Academy Xi Blog

Design Ethics for Artificial Intelligence

By Charbel Zeaiter

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter

After a great recent weekend at Future Assembly in Melbourne, I was compelled to repeat my talk, “Design Ethics for Artificial Intelligence” (slightly abridged).

Artificial Intelligence has been edging its way into our reality for a while now and it’s a topic that’s been discussed for decades. The fear of humans becoming slaves to AI is an interesting fear; some observers would say we’re already slaves to our devices and gadgets, therefore slaves to intelligence outside of ourselves.

The purpose of my talk was not to paint the expected doomsday view of AI and its possible effects on humanity but to open up the discussions on the complexity of embedding value systems in relation to decision making.

Knowing that to take action we need to assess a situation and make a judgement call. Where do these judgement calls come from? They’re our value systems and they’re complicated.

Using Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, I posed a single scenario (with some variants each time) and asked the audience to make a judgement call based on different value systems:

  1. Emotional
  2. Economic
  3. Probability
  4. Religious
  5. Environmental

With a central character, Caitlin, our robotic butler, we posed these scenarios and presented a choice that she had to make based on the above value systems.

A great Q & A followed, exploring the frustrating, flawed, emotional and highly subjective complexity of the human condition aka, our value systems.

When designing Artificial Intelligence, what are we really designing? Further more, what happens when Artificial Intelligence is no longer Artificial and can ponder its very existence?

Download the presentation and discuss it at work and home. I’m not at all worried about AI, if it’s left alone; I’m concerned when humans, who are fundamentally flawed, design decision making into immature intelligence.

Academy Xi Blog

Six emerging technologies straight out of science fiction

By Academy Xi

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter

Many technologies that are commonplace today were first conceived of by Science fiction writers: Ipads, automatic doors, the Internet, submarines, space travel, 3D printers, credit cards and video calls. Here are six examples of newly emerging tech applications that are making sci-fi dreams a reality.

These six technologies have some exciting applications.

1. Holographic displays

The 1977 Star Wars release enthralled audiences – you may remember: ‘Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope’. There have been a number of attempts to create holograms, but we are only just now seeing high-quality holograms like those in Star Wars inching closer to reality. Researchers at Swinburne University discovered how to create a wide-angle, full-colour holographic display; playing around with Graphene to create light-bending pixels. Graphene is versatile 2D material with some exciting properties – it is biocompatible, by weight it is stronger than steel, it’s almost transparent, thin and light-weight and an amazing conductor of heat and light. We’re excited to see Graphene’s other applications develop.

2. Earbuds that translate language

Remember the small, yellow Babel fish that Arthur Dent (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) places in his ear to understand any incoming language? Waverly Labs has recently released a Pilot set of earbuds that do just that. Even more exciting than these little earbuds though, are recent reports that Google Translate’s AI has taught itself a new ‘language’ that enables it to translate between language pairs it wasn’t taught to. This interlingua is quite remarkable – another example of Google’s AI advancing at a quickening pace. These capabilities, combined with Google Translate approaching human-level accuracy, means a lot for the future of how we communicate.

3. Grow-your-own materials

Something materialising from nothing, like Star Trek’s replicator, is indeed a scary and exciting technology. Though 3D printing has become accessible and has potential (3D printed food!), we wanted to talk about biotech and synbio. The need for sustainable materials is increasing and growing sustainable materials from bacteria seems like a pretty good solution. This year’s Biofabricate Conference brought together a number of speakers in the area of bacteria-grown materials – exploring ethical concerns as well as emerging applications.

4. Fast-learning robots

We can’t really isolate human-like, fast-learning robots into a single sci-fi example – they’ve featured in Her, The Terminator, The Jetsons, WestWorld and Ex Machina to name a few. AI has been developing for a while now, but we’re now seeing it reach consumers faster than expected – the technology moving in leaps and bounds. We have AI Art Curators, AI that brew craft beer, AI lawyers that repeal parking fines, Google Translate’s AI mentioned above and chatbots that give due dates the cold shoulder (read an extensive list of consumer-facing AI here). Deep learning is largely responsible for this rapid development; equipping AI with big data and organic learning processes modelled off human-learning,

5. Flying Cars

We have autonomous cars well under way, and a lot of hype surrounding Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, but flying cars are the typical sci-fi archetype that hasn’t garnered as much attention.  Earlier this year Toyota was granted patents for flying car technology. Featured in Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Futurama and The Jetsons, flying cars are a fun, but perhaps not entirely practical mode of future transport. According to Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Andreesen Horowitz, the one thing holding us back from readily available flying cars are sufficient battery solutions.  Which brings us back to Graphene – a material that scientists are currently working with as a way to create better, more efficient batteries.

6. Biometrics

Fingerprint technology and Iris scanners have been around for a long time now. Biometric recognition seen in most spy movies, Back to the Future and Gattaca. Mainstream use of fingerprint recognition in our Smartphones, and now in payment systems like Apple Pay (think Biff from Back to the Future paying for his cab via fingerprint). Newer forms of biometric security is in demand Iris Biometrics are expected to become massively popular by 2021, with Visa aiming to replace passwords with fingerprint biometrics.

The main takeaway:

It’s exciting to see these sci-fi ideas become reality! It’s a good reminder that technology is progressing at an unrelenting pace. With each area of technological development comes a need for thoughtful discussion surrounding its implicationsensuring that new tech is sustainable, useful, and keeps its users (us) at the fore.

Learn design courses that let you influence the way we use these new technologies. Explore our short courses in design: User Experience Design, and Service Design.

Academy Xi Blog

How virtual reality is increasing educational inclusiveness

By Academy Xi

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter

For over 60 years, Virtual Reality (VR) has shifted the way we experience the real and virtual world, by transforming people’s perspectives and social interactions. As an increasing number of VR companies and products emerge, Equal Reality, a VR company led by Brennan Hatton, is increasing equality by allowing users to look at things from the point of view of those from a different gender, race, or ability level.

According to Brennan, his company enables “Human to human interaction, but on a global scale, and on the other side of the world.”

From NASA to the NFL, VR is also finding its greater purpose in the education space. NASA is now using VR as a way to train astronauts to perform repairs and experiments in zero gravity. The NFL is also using virtual spaces to not only train its athletes but to assist them with workplace issues like discrimination.

Today, an increasing number of industries are using VR as a method of employee training. According to a report by the National Training Laboratory, retention rates for lecture-style learning were at 5%, with reading rates at 10%. Meanwhile, the teaching method of VR scored a retention rate of 75%.

Within the Deaf community, early intervention and education programs play a vital role in ensuring young people have choice and access to appropriate support. Former Academy Xi VR Design student, Nikhil Bora, is looking to use VR to increase the inclusiveness of education within the deaf community.

“To ensure that there is no difference in life outcomes for deaf children when compared to their hearing peers, then the importance of early intervention and education through technology such as VR becomes self-evident,” says Nikhil.

Both Brennan and Nikhil believe the retention rates of VR are high with those that are disadvantaged because of its immersive experience. “It’s about the experience, which is one of the things that makes Virtual Reality so powerful. This is one of the core values of Virtual Reality,” says Brennan.

“You can give people experiences and communicate experiences that were otherwise impossible. Before, the best we could do was describe those experiences, but now, with VR we can put people in these experiences,” says Brennan.

After seeing the impact of VR in education, Brennan joined forces with former colleagues Rick Martin and Annie Harper, and this was the birth of Equality Reality. Equal Reality uses VR technology to create diversity and inclusion training for corporates, startups, and schools.

“We put you in the perspective of minorities in the workplace to experience social interactions from their point of view,” explains Brennan.

The social scenarios include experiences around gender and disability. For example, the disability scenario creates an experience based on the assumptions people make on another person’s state of physical, mental, social or wellbeing. With the gender scenario, the experience is based around the assumptions of roles and a person’s capabilities based on their gender.

Many of the social situations Equal Reality is working on can be often overlooked by the person interpreting the situation. However, with the help of VR, Brennan says, “When you can feel it, and someone is receiving that impact, you can better understand the negative impacts.”

For Nikhil, he started a passion project using VR and believes that “this project will give the opportunity for everyone to learn and explore about deaf awareness, sign language, and how to communicate with deaf people. This will enable the deaf community to have the same equal experience as everyone else.”

While working on the diversity and inclusion training experiences, both Brennan and Annie are also giving up their time to teach children about the importance of VR  and how they can start working in it.

“Educating youth about VR is incredibly important because, in the future, VR may very well be in their day to day lives. It will play a large part of how they interact with the world and each other,” says Brennan.

Like Brennan and Nikhil, explore how you can drive positive social impact through emerging technologies such as Mixed Reality, Virtual Reality, or Augmented Reality. Learn more here.


Academy Xi Blog

Welcome to the SexTech Revolution

By Academy Xi

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter

With a global estimated value of $30 billion, SexTech is an emerging industry that demonstrates how technological advancements have reshaped the way we live and relate to ourselves and our partners.

We had the pleasure of speaking to Bryony Cole, Founder of the Future of Sex — a podcast that explores how technological advancements and cultural phenomenons will shape the future of sex. The podcast also explores what the often misunderstood SexTech industry has install for us regarding relationships, intimacy, and desire.

What is SexTech and what topics/industries does it cover?

SexTech is any technology designed to enhance sexuality. SexTech aims to create products and services that are designed around relationships. It brings new ideas of intimacy, pleasure, and desire to the human experience. This can be anything from Bluetooth connected vibrators to robot companions and to male sperm testing apps for your iPhone. SexTech extends to anything to do with sexuality, including education, health, crime, sexual violence reporting, and even gender identity.

What is your role and how did you become involved in the SexTech industry?

In 2015, I was working at a think-tank focused on the next 30 years of nightlife. I was exposed to a real gap in conversation regarding the broader business and tech world and the impact technology is having on intimacy. To help fill this knowledge gap, I launched Future of Sex, a podcast to bring ‘sextech’ into the public domain. I have used this podcast as a way to explore how the innovations we create, invest, and use are influencing our behaviour and human development.

Why is learning about the present and future of SexTech important? (should we be teaching this in SexEd at schools?)

Education is one of the most exciting developments in SextTech because there is so much potential. Most of us had a very average sex education that focused on anatomy rather than learning about empathy, arousal, touch — the more human elements of sex. The hallmarks of future SexTech education includes practical and feedback-enabled technology, gaming, touchscreens, and virtual reality that help us tap into these human elements.

Today’s school kids are growing up with what Erika Lust calls ‘porn in your pocket’ — a smartphone with unlimited access to the internet and free pornography. How can we provide better education about the consumption of pornorgraphy, differentiating real-world sex from what they may see on the screen? Today revenge porn and sexting are becoming, for better or worse, standard ways of relating. We should be teaching about how technology is impacting the way we see and express ourselves and what the implications of that are.

What challenges do you face educating people about SexTech?

When I started the Future of Sex podcast I remember my mum on the other end of the phone (after listening to one of the first episodes) saying: “What will we tell people? We don’t know how to explain this to our friends!” It was hard to keep going. I could feel her embarrassment and fear. It was out of love for me, of course. She was afraid I would put myself out there to be judged, to be misunderstood, and never recover from what other people think.

Where do you see the future of SexTech heading?

In an ideal future, I believe SexTech will increase our desire for deeper human connections, drive us to create stronger bonds, and re-learn how to cultivate intimacy that relies on our creativity, imagination, intuition, and all the other characteristics of the right-side of the brain that technology can’t recreate. That will be our point of difference in relationships, and the development of SexTech will help us cultivate this side of us, in effect, help us become more human. Technology is just the tool, we have got to stop relying on it as the answer to our needs, and rather see it as an additive or enhancement.

What are some common misconceptions about SexTech?

SexTech can be defined as any technology that seeks to enhance sexuality. This concept brings together two terms; sexuality and technology. Sexuality, not just sex, which is a common misconception. The umbrella of sexuality is vast, it incorporates health, education, entertainment, gender identity, crime, and violence. In the same way, technology has multiple categories, from Virtual Reality to AI and robotics, to apps and gaming. Innovations in technology will keep expanding the categories we can apply SexTech to.

Why do you think this topic is so taboo and how can we shatter these stereotypes?

Aside from the developments in products and services, the greatest part of the emerging SexTech industry is that it’s sparking a cultural conversation about sex. By framing the conversation of sex in “SexTech,” in technology, it becomes a lot more acceptable to debate and discuss sex.

With the growing numbers of sexual abuse surfacing this conversation becomes even more urgent. We all must be asking questions about the direction of technology and how we might use it as a positive force for our future. We can only do that if we remove the shame and stigma from the conversation and find positive ways for diverse groups of people to be involved.


Learn more about Future of Sex and Bryony here.