ALEXA, THE FUTURE OF AMAZON – 2/2

PART 2: THE FUTURE OF ALEXA

“ALEXA, THE FUTURE OF AMAZON” is a series of two articles with the purpose of understanding the potential of voice-enabled devices. The first article will look closely at how the AI personal assistant functions and how Amazon leverages the technology. In the second article, Alexa’s challenges will be addressed and predictions will be made regarding the future of the virtual assistant.


III – Alexa’s Challenges

Data & Privacy

In recent years, privacy around data has become a widely controversial topic, especially around the GAFA. Amazon came under scrutiny in 2019 when major newspapers such as Bloomberg and Time reported that thousands of Amazon employees listen to voice recordings of Echo users. These employees work from around the world (India, Romania, Costa Rica…) as a mix between internal staff and outside contractors. When asked further questions regarding the exact use of our data, the teams responsible for working 9 hours shifts and reviewing around 1,000 audio clips per person refused to talk, stating a strict nondisclosure agreement[1]. Furthermore, Bloomberg reports, thanks to a screenshot of the audio reviewing interface, that employees in charge of reviewing recordings have access to the user’s account number, first name, and device serial number. 

Amazon often uses the fact that the user has the option to manually opt-out of the “voice recording analysis” as a counterargument to critics. The reality is that users only opt-out of voice recording analysis for the development of new features; Amazon may still analyze recordings for the regular review process. 

This calls into question the transparency of the company and nourishes users’ trust issues around data collection. In the future, the growing fear around personal data misuse and manipulation could become a threat to the development of Amazon Alexa. Furthermore, the growing awareness around data collection increasingly arouses interest from regulators. The European GDPR law on data protection and privacy passed in 2016 is only the beginning. Governmental entities around the world are starting to pay attention, and the lack of knowledge on the subject paired with the current lobbying will not be able to hold regulators much longer. 

With data collection and analysis at the essence of the accuracy and overall performance of the voice assistant, data needs to be widely available for Alexa to succeed. Without proper consideration, data and privacy concerns could become a main obstacle for the company. 

Social Inequalities

Amazon is not exactly known to be inclusive, despite its effort to implement a diverse company culture in recent years. Alexa has often been the target of gender inequalities critics and her AI algorithms, like many in the field, can be biased. 

A report published by UNESCO in 2019 called “I’d blush if I could” states that Alexa’s feminine name, female voice, and flirty responses reinforce problematic gender stereotypes. The particular example leveraged to support the claim is that when users say “Alexa, you’re hot”, her response will be “That’s nice of you to say!”. Saniye Gülser Corat, Director of Gender Equality at UNESCO shared in a statement that “obedient and obliging machines that pretend to be women are entering our homes, cars and offices”, feeding into gender stereotypes and changing the way we think of the female voice. This issue is complementary to the fact that in recent years, there have been growing inequalities around women’s digital education. In the AI industry, women are “extremely under-represented” as they only make up “12 percent of AI researchers, six percent of software developers, and are 13 times less likely to file ICT (information and communication technology) patents”[2]

Bias in data sets is another challenge that Alexa has to tackle. Natalie Schluter (Professor in NLP and Data Science at the IT University of Copenhagen) talks about the importance of training data for it to match all stakeholders. Behind algorithms lies data that can be collected from anywhere and everywhere. Data is a representation of humans and humans are biased; for that reason, a very large amount of data has to be collected for it to be representative of a larger group. However, prejudices or intolerances can still emerge despite multiple verification checks causing misrepresentation. Researchers have found that there is a racial divide in the machine learning models powering speech-recognition systems due to bias data sets causing technologies like Alexa to “misidentified 35 percent of words from people who [are] black” while understanding “white people fared much better”[3]

With increasing concerns, AI-powered algorithms are now being used on filtering data that will become inputs for another AI model. For Alexa to be widely successful, she will need to understand everyone and not only a narrow group of people like, let’s say, for example, white, young men that live in Silicon Valley.

A very large amount of information today proves that AI can reflect some of the worst human values. Models can be sexist and discriminatory due to biased data sets. As this challenge is upon all Tech companies through the devices they create, Alexa needs to set itself apart to become a benchmark in terms of equality and social representation. 

Amazon needs to understand that to reach social acceptance and to appeal to even more customers, Alexa needs to be built with social inclusion in mind, through values such as equality and diversity. 

Competition

Alexa is considered the most popular virtual assistant, thanks to the Amazon Echo segment, leader in smart speakers with 53%[4]of the market share in 2019 in the United States. She is however far from being the only virtual assistant. Other companies such as Microsoft with Cortana have recognized the potential of voice. More specifically, in terms of performance, Alexa is greatly challenged by Apple with Siri, and Google with its Google Assistant. 

To compare the three leading AI personal assistants, Loup Venture decided to test them in its “Annual Digital Assistant IQ Test”[5]. The research found that the Google Assistant, once again, was the most accurate and answered correctly to 92,9% of a sample of 800 questions. Its success is mainly due to the quantitative data sets that the Google Assistant’s ML algorithm gets to train with. As the world leader in the web, Google has managed to create colossal data sets of structured data. The company also has a more advanced speech recognition software allowing the Google Assistant to understand every question in the sample. Coming in second place, there is Siri, with 83,1% of answers correct and she understood 99,8% of the same question sample. When launched in October 2011, Apple promised a revolution in digital assistant but could not yet deliver on that promise. With time, Siri has managed to keep its place at the top as Apple tries to export the voice assistant outside of the IOS environment with the latest Mini Pod, a smart speaker directly in competition with the Amazon Echo. Finally, Alexa comes third after answering correctly to 79,8% of the sample while understanding 99,9% of the queries. On top of being less performant than other personal assistants in the research, Alexa is not backed into the OS of a phone. This becomes a disadvantage as the Amazon virtual assistant only lives inside third-party apps and does not have access to commands such as phone calls, messages, or emails. Another difference is that Alexa entirely relies on voice, unlike its competitors which can offer a regular touch interface in case of frustration.  

Alexa Skills Kit helps to grow the massive developer community while AVS is disrupting many industries. Alexa is one of the most powerful AI personal assistants, but that does not mean that Amazon is the only company well-positioned in the fast-growing market. 


IV – What is next for Alexa?

The adoption of voice assistants is growing worldwide, and predictions are encouraging. TechCrunch reports, according to Juniper Research, “the use of voice assistants is set to triple over the next few years” going from 2.5 billion to 8 billion digital voice assistants in use by 2023[6]. More specifically, the growth will be tremendous in segments where Alexa is already well-positioned. This sentiment is exemplified by the smart TV voice assistants that are projected to grow 121% in the next five years. 

The research reinforced what Amazon already knew, voice-only interaction will exponentially increase in the future. As a tech giant, Amazon has lots of influence in the field and is heavily investing in voice-related technology. In 2019, the company’s total research and development expenses reached 35.9 billion dollars, a year-to-year increase of 25%[7]. With such limitless resources to pour into innovation, the tech giant is exploring countless opportunities to grow Alexa. 

Alexa will become a companion

The Alexa team has filed a patent for technology that would scrap the “wake word” from the user command formula. It would allow users to simply address their request to the device in the following manner: “play me some music, Alexa”. Not only it would make the information more fluid, but it would also transform the interaction into something a lot more human-like. 

On the same track, Amazon is developing Alexa’s Conversation Skill, allowing her to ask questions and to make the conversation two-sided. Currently, in beta mode, Alexa Conversation is a deep learning-based approach with the purpose of creating a better conversation flow between devices and humans. To feed the deep learning conversation model with enough data, the Skill will expand Alexa’s memory allowing her to collect more information to sustain longer, two-way conversations with a user. The feature will incorporate asking more than one question at once, letting the user make corrections, and allowing the customer to make a correlation to past queries. 

In the future, Alexa will revolutionize the way we interact with technology. By mutating interaction between humans and machines, Amazon’s AI personal assistant will disrupt industries by allowing seamless automated conversations between businesses and their clients. Lastly, Alexa is aiming to become your virtual companion, putting her capabilities to use through harmonious voice.

Alexa & E-Commerce

Simplistically, Alexa is Amazon’s secret weapon in terms of purchasing behavior, opening new doors to customers’ personal lives. The company’s focus will always be on selling. With Alexa, the e-commerce leader manages to build on its search and recommendations engine through new types of data. The new data feeding the powerful ML models is not the only opening for Alexa in e-commerce; the personal assistant is an opening to voice-based shopping.

With voice dramatically simplifying processes compared to a regular touch interface, the quicker new purchasing channel is predicted to seduce 21.6 million[8] US consumers by the end of 2020. Smart device makers have not yet gained user’s trust in terms of privacy and payment security causing a slower adoption than expected. There is also a substantial difference to our regular buying channel, which is that with voice, the consumers cannot see what they are buying. 

Despite the hesitation from many smart speaker owners, Amazon is betting on voice purchase in the future, as social acceptance around the technology is only climbing. 

Alexa robot body

The next frontier for Alexa to fully help users is her transition to becoming a physical AI assistant. Rohit Prasad, the VP and head scientist at Alexa Artificial Intelligence shared that “AI programs need to see and explore the world if they’re ever going to attain real understanding” because “the only way to make smart assistants really smart is to give it eyes and let it explore the world”[9]. It is clear that by listening to executives, Amazon has in mind, not only for its operational aspect but for better algorithm and AI understanding, a body for Alexa.

With Robo-pets already on the market such as Anki Vector, Sony Aibo, or Zoetic Kiki, Alexa built-in was used by a third party, Anki, to build “Vector”, a tiny home robot with limited capabilities. With exceptional R&D power, it would not be difficult for Amazon to leverage its AI personal assistant and create a body for Alexa in the coming years.   

Alexa everywhere

Alongside Alexa’s objective of creating a virtual companion, another goal of Amazon is to spread its voice technology everywhere. With data collection at the center of voice, Amazon’s strategy is two-sided. First, the company has created a vast range of Alexa enabled devices for users to control all types of smart devices with voice. Since its start back in 2014, Amazon has released hundreds of Alexa-enabled devices, and the assistant can now follow you everywhere with Echo Auto or the Echo Frames. The second part of Amazon’s strategy is the company’s aggressive approach to pricing. Apple wants you to have one Pod Mini for $99 as Amazon wants you to have the $20 generation 3 Echo Dot in every room of your house. 

With the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), Amazon is riding the wave, and connecting every device that it can to Alexa. With the technology getting smarter every day, Senior Vice President of Devices and Services, David Limp, explained that “there is no reason not to put them everywhere in your house”[10]

With now existing devices such as smart microwaves and connected rings, we are only entering Amazon’s vision for a world ruled by Alexa and controlled by your voice.


[1] “Thousands of Amazon Workers Listen to Alexa Users’ Conversations”, TIME by MATT DAY, GILES TURNER AND NATALIA DROZDIAK, April 11th, 2019.

[2] “Are robots sexist? UN report shows gender bias in talking digital tech” UN News on May 17th, 2019.

[3] “There Is a Racial Divide in Speech-Recognition Systems, Researchers Say” The New York Times, by Cade Metz, March 23rd, 2020.

[4] “Amazon Smart Speaker Market Share Falls to 53% in 2019 with Google The Biggest Beneficiary Rising to 31%, Sonos Also Moves Up” Voicebot.ai, BRET KINSELLA on April 28th, 2020. 

[5] “Annual Digital Assistant IQ Test” Loup Venture, Gene Munster, Will Thompson August 15th, 2019.

[6] “Report: Voice assistants in use to triple to 8 billion by 2023”, TechCrunch, by Sarah Perez on February 12th, 2019. 

[7] “Amazon research and development expenses” Statistic, by Abhijeet Pratap on October 13th, 2020.

[8] “Shopping via smart speakers is not taking off”, Techcrunch, by Sarah Perez on February 4th, 2020. 

[9] “Alexa needs a robot body to escape the confines of today’s AI” MIT Technology Review by Will Knight on March 26th, 2019.

[10] “Amazon Wants Alexa to Move (With You) Far Beyond the Living Room”, The New York Times, by Karen Weise on September 25th, 2019.

ALEXA, THE FUTURE OF AMAZON – 1/2

PART 1: ALEXA AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

“ALEXA, THE FUTURE OF AMAZON” is a series of two articles with the purpose of understanding the potential of voice-enabled devices. The first article will look closely at how the AI personal assistant functions and how Amazon leverages the technology. In the second article, Alexa’s challenges will be addressed and predictions will be made regarding the future of the virtual assistant.


I – What is Alexa?

Introduction

Alexa is a cloud-based AI personal assistant which was launched through the “Amazon Echo” back on November 6th, 2014. At first, its purpose was to activate the speaker with voice command, and much like other voice assistants at the time, it could answer basic questions from users. With soaring demands from Amazon customers over the years, the company has been pouring substantial resources into the project. Supported by the growth in accuracy and performance from Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML), Amazon has been able to combine its cloud computing power from AWS with an enormous amount of data collected over time. Six years after the launch of the “Amazon Echo”, Jeff Bezos’ vision for a world controlled by voice is becoming increasingly plausible.

On top of being the voice of millions of Amazon hardware devices such as the Fire TV, the Echo Dot, or the new Echo Buds, Alexa is a technology that can be incorporated into existing products from third parties. By using the same framework as Amazon Web Services (AWS), the company came up with Alexa Voice Service (AVS). With AVS, any device with a WIFI chip and a microphone can become Alexa-enabled. This opens the door to manufacturers around the world to build around Alexa and/or for existing product lines to upgrade their value proposition by importing a powerful voice assistant. Furthermore, the second side of Alexa, the “Alexa Skills Kit” (ASK) has multiple capabilities through thousands of “skills”. Alexa’s ecosystem is powered by a strong developer community through the ASK. Anyone can build on top of Alexa by adding a custom feature that allows the selection of skills to grow every day and makes Alexa exponentially smarter. 

 The Devices

Amazon’s first Alexa enabled device was the famous “Echo”. Through this smart speaker, the company reaffirmed its positioning as a hardware manufacturer, despite the Fire Phone disaster. Both devices, developed around the same time by Amazon’s Lab126, show that the company is not afraid to innovate and conquer new markets. 

Since then, Amazon has abandoned smartphones and has rolled out dozens of new Alexa-enabled products. The most popular device to consumers is still the smart speaker but new categories have emerged. The Fire TV is making its place in our home as well as Echo home products. Present in the car with the dashboard Echo Auto, Amazon is even coming up with Alexa-enabled wearables devices like the Echo loop (ring) and Echo Buds (wireless headphones). Amazon does not disclose product sales, but the company says that over 100 million[1] Alexa devices have been sold. 

Alexa Voice Service (AVS)

AVS is one of two main factors of Alexa’s successful growth. Similar to AWS, it follows a similar framework of leveraging internal resources by making them available for outside business. The service relies on third parties’ desire to integrate Alexa into their product solutions. With the help of AVS, businesses “can build natural voice experiences that offer customers a more intuitive way to interact with the technology they use every day”[2]. It is a simple and affordable way for a company to turn its products into smart devices. Being a cloud-based voice service, clients are guaranteed to be equipped with cutting edge technology as Alexa will continue to learn and be updated. 

The platform provides many different tools, API’s, and documentation to facilitate the integration of Alexa. There are 2 options around AVS: 

–       The first option is to connect to an existing device. Companies like Sonos, LG, or Dell have already jumped on that opportunity. The list of compatible devices is long; kitchen devices, smart clocks, gadgets, speakers, cameras, and thermostats are just a few examples. 

–       The second option is the Alexa built-in solution. As one of the leading Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), Amazon collaborates with brands to incorporate its voice assistant inside other companies’ products. This way, Alexa can follow you in your smart vehicle, it can be added to your personal computer and smart TV. Once again, the list of compatible options is long making Alexa built-in an asset for AVS. 

AVS is well-positioned to forever transform industries. Through a simple implementation of Alexa’s state-of-the-art voice service, all companies can now respond to consumers’ need for innovation.

Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)

ASK is the second main factor of success for Alexa. Virtual assistants are numerous, from Siri to the Google Assistant, the answer to the question of which is the “smartest” must be deduced through analyzing their capabilities, which are used to fulfill the user’s need. Skills can be defined as a virtual assistant’s capabilities; they are how to engage with consumers and the content people have access to. Most of Alexa’s Skills are given by a very large community of developers providing Alexa with a competitive advantage. In September 2019, Alexa Skill Store had over 100,000 Skills [3]such as Smart Home Skills (ex: “Change the temperature on a thermostat”), Video Skills (ex: “Pause, rewind, or fast forward video content”), and Custom Skills (pretty much anything you can think of). The ASK was made intuitive and accessible to developers with unlimited opportunities to grow business or to start new ones with Alexa Games, Apps, Briefings, and Smart Home Control.

By allowing anyone and everyone to easily build Skills, Alexa is getting smarter every day.  


II – Artificial Intelligence and Alexa  

Alexa, much like other voice assistants, is powered by NLP and heavily relies on ML & DL trained models. The complex architecture of Alexa is what makes her so efficient. The visual below synthetizes the command to activate the device and to ask her to perform a specific task. 

 Source: Alexa Developers Resources[4]                      

The Wake Word

The first reality to be aware of before starting to analyze how Alexa executes a request is simple: Alexa is always listening. This however does not mean that she is always recording nor sending information to the Amazon server. The device is actively listening for its “wake word” through a feature called Voice Activation Detection (VAD). Wake word detection is a crucial step. The misinterpretation of noise can lead to “false positive” (the activation of Alexa when it was not indented) or “false negative” (Alexa does not activate) causing discontent from the user. Today’s wake word options on the devices are “Alexa”, “Amazon”, “Echo”, or “Computer” and now “Hey Samuel” (for Samuel L. Jackson latest Alexa partnership). 

For Amazon, “it is challenging to build a wake word system with low error rates when there are limited computation resources on the device and it’s in the presence of background noise such as speech or music”[5]. To reach the highest level of accuracy on wake word detection, Amazon combines multiple microphones, a short memory buffer, and Machine Learning. 

To pick up wake words coming from multiple directions, voice assistant speakers are equipped with multiple microphones. The advantages of relying on multiple microphones are numerous; from a better capture of commands to locating where a voice comes from, the more microphones, the better. This feature allows smart devices to follow your voice and to cancel noises from other directions. 

Another feature that contributes to a better wake word detection is the short memory setting for Echo devices. Amazon’s Head Scientist of Alexa AI, Rohit Prasad, explained, during an interview with Quartz, “the devices are intentionally limited technically, so they don’t have the capability to listen to your conversation” and that Alexa only stores “a few seconds, just long enough for the wake words”[6] before deleting the recording. Through this process, Alexa’s short attention span allows it to only focus on the wake word. 

Lastly, to prevent false negatives, Amazon uses machine learning to train their wake word detection model. The model is fed with multiple instances of the wake word combining different pronunciations, accents, situations, and other variables that could help to predict the output. By using supervised learning, the model is fed with instances of the wake word, then the mapping finds the correlation between the parameters and the past outputs. By combining millions of parameters and past outputs, the ML model can predict with very high accuracy when the user intends to activate Alexa.  

More specifically, Amazon scientists[7] declared that the wake word performance of Alexa relies on Deep Neural Network (DNN), or deep learning, a subset of machine learning that is essentially an Artificial Neural Network but with multiple layers. The objective is to match voice patterns through “Neural Network Training”. Each word recorded during the wake word detection process goes through multiple layers of algorithms. The purpose of the multiple layer system is to rule out all possible “false positives”. It is only possible for Amazon to use such a technique due to their powerful computing power, large cloud storage space, and Amazon’s enormous amount of data collected over the years. Each time a word recorded successfully matches the output of that layer, it moves into the next one. Once the word recorded is confirmed to be the wake word, Alexa then starts to share the audio with Amazon’s cloud server.

Launching a Skill

Once the wake word is detected and confirmed, Alexa then connects to Amazon’s cloud server to analyze the user’s command. For users’ requests to best be treated, a simple formula is required following the wake word. First, the “launch word” is supposed to be the start of the command, the first step to launching the Skill. It can be common verbs like “start’, “ask” or “play”. Then comes the “invocation name”. The invocation name is the name given to the specific Skill and it can be anything the developer wants it to be. From a generic word to multiple words, developers have carte blanche. It is even possible to use words that already exist for another invocation name as Alexa will ask the user which Skill they want to launch. With only these two steps, Alexa can launch the Skill. However, it is possible to be even more specific in the command. Users can add “utterance” to give a command inside the Skill and even add a “slot”. Adding a slot to the voice command is like adding a variable to a formula. Adding these two steps to a user’s voice request will give Alexa all the tools to fully fulfill the user’s need. 

Once the command is spoken by the user, many powerful tools are put in place in order for Alexa to successfully respond. The most important systems responsible for the processing of the user’s request are signal processing, Natural Language Processing (NLP), and Machine Learning. Most of these systems take place in the Alexa Service Platform (ASP) in the Amazon cloud server. 

Before processing the audio, the recording needs to be “cleaned” for the Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) engine to be accurate. When speaking to Alexa, it is very common that the user is in a noisy environment or that the smart speaker is playing music; for that reason, Alexa needs signal processing to clean the audio. To do so, it relies on different systems such as Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC) or Beamforming. First, Alexa has to tackle “acoustic echo” which refers to the external signal recorded with the user’s voice. These signals mostly come from the loudspeaker and need to be subtracted from the microphone signal. To deal with the issue, Amazon uses AEC, an algorithm with the goal “to remove the acoustic echo component from the microphone signal, so that the customer’s voice can be clearly understood by the ASR engine”[8]. This technique is applied first on the device then it is more deeply put to use once the audio is sent to the cloud server. In addition, for an optimal signal, the device relies on “beamforming” to emphasize the voice of the user. This signal processing technique focuses the recording in one desired direction and gets rid of the noises from other directions. 

Now that the audio is clean, Alexa will combine Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) through the Amazon cloud server to understand the user’s request. As one of the first steps in the process of understanding the user, ASR is responsible for converting spoken words into text. The algorithms will compare audio waveforms to an existing database to match the sounds with a language. Once the algorithm recognizes the language, the technology can identify which word was pronounced and turn it into text. However, the text is not a synonym of meaning for Alexa. That’s when NLU, a subdomain of Natural Language Processing (NLP) comes in. Natural language understanding is “essentially a technology that translates human language into computer language”[9]. More specifically, NLU converts the text from ASR into “intent” for Alexa to act on. Amazon develops their algorithms with the purpose to not only understand the word we say but also the context behind what we say. Before the technology, voice assistants would have had to be mostly hardcoded with thousands of inputs for the algorithm to understand that “What time is it?”, “Give me the time?” or “Time please” all meant the same thing. Today, NLU learns from past conversations and manages to extract meaning from human language. Nevertheless, it is important to note that throughout the speech to text and text to meaning process, ASR and NLU are both powered by machine learning algorithms. 

Finally, now that Alexa understands the user’s request, it is now time to act on it. The final step is Natural Language Generation (NLG) powered by Deep Learning (DL) models.

NLG is now in charge of transforming structured data into natural human language.  To do so, Alexa’s decision-making process relies on one DL algorithm called Recurrent Neural Network (RNN). Unlike Artificial Neural Network (ANN) also called “Feed-Forward Neural network”, which consists of 3 layers where inputs are only processed moving in the forward direction; RNN architecture can use the generated output as a future input in loop process (see image below). 

Source: Analytics Vidhya[10]

RNN is designed to recognize patterns in sequences of data like spoken words or text. It is a very useful network for Alexa because it remembers every piece of information through time creating better predictions of what the user wants. These algorithms also have the capabilities of taking time into account since “they have a temporal dimension”[11] making it more efficient. However, the network has a short-term memory. To mediate the issue, it relies on Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM), a more complex neural network capable, through a mechanism called “gate”, of dealing with long term dependencies and getting rid of the short memory issue. Once the final output is defined, Alexa will execute the required Skill. Thanks to NLG, the concept of responding to the user was put into words. The final touch requires text to speech (TTS) technology for Alexa to vocally respond to the user’s request.

SECOND PART OF THE ARTICLE COMING SOON

Now that Alexa has no more secret for you, come back next week to discover Alexa’s Chalenges and the Future of the AI personal assistant in “ALEXA, THE FUTURE OF AMAZON (2/2)”.


[1] “Amazon wants you to be surrounded with Alexa—wherever you are” by MIT Technology Review, Sept 26th, 2019. 

[2] www.developer.amazon.com/alexa

[3] “The Alexa Skills Store now has more than 100,000 voice apps” by Venture Beat, September 25, 2019.

[4] “Zero to Hero, Part 1: Alexa Skills Kit Overview” by the Alexa Developers account, February 6th, 2020.

[5] “Alexa Scientists Present Two New Techniques That Improve Wake Word Performance”, Amazon Science Blog by Minhua Wu, April 12th, 2018

[6] “Alexa doesn’t have the attention span to secretly eavesdrop on your conversations”, QUARTZ, by Dave Gershgorn, November 8th, 2017.

[7] “Alexa Scientists Present Two New Techniques That Improve Wake Word Performance”, Amazon Science Blog by Minhua Wu, April 12th, 2018.

[8] www.developer.amazon.com/alexa/alexa-voice-service/audio-hardware-configurations  

[9] “AI & Business – Module 1: General Introduction”, Jonathan Moioli, Fall 2020.

[10] “CNN vs. RNN vs. ANN – Analyzing 3 Types of Neural Networks in Deep Learning”, Analytics Vidhya, ARAVIND PAI, February 17th, 2020. 

[11] “Recurrent Neural Network (RNN) and LSTM” MEDIUM, Marvin Wang, June 16th, 2019.

COVID- 19: STAYING PRODUCTIVE AT HOME


The coronavirus or “Covid-19” pandemic is disrupting routines and shattering habits. Schools in Europe and North America are now following China’s path by sending students home. Companies around the world are changing their working practices by offering employees the possibility to work remotely or by abruptly shutting down. During this time of crisis, staying efficient is becoming a true challenge. Here are a few tips to not feel like an unproductive lazy human at the end of the day. 

First, let’s be clear. Being obsessed with productivity makes you unproductive. Overworking wears out our mental well being. When working from home, as a student or as an employee, it can be tempting to forget about the usual working hours and to pursue meeting objectives from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed. When in such a familiar setting, like your own house, boundaries need to be set. The most productive days include breaks. A popular method suggests that every hour of work requires a 15 minutes break. The Pomodoro Technique has also proven its quality by helping thousands of freelancers and students manage their time. This method improves focus by working in 25-minute blocks followed by a 5-minute break (it is worth a try). Ultimately, working nonstop will not do you any good. When the evening comes, you should unplug from everything work-related. No more projects, case studies to finish or responding to email. That brain of yours now needs to rest. 

For others, the current situation can aspire to a different mentality. It can simply become a challenge to stay productive when stuck at home (I have been there, I know the guilt). Consequently, I found 3 tips to enhance your everyday productivity and eliminate that feeling of a wasted day. 

The start of the day is not to be neglected

It is important as Eric Lam, a cross-asset reporter in Hong Kong emphasized to “try to stick to some semblance of your original routine from before you started working from home”. The answer to your question then is no. It is not recommended to sleep in until 10 am neither is staying in your pajamas all day. You need to get ready every morning so your body understands that you are not having a day off. A morning routine will benefit you throughout the day so get up early, shower and eat a healthy breakfast. For the people justifying not eating in the morning due to a lack of time, your excuse is now gone. In addition, dressing up in comfortable clothes, not necessarily suit and tie but once again, not pajamas will signal your brain that it is now game time. Furthermore, on top of being physically and mentally ready, a strong morning routine creates a feeling of accomplishment, a great asset to have a successful day. 

Working environment 

Creating an “office environment” is important. It is suggested to set your workspace in a well-lit room with as much natural light as possible. For people using a laptop all day, you may consider adding a mouse to your essential furniture, it will make your life easier. If that workspace is not located in a quiet place (children may very well be at home), canceling noise earbuds are very useful to stay focused. Music, depending on people, can drastically improve productivity as it “activates both the left and right brain at the same time, and the activation of both hemispheres can maximize learning and improve memory,” says Dr. Masha Godkin. It is however recommended to stick to lyricless music to receive its full benefit. Finally, while having a well set up “office environment” is one of the key factors to be efficient; working from the couch or outside in the backward should not be ruled out. A change of scenery may very well help you change perspective and become more creative. 

Fight the feeling of isolation

Self-isolation is now becoming a norm around the world to fight the coronavirus. It is essential to maintain a connection with the outside world and to communicate. The importance of communication is clear: texts, phone calls or even video calls are useful to brainstorm and any form of communication is a driving factor for motivation. Needless to say that for students, the social aspect is essential. A controlled and appropriate use of social media to connect with friends is beneficial to fight feelings such as loneliness and sometimes sadness. With more time on your hands, it can be a true opportunity to get in touch with old connections or to make new ones. Open yourself to new projects and do not hesitate to scroll through LinkedIn.  


Productivity, the measure of efficiency, is unique and different for everyone. Many bloggers have promised innovative ways to work smarter; techies use spreadsheets to plan every minute of every day and smartphone makers promote their technology as the holy grail of productivity through their simplified processes. Only you can find the right method to maximize your productivity. The current social and economic situation is putting you to the test. Will you succeed or fail? 


Sources: washingtonpost.com / bloomberg.com / aib.edu / ncu.edu  

The duality of social media: a deeper look at the Australian bushfire crisis


We live in the age of information. While there are many benefits associated with this privilege, the readily available abundance of information cultivates an ambiguity surrounding the truth in many instances. In the case of Australia, fake accounts and baffling statistics have been shared by millions, while accurate statistics and legitimate ways to help those in need are ignored. So, that begs the question, What is really going on in Australia? 

Causes of Australian Bushfires

The dry and hot climate of Australian summers in conjunction with hot winds is a recipe for wildfires. Lighting can also cause fires. Bushfires are common and often times result in no significant damage to the ecosystem.

There Several Fire Seasons in Australia, Depending on the Region

Australia's bushfire seasons - Social Media Blog - Bureau ...

Incredible Adaptations

Many Australian plants and shrubs have adapted to the frequent and relentless bushfires by becoming fire-resistant. The serotinous cones and/or fruits of the Lodgepole pine, Eucalyptus and Banksia are sealed with a heat-sensitive resin that can only be removed by the high temperatures of a bushfire. Many shrubs and annual plants similarly require the presence of smoke to break the dormancy of their seeds. Their seeds will remain dormant for decades until a wildfire occurs (2).

Fire Danger Rating Signs

Fire danger rating signs are posted all around Australia, varying in presentation style but always to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

Fire danger sign

Affect on Animals / What is Really Happening to the Koala on Your Instagram Explore Page

Before we are able to discuss the magnitude of the wildlife loss caused by the bushfires it is imperative to recognize many of the numbers that have been given about the number of animals lost are an estimate based on previous assumptions of existing population sizes and give no credit to the survival instinct of the animals

10,000 camels, 25,000 koalas, and more than 1 billion animals in total. These 3 numbers have been used to increase awareness about the devastation the bushfires have caused. While well-intentioned, the accuracy of these numbers has been questioned and in reality, they create a relatively misleading narrative.

The Truth in the Numbers

10,000 feral camels are intended to be killed due to their negative impact on local communities. They wander into towns in search of water and destroy infrastructure and raid homes of food and water. They pose a threat to the children of the community and are overall damaging. As a result, the Australian government is forced to order for the culling of the feral camel population in order to ensure the safety of Australian citizens. Another piece of important context to this situation is that this is not the first time there has been a camel population control ordinance. The recent example of this was in 2010 when there was a cull of 670,000 camels over the course of 4 years (3). Keeping this in mind, the intended 100,000 camel cull looks relatively modest. Camels are smart animals and build population numbers quickly and will no doubt build their numbers back up in no time.

25,000 koalas have been reported to have died over the course of the bushfires. This number was given by Sam Mitchell, the co-owner of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park in Duncan in an interview with the guardian where he estimated the total koala population prior to the fires was around 50,000. Mr. Mitchell further extrapolated on this assumption by stating, “probably more than half” of the islands koalas died due to the fires. He later admitted that most of the numbers were educated guesses and not grounded in absolute facts (4). The issue with Mr. Mitchell’s assumptions is that his exaggeration is potentially more detrimental to conservation efforts than beneficial because misleading evidence removes credibility and reduces sympathy towards the situation.

Over a billion animals have been estimated to have perished in Australia. The reality of the situation is the true number of deaths is inestimable. The media and general public are hungry for numbers and metrics which results in the circulation of inflated and/or inaccurate numbers. In an interview with NPR, Professor Chris Dickman of the University of Sydney stated, “It’s events like this that may well hasten the extinction process for a range of species” (5). While this statement has some truth to it, it does not properly account for the animal’s survival instincts and is more a warning about the worst-case scenario. Professor Dickman received some pushback for this inference due to the inability to truly account for this number

How can I help?

Donate money, food or any other resources to the Australian Red Cross, here is a link to their website (https://www.redcross.org.au/)

Donate to GIVIT, an organization in Australia that matches those in need with specific donation per their request (http://www.givit.org.au/)

Donate to the Salvation Army of Australia, cash donations are preferred for logistical reasons (https://www.salvationarmy.org.au/)

Lastly, try to raise awareness in a constructive manner. What I mean by this is double check the links and accounts you are posting on your instagram story for validity. There are plenty of fake accounts that blow up because people mindlessly repost their message thinking they are making a difference. Take the extra 5 minutes to check your sources.


Sources

  1. https://www.ritas-outback-guide.com/bushfires-in-australia.html
  2. https://www.britannica.com/list/5-amazing-adaptations-of-pyrophytic-plants
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/11/world/australia/fires-animals.html
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/07/kangaroo-island-bushfires-grave-fears-for-unique-wildlife-after-estimated-25000-koalas-killed
  5. https://www.kosu.org/post/1-billion-animals-have-died-australian-bushfires-ecologist-estimates
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/06/world/australia/help-australia-fires.html

What is really behind Libra?

Project “Libra”, Facebook’s cryptocurrency, is a mix between Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to become more present in our lives and an honorable goal of giving over a billion people access to a bank account for the first time.  

Little reminder on “crypto”

The shortest and easiest definition would be: “cryptocurrency is decentralized digital money”. With internet development in the 1990s, a few smart entrepreneurs called “cypherpunks” attempted to create the first digital money system. Initially, the project was gaining popularity with users that believed governments and corporations had too much power over our lives. Then, in 2009, the first fully decentralized digital cash system was created. The first cryptocurrency was called …. yes, it’s the one you’re thinking of… Bitcoin

Another purpose of cryptocurrency is removing third parties from the money system. Unlike banking, the purchase of crypto is done without intermediation:  users buy or sell digital money directly with other users. The data are encrypted (protected) and no one is required to give personal information to participate in the process. The secret of cryptocurrency’s transaction is the “blockchain”.

Fun fact: a programmer in early 2010 bought pizzas for 10,000 BTC (one of the first real-world bitcoin transactions). Cryptocurrency has become so popular that today, in November 2019, 10,000 BTC is equal to roughly 8.5 Million Dollars. The promising market is growing so fast that its capitalization represents 224 billion USD. A great incentive for giants like Facebook.

Libra in a nutshell 

Libra’s mission is to reinvent money so people everywhere can live better lives. After all, as the organization points out, 1.7 billion people do not have access to a bank account. The Libra association believes moving money around the world should be as easy and cheap as sending a text message. No matter where you live, what you do, or how much you earn.

It will be : 

  • Accessible to anyone on a smartphone with data connectivity.
  • Stable since backed by a reserve, unlike other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether
  • Fast & Worldwide transactions. 
  • Secured by the blockchain. 

Libra is not exactly like other cryptocurrencies. The difference being that crypto coins have volatile price swings since they are not backed up by any other currency. Their value is determined by what people are willing to pay for it. It follows the same principle as other traded instruments and relies on supply and demand. However, libra tokens will be based on the strongest currencies like the US dollar, the Euro and the Japanese Yen which means its value will remain stable.

Supposedly, anyone will be able to purchase libra coins through Libra wallet apps on smartphones. The Libra association also wants its users to buy tokens from some local grocery and convenience stores. The cash in the local currency will be exchanged in nearly the same number of libra coins.

The Libra Association

The non-profit organization is independent and has its headquarters located in Geneva, Switzerland. It is made up of diverse businesses, nonprofit and multilateral organizations, as well as academic institutions around the world. Each member gets an equal say, Facebook isn’t more powerful than others. There were 28 founding members or “primary investors” at the beginning of 2019. The goal was to attain 100 members before it launched in 2020. However, instead of going up, the number of partners is decreasing. Major players left like PayPal, Mastercard, and Visa. Stripe, eBay, Booking Holdings and Mercado Pago also said goodbye to the project. 

To separate itself from being the creator of the Libra project, Facebook has created a subsidiary called Calibra. This branch makes a digital wallet for users to store and exchange libra tokens. Facebook will not have any information regarding users’ purchases. 

Uber, Lyft, Spotify and other companies and organizations loyal to Facebook are the remaining members crazy enough to chase this “dead project” according to the Financial Time. 

Why is it a problem?

First, like any other impactful innovation, existing rules are the issue. Rules are made for things to stay the same and changes are hardly welcomed in society.

The impact of this project could simply be enormous. With more than 2.7 Billion users, Facebook could completely transform the world of finance. This large potential is also the cause of many worries since Facebook has been in the spotlight due to many scandals over users’ privacy (see The Power of Data for more info). Let’s not forget that Facebook business model is based on selling personal data for advertising purposes. This makes the giant look untrustworthy of its users’ financial data. . 

Now if we decide to take a look at the bigger picture, the banking system as we know it is not ready for digital money yet. It heavily relies on the KYC principle (“know your customer”). With a population of approximately 1 billion people without proof of their identity, Libra opens its doors to everyone making money laundering quite simple. An ID is required to open a Calibra account but Libra plans to move away from this formality. Is it really safe to allow users to use a phone number, selfie or social media profile like Facebook to sign up? Finance officials do not think so. 

Most governments are also on team “no Libra”. France and Germany’s financial ministers both railed against it earlier this September. Libra was informed that it failed to address the risks around financial data protection and fraud. It was also said that as it is, the digital currency would not be allowed on European soil. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have been scaring central banks and big governments recently, Libra isn’t alone in this fight …  Decentralized digital money systems have the power to break the monopoly of money printing and to impact the economy as well as interest rates. 

Governments around the world refuse to let Libra or other private companies become major players in the digital money industry simply because it would compete with their national currencies. For that reason, China has announced it will defend its sovereignty by creating a digital version of the Yuan. Germany is moving towards the German Blockchain Strategy and the eurozone also called for a Central Bank Digital Currency. 


Conclusion: 

Once again, innovation is moving faster than laws. Governments are behind and afraid of this new technology. By scaring investors and stopping companies from a legal standpoint, institutions are only buying themselves time. Digital currency is not going anywhere. But for now, Mark Zuckerberg will have to wait on the sidelines for the game rules to change before introducing Libra


Sources:

Forbes.com / ft.com / libra.org / bitdegree.org / medium.com / thepowerofourdigitalworld.com

Remote jobs: the model we have all been waiting for.


Working from home is a controversial topic in today’s working industry. It has become a model criticized for going against social norms set by older generations but also praised for being the obvious path our new digital society is taking.

Coming out of college, most students that don’t have traveling or entrepreneurial desires will be hired to work for a company. They will sit behind a desk and work on a screen. This applies to the private sector but also the public and administration services requiring many office tasks. I mentioned college students as an example, but it applies to many in the working industry going from associates in marketing and communication to regular customer service employees. 

Remote jobs is the next evolution in a connected world. Emailing, conference calls or formatting, these are just a few examples of the majority of task heavily performed by employees every day doesn’t require physically coming into work to be done well. 

3 reasons why companies are against it 

What is really stopping managers from allowing employees to work outside of the office: Lack of trust? Social norms carried from past generations? Or simply fear of change? 

The lack of trust. Working from home wouldn’t be the first-time employers’ trust is at stake. Today employers can spy on employee’s work advancement using softwares and technological tools. Administrators manage to observe your internet activity, screen time and others. See « Productivity Monitored from close ». From home or at the end of the hallway, no way to escape productivity monitoring. 

Social norms carried by older generations. Over the past century, standards have been strict: wake up, go to work at a certain location then come back home at the end of the day. Other than being strict, these requirements were necessary as the employees’ presence was needed in order to fully contribute to the company. But in 2019, these requirements are vague for many sectors. Thanks to technological advances, many companies’ tasks could be done from home and the goals would be achieved just as well.

Then finally, the fear of change. In a sense, for many, working from home can feel odd. No need to get ready and follow a dress code, no need to drive or use other means of transportation and one of the biggest: no physical encounters. That last one is important. You may not like to see your boss every day but as a human, face to face interaction is a necessity. In addition, a team’s chemistry stays one of the main components of a successful business. How can collaborators maintain strong bonds if they don’t physically interact? And at the end of the day, will it even feel like a workday? 

The (near) Future of remote jobs

Next year, 36% of the global workforce will comprise of Gen Z so let’s take a younger perspective to debate on the subject. The advantages of a home office are numerous; going from productivity to environmental benefits, a home office is a necessity in the working industry of tomorrow. With more digital skills than past generations, new workers are entering the working market with different needs and criteria when choosing a job. It is important to note that salary and career evolution stay of importance but the awareness of companies’ impact on the environment and the high adaptability in a changing world are new factors that companies have to take in the equation. These are just a few reasons why the younger generation will not end up behind desks as easily and consciously as older generations. 

For some employers, employee’s productivity is altered when working outside of the office. However, many studies have proven otherwise. A two-year study by Stanford University with 5000 people, both working in and out of the office, has found that productivity isn’t affected by the location factor. Productivity at home is equal to productivity in a traditional setting. Another study from Figures from OWLLabs (2019) shows that someone who works from home at least once a month is  « 24% more likely to report feeling happier and more productive at their jobs ».

The positive numbers towards remote jobs continue:

–   76 % of employees would rather avoid the office completely when some important work needs to be done.

–   61 % agree on the fact that a noisy environment is their biggest distraction at work. 

It can become a structural benefit for companies. Last year, $5 billion were generated in cost savings for American companies through remote jobs. It becomes a great asset and can save up to $10,000 per employee every year just in real estate according to stats from PGI News

Conclusion

The presence of remote jobs is certainly increasing in the working industry, (+140% since 2005 worldwide) but the reason why companies are still skeptic is under justified. Newer generations are helping to change the norms by crushing the pros and cons debate on this matter. More productivity, structural cost management and greater well-being of employees are inarguable facts. Sooner or later, this attractive model will rise to its potential, for the benefit of both parties.

Sources:  cnbc.com/ inc.com / wbur.org / atlassian.com / thepowerofourdigitalworld.com

Is TikTok ready to seat at the Adult’s table?


Over the last couple of months, odds are that a surplus of “lip-synching” videos have been showing up on your social media timeline. TikTok is growing but if you think it’s new then you’re late to the party. The app has been quite popular for a long time and counted more than 500 Million monthly users in 2018 (that’s more than Twitter). Could it one day become the new Facebook and/or Instagram?

TIKTOK uh? 

TikTok is simple: it’s a platform for sharing short videos (up to 15 or 60 seconds long), using different features like songs and filters you can apply. The goal is to create funny videos or to reply to someone else’s post via a split-screen. 

Launched in 2016, in China, under the name of Douyin, then in 2017 for the markets outside China as TikTok. The startup is owned by Byte Dance, a Chinese company, creator of many popular apps in Asia. The platform is growing at an exponential rate, being the most downloaded App on IOS and gaining 188 million new users in Q1 2019. Worth more than $75 Million, the startup is one of the most successful startups this year, yet many are unaware of the platform’s impact.  

To be kept in mind; it is difficult to find precise facts on the average age of users as TikTok doesn’t make them available to the public but most of its users are young, with 41% aged between 16 and 24. It is with certainty that the average users is not a working man or woman, but more like a teenager.

A LARGE POTENTIAL 

It seems like the creators have noticed certain trends in social media usage this decade and used them to their advantage. First, Snapchat’s controversial concept of communication through photography made highly popular. Then, Vine (hard not to make a comparison), the legendary platform which was the first to come out with the concept of short-form video. Now TikTok which came out with a very similar idea and added the video editing feature, making it simple for all to become an expert at adding special effects to content.

Tendencies are constantly changing and it seems that users tend to go toward “creativity”. From written post on Twitter and Facebook to photos on Instagram and Snapchat to now videos with editing features, the content diversifies and is always more entertaining.

As a comparison, there are more than 5 million #InMyFeelings challenge videos on TikTok compared to 1.7 million on Instagram. Using these recent trends, TikTok  manages to grow at a strong rate by accumulating thousands of users everyday. 

It took Facebook 6 years to reach 500 million users and 5 years for Instagram. TikTok did it in 3. Specialists in the social media industry have been arguing over its potential non-stop. Recently, Gary Vee, investor, CEO and social media expert shared with his audience that TikTock will become the new Instagram the same way Instagram became the new Facebook for many.

If interested, here is the video …

RED FLAG: PRIVACY 

Facebook has been under heavy fire recently due to the company’s usage of personal data. (See The Power of Data), but what about new startups like TikTok? Bytedance was fined $5.7m (£4.2m), for illegally collecting personal information from children under 13. The company’s privacy rules should be talked about as well, as they’re a lot vaguer and invasive than other competitors. An investigation by the FTC, “uncovered disturbing practices, including collecting and exposing the location” of users (including children). The commission also disclosed that the company kept information longer than necessary.

 This is the statement under the privacy tab on “Tiktok.com” :

“We automatically collect certain information from you when you use the Platform, including your IP address, location-related data (as described below), unique device identifiers, browsing history (including content you have viewed in the Platform), Cookies (as defined below), your mobile carrier, time zone setting, and mobile or device information including the model of your device, screen resolution, operating system, app and file names and types, and platform.”

Other information that is collected are “ your contact details, content you create”, as well as “information contained in the messages you send through our Platform” according to Tik Tok. 

Everyone reacts differently to privacy standards and rules but for me personally, in this statement by TikTok, I read the words “we collect…”, way too many times for me to trust the way they utilize my personal data. 

It’s good to keep in mind these details when predicting a company’s future, especially when 66% of users are younger than 30-years-old. The sustainability of the company is for sure at risk. 

Personal prediction:

The platform is based on humor & creativity and if no massive updates comes to alter the identity of Tik Tok then it will hardly become more than Vine and certainly won’t become bigger than Instagram or Facebook.


Sources: tiktok.com / edition.cnn.com / techcrunch.com/ mediakix.com

Whether You Like it or Not


Likes, favorites, shares, and retweets form the rubric which hundreds of millions of people voluntarily submit to for judgement every day. Whatever they are called, these various indicators of approval on photos, comments, or other content occupy a substantial piece of social media viewers’ consciousness, and have been the base business model to launch the careers of social media “influencers” who trade their internet popularity for corporate cash. Perhaps because of their ubiquity, the system goes unquestioned. One posts their content, they garner whichever indicator(s) their platform of choice provides, and they are then judged based on the content’s qualitative performance as shown by likes, favorites, shares, retweets, etc. However, this may not be the case for long. 

Instagram, owned by media giant Facebook who popularized the use of indicator systems, is progressively expanding tests in various countries with its “likes” indicator system. The experimental version of the app, active in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Brazil, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand,  is nearly identical in form and function to the standard app. The only difference being that the content creator can see the amount of likes she gets on a post, the public cannot. Although this is a complete departure for a Facebook company, belief that this may garner support from various users is not unfounded.  Social media platform VSCO, for instance, appeals to many due to the absence of likes, comments, or follower counts. Whether or not support for this will scale from VSCO’s relatively small 30 million active monthly users, to Instagram’s billion active monthly users worldwide, however, is still up in the air.

According to a  CNET article, the response to these tests have been mixed. On one hand, public health experts claim that the change could benefit mental health by simultaneously removing the social pressure to like others posts, or compete with others to garner the most likes. Small businesses, “influencers”, and other groups who disseminate content and advertising through social media, however, have voiced their concern. Without a public indicator system to show others who likes their product/content and how many people like it, many fear that engagement with advertisements and online traffic to social media pages and websites will decrease significantly. These complaints do have merit. It is widely acknowledged that the more positive or negative indicators a piece of content gains, the more likely social media users are to pile on to the trend, further propelling the content. For advertisers this provides an incredibly valuable opportunity to quickly churn out viral content to millions of users in a relatively short period of time. 

Despite the risk to business, I believe that Instagram should broaden the scope of their experiment. Media companies, like all companies, have an obligation to protect their consumers from risks inherent to the use of their products. Over 24% of teenagers in a Pew Research Center study reported that social media had a negative impact on their lives while 45% were neutral but did not believe it had an overall positive effect. Any benefit to either influencers or the companies behind the products they promote do not justify the sometimes debilitating social pressures that indicators on various social media sites inflict on millions of people. Additionally, these changes directly benefit media companies by keeping users active on their platforms via increasing user satisfaction.


As it becomes increasingly clear how little these social media giants seem to care about the users that keep them afloat, as shown by the Cambridge-Analytica scandal, it is high time for large players such as Instagram to pursue policies that protect, rather than expolit, their users.

De l’intelligence humaine dans la technologie

Il y a de cela quelques années, j’ai eu l’occasion de visiter une petite entreprise spécialisée dans la sécurité et plus spécifiquement dans le contrôle d’accès. Je revois encore le patron de la PME faire l’étalage de tout ce que sa société pouvait proposer comme solutions, du simple badge d’accès à la caméra intelligente qui lit les plaques d’immatriculation, son panel de produit était large et bien rôdé. 

De plus, ce chef d’entreprise s’était même permis une pointe d’humour pour clôturer sa démonstration. Il avait sorti hors de sa poche une minuscule puce électronique « à placer sous la peau comme dans les films de science-fiction”. Je me rappelle des sourires ironiques autour de la table de réunion et d’une personne lui ayant lancé un “c’est toujours bien de finir un exposé par une petite feinte”. Sa réponse fut cinglante … : Ce n’est pas une feinte, c’est déjà une réalité.(1)

A l’instar de cette anecdote, la technologie numérique est une réalité qui a révolutionné, de fond en comble, notre mode de vie et qui n’est pas nécessairement bien cernée par la plupart d’entre-nous. Certes, nous utilisons, par exemple nos smartphones pour réaliser un foule d’opérations quotidiennes mais que savons-nous réellement de ces objets? Le champs d’application de la technologie numérique est semble-t-il inépuisable et la presse, dans son ensemble, nous sermonne que les changements à venir – comme le transhumanisme – modifieront à nouveau nos vies. Il est donc temps de penser cette ère disruptive … afin de ne pas la subir.

Avant toute chose il me semble utile de revenir sur une étape clé du bouleversement numérique: L’arrivée de l’ADSL au début des années 2000. 

C’est en effet à ce moment qu’Internet s’est vraiment répandu dans les foyers européens. Pour faire simple, avant les années 2000, le modem qui permettait d’accéder à la Toile était lent, on parlait à cette époque de modem 56kb, et il était impossible d’avoir une utilisation poussée d’un réseau à coup de 56 kbit/.(2) Imaginez une page web sans élément multimédia qui se charge au goutte à goutte. Ensuite est arrivé le fameux ADSL et il a été enfin possible de surfer sur Internet d’une manière nettement plus rapide et conviviale.

C’est ce saut technologique quantitatif et qualitatif qui a permis d’entrevoir les possibilités du numérique d’aujourd’hui. Il a été, presque soudainement, possible de consulter, d’envoyer et de télécharger n’importe quel contenu multimédia à une vitesse acceptable pour l’utilisateur lambda.

Car c’est spécifiquement de cela qu’il s’agit: quand l’accès à internet était limité à du 56kbit/s ce réseau mondial était principalement réservé aux initiés mais dès que l’ADSL est apparue, Internet a réellement été accessible au plus grand nombre. C’était les prémisses de l’ère numérique.

Depuis ce temps pas si lointain, les sauts quantitatifs dans la technologie se sont succédés à une vitesse effrénée. La fibre optique a remplacé l’ADSL, les composants informatiques se sont miniaturisés et l’accès à Internet est devenu mobile grâce à la 3G, 4G (voire la 5G récemment). Ces évolutions ont permis à l’économie du numérique d’émerger et d’apporter avec elle son lot de facilités. Il est par exemple, maintenant possible de travailler sur un dossier, en direct, avec quelqu’un qui habite à l’autre bout de la planète. Tout comme il est possible d’accéder à n’importe quelle information encyclopédique en quelques clics (ou en scrollant l’écran de son smartphone), et ce peu importe l’endroit où l’on se trouve. Grâce au numérique, Internet est devenu le monde où chacun peut se faire le porte-parole d’une cause qui lui est chère tout en s’adressant au monde entier.  Cette révolution, qui est survenue en une poignée d’années, a affranchi l’humain de certaines contraintes pour le meilleur…

Mais aussi pour le pire, car il serait naïf de croire que cette révolution techno n’a drainé dans son sillage qu’un monde émancipé et avide de connaissances. Cette abondance de possibilités traîne avec elle son lot d’effets pervers. Premièrement, l’addiction aux écrans ou l’hyperconnectivité sont des troubles bien réels, avec comme cible première les plus jeunes générations.(3) Elles sont nées en même temps que la révolution informatique et sont donc plus sensibles aux sirènes du numérique. Les créateurs d’applications ou de jeux vidéo l’ont compris: Si une personne est éduquée principalement par le numérique alors il sera aisé de la rendre accroc au même numérique. Le but étant évidemment de créer l’addiction à des fins commerciales. Business is business.

Mais s’arrêter aux seules jeunes générations serait se fourvoyer grossièrement car la face cachée du numérique concerne tout le monde. Comme je l’indiquais dans l’article le miroir du transhumanisme, à travers nos réseaux sociaux nous nous soumettons à l’injonction de la perfection irréaliste, nous voyons passer sous nos yeux des centaines de vies faussement trépidantes, des milliers de photos retouchées. Les réseaux sociaux s’adressent essentiellement à notre égo et nous mettent dans des situations de comparaison. Le risque étant que notre avatar Instagram ou Snapchat efface notre vie réel. Un de exemples désastreux est la recrue d’essence de jeunes filles faisant appel à la chirurgie esthétique afin de ressembler aux diktats d’influenceuses!

Comme nous l’avons vu, l’ère du numérique touche tout le monde et ne nous a pas laissé le temps de considérer comment nous devions utiliser ses nouveaux outils. Il me paraît, dès lors, important de reconsidérer notre utilisation de la technologie et d’anticiper les prochaines étapes. En tant qu’utilisateurs, si nous voyons la technologie comme une fin en soi et non comme un moyen, nous nous condamnons à être son esclave volontaire. 

Il serait, selon moi, d’intérêt public, de (re)penser activement notre rôle dans un monde toujours plus technologique. Pour ce faire, voici une proposition de quatre axes importants:

  • Approfondir les connaissances de base
    • En approfondissant nos savoirs en français, mathématiques et sciences, nous sommes plus à même de comprendre les mécanismes de base qui rendent une technologie possible. Nous pouvons enfin imaginer qu’un smartphone soit autre chose qu’un terminal pour nos réseaux sociaux et comprendre un tant soit peu son fonctionnement ainsi que sa logique. D’ailleurs n’y a t-il pas logique dans l’adjectif technologique ? ;))
  • Développer l’esprit critique
    • La passivité certaine avec laquelle nous utilisons parfois le numérique est au mieux alarmante. En remettant en question notre mode de fonctionnement, en se mettant face à des idées que nous ne partageons pas forcément, nous sommes plus enclin à nous poser des questions au lieu de foncer tête baissée devant la nouvelle app à la mode. En développant cet esprit critique nous utilisons la technologie et non l’inverse.
  • Aider à la compréhension de la technologie 
    • À l’instar des coding dojos, je prône la création à grande échelle de leurs pendants destinés aux personnes n’ayant aucune connaissance en informatique. Des thèmes précis mais variés seraient abordés de manière participative afin de pouvoir s’émanciper des décisions liées au numérique et prises à notre place. « De quoi se compose un smartphone? », « Qu’est-ce que la publicité sur Internet? ».
  • Diversifier et vérifier ses sources d’apprentissage
    • L’avantage indéniable d’Internet est que l’apprentissage n’a jamais été aussi accessible. Encore faut-il pouvoir faire le tri parmi les millions de sources disponibles. Un gage de fiabilité peut se trouver, par exemple, dans les MOOC qui proposent des cours de niveau débutant à expert et qui permettent d’avoir non seulement une compréhension active de la technologie mais aussi d’anticiper les changements à venir avec sérénité. Il me semble plus qu’utile de s’intéresser à ces méthodes d’apprentissage qui, à terme, remplaceront les cours classiques.

Si nous arrivons à intégrer ces quatres axes dans nos vies il me semble que nous aurons les compétences nécessaires afin d’utiliser n’importe quelle technologie avec toute la mis à distance nécessaire. En reprenant notre rôle d’être humain raisonné nous reprenons par la même occasion une certaine maîtrise de la technologie digitale et nous pouvons nous préparer, sereinement, aux futurs changements. Pourquoi croyez-vous que les cadres de sociétés de la Silicone Valley aient mis la technologie à distance raisonnable … pour leurs propres enfants? (4)

N.B. Cet article est aussi publié sur le site Les Petites Analyses

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(1) https://www.droit-technologie.org/actualites/societe-implante-puces-rfid-peau-de-employes/

(2) https://www.zdnet.fr/blogs/infra-net/acces-internet-et-si-on-revenait-au-modem-56k-juste-pour-voir-39831970.htm

(3) https://la-rem.eu/2018/05/generation-ecrans-une-addiction

(4) https://www.courrierinternational.com/article/aux-etats-unis-la-deconnexion-est-reservee-aux-enfants-riches

The Twitter Cult

We now live in a world of social media, as nearly 30% of the human population is on some sort of social media platform. Most popular are Facebook (older generation), Snapchat (younger generation), and Instagram (mixed). However, a niche social media platform– Twitter– is only used by 21% of people on social media. Of that 21% the overwhelming majority say they spend the largest proportion of their social media time on Twitter. There are many factors as to why, including Twitter increasingly becoming a news source and the concept of becoming “Twitter Famous”.

In this day and age the polarization of politics has never been more severe, and many notable world leaders have the power to spread their agendas digitally. Perhaps most recognizable is United States President Donald Trump.

Trump tweets several times a day with no staff assistance from his personal account to further his political agenda. The extent of this high-profile political social media usage has never been done before, and has ushered in an era of heated political debate and further polarization on Twitter. Trump’s controversial messages and activity has positioned him at the center of the Twitter universe, and fashioned his account into a 24/7 news source. He consistently gets tens of thousands of “likes” and “retweets” on his tweets, and in turn ramped up the Twitter activity of fellow world politicians, both his supporters and opposers. This led to Twitter users becoming more dependent on the platform as a news source– and for many their main news source– because of its easy accessibility and increased worldwide political involvement.

Before the political storm Twitter was– and still is– a personal social media platform. Many ordinary users have become “Twitter Famous” by tweeting videos, memes, jokes, or relatable statements that appeal to mass audiences on Twitter.

Every day, a tweet from an ordinary or non-verified user explodes for thousands or even hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets. Part of this is the appeal of Twitter, because no one really knows what tweets will take off in that manner. However, some entire accounts have become “Twitter Famous” because of consistent content that appeals to the masses, and gains the everyday people who run the accounts notoriety throughout all of Twitter.


The pursuit of becoming “Twitter Famous” keeps many users checking their feeds and constantly attempting to compose a tweet or tweets that spread like wildfire across the platform.


Source: http://www.politifact.com