a nude or sexual image of a person without that person’s consent, compared with 1 in 10 of those surveyed in 2016.

The findings are detailed in a new report Image-Based Sexual Abuse: An International Study of Victims and Perpetrators, which presents the results of the first cross-national survey on image-based sexual abuse, conducted in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom in 2019.

The Australian survey follows a similar study conducted in 2016 – the first of its kind – allowing the researchers to compare results for the first time.

Image-based sexual abuse is the non-consensual taking, sharing or threatening to share nude or sexual images of a person, including the use of digitally-altered imagery.

Lead author Associate Professor Anastasia Powell said although it’s commonly referred to as “revenge porn”, the study shows the perpetration of image-based abuse is not limited to jilted ex-lovers out for vengeance.

“We found that image-based sexual abuse is used by perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault, in stalking and sexual harassment, as well as in threats and bullying by peers and other known people,” Powell said. “Not only this, but we found high numbers of victims had never consented to having their image taken.”

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The interviews with victims uncovered cases of people being photographed or filmed without their knowledge in the shower, while sleeping, over Skype and during sex.

“We also found no increase in people sending consensual sexy selfies. All this suggests it’s not victim behaviour driving the rise in abuse, but rather the actions of perpetrators.”

The survey of 2,054 Australians aged 16-64 also found that:

  • Young people were twice as likely as those aged over 40 to be victims of image-based sexual abuse, with those aged between 20 and 29 years the most likely group to be victims.
  • Men and women reported a similar frequency of victimisation, but women experienced higher levels of harm from the abuse, including being more than twice as likely as men to report being fearful for their safety from the perpetrator.
  • Men were more likely than women to be perpetrators.
  • Perpetrators reported that their reasons for the abuse included for fun, to flirt or be sexy, to impress friends or trade images, to control, embarrass, and/or get back at the person in the image.
  • The most common sites for distribution were social media, email and mobile messages.
  • Rates of image-based sexual abuse victimisation were similar across Australia (35.2%), UK (39%) and New Zealand (39%).

Notably, while results showed strong support among survey respondents for image-based sexual abuse to be made a criminal offence (at more than 80%), less than half knew that it that it actually was a crime to take, distribute or threaten to share nude or sexual images of a person without consent.

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Co-author Associate Professor Asher Flynn from Monash University said these findings highlighted the need for greater awareness-raising and legal education.

“We need to make sure that those laws are enforced – that victims are supported, and perpetrators are held to account,” Flynn said. “There is also a need to build information about the seriousness and harmfulness of image-based sexual abuse into respectful relationships education.”

But most of all, for Flynn, “we need community attitudes to change so that whether it is our friend, a family member, a fellow student or co-worker whose image is shared without consent – we place the blame and shame on the perpetrator of the image-based sexual abuse and not on the victim.”

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