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.

Talking to robots  Sophia

Anne says: Meet Sophia Hanson – created by David Hanson of Hanson Robotics (their tagline is: We bring robots to life). Sophia has been entertaining – perhaps even showing off – at Fira Barcelona, one of the biggest European trade fairs.

One of my colleagues in Barcelona alerted me to this article. He had met Sophia and was impressed, but somewhat disturbed by her realism.

What’s so interesting about Sophia? She is one of the first robots that can hold a conversation, almost autonomously, and they claim she can exhibit empathy. If you watch the video – Sophia speaks in English – you will detect a certain level of cheekiness, most likely giving us an insight into the humour of her programmers. When asked if she can sing, she replies with a sort of melancholic tone (or is that me attributing anthropomorphism) that she can, but needs to be programmed and rehearsed before performing and that impromptu behaviours are not her thing!

Sophia is also a good reminder that the robots won’t be taking over anytime soon – and also a valuable glimpse into the current state of robotics.

What then do people find disturbing? My colleague explained that he thought it was in her eyes – there was a certain look, he said! There’s a lot of research that has been conducted into eye contact (read here if you want to find out more) and it’s widely accepted that the use of eyes on inanimate objects creates a connection with people. Not convinced? Think of the Lego movie characters – if they didn’t have blinking eyes, they’d just be Lego pieces. The research indicated that within approximately 5 minutes of watching the movie, your brain has dropped the concept of blocks of plastic and you’re connecting with the characters!

So if robots are going to be amongst us, one of the key developments will be through their eyes and how that interaction allows us to connect (or not).

Does Sophia look into your eyes?


You may need to turn your browser translator on – unless you read Spanish or Catalan.

The last human job

Nat says: Our technological society is predicated on growth and advancement. Seldom do we question, however, where it is that we are actually trying to go as a species, especially when year-in and year-out the earth returns to the (almost) exact position it started from on its journey around the sun. It is a curious realisation then that through technology we have managed to change the scenery of the world, but rarely do we tend to change ourselves in the process of scenic change. The shared article suggests that care and empathy are what distinguishes us from machines, yet we tend to forget that we as human beings create such machines and decide on their place and role in society. If machines do not have care and empathy, then that is a direct reflection back on us as the technology’s creators. Are we purposefully programming machines so that we can be unemotional, mechanical and even more transactional than we currently are with one another?

One area where such a possibility raises its head is in aged healthcare, which often gets ignored in relation to technology and jobs despite the fact there is an ageing population dilemma in many countries. Historically, aged care has been associated predominately with female workers, which itself provides stark contrast against the male-dominated AI technology that is trying to creep into, and automate, such a trade. The treatment and care of the elderly throws a spanner in the works in western society where profit, youth and advanced living conditions dominate the narrative. When technology meets aged care, will we be eradicating the last of the much needed human-centric jobs?

Advances in technology may make us further devalue this work if we assume that all caregiving tasks can and should be automated. But instead, advances in tech should help us revalue and better understand the many facets of care work. Automation first requires deconstructing a job and its composite behaviours, a process that can help us decide which parts of this work to cede to algorithms and bots, and which should remain in human hands.

In the end, caregiving may be the profession that ends up promoting human connection in a technological world; where automation cannot replace the need for physical human contact and face-to-face conversations.


Facial recognition: Where is it being used, and how does the technology work?

Joel says: News came out this week stating that our government may soon attempt to increase our national security by implementing facial recognition systems that will access a database of our photos to identify individuals in public.

Many were quick to oppose the news, mentioning it is a breach of our privacy. But I didn’t quite agree. Facial recognition is already widely used throughout the country in a number of industries, often implemented to keep us safer. A retail shopping centre I previously worked in used facial recognition systems to alert security as soon as someone on the ‘banned’ list or known shoplifters entered the centre.

The people at the ABC seem to agree and have posted a great article detailing where facial recognition systems are already being used, how it works and what privacy concerns we should keep in mind.

While I agree it could be seen as a breach of privacy by some and I hope that the systems (if) put in place are highly secured, I am open to letting a machine identify me if it means we can stay safer in public.


How Microsoft puts customers at the heart of its storytelling

ES Microsoft

Source: Emilio Simbillo

People are drawn to stories they can relate to and as audiences (potential and existing customers) get to know the main characters—their struggles and goals—they make an emotional connection with the authors and start to barrack (root) for their success.

Emilio says: This week, I had the opportunity to visit the sprawling 8-million square feet complex in Redmond, Washington USA called the ‘Microsoft Campus’ (ie. Microsoft Head Office) and caught up with Microsoft Brand Storyteller, Miri Rodriguez. I met Miri at the Social Media Congress held in 2016 in Sydney, where she spoke, and ever since we have been conversing on social media about all things social, digital and technology.

After the full-morning tour of the tech company’s HQ and over sumptuous lunch at the gourmet restaurant situated within Campus operated by Seattle’s top chef John Howie, I was curious to find out how Microsoft do social media – and so I engaged Miri in a chat. As a social media practitioner, I see brands use social for not much else but as a broadcasting channel for sales and marketing. But no one wants to be sold to, especially on social – so Microsoft’s approach to engaging with audiences on social media, ‘storytelling’, of which Miri is an evangelist, makes perfect sense.

I asked Miri for some tips on how brands could incorporate storytelling as a hook for social media engagement – and here are her top tips:

  • Make your customers the main characters in your story. Use what customers are saying about your brand. Integrate them and make them central to your story.
  • Share experiences. Capture every touch point in your customers’ journey and tell them. This way, your broader audience sees real-life, end-to-end customer experiences with your brand.
  • Take calculated risks. Genuine stories have points of tension and you can turn these around to tell positive, transformational stories. It will make your brand more believable, more human.


For better brainstorming, tell an embarrassing story

Jakkii says: How many brainstorming sessions have you attended? Were they all successful? I’m guessing likely they weren’t, for any number of reasons – perhaps the power dynamic was off-balance in the group, or perhaps collectively you were too focused on whether the idea was feasible you started over0thinking and second-guessing your own (and everyone else’s) ideas.

If that sounds like I’m speaking from personal experience, it’s because I am. As a participant I’ve seen many a brainstorming session go off the rails, and as a facilitator at times I’ve had to try valiantly (though not always successfully) to prevent it.

In our work here at REG there are lots of times we need to think creatively, both as individuals and as a team. In the midst of an analysis and design phase of a project, I came across the title of this piece which immediately piqued my interest. Improved brainstorming? Embarrassing stories? Tell me more!

In the piece the authors first mention prior research that had showed brainstorming in groups was more successful when focusing on quantity and not quality, before going on to discuss their research which started with the premise: could participants be primed for better brainstorming before they even start?

Curious research methodology aside (the process compared two groups given different ‘primer’ activities with no described ‘control’ group), the results are fascinating: groups who told an embarrassing story to one another outperformed those who instead told a prideful story by a significant margin. As the author suggests, it’s likely that telling an embarrassing story lowers inhibitions thereby increasing the likelihood a person will put forward an idea. It levels the playing field amongst the participants, and possibly increases feelings of acceptance or belonging which may also increase the output of the group.

Perhaps instead of trying to forget our embarrassing moments, we should focus on saving them up for the next time we’re called upon to brainstorm.

So – who wants to tell theirs first?


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