Understanding Implicit and Unconscious Bias in the Digital World

implicit bias AI

In my ongoing search for savvy resources about building equity, inclusion, and diversity into online training courses, I stumbled across some fascinating studies on implicit bias, and how bias impacts the apps and online services we use as well as the artificial intelligence (AI) that fuels those apps and services.

For context, there are two terms commonly used in these discussions. Implicit bias includes attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. Unconscious bias spans our backgrounds, experiences and stereotypes that impact our decision-making, including our quick judgments of people and contexts without realizing what’s actually at play, or at least what’s under the surface. What I found most compelling in these studies is the notion that many of our deeply rooted associations do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse. Wow. (To dive right in and see where your biases might be lurking, I encourage you to take Harvard’s Implicit Association Test (IAT) – and then spend the week questioning everything you think you thought.)

Reinforcing What We Hope to Erase?

AI-powered systems use historical data to make judgments just like our brains do. (Well, not quite always just like our brains, but tech is getting close.) Fun fact: historical data is often chock full o’ bias as it encodes information (and, thus, all that bias) into the programs it feeds. One study cautions that AI has the potential to reinforce existing biases because, unlike humans, algorithms may be unequipped to consciously counteract learned biases. Examples of sexist and racist bias appear in algorithms that make language and facial associations. What we’ve already seen pop up across platforms are linguistic connections between traditionally gendered roles – matching “female” and “woman” to “homemaker” and arts and humanities careers, and “male” and “man” to science, tech and construction professions. Even Google Translate has shown signs of sexism, automatically suggesting words like “he” for male-dominated jobs and vice versa, when translating from a gender-neutral language like Turkish.

It gets worse, at least linguistically. AI systems have shown to more readily associate typical European (read: white) names with positive words while African American names are more than often associated with negative words. (Everyone can see this is problematic, correct? Again, take the Harvard IAT and have your mind blown even more.)

There’s Work to Be Done

The good news is we can shift far, far away from our learned biases, lose those crappy stereotypes and attitudes, and not make them worse, which is, unfortunately, what some programs and apps might actually do. Tech challenge: Can we program algorithms…to consciously counteract learned biases? We’re going to have to if we want to hack away at, rather than reinforce, systemic sexism and racism. (Is it just me or does there seem to be an opportunity for implicit/unconscious bias eradication training for all AI programmers across the land?)

It’ll be interesting to see where such studies and awareness actually lead the tech world. For those of us building our own platforms for learning, we can always do better by constantly considering the race, gender, sexual orientation, age and ability of our audiences and choose language and imagery to represent that rich diversity. And, when we uncover and understand our own implicit bias, we’ll be able to better address equity and inclusion opportunities in all aspects of our professional and personal lives.

ABOUT Eve Connell

Eve spends most billable hours writing, editing and helping professionals of all stripes with communication skills and leadership development. With degrees in French literature, philosophy, and linguistics, she also enjoys helping businesses and entrepreneurs develop their brands. Fancying herself a successful worm rancher, singer and flower arranger, Eve also lends her talent and expertise to several non-profit arts and educational organizations.

Why a Blogging Break Might Be the Best Thing for Your Business

blogging break

Do you ever feel sometimes that you’re a slave to your blog?

If you’re also a content creator, please know you’re not alone.

Whether you’re a writer, a photographer, an artist or a creative, sometimes you need to step away from the work instead of forcing yourself to keep moving.

This may be an unpopular opinion for the entrepreneurs who glorify all-nighters and wear their exhaustion like a badge of honor.

But I’m a firm believer in making time for sleep, regular meals, a healthy social life and disconnecting from work on the weekends if you can help it.

Shocking, I know!

Which is why I decided to take a break from writing on my blog for a few months in 2016.

Here are the 3 lessons I learned from taking a break from blogging, which you can apply to building your business.

Reconnect with the why behind what you do. I’ve been cranking out content in English and Spanish every week since I started. And it got…exhausting! When a boom in client work came in after I was published min El Pais (the largest Spanish news outlet in circulation worldwide), I knew I didn’t want to reach breaking point. So I decided to take a step back from my business and focus my energies on where I could give the most value. Because here’s the thing: I didn’t start a business just to make money. I started it to serve others with my talents meaningfully, in a way that allows me to make an impact. I started it to create more freedom in where I work, what my schedule looks like, and how I spend my time and with whom. I’ve already experienced burnout working for others. Why would I want to push myself to burn out on something I actually love-…and have a hand in creating? So ask yourself…why did you start this business in the first place? Use that question to filter out what’s working and what isn’t. Use that question to start getting rid of the things and people that no longer bring you joy. Which will then lead you to…

Determine your priorities. Does this kind of “slow” and “organic” approach mean I’m going to be an overnight billionaire? No. And guess what? That’s OK. Contrary to what you read about online marketing and entrepreneurship, you don’t need tens of thousands of subscribers on your list. You don’t need to be pumping out blog content monthly. You don’t need to be on every new social media platform just because someone tells you “that’s where the money’s at.” I call B.S. I know my bustle has a purpose. I have a clear vision of what I’m building. And that taking time to figure out how to move forward will always serve me and the people I help in the best way possible. At the end of the day, you have to remember that you are just one person. Even superheroes need their rest. So focus on what actually brings you joy. Determine whether or not that aligns with your talents, your mission and your purpose. Then either outsource or walk away from the rest.

Create blank space. I believe that creativity in business and in life can only flow when you take care of your mind, body and soul. That the best decisions are made in the blank space. When you’re well-rested, well-fed and attuned to what makes your soul light up. So my challenge to you if you’re feeling stuck in your business is this: create blank space. You don’t have to take a year-long sabbatical. But you can disconnect in little ways. Carve out anywhere from 10-30 minutes for yourself every day. Meditate. Dance. Take walks through the park with your dog. Grab coffee with a friend. Read a good book. Indulge in that glass of wine. Close your laptop for the weekend, go on a drive somewhere and blast your favorite song.

And here’s the hardest but most important part: don’t feel guilty about taking that break!

Recharge, refresh and watch how you tackle your next goal with renewed purpose.

Have you ever taken a break from blogging? Or anything else in your business that wasn’t working for you? What did you learn?

This is a repost from Kay Fabella’s blog, where she writes all about entrepreneurship, storytelling, marketing and business.

ABOUT Kay Fabella

Kay Fabella is a storyteller and communications strategist. She helps entrepreneurs and professionals around the world develop a communication strategy to meaningfully connect with their audiences — and meet their business goals. Kay is also world-recognized author, speaker, and trainer. A Los Angeles native, she’s built her dream business from Spain to train her clients in the US, Europe, Latin America, and Asia to help bring their brands to life. She's also been featured in international media including The Huffington Post, El País and EFE Emprende. Check out Kay’s stories, tips, and insights on life and business at kayfabella.com (y en español: kayfabella.com/inicio).

Fast Forward to the Future: AI Copywriters Compete with Humans

AI copywriters

You might think you’re in a particularly crazy episode of Westworld, but be ready to snap back to reality. AI copywriters are no longer a feature of the future, but a firm fixture in the present. Innovation labs, banks and venture capitalists are throwing money behind the idea that robots can more effectively write copy than humans. The idea is that AI can more easily synthesize and systematize data that leads to the creation of effective copy. Look no further than Persado to see an AI copywriter in action. (Great name, by the way. The creators should have gotten someone- another robot, perhaps- to come up with a better name.)

Once the robots take over, what will be left for the mere mortals of the copywriting craft? 

I’ve talked to some creatives who simply feel that robots aren’t a threat: AI is programmed to follow rules, after all, and creativity breaks (or at least tiptoes along the line of) them. Yet, I tend to worry. Creativity is only half a copywriter’s job. There are loads of rules when it comes to writing. We already rely on spell check, title case verifiers and a variety of other technology to assist us when it comes to adhering to these writing strictures. AI learns iteratively, so since it already has the grammar game down, how far of a leap could it be to get creative?

Turns out, AI “copywriters” can be programmed to know there are over 45 different, funny ways to say hello, and learn more as they “work”. But putting that learning to practice is a different story. It all comes down to context, which AI will just never have, not like us flesh and blood humans. In any given day, we have millions of learning opportunities and life experiences that contribute to our knowledge base. All of these can then be applied to creative projects, and often we apply outside, random learnings, facts and turns of phrase in the most interesting and, until they spill out onto the page, unknown ways. Who knows what lays hidden in the depths of human minds, after all? AI is programmed to think and “behave” in a certain way, and even if they’re always processing to learn more, there will always be a limit to what they can do.

Us human copywriters may no longer be the best candidates for copy that can be easily churned out, such as banner copy or calls to action. (We can still do it, but it can also be delegated to computers that don’t need context to create a button that says “Click Here”.) If anything, AI frees up some time for us to take on more demanding parts of a project. It can also open up new doors and opportunities to leverage our love of language to help programmers create computers that can take on more routine assignments. Dialogue designers, language engineers and scientific copywriters are always going to be needed to add that real, authentic human touch to AI interactions. Us humble humans may be outperformed in speed and data synthesis, but its our knowledge of language, rather than the words we write, that will make us forever more valuable than our computer-based cousins.


ABOUT Khaleelah Jones

Khaleelah Jones is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with tech startups, educational institutions and non-profits on acquisition and engagement strategy, implementation and KPI modeling. When she’s not working, she can be found reading, writing, pontificating history, yoga-ing and making up verbs.

Building Equity, Inclusion, & Diversity in Online Training Programs

online training program

My professional focus has been on providing excellent online educational content, delivering it and giving learners meaningful opportunities to engage with each other (and the content). However, in the last year and a half, I’ve committed a chunk of my time to learning more about equity, inclusion and diversity, and to participating in community and work-related initiatives to move such efforts forward. It’s a huge, fascinating learning curve. After a compelling conversation with a colleague, I decided to explore how equity is handled in developing online learning environments. It has been a challenge, to say the least.

When I Google “equity in online training” and similar key phrases and words in various combinations, what pops up ranges from harassment prevention programs to diversity in research courses to private equity training (to score coveted jobs in finance).

After going too far down the rabbit hole, finally what I’m seeking appears. Kinda. There are resources out there about access and equity for learners in online education. These include a few white papers and theses promoting diversity in both actual and online classrooms – but just for K-12 and higher ed. Where’s the top ten tips for instructional designers working in the private / for-profit sector?

On Accessibility

Harvard’s Graduate School of Education launched its Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity (FPD) program in 2014. The program focuses on, among a few other things, accessibility. To wit: “online learning requires a computer or other device to mediate interactions between and among people and content. Therefore, if a person cannot interact with the machine in ‘typical’ ways, how might their learning experience be impacted?” Great question, Harvard.

A few years ago, I brought a client project to Wordsmithie – to create an online program that would train people involved in the packing, shipping and marketing of agricultural products. Fruit. OK, pears. One of the many design considerations was not only when employees would be able to access the course but how.  All workers at every level of the process had access to smartphones, but not computers or tablets. Further, smartphones are the way in which most of us are consuming media these days. Phones! There was the accessibility question answered, at least for that particular project.

For businesses, especially those trying to “get with the now,” the e-learning industry offers tips related to accessibility online which seem to only span ADA compliance issues – not racial, gender, sexual orientation, age or other equity and inclusion opportunities. This vexes me.

From my own instructional design experience, I’ve always considered language and images as part of promoting diversity and making sure my learners felt included. Consider varied, non-gendered pronouns. Use images showcasing a variety of people. Avoid slang or lingo that only pertains to a particular, small group. In case studies, use names of individuals and businesses that span cultures. These tips all seem intuitive to me, but they also seem to not dive deep enough.

Launchpad for Change

I’ve written previously about what to keep in mind when designing robust online learning environments. I think they come up short no matter the demographics in your digital design firm or creative agency, no matter your industry, no matter your online learning environment.

So I’m still snooping around for good resources about building equity, inclusion and diversity into our online training courses. This issue is surely fundamental for sound online training design, spanning myriad fields and professions.

I’d love to hear from you on best practices for equity, inclusion and diversity in instructional design. What have you got? I’ll keep snooping too, and post my findings right here so we can all become good stewards of the work that really needs to be done.

ABOUT Eve Connell

Eve spends most billable hours writing, editing and helping professionals of all stripes with communication skills and leadership development. With degrees in French literature, philosophy, and linguistics, she also enjoys helping businesses and entrepreneurs develop their brands. Fancying herself a successful worm rancher, singer and flower arranger, Eve also lends her talent and expertise to several non-profit arts and educational organizations.

Book Review: A Handbook for the Productive Writer – 33 Ways You Can Finish What You Started

book review

As a freelance writer, I hit road blocks from time to time.I find it hard to really get in and get the job done for myriad reasons, from the project, the deadline or what is going on in my personal life. Whether it’s the inability to concentrate or a lack of inspiration, I really don’t have go-to method for getting out of my funk. I recently picked up Bryan Collins’ book, A Handbook for the Productive Writer – 33 Ways You Can Finish What You Started to gain some clarity and useful tools for the next time I have problems moving forward with a project. I am going to share my book review with you as I think it will be helpful for many writers out there, and extract a few of the most helpful tips I gained from the book so you can see if they worked for you as they did for me.

The book review: what the book was about

Collins’ book is truly crafted for writers of all genres and I found his insight very useful. He first begins the book by suggesting various writing prompts that might help the writer get out of his/her inspiration rut. I have always found writing prompts useful, but I rarely use them. The writing prompts are used as a warm-up “workout” to the main “race”. When preparing to do actual physical activity, if you don’t warm up and stretch a bit, you are more prone to injury. The writing prompts acted as a warm up; I found they helped me flush out random ideas and thoughts before working on the main project. In addition, writing prompts and free writes, as Collins suggests, help a writer get his/her thoughts flowing without constraint or worry about grammar and sentence structure. Collins says, “Free writing only works if you don’t question or criticize every sentence…let the words flow freely from your fingers onto the paper without pausing or questioning what you are saying.”

Finding focus: advice to writers

To focus your mind on the project at hand, Collins also advises writers to stop and organize their expectations about, thoughts for and challenges of the project. I will be the first to admit that I am a fan of a good list. I am drawn to its simplicity and ease at which one can read and process it. A few lists he suggests are:

– ten headlines

– ten interviewees you can source

– ten strengths/weaknesses of your topic

– ten questions you need answers to and

– ten ways to open and close your story with a bang.

Other recommendations

In the book, Collins also mentions the importance of the setting SMART goals for one’s writing projects. These goals would serve as a guide to assist the writer with staying on track and working toward a final product. SMART is an acronym: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Collins notes that each project has a desired outcome and writers should write down all the actions needed for each one.  It is important to make these goals visible and check back routinely to ensure the plan is being executed.

Freshening your approach

One of the final pieces of advice Collins gives in the book is that it’s ok to tell a little lie. I really enjoyed this chapter because I realized that at times, my blockages stem from my inability to write copy I think is “profound”. I get stuck trying to be original or sound like the ultimate “expert”. There’s nothing wrong with exploring other avenues or wanting to present a project in an original way, but if it keeps me from getting my work done then there’s a problem. According to Collins, I need to tell myself that I do indeed have something original and new to say (even when I don’t feel that way). “You can use a white lie to freshen up the way you write about an old topic.” Collins adds, “I’m not suggesting you [writers] willfully mislead your reader. Instead, the productive writer sometimes turns a fact on its head and attacks their project from a new and exciting angle.” Many times, that is all a writer might need to gain a little momentum to get the job done.

In all, writing can be an arduous process at times. It is important for us, as writers, to keep it fresh as we work and seek ways to hone our craft. Whether it be from an easy project or one that is causing us some trouble, Collins’ book offers insightful solutions to problems large and small.

ABOUT Arris Shabaglian

For more than a decade Arris has worked as a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She has also taught university level courses on the art of communication, public relations and journalism. Arris is a Pinterest addict who loves a good night’s sleep and a nice cup of coffee. She resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three kids (hence the need for a nice cup of coffee).