Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

Studying the behaviour of AI

Anne says: In previous Friday Faves I’ve raised the issues of algorithms – bias of coding and need for diversity through to how algorithms are manipulating our behaviours. This week it’s a slightly different angle. MIT Media Lab are addressing the need for a new field of research – the study of machine behaviour. The recommendation is to study:

“…artificial intelligence well beyond computer science and engineering into biology, economics, psychology, and other behavioral and social sciences.”

This introduces the next phase of machine development – it’s not just human-computer-interaction (HCI), a previous field of study that led to user-experience field of practice – this field of study requires a mindshift that machines are intelligent and how that will impact society. The article talks about “machines with agency” that are making decisions and acting autonomously. For me, this is exciting new territory, if I was starting out at Uni, this is what I’d be studying. The combination of intelligent machines and people is going to be fascinating – considering we still haven’t figured out why people do things (in general). 

The article continues to explain why the new field of investigation is critical. While the studies are intended to understand the impact of algorithmic decisions on our lives, the challenges are many, including privacy of data, intellectual property of code, commercially sensitive code bases (like Amazon’s recommendations engine) will require all sorts of legal clearances. It may require the large tech companies to share their data and algorithms. But if the algorithms are learning from their interactions with other machines and people, this will require new and novel ways of researching. 

As with other interdisciplinary fields of research, it will need siloed groups to come together and strive for shared goals and knowledge. Fascinating times ahead, indeed! 

If you’re wanting to engage with the content further, what the YouTube interview (above 54 mins): “The benefits and limits of personal robots” with Cynthia Breazeal and Nick Obradovich.


This Bird Went Extinct, Then Evolution Recreated It

Joel says: Where Anne and Jakkii have written about some cool futuristic concepts this week discussing AI and Assistive Technologies, the piece I read this week that I found really interesting actually has to do with the past. Really far in the past.

My piece this week has to do with the white-throated rail bird. A species of bird that came back from the dead after being extinct for over 10,000 years.

Between 136,000 and 240,000 years ago a flock of rail birds flew from Madagascar and then colonised an island called Aldabra. Due to a lack of natural predators on the island, the birds eventually evolved to become flightless. Unfortunately for them around 136,000 years ago Aldabra was completely flooded causing the extinction of the white-throated tail bird.

But thanks to a process researchers from the University of Portsmouth and London’s Natural History Museum call ‘iterative evolution’ it seems that after Aldabra reemerged another flock of rail birds repeated the same process of flying from Madagascar, colonising the island and then over a long period of time evolved to become flightless. This discovery of a species colonising the same area and evolving in the same pathway as an extinct ancestor is a first.

The researchers were able to prove the species had essentially come back from the dead by comparing the rail birds to collected fossils of the original rail bird from the island.

I found this piece interesting because it had me wondering if anything is truly ever extinct for good. Sure they may be gone now but with everything evolving from something, who’s to say that under the right conditions whatever species evolved to birth the Tasmanian Tiger won’t one day bring them back again?


Green versus Blue  – does it bother you?

Helen says: I was unaware of the emotion that can be aroused with the topic of blue versus green bubbles in iMessages. I really hadn’t given the distinction much thought, messages from Android users are green and iPhone users are blue? So, I was interested to find out what all the chat was about and listened to this 30 minute podcast.

Some Android users speak of being left out of iMessage chats or being ghosted if they respond via iMessage to a potential match from a dating site. For iPhone users, it seems they don’t like the unreliable and poor experience they have when chatting with Android users over iMessage. They can’t see the typing bubble, emojis don’t always translate correctly, image resolution is poor, you can’t see if the message has been read, messages are sometimes not delivered or are partially delivered and there may also be an element of snobbery – it was suggested that Androids are the poor people’s phone!

Some imply the distinction is more about Apple creating a group dynamic for iPhone users to the exclusion of all others. The colour distinction reinforces and strengthens this identity; effectively through your phone choice you are choosing your tribe.

There’s also debate around the choice of colour and its intent. According to Sarah Allred, a psychologist who specializes in colour perception, some colours have universal distaste or appeal. Darker yellows and tans get the thumbs down – think of puke and pooh! The desaturated blue used for the iPhone bubble is universally liked – think of sky and sea, then feel the calm. The Android green, unlike the greens found in nature, it saturated and artificial making it unpleasant to the eye. Is this intentional? 

Messaging protocol expert Dieter Bohn suggests it is less about colour and conspiracy, and more about the limitation of SMS protocols. No global protocol exists that enables all carriers to provide the same iMessage features iPhone users currently enjoy. He explains that iMessage, like many chat products, is IP based. It checks iCloud accounts for iMessage capability and sends an encrypted message via the internet to avoid SMS fees. Without iMessage capability, the message must be sent using the traditional and limited SMS message format. A third protocol is being developed to replace SMS – Rich Communication Services (RCS), designed to move standard messaging to over the internet but the rollout of it is slow and we are not likely to see a global solution anytime soon. However, when it does come, will Apple resist any move to a global platform? There’s the privacy issue – RCS will not be encrypted – but a bigger consideration is whether the removal of iMessage exclusivity among iPhone users could in fact negatively impact iPhone sales.

Whatever the motivation for the distinction, I find it useful, not so that I can identify what phone a person has, but more so I can better understand the limitations some of those in my chat group might be experiencing.  


The mouse of the future? Your eyeballs

Jakkii says: Assistive technologies for people with disability are amazing on their own, but one of the side benefits is that they often lead to improvements for abled people as well. As this article points out, eye-tracking has been used as an assistive technology for some time now, but some papers presented at the recent HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) Conference cover some potential ways this technology may be used more broadly.h

Proofreading emails – or any other chunk of text – with just your eyes

This was my favourite. ReType, the program in question presented by the University of Auckland and the University of Bath, allows you to simply look at the word you want to correct and type the replacement word, without ever having to physically highlight it first using a mouse (or even using the keyboard to highlight it first). It isn’t hard to imagine how over the course of a day, a week, a month or a year you’d pick up more and more time saved by being able to cut out a simple step like that.

Navigating through code without ever using a mouse

If you’ve ever worked even with HTML or CSS – nevermind more complex code – you can probably immediately imagine how much this could help!

Using eye tracking to communicate with colleagues

Eye tracking as a collaborative tool – who would’ve thought? 

This is a short read to get the rest of the detail, but it’s well worth it. I find it fascinating to see what people are researching and what the findings are, extrapolating from there how they may – or may not – be useful in the workplace. The question often becomes, will this be commercially viable, and, importantly, will something else beat it to the punch – whether or not it’s a superior technology? And, how might these potential technologies work with other technologies? For example, voice interfaces – imagine using your eyes and voice to control your work, instead of your hands. It might make us more productive (and possibly louder – we might need some cones of silence in the office, too) – and maybe it’ll save us all some repetitive strain injuries. 


This week in social media

Federal election

Don’t forget to vote and earn your democracy sausage on Saturday May 18 (if you haven’t already voted)!

Politics, democracy and regulation

Privacy and data

Cybersecurity and safety

Society and culture

Extremism and hate speech

Moderation and misinformation

Marketing, advertising and PR


Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast

This week: a million species disappear: what that means, what we can do, and a swearing robot. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week. 

The stories this week: 

0:45 – We are driving one million species to extinction  

6:03 – Vox’s review of the landmark United Nations-backed report  

13:10 – The day a million species are announced to be on brink of extinction, U.S. says melting ice creates ‘new opportunities for trade’

Robot of the week: 

A Roomba that swears when it bumps into stuff

Other stories we bring up: 

The UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services  40-page summary of its findings for policymakers of the upcoming 1,500-page report on the state of biodiversity on Earth  

How many species on earth?  

Fixing the extinction crisis means thinking bigger than individual species   

6 ways to help stop climate change  

Sir Robert Watson is chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) interview with the Guardian 

One million species at risk of extinction

The rare species of corn that makes its own fertilizer

Starbucks at Winterfell

Our previous discussion on TFTW of the struggle to save the coffee industry from disaster

Our previous discussion on TFTW of how moving to dense cities fights climate change 

Our previous long discussion on TFTW of the four day work week  


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