The Path to Enduring Loyalty

Stitch Fix Is Attracting Loyal Customers Without a Loyalty Program

As their customer base has grown in recent years, so too has the revenue they generate from each active customer. Even amidst the pain the apparel industry has been experiencing, over the last few months of the coronavirus pandemic, Stitch Fix has managed to weather the storm with only a slight revenue decline – mostly due to the decision to close warehouses for a period.

WHY IT’S HOT:  In a world where “loyalty” tends to cost businesses and marketers money, in the form of deals and discounts, Stitch Fix is a testament to the the power of data to drive true personalization across the customer experience.

From The Motley Fool:

A personal stylist armed with a powerful data-driven selection algorithm creates a great customer experience.

 

In the highly competitive clothing industry, loyal customers are worth their weight in gold. Stores go to great lengths to attract repeat customers with programs that provide rewards, discounts, or exclusive offers for loyal members. But even with these programs, customers are hard to keep. A 2019 survey by Criteo found that 72% of apparel shoppers were open to considering other brands, which is why what Stitch Fix (NASDAQ:SFIX) has done to create loyal clients without a loyalty program is so special.

Let’s look at this personalized online clothing retailer’s loyal customers, how data science is helping build loyalty into the process, and what management is doing to further capitalize on the company’s momentum.

Loyal customers spend more

Clothing stores have seen a significant drop in spending in the past few months, but Stitch Fix’s most recent quarterly revenue only declined by 9% year over year. Impressively, this decline was not due to a drop in demand, but because the company chose to close its warehouses for part of the quarter as it put safety measures in place for its staff. This strong result against a backdrop of abysmal retail clothing spending was powered in part by the company’s auto-ship customers.

In the most recent earnings call, CEO Katrina Lake indicated that customers who sign up to receive “Fixes” (shipments of clothes) automatically and on a regular basis “achieved the strongest levels of ownership retention in the last three years.” She added that “this large contingent of loyal and highly engaged clients” are “very valuable.” Having a stable base of repeat clients helps the company better predict demand trends, shape inventory purchases, and forecast appropriate staffing levels.

Additional benefits from Stitch Fix’s loyal customers show up in the revenue-per-active-client metric. At the end of the day, consumers vote with their wallets. And impressively, this number has increased for the last eight quarters in a row. It’s clear Stitch Fix clients love the service as they are willing to spend more over time.

Possibly the biggest reason clients are spending more is that they are better matched with items they love.

Data science helps improve the customer experience

Making great clothing selections is key to the client experience for Stitch Fix. The job of keeping this recommendation engine humming and improving it over time is the company’s data scientist team. This group is over 100 strong and many of its members have Ph.D.s in data science or related fields. The team received a patent on its Smart Fix Algorithm and has other patents pending. You can see the amazing detail that goes into this process on the Algorithms Tour section of the Stitch Fix website.

This algorithm is also driving selections for the direct buy offering, which allows clients to purchase clothing without the commitment of the five-item fix. This new service is taking off and its low return rates show that clients love it. Lake shared that “people keeping things that they love is ultimately like the true Northstar of our business and that’s really where we’re orienting a lot of our efforts again.” One of these new efforts is focused on pushing the envelope of how stylists engage with clients.

Doubling down on personalized service

On the last earnings call, Stitch Fix President Elizabeth Spaulding discussed a pilot program that “provide[s] clients with increased stylist engagement and the opportunity to select items in their fixes.” This program, currently being tested in the U.S. and the U.K., connects the client on a video call with a stylist while their fix is being created. This allows the client direct input into their selections and enables the stylist to become better acquainted with the client’s clothing choices.

This innovative approach plays to the company’s strengths and could further build its loyal client following. Spaulding indicated that more would be shared in upcoming calls, but said that “We believe this enhanced styling experience will appeal to an even broader set of clients as consumers seek high-touch engagement while not going into stores.”

A Revamped Online Shopping Experience- Yeezy Supply

Returns are painful. 

I’ve recently been thinking about returns and the increase of shopping online due to retail locations not being readily available. Returns are pretty painful in store but online, they are even more so. Not only because they are not immediate but you have more to keep up with. No surprise but people return more when shopping online than in-store.

Because online experiences are lacking. 

Long have we searched for a ways to combat returns from online sales. (A link to Ben’s previous return post here.) There is video content of the model in the clothing items, reviews from fellow shoppers, Instagram influencers, and content like YouTube Try-On Hauls.

These additives have not abolished the need to get just a little bit closer to seeing, feeling and trying the clothes on in person, albeit retailers/brands have inched closer with those additions. Consumers long for an in-store experience with and online stock room.

We turn to enhance the online experience. 

Carlings “Neo-Ex” digital clothing collection – Clothes that are for the sole purpose of buying and photo shopping on your body in photos. This focuses on the need to buy just for a photo, to break away from the norm.

Snapchat AR – Ability to use the filters and to impose products on your body before you buy. (A post about Adidas/Snapchat collab by Lisa here.) This focuses on the try-before-you-buy and promotional aspect of the internet.

Everywhere but their own sites.

Every online buying experience is the same, looking at clothes on a mostly static model, and scrolling through pages of poses. Enter Yeezy Supply website. A different way to shop, a video-game-esque way to buy your ‘elevated basics’.

Choose a model. These aren’t just your regular models. They have a story, and have done something to better their community. They are nurses, firefighters, and public school teachers. Along with different body shapes that you can then choose.

This unto its own I think speaks to the introspection that I’ve been seeing more and more. These people aren’t a deemed extravagant ideal, they are beautiful for substantive and meaningful reasons. Essential heroes that we can respect because of their story and we can connect to physically. In this video game we are them, we aren’t a cartoon or a model.

Dress yourself, I mean the model. The clothes scroll through your 3D model and you choose what you want to see them in. After a choice is made, your model vanishes out of frame in a transport-like fashion, then walks back into frame in the choice you have made.

Ability to mix and match clothes that you would wear or pair on your own. There is control here, no stylist needed to bring about the ideal pairing. You are your own stylist, as you are one in your own room.

Information can be gathered on the product by hovering and choosing the ‘i’ icon.

This answers a few concerns and closes the gap on seeing a more realistic view of product but also simultaneously creating a memorable online experience with a story that melds into your own.

Is this realistic for everyone?

This is very expensive to do. The old layout works because its available and usable for everyone in almost every browser. The ability to handle traffic and show the product is easier on this type of model.  What is still unclear is how the Yeezy Supply site will handle users scrolling through and what check out will look like, and how fast users will be able to adapt to this different layout.

Why it’s hot:

Bringing human to the shopping experience.

Connecting through a story, with a body that may not be a size 00.

Better visualization of product. A ‘3D’ realistic view of clothes on a body similar to yours.

And because it is a ‘3D’ view, it changes an experience that may last but also aids in a business problem, like returns. You’re able to visualize and see a article of clothing.

Source: FastCompany

 

 

 

Boston latest big city to take stand against facial recognition software

It’s sadly not surprising that the first false arrest attributed to faulty facial recognition was of a black man in Michigan.

Fast Company:

Boston on Wednesday banned municipal use of facial recognition technology, becoming the largest East Coast city to do so, public radio station WBUR reports.

“Boston should not be using racially discriminatory technology and technology that threatens our basic rights,” said city council member Michelle Wu at a Wednesday hearing, CNET reports.

Facial recognition technology has fallen under heavy criticism, with numerous research reports finding the technology does relatively poorly at recognizing people who aren’t white men. IBM recently announced it would stop offering “general purpose” facial recognition software, and Microsoft and Amazon both announced moratoriums on offering such technology to police.

Boston joins neighboring municipalities Somerville, Cambridge, and Brookline in barring local agencies from using the technology. Other cities, including Oakland and San Francisco in California, already ban the technology as well.

The new ordinance drew praise from civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which in a tweet called attention to Robert Williams, a Black man living in Michigan who was arrested after being falsely matched by such software to someone captured in surveillance footage.

City officials are still allowed to use facial recognition to unlock their own devices, and they can still use the technology to automatically spot faces to redact from photos, CNET reports.

Why it’s hot:

1. We’ve talked about inherent bias in AI before, but whether or not to use it has largely been left up to tech companies and the market. Major municipalities have been reluctant to outright ban the use of facial recognition algorithms in surveillance and policing until recently (maybe because mass surveillance is super appealing to governments looking for a cheap way to police the population). Current events could be turning the tide toward a more just and less dystopian future…but maybe this is just a bump in the road for facial recognition.

2. It’s telling that the current complaints lobbed at facial recognition technology focus on its problems with bias, but focus less on its fundamental problems concerning civil liberties and privacy. Maybe because it’s hard to notice until it affects us. Also maybe because those apps using it are just too much fun.

Source: Fast Company

Twitter wants to make sure you did your homework

From The Guardian: Test to promote informed discussion will ask users if they want to retweet unread links

Twitter is trying to stop people from sharing articles they have not read, in an experiment the company hopes will “promote informed discussion” on social media.

In the test, pushed to some users on Android devices, the company is introducing a prompt asking people if they really want to retweet a link that they have not tapped on.

“Sharing an article can spark conversation, so you may want to read it before you tweet it,” Twitter said in a statement. “To help promote informed discussion, we’re testing a new prompt on Android – when you retweet an article that you haven’t opened on Twitter, we may ask if you’d like to open it first.”

The problem of users sharing links without reading them is not new. A 2016 study from computer scientists at Columbia University and Microsoft found that 59% of links posted on Twitter are never clicked.

Less academically sound, but more telling, was another article posted that same year with the headline “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting” – the fake news website the Science Post has racked up a healthy 127,000 shares for the article which is almost entirely lorem ipsum filler text.

Twitter’s solution is not to ban such retweets, but to inject “friction” into the process, in order to try to nudge some users into rethinking their actions on the social network. It is an approach the company has been taking more frequently recently, in an attempt to improve “platform health” without facing accusations of censorship.

In May, the company began experimenting with asking users to “revise” their replies if they were about to send tweets with “harmful language” to other people. “When things get heated, you may say things you don’t mean,” the company explained. “To let you rethink a reply, we’re running a limited experiment on iOS with a prompt that gives you the option to revise your reply before it’s published if it uses language that could be harmful.”

That move has proved less effective, with the company’s filter picking up as much harmless – if foul-mouthed – conversation between friends as it does genuinely hateful speech targeting others.

“We’re trying to encourage people to rethink their behaviour and rethink their language before posting because they often are in the heat of the moment and they might say something they regret,” Twitter’s global head of site policy for trust and safety said at the time.

Why it’s hot

Social media continues to grapple with the pandora’s box its technology has released, rightly criticized for fanning the flames of our worst instincts and becoming inadvertent accomplices in the proliferation of hate speech, real fake news, and conspiracy theories.

Though it may be the bare minimum, it’s interesting to see them employing psychology to try to curb the spread of misinformation. A simple pause can go a long way.

Source: The Guardian

Hanifa puts on a virtual 3D fashion show

Anifa Mvuemba, founder of DTC fashion label Hanifa, was looking forward to holding her first runway show at New York Fashion Week this year. But when the coronavirus torpedoed those plans, she came up with a new way to unveil her latest designs to the world.

In May, she held a virtual fashion show, streamed over Instagram Live, in which each garment appeared in 3D against a black backdrop, as if worn by invisible models strutting across a catwalk, the garment hugging every curve. Tens of thousands of Hanifa’s quarter of a million followers tuned in.

The Instagram show was striking and also slightly eerie, since the garments looked like they were being worn by a parade of ghosts. But without the distraction of a backdrop or of live humans wearing the outfits, it was easier to take in every detail of the clothing. And at a time when social distancing has made the traditional fashion show impossible, Mvuemba’s high-tech approach allowed her to create buzz around her new collection and gather preorders. Thanks to the show, she says she’s likely to grow her business this year despite the recession.

Mvuemba had been tinkering with the idea for a 3D fashion show months before the pandemic arrived. She was intrigued by the realistic 3D animation that began appearing in movies and was curious about how she could apply this to fashion. Three years ago, she hired a developer who works with CAD and animation software to help her with her design work. During the pandemic, she found she had more time to play with the technology herself, especially since she had to do photoshoots remotely. This gave her the idea of creating an entire 3D fashion show.

Over the last eight years, Mvuemba has grown her direct-to-consumer brand entirely through social media and without a brick-and-mortar presence. (She was about to open her first-ever store in Baltimore this year, but those plans have been put on hold due to the pandemic.) And she’s never had a real runway show. “I think it’s hard for many black designers to make it in the system,” she says. “To make it, you have to know the right people and be in the right places. I decided to just do things my own way.”

When it came to her fans, many thought the show was groundbreaking and thrilling to watch, but some had hesitations. Some pointed out that Mvuemba is among a small group of designers that almost exclusively use black models. Transitioning to 3D shows might make her less inclined to tap these models in the future. While she notes it’s a “valid concern,” she says she’ll never “exclusively use technology to replace people. I like working with real models too much.”

Why it’s Hot:

This is such a perfect example of necessity breeding innovation. We’re increasingly seeing that businesses who are able to find innovative solutions to their challenges during COVID are uniquely positioned to succeed both now and in the future.

Source

New developments in the digital divide

From The Verge:

When David Velasquez went home to California for a week in April, he found out that his parents didn’t have internet access anymore. Velasquez, a medical student at Harvard, needs Wi-Fi for work. However, his parents don’t own a computer. “They don’t shop online, they don’t watch Netflix,” he says. So when the connection got too expensive, they stopped paying for it.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the country, that decision worried Velasquez. His parents also speak very little English, and doctors and clinics in the US were canceling in-person appointments and asking patients to schedule virtual visits for any health problems instead.

Without internet access and with limited English, Velasquez’s parents wouldn’t be able to make that switch. “I knew that as our healthcare system started transitioning over to telehealth as opposed to in-person, in-clinic care, their access to health care — and other individuals like them — would be disrupted,” he told The Verge.

Telehealth is convenient for some people: it cuts out the drive to an office and the time in a waiting room, trimming an hours-long event down to minutes. But it isn’t easily accessible to the 25 million people in the United States who speak little English, who are more likely to live in poverty, often work service or construction jobs, and may be more at risk of exposure to COVID-19. Even if they are able to get online, most of the systems that support telehealth — like hospital portals and video visit platforms — are hard to access for people who primarily speak other languages.

Why it’s hot

The dream of a techno-utopia often forgets that human biases and systemic problems left unaddressed become embedded in new technology and can exacerbate inequality. So, until we solve those issues, they will be perpetuated.

Source: The Verge

This AI makes neologisms by portmanteau-ing the English language

Yesterday a smart person named Thomas Dimson, who formerly wrote “the algorithm” at Instagram, launched a site that uses the Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithm: Transformers, and OpenAI‘s infamous GPT-2 AI-powered text generator, to generate and define new English words, and use them in a sentence.

It’s called This Word Does Not Exist, and it has so far created gems such as:

A disclaimer at the bottom of the site reads: Words are not reviewed and may reflect bias in the training set.

You can also write your own neologism and the AI will define it for you. It’s a fun diversion, but does it have any use? Probably not in this form. But it speaks to how AI may be used in the fun-and-games side of life, but also how it may ultimately shape the foundations of how we communicate.

Why it’s hot:

It’s fun to participate in the creation of something new (without having to work too hard), and language is the perfect playground for experimentation.

As AI becomes more influential in our daily lives, it’s interesting (and perhaps a little disturbing) to imagine the ways in which it may take part in creating the very words we use to communicate. What else might AI give us that we have heretofore considered to be the exclusive domain of humans?

Source: TheNextWeb

Self care as a video game

What if there were something that could help snap you out of your rut, be it a temporary funk or actual, clinical depression? And what if this something were designed to make doing good things for yourself as addictive as a video game? That’s the premise of The Guardians: Unite the Realms, a new app developed by the Affective Computing group at MIT Media Lab.

Out now for iOS and Android, it’s a free game, modeled after character collection games like Pokémon and Skylanders (though without any fighting). Instead of urging you to spend money on microtransactions as most of these games do, The Guardians urges you to spend effort on yourself. If you want to progress in the game, you have to invest in your own well-being.

The data shows that people who are depressed don’t want to use self-improvement apps (only about 3% will complete a regimen in these apps). At the same time, people with severe depression still play games as much as people who aren’t experiencing depression, making gaming a promising avenue for introducing mental health interventions.

Over years of both formal study and informal play-testing in the lab, lead platforms engineer at the Affective Computing group and game director for the Guardians Project Craig Ferguson morphed the app into what it is today – a fantasy land filled with magical animals that attempt to take their world back from an evil villain. Last September, he got tired of the research and started thinking about releasing something—even something still unproven—to help people battling depression. Then with COVID-19 trapping so many of us at home, he made the choice to publicize what was done.

That release, while a fraction of what the game will be in the future, he says, can still take months to complete, and it’s presented with as much glitzy animation and character design as you’d find in any high-end mobile app.

When you load the game, a big button glows and bounces in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, reading “new adventure available.” This is essentially a good-for-you button, because each adventure is focused around the phenomenon of “behavioral activation.” Behavioral activation is a proven therapy that can be used casually or clinically for depression. It gets people to partake in positive experiences rather than spending time doing the things that reinforce their own damaging behaviors. And there are dozens of options to choose from.

Some suggested adventures are practical, such as knocking things off your to-do list that might otherwise cause anxiety: Manage finances. Vacuum. Do Laundry. Others help you grow: Watch an online class. Write a poem. Read a classic. And others help you stay active: Spend time in nature. Learn a new dance. Or, my personal favorite, Jazzercise for 20 minutes. You are also completely free to make up your own adventure, and repeat it whenever you’d like.

Why it’s Hot:

With so much content promoting self care and wellness during shelter-in-place, wellness can begin to feel like a chore. This is especially true for people who struggle with depression, where even small tasks can feel unmanageable. This app helps to make those small tasks fun and purposeful (albeit in an imaginary game). With a mental health crisis looming on top of our current physical health crisis, it’s interesting to see an app that tackles this very serious situation in a seemingly light-hearted way.

Source

COVID creates the perfect opportunity for cereal company Magic Spoon

When it comes to shopping in a pandemic, it turns out people crave two things: comfort and convenience. It’s why, a year after launching its direct-to-consumer, guilt-free “kids” cereal for grown-ups, Magic Spoon’s business is booming.

“We’ve seen a meaningful uptick in demand from new customers just discovering us or finally giving us a try,” says cofounder Gabi Lewis. “It’s also existing customers, who maybe ate a bowl in the morning before work but now that they’re at home, are eating another bowl in the afternoon for a snack, so consumption has gone up.”

Last April, Lewis and his cofounder Greg Sewitz first launched Magic Spoon to tap into millennials’ nostalgia for the kiddie cereals of their youth while staying true to their commitment to eat healthy as adults. They took flavors that mimicked such classics as Cocoa Puffs, Fruity Pebbles, and Frosted Flakes—and delivered it in a high-protein, low-carb, and no-sugar cereal. Combined with a packaging and product design that was highly Instagrammable, Magic Spoon’s popularity took off immediately, and it hasn’t slowed down.

In terms of the cereal market overall, he thinks Magic Spoon isn’t taking market share away from traditional cereal, but rather adding to it by bringing new customers back to the category. “Many of our customers weren’t eating cereal before we came along,” he says. “Maybe they did years ago, then stopped and instead started eating Greek yogurt or smoothies or oatmeal, or any number of healthy breakfast alternatives. So I think a lot of our growth has come from other categories, bringing them back to cereal, and I think it’s helping to build the cereal category as a whole.”

Just as many of us have become more accustomed to videoconferencing than we ever imagined, Lewis sees a similar shift in consumer behavior around buying groceries online. “Obviously there’s been this uptick because of people stuck at home and stocking up, and we’re under no illusion of that lasting forever,” he says. “But there are people buying food online right now who just didn’t before all this. I don’t think all that is just going to go away, and a good portion of those people will continue to do it once this is all over.”

Why it’s Hot:

As people seek alternatives to grocery store visits and grocery delivery becomes increasingly scarce, DTC food brands are well positioned for the current pandemic (especially food brands that bring people a sense of comfort and nostalgia). DTC brands have already become more popular in the past few years – it will be interesting to see if the pandemic accelerated this trend.

Source 

Self-destructing communal journal lures users to interact

A basic site This Website Will Self Destruct, created by artist Femme Android allows users to send an anonymous message into the void in order to keep the website alive. It’s been live since April 21, 2020.

Because the site tends to attract the lonely and despondent, there is a “Feeling Down?” button that links the user to mental health services.

Fast Company:

You can choose to leave your own note. Or you can merely observe, hitting the “read a message” button to see what others have posted, while leaving it to others to save the website from imminent annihilation. A death counter on top of the page refreshes every time someone posts something new, which, by my estimation, was happening about once every 5 or 10 seconds.

Like Post Secret, This Website Will Self-Destruct feels refreshingly Old Internet because, if nothing else, they are each equal parts gimmicky and sincere. This Website Will Self-Destruct offers an anonymous place to express yourself in a world where social media thirst traps and virtue signaling has trumped innocent and earnest discourse alike. It requires no subculture of rules to understand like a Reddit message board, no esoteric platform-specific memes like on Twitch, no subtweet agenda of the day to unpack like on Twitter, and no autoplay force-feeding you the next piece of content like on YouTube.

No, This Website Will Self-Destruct is just a website. It’s a place to jot down some thoughts, have a two-second laugh or cry, and kill some time until nobody cares about it anymore. And that moment that its purpose has been served, don’t worry—it’s happy to see itself out.

Why it’s hot:

It’s an interesting phenomenon, that just using the site: reading a note, or posting something silly (or sincere) makes one feel connected and part of a bigger, benevolent community with a shared goal.

The nature of the site (self-destructing if no one posts) activates our desire for continuity, compelling us to act.

Source: Fast Company

Quarantine can’t keep Thao & The Get Down Stay Down down

From The Verge (emphasis mine):

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Oakland-based band Thao & The Get Down Stay Down had a problem. Their plan to shoot a music video for their single “Phenom” was abruptly canceled as shelter-in-place orders rolled in. The band, crew, and dancers could no longer meet up in person, and they were faced with a decision: put everything on hold or figure out a way to make the music video remotely. “At first we didn’t know if we would even release the song because it’s about people unifying,” Thao tells The Verge. “So it was never an option for me to shoot the video solo.” But then her manager had an idea. What if they shot the music video entirely within Zoom?

Featuring Thao alongside eight dancers, the “Phenom” video went from concept to completion within a week. There was one pre-production meeting, one five-hour rehearsal, and one shoot day, all of which took place on Zoom. “If we were going to do such a thing and commit to it,” says Thao, “we had to do it really quickly because it is so of the moment.”

Why it’s hot:

It’s cool to see creative people using the medium of the moment (video conferencing) to create art in a short amount of time. It goes to show that what’s most important is not having the highest production value, but connecting with your audience.

Using Zoom as a medium places the viewer in emotional proximity to the band, making them relatable, but the creative approach to choreography within the Zoom frames heightens the medium from mere communication to the level of art.

Source: The Verge

A new voice injects some action into the democratic party persona

Apparently this ad came out in September, but I was just served it on Instagram a couple of days ago, and it’s just plain fun.

Most political ads are easy to ignore, but not this one. It plays like a trailer for an action movie, and only at the end do we discover that Valerie Plame is a democrat running for Congress. It piques the viewers interest first, eschewing the common tendencies of both tuning out political ads and of ignoring messages from outside one’s political cohort.

Why it’s hot:

1. Democrats have a huge messaging problem. They’ve long been criticized for being kind of lame and generally unable to inspire voter turnout, which is the main thing they need to do in order to win elections. Valerie Plame is bringing a new edginess to the party.

2. Congressional races have entered the national stage. As Democrats are looking to turn Congress more blue to combat a nearly inevitable Trump win, democratic candidates are hoping to appeal not just to their future constituents, but to the country as a whole, to fund their campaigns. To do so, this ad focuses on key national political issues (“national security, health care, and women’s rights”) and takes direct aim at Trump.

Tech-forward restaurant designs open-source take-out “airlock” to protect workers

The San Fransisco tech-forward restaurant Creator has made their new airlock system (for providing take-out orders during the coronavirus crisis) open source for any other businesses that need to protect their workers from the many possibly infected people coming to their locations.

Makezine:

The chamber is pressurized by a Sanyo Denki 24-volt 65CFM blower regulated by simple LM317 voltage regulator circuit. The conveyor belt feeds itself through a 5 gallon bucket of quaternary sanitizing solution. Customers can order through an intercom, and their takeaway bags are heat-sealed and labeled with a tamperproof sticker just to be extra super sanitary.

Fast Company:

“Retail workers are on the front lines, exposed to hundreds of strangers every day in enclosed spaces,” says Creator founder Alex Vardakostas. “If retail workers fall ill, they are in turn at risk of infecting delivery workers and customers. We can’t restart the economy until retail and restaurant workers are protected. They’re some of the most important people to keep virus-free.”

This falls directly in Creator’s wheelhouse, as they are known for being the first to automate the making of a fully prepared burger with the beautiful machine above. Fast-moving innovations like the airlock promote the restaurant brand as a function of doing good for their workers, which is of such concern with service workers right now, and gives customers more piece of mind as they look for safe places to procure food and have a sense of normalcy in these difficult times.

Fast Company:

The restaurant’s team has unusual engineering skills—when Creator opened in 2018, it became the first in the world to make fully prepared burgers with a robot that handles everything from slicing the bun and cooking the patty to chopping up onions and tomatoes. For customers in the current pandemic, there’s some added comfort in the fact that the process minimizes human contact; the machine even packages each burger itself. But the storefront still needs staff to get the food to customers waiting to pick it up, and last week, engineers and fabricators set to work on the new airlock-like window.

Why it’s hot:

1. The world needs fast-moving innovation right now, and there’s nothing like giving your innovation away for free to garner media recognition and positive public sentiment. The earned media from their design and their gesture will pique the interest of many, who will discover even cooler offerings coming out of the brand’s innovative approach — like a $6 gourmet burger in San Fransisco.

2. Making this design open-source may help other restaurants move quickly to implement solutions that work for them — but it mostly promotes the brand as being next-level, and getting it hyped in publications like Fast Company.

What IP do brands have that could function in a similar way, helping the public in a way that shows off their unique offerings or abilities (instead of donating money), while garnering positive sentiment and media attention?

Source: Fast Company, Makezine

Water ATM’s in Rural India

How Piramal Sarvajal is using IoT to tackle safe drinking water issue for rural India

“Water is wealth; water is life. Without water, life would not endure, and access to freshwater and sanitation is a basic fundamental right of humans.”

Having said that, the availability of freshwater is still a significant challenge in India, especially in rural areas. According to reports, 25 million people in India lack access to safe drinking water, and rural Indian women waste 700 hours annually collecting water. It is also estimated that by the year 2025, almost more than half of the urban population of India will live in water-stressed areas as this precious commodity is becoming scarce rapidly.

In this context, Piramal Sarvajal is committed to leveraging innovative technology to create easy access to safe drinking water in rural areas. Seeded by the Piramal Foundation in 2008, Sarvajal has been working in the water space to provide clean drinking water in the far-flung rural regions of India.

Even today, three-quarters of India still drink unfiltered water, which, in turn, leads to diarrheal deaths and permanent fluorosis. To change this, Sarvajal founder Anand Shah created a program to achieve low-cost scalable solutions serving “safe water for all.”

Why it’s Hot: (In case you’re not sure if you want to read the loooong case study.) This is a really innovative convergence of technology, data and business model – aligned to solve a pervasive public health challenge, which negatively impacts the lives of millions of people every day. Interesting perspective, as we collectively consider ways in which clients might respond to the current global public health challenge.

A Mission To Provide ‘Water For All’

Water scarcity has been a global issue; however, Piramal Sarvajal believed that the problem is multidimensional, and therefore the solutions had to be locally suited. Additionally, the voluminous nature of water, coupled with its vulnerability to contamination demanded a localised and efficient purification-cum-distribution system. While many well-intentioned NGOs have tried to implement charity-based water delivery solutions, these ventures have not proven financially sustainable over time. And therefore, the need of the hour was to apply business thinking to solve public service delivery problems.

In recent years, decentralised solutions for community-level drinking water installations have achieved significant success in creating safe water access, even in remote rural areas. Serving large enough numbers at affordable prices leads to financial sustainability while creating a local entrepreneurial ecosystem. A market-based, pay-per-use model aims to democratise drinking water access and achieve operational break-even by selling drinking water to the community at affordable prices. Piramal Sarvajal has been at the forefront of developing technologies and business practices in the safe drinking water sector that are designed to ensure sustainable solutions in both rural and urban deployment conditions. Sarvajal created a business model that operates at community levels to provide decentralised drinking water solutions to underserved communities.

Challenges

During its inception, Piramal Sarvajal had their first version of its purification unit, which had no governance-based technology involved, and all the operations were done manually. Since the initiative was bound to be a multi-location affair, distributed operations posed a severe challenge to efficiently and cost-effectively managing the project. Besides, generating sufficient demand meant breaking existing taboos around buying water by educating consumers about water-health linkages was also a challenge. Sarvajal’s team, therefore, innovated a solution that could be customised for the water contamination profile of any location with pioneering remote monitoring technology. It also invested in community awareness activities while tapping into local entrepreneurial drive and resources by adopting a franchise model.

The company used to charge to the franchisee, based on the volume of water purified by our unit. Although there was a mechanical flow meter installed in the unit that used to measure the volume of water purified by our unit, every month, a person had to go to the field to note down the reading from each unit. This process, therefore, used to take about two weeks to complete the round and collect the data. This manual reading process created a delay in the billing cycle. Additionally, they noticed some tampering with water meters at various locations, which indeed is a separate challenge altogether. To resolve these, Piramal Sarvajal explored applying cloud-based technology in order to create a smooth process by using sensors for the measurement of vital parameters like quantity, quality, pressure etc.

Water ATMs: Automated Water Dispensing Units

The company started its technological journey using the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) with sensors and Human Machine Interface (HMI), which were attached with the PLC. “PLC-based automation has helped us in automating the unit’s operation and in remotely managing and monitoring the purification unit from our centralised location,” said Anuj Sharma, the CEO of Piramal Sarvaja. “Due to the fast-paced changes in PLC technology, we needed to update our software frequently. This triggered the design of our own, micro-controller based, control unit.”

Being the first organisation in India to develop the Water ATM, Piramal Sarvajal, operated the project in collaboration with a local entrepreneur or the local panchayat and community-based organisations to create sustainable livelihood opportunities within the chosen community. These cloud-connected and solar-powered WaterATM dispenses purified water 24×7. Villagers were issued RFID cards for collecting water, and these cards have a pre-paid balance, which can be recharged periodically as per consumption pattern. The RFID card gave the consumer the convenience of taking water anytime, anywhere across connected ATMs in a given location of flexible litres.

The IoT enabled technology installed at the purification level, ensuring the quality of every drop dispensed and supported oversight management on a real-time basis, while remotely managing locations for better governance. “The dispensing solution via Water ATM not only helps us manage and monitor user-level data but also supports targeted subsidies and variable pricing to support equitable and sustainable solutions at the last mile,” said Sharma.

The adoption of IoT technology for remote monitoring of the units helped the company in bringing transparency in operations across every transaction and ensured governance of widespread locations for both the service provider and the donor. This technology also assisted in managing the pay per use model, which, in turn, helped the consumers to pay an affordable price for clean drinking water — paying only for the service.

Operating Models

The technology that the company deployed was the Internet of Things (IoT), which required GSM/GPRS network as it acts as a backbone for communication between device and server. And, Sarvajal’s devices communicate with their centralised server over GSM/GPRS (2G) network. And ensuring that every installed unit has the availability of proper signal strength at the desired location. “Sometimes, we have noticed that even though there is a proper signal strength available at the place, still there is a delay in data exchange, which was due to the network latency,” said Sharma. And, hence, the company considered other network options like NB-IoT, which works on LTE (4G); considering its availability in most of India. The company also considered other alternate non-standard options, where telecom network is still not available, but it is under feasibility study.

Piramal Sarvajal also has enabled a technology device called Soochak, which is a remote monitoring device designed to be mounted on a commercial-scale water purification plant, to capture minute-by-minute machine status. This process works on Piramal’s technology backend, which allows the company to bring affordable, safe drinking water to underserved communities sustainably. At the same time, the touch screen of the machine easily guides the local operators on the daily functioning of the plant in the local language.

The company aimed to deploy technology at every stage — for specific parameter measurement Piramal Sarvajal have used state of the art sensors. As part of their regular preventive maintenance, these sensors are calibrated periodically so that they provide accurate data. With the help of IoT, the company gets its data from all units installed in the field, and these data are stored in their server’s database system. Also, considering the received data is large in volume; it practically wasn’t possible to do analysis manually, hence, decided to apply data analytics that provided them with meaningful information from the available data. “This helped us to know how many units are working in normal condition and how many units require attention from our maintenance team,” said Sharma. “Our devices are intelligent enough to provide real-time alerts to our operations team for any attention needed by them. Our operations team immediately acts on alerts and attends the situation.”

Application & Benefits

Sarvajal’s proprietary technology played a vital role in providing a comprehensive solution for delivering low-cost drinking water at the last mile. The various components of the technology include — water purification plants, monitoring device, the water ATM, and Sarvajal’s enterprise management system.

Sarvajal’s purification model was agnostic of the method of filtration and was utilising purification technology as per the source water. The water was getting purified through a site-designed five-step filtration process including media filtration, micron filtration, reverse osmosis (RO) filtration and UV purification. The employed proprietary technology of Sarvajal helped them in monitoring and controlling the machine operations, the source water quality, product water quality, litres produced (both rate and total), the overall health of the machine, and the amount of effluent created in the process. This real-time online monitoring enabled the company to assure a greater uptime in machine usage.

Sarvajal’s Enterprise Management System is the information processing hub of the entire company’s network of distributed installations. The SEMs receives all data sent over the cellular network for the Soochaks and Water ATMs and serves as the conduit for all operational activities within the business, such as inventory management, maintenance tracking, accounting, and asset tracking.

Additionally, the water ATM devices were solar-powered, cloud-connected, and operated automatically, which was designed to dispense water at the swipe of an RFID card. The ATMs tracked every transaction that took place, which enabled a sophisticated market forecasting and proactive multi-unit management. It also enhanced the scale of impact and optimised net investment per installation. Consequently, the ATMs established water-price transparent markets and assured 24×7 access to safe drinking water. Sarvaj’s initiative also presented an option to provide direct-targeted subsidies through government-run programs. Currently, the company is serving more than 7.30 lakhs of people daily, directly from our 1765+ touchpoints in 20 states.

While there are many players in the water space, Sharma believes, “What sets us apart is our effort of conducting community engagement activities to improve impact to increase the off-take.” Also, “Soochak throws data about machine health, so all maintenance activities are planned. Service tickets are even generated to track and also study the data generated. Our database shares information on all machines functionality at any given point in time.”

Sharma further added, “Being a technology expert in the water sector, we also aim to help the government by demonstrating the use of technology, so that the government can monitor the water supply schemes very effectively.” Sarvajal has extended the application of this model for a water pipe model too. The company partnered with the central government-run Jal Shakti mission to create a pilot model of monitoring the IoT-based water tracking mechanism at villages of Gujarat, Assam and Bihar.

What’s in a name?





Hershey is making good use of its own name for International Women’s Day, launching a campaign in Brazil that includes the creation of “Her” and “She” chocolate bars—with packaging celebrating great women musicians, illustrators and other artists.

“International Women’s Day is marked by the struggle of women for their rights,” says Ana Costa, HR director at Hershey Brazil. “Having this in mind is crucial when sharing experiences with our employees, to assure they know they’re working for a company that acknowledges their value and believes in their potential.”

Hershey says 52 percent of its leadership is female, including Michele Buck, global CEO.

Hershey is encouraging other women artists to share their work in social media. Posts tagged #HerShe and #HerSheGallery could have their posts shared by the brand.

Why it’s hot?
Great use of something that’s inherent in the brand to seamlessly become part of a hot topic in our culture. Unlike so many other brands that are making forced efforts to become part of this conversation related to equality and progress of women, guess Hershey got lucky with its name. But very surprised this has not been done before.

Source: Muse by Clio

Skincare + AI: Making Mass Personalization Easy

A skincare startup is tackling the complexity consumers face when navigating the category to select the best products for their skincare needs. Rather than adding to the clutter of products, ingredients and “proprietary formulas”, or attempting to educate consumers through exposure to research + science, Proven Skincare simply prescribes personalized solutions for each individual.

After collecting customer input based around 40 key factors, Proven Skincare’s AI combs through a comprehensive database of research, testimonials and dermatology expertise, to identify the best mix of ingredients for each person’s situation.

Ming Zhao, Proven’s CEO, co-founded the company while struggling with her own skincare issues.

“The paradox of choice, the confusion that causes this frustrating cycle of trial and error, is too much for most people to bear,” says Zhao on the latest edition of Ad Age’s Marketer’s Brief podcast. “There’s a lot of cycles of buying expensive product, only for it to then sit on somebody’s vanity shelf for months to come.”

As the human body’s largest organ, skin should be properly cared for—using products and ingredients that have been proven to work for specific individuals. That’s the core mission behind Proven Skincare, a new beauty company that has tapped technology to research the best skincare regimen for consumers.

Why It’s Hot: In a world where the benefits of things like AI and big data are not often apparent to the “average” person, this is an example of technology that solves a real human problem, while remaining invisible (i.e. it’s not about the tech).

Delta’s turned Minority Report technology into a reality

Delta Airline is adopting new screen technology to add another layer of personalization to customer journeys.

Delta has struck up a partnership with technology company Misapplied Sciences to launch the Parallel Reality beta experience for flyers at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Parallel Reality displays are an opt-in technology which, according to Misapplied Sciences, allow ‘a hundred or more’ consumers to view personalized content tailored to their unique journey needs via a single screen.

For Delta, adopting this technology means providing new way-finding opportunities: from displaying only relevant flight information to the viewer and translating that information into a language of the consumer’s choice.

For the beta launch in Detroit, almost 100 customers will be able to view content personalized to their needs. The partnership was announced at CES 2020, which makes Delta the first airline to keynote and exhibit at the event.

Why it’s hot: Delta is taking an existing technology and transforming it into a tool to improve customer experience. It’s taking the idea of one-to-one communication and personalization to the next level. Not to mention the company’s commitment to digital transformation unveiling several other consumer innovations alongside Parallel Reality at CES 2020. The announcements included an expanded partnership with ride-hailing company Lyft to help streamline journeys, a new AI-driven machine learning platform that analyses millions of data points, and even a wearable robotic exoskeleton for its employees.

Source: Contagious.io

ThredUp launches Fashion Footprint Calculator

Behavior change is very hard and the second-hand ecommerce fashion retailer ThredUp relies on it as a key component of their business model. To aid their efforts to convert new-clothing buyers into used-clothing buyers, they just launched their fashion footprint calculator.

We’ve all heard about the carbon footprint of our cars and our eating habits, but we mostly ignore our closets’ role in ruining the planet. However, the fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters, thanks in large part to the the fast-fashion trend.

Fun Fact: “Fashion is responsible for 92 million tons of solid waste per year globally, representing 4% of the 2.12 billion tons of waste we dump globally each year. That is more than toxic e-waste, and more than twice as much as supermarkets toss in food waste.” –EcoCult. This is bad because clothing is organic material, meaning it releases methane in landfills, a greenhouse gas that is dramatically more potent than carbon dioxide.

ThredUp is framing itself as the solution to this sustainability problem at the heart of fashion, by scaling second-hand clothing to the level of its new clothing counterparts. And it turns out that buying used clothing can have a pretty big impact.

“Lifecycle analyses of garments have found that buying used garments instead of new reduces your carbon footprint by between 60% and 70%.” -Fast Company

Why it’s hot:

1. Much like the global average temperature, awareness of our impact on the environment is ramping up exponentially. It’s interesting where different brands fall on the sustainability spectrum and how they use that position to promote themselves.

2. Our impact on the climate threat is a vague concept removed from our direct experience of short-sighted pleasure seeking and impulsive desire fulfillment. Personalizing the impact of one’s habits makes clear the need for personal change, and importantly, offers a simple way to make a difference, without sacrificing one of life’s chief pleasures.

3. ThredUp’s business model is based on the second-hand clothing market. Beyond the price savings, ThredUp needs to develop RTBs that will inspire loyal customers. If people are more aware of the impact their fashion-purchase habits have, they may be willing to consider the second-hand clothing platform, giving ThredUp a chance to turn them into loyal customers and advocates of reuse to their friends.

Source: Fast Company

There’s a Dracula on that billboard…

To mark the arrival of the series Dracula, BBC erected two billboards in both London and Birmingham that don’t directly depict the count himself, but through a clever play of shadows and stakes, see him emerge as a haunting ghost.

During the day passers-by will notice that the billboards are stabbed with stakes – alluding to the action of vampire killers. Yet, at night a light at the side turns on, and viewers realize the stakes have been placed with the utmost intention so that their shadows recreate the face of the TV series’ blood-thirsty villain.

To heighten the spooky billboard, beneath stands a ‘break in case of vampires’ box that contains a pointed wooden stake, ready to stab with.

Why it’s Hot: Innovation doesn’t always need to be a new digital platform or tool – sometimes the most interesting innovations come from rethinking how we use traditional channels.

Source

Norwegian fashion retailer makes AR T-shirts to promote sustainability

“Scandinavian clothing brand Carlings has created an augmented reality T-shirt designed to reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion.

People can buy the T-shirt – which is white aside from a graphical logo at the top – from Carlings’ website for €39.90 ($44). The T-shirt is then mailed directly to the customer.

Upon delivery of the item, customers can visit Carlings’ dedicated Instagram account, select the filter icon and choose from a variety of designs, before pointing a phone camera at the T-shirt’s graphical logo. This will digitally superimpose the selected design onto the T-shirt.

The designs are emblazoned with environmentally conscious messages such as ‘Stop Denying Our Planet is Dying’ and ‘I’m Sure The Dinosaurs Thought They Had Time Too.’” (Contagious)

Why it’s hot

1. Designs that can be changed to match new causes extends the shirts timescale of relevance, combating fast-fashion disposability.

2. The shirt comes to life where it can have the most impact: on social media. Also gets folks going to the brand’s IG and creating lots of UGC.

3. Interesting how the 4th digital dimension is being employed to push social issues, in a cool, shareable, and potentially viral way.

4. Also, profits from the line go to a water charity, so seems like another fashion brand hoping their good works will turn into net profits.

Source: Contagious

Facebook AI Launches Its Deepfake Detection Challenge

Facebook’s AI division has been ethically producing deepfakes (manipulated videos or face swaps). The videos are part of a training data set that Facebook assembled for a competition called the Deepfake Detection Challenge that was launched yesterday. In this competition—produced in cooperation with Amazon, Microsoft, the nonprofit Partnership on AI, and academics from eight universities—researchers around the world are vying to create automated tools that can spot fraudulent media. Facebook has dedicated more than US $10 million for awards and grants.

The U.S. presidential elections in 2020 are an added incentive to get ahead of the problem, says Canton Ferrer (Facebook AI Red Team). He believes that media manipulation will become much more common over the coming year, and that the deepfakes will get much more sophisticated and believable. “We’re thinking about what will be happening a year from now,” he says. “It’s a cat-and-mouse approach.” Canton ­Ferrer’s team aims to give the cat a head start, so it will be ready to pounce.

It may seem odd that the data set compiled for Facebook’s competition is filled with unknown people doing unremarkable things. But a deepfake detector that works on those mundane videos should work equally well for videos featuring politicians. To make the Facebook challenge as realistic as possible, Canton Ferrer says his team used the most common open-source techniques to alter the videos—but he won’t name the methods, to avoid tipping off contestants. “In real life, they will not be able to ask the bad actors, ‘Can you tell me what method you used to make this deepfake?’” he says.

Why its hot: It’s interesting that Facebook is working to create this tech right after the infamous AOC versus MZ roast. Does this make up for the fact that they people make fake ads/is it going to be implemented on Facebook?

Source

American Eagle uses fashion staples to encourage charitable giving

In a clever move melding consumerism and charitable giving, American Eagle Outfitters (AE) has achieved WokeAF status by developing a clothing line with a multicultural council of GenZ activists, which both donates 100% of its sales to the clothing charity Delivering Good, and contains a conversation-starting QR code that allows others to donate as well by scanning said clothes.

This line was developed by the AExMeCouncil, a gaggle of GenZ movers and shakers, including Delaney Tarr, cofounder of March For Our Lives, who are being given some say in how AE operates. “We are treating these council members like board members,” says Chad Kessler, global brand president of American Eagle.

Other council members include Gabby Frost, who founded the Buddy Project to promote mental health and prevent suicide, and Joseph Touma, who created Bridge the Divide, which wants to create bridges across political lines.

Why it’s hot:

1. GenZ folks are cause-oriented shoppers, so this gimmick makes perfect sense from a brand and PR perspective (they were featured in Fast Company after all) and costs AE basically nothing.

2. Smart use of highly personal products to instigate conversations about social causes and create a real-time pathway to digital donations.

3. It’s probably a good thing when business interests and social good align, and it seems like that’s the case here. Better than when fast-fashion brands laughably try to align themselves with sustainability.

 

Source: Fast Company

Mozilla’s holiday shopping guide rates creepiness of connected products with animated emoji

Be Smart. Shop Safe.” That’s the tag line for Mozilla’s initiative to spread awareness about the privacy status and risks of new connected products — and promote their brand as a privacy leader.

The privacy of physical connected products is new for many people, so getting people to consider privacy before impulsively slamming the BUY button is a big deal for an organization focused on privacy. Mozilla needed to make their report interesting to grab people’s attention.

Smart but simple UX and strong copy makes this happen.

A privacy focused shopping guide allows you to see which products meet Mozilla’s minimum privacy standards.

An animated emoji shows how “creepy” users have said various products are, regardless of their privacy rating.

Why it’s hot:

Is this the beginning of, if not a backlash, at least a recalibration of the excitement about smart IoT products?

Mozilla frames itself as the authority on the growing concern of privacy and getting into the product-rating game drives a new kind of awareness regarding physical products which many people have heretofore not had to consider.

Gathering data on creepiness sentiment is an interesting (and fun) approach to consumer metrics. Users can vote on the creepiness scale, but you have to give your email to see the results.

Source: Mozilla

And Other Stories collaboration with information designer Giorgia Lupi finds the human element in data-driven narratives

And Other Stories teamed up with New York based information designer Giorgia Lupi to launch it’s newest co-lab that turns data visualizations into wearable stories.

 

Lupi is known around the world for her singular, artful approach to data: Instead of relying on hollow charts and graphs, she creates beautiful hand-drawn prints that lend a “human” touch to sterile numbers and statistics.

“As human beings, we have no use for seeing raw data in an Excel sheet, because we can’t detect the patterns. It’s only through design and visualization that we can access that knowledge.”

Through her unexpected take on storytelling, a visually compelling collection of hand-drawn prints reveals the achievements of three female science trailblazers. Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first computer program in the mid-1800s; Rachel Carson, who started the environmentalist movement with her 1962 book Silent Spring; and Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel to space in 1992.

“They were pioneers in fields that were historically male-dominated,” Lupi says. “But I wanted to focus on their significant accomplishments, not necessarily just on their lives as women. Sometimes it’s easier to focus on the obstacles they overcame, but to be really aspirational, I think it’s important to look at the contributions they brought to the world.”

Ada Lovelace

the mathematician

Recognized as a pioneer for the discipline of computer science, Ada Lovelace used her gift for mathematics to translate and write instructions, imagining how to program a machine to do complex calculations”

“For Ada’s design, we created a colourful geometric pattern that analysed the mathematical structure of the algorithm she wrote.”

Mae Jemison

the astronaut

A true polymath and NASA astronaut, Mae Jemison’s accomplishments include participating in the STS-47 lower orbit mission, an achievement that established her as the first woman of colour in space.

“The pattern is based on her orbits and experiments that she conducted in space. As a memory of her mission, the visual represents the days she was in space and how she might have viewed her surroundings as well as the many experiments she performed.”

 

THE CONSERVATIONIST

Rachel Carson

The author, environmentalist, and activist is best known for her book, Silent Spring, which is considered the first contribution to literature from a conservationist perspective and helped to launch the environmental movement.

“Through different techniques on the garment, such as embroidery and colour codes, we visualise the structural and semantical analysis of her work, Silent Spring.”

Why it’s hot

I posted this because I design surface prints and data visualization and I think it’s sick.

It’s hot because as inauthentic and disconnected influencer partnerships have flooded the market, it’s exceedingly rare to see a truly innovative and unique collab. This was a smart partnership with a resulting collection that feels thoughtful and authentic the brand and artist.

Sources: Vogue

Apple Card investigated for gender bias

Apple’s tech-oriented credit card is at the heart of a new investigation into alleged gender discrimination.

New York state regulators have announced an investigation into Goldman Sachs, the bank that issues the Apple Card, after a series of viral tweets from a consumer who shared the vastly different credit limits that were issued to him and his wife when they both applied for the card.

The NYSDFS was first tipped off by a viral Twitter thread from tech entrepreneur David Heinemeier Hansson, begun on Nov. 7. He detailed how his card’s credit limit was 20 times higher than his wife’s, even though she has a higher credit score and they file joint tax returns. Hansson referred to the Apple Card as a “sexist program” and said that its over-reliance on a “biased” algorithm did not excuse discriminatory treatment.

After his complaints on Twitter, Hansson found his wife’s Apple Card’s credit limit was increased to match his. However, Hansson’s frustration was not only with the credit line issue, but also how customer support is trained to handle the accusation of gender bias: blame the algorithm.

Hansson’s complaints were even echoed by Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, who responded to Hansson’s tweet, saying “the same thing happened to us.” Wozniak said that his credit limit was 10 times higher than what his wife had, even though they did not have any separate assets or accounts. In his view, Apple should “share responsibility” for the problem.

Others shared similar stories…

The CEO of Goldman Sachs denied wrongdoing on Monday, stating unequivocally that “we have not and will not make decisions based on factors like gender.” He added that the company would be open to re-evaluating credit limits for those who believe their credit line is lower than their credit history would suggest it should be.

Superintendent of the NYSDFS Linda Lacewell said Sunday in a statement that state law bans discrimination against protected classes of individuals, “which means an algorithm, as with any other method of determining creditworthiness, cannot result in disparate treatment for individuals based on age, creed, race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or other protected characteristics.” She added that this “is not just about looking into one algorithm” but also about working with the tech community more broadly to “make sure consumers nationwide can have confidence that the algorithms that increasingly impact their ability to access financial services do not discriminate.”

Why it’s Hot:

Apple and Goldman Sachs may blame “the algorithm,” but ultimately that algorithm was created by humans – and that excuse doesn’t cut it with customers. As we increasingly rely on algorithms and AI, how do we ensure they’re built without our innate biases?

Sources: Time, Mashable

Firefox founder launches privacy-first browser that rewards users for allowing brands access to them

The beta version has been out for a while, but “Today marks the official launch of Brave 1.0, a free open-source browser. The beta version has already drawn 8 million monthly users, but now, the full stable release is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.

Brave promises to prioritize security by blocking third-party ads, trackers, and autoplay videos automatically. So you don’t need to go into your settings to ensure greater privacy, though you can adjust those settings if you want to.” (The Verge)

Internet heavy hitter Brendan Eich (creator of JavaScript/co-founder of Firefox/Mozilla) just launched the stable version of new privacy-focused Brave browser, employing the idea of a Basic Attention Token (BAT), which allows users to be paid in crypto-currency tokens for allowing brands access to their eyeballs. Eich calls it “a new system for properly valuing user attention.”

He explains it best:

Why it’s hot:

1. As tech giants increasingly impinge on privacy and gobble up every imaginable byte of data about everyone in exchange for “a better user experience,” Brave is claiming to have found a non-zero-sum game that everyone (users, advertisers, and publishers) can benefit from:

  • Users get lots more control over the ads they see and get rewarded with tokens for allowing ads.
  • Advertisers get more precise and engaged audiences, so in theory, better ROAS.
  • Content creators get more control over their publishing and their income. And users can tip content creators on a subscription-style basis not unlike Patreon.

That’s the idea, at least.

2. Its look and feel is very similar to Chrome, so migrating to Brave may be smooth enough to encourage more people to abandon the surveillance-state-as-a-service (SSaaS) that Google is verging on.

Source: The Verge

Adobe debuts latest effort in the misinformation arms race

Adobe has previewed an AI tool that analyzes the pixels of a image to determine the probability that it’s been manipulated and the areas in which it thinks the manipulation has taken place, shown as a heat map.

It’s fitting that the company that made sophisticated photo manipulation possible would also create a tool to help combat its nefarious use. While it’s not live in Adobe applications yet, it could be integrated into them, such that users can quickly know whether what their looking at is “real” or not.

Up next: The inevitable headline of someone creating a tool that can trick the Adobe AI tool into thinking photo is real.

Why it’s hot:

Fake news is a big problem, and this might help us get to the truth of some matters of consequence.

But … not everything can be solved with AI. This might help people convince others that something they saw is in fact fake, but it doesn’t overcome the deeper problem of people’s basic gullibility, lack of critical thinking, and strong desire to justify their already entrenched beliefs.

Source: The Verge

Total Recall or Total Bust?

A UK-based company that produces promotional items (think branded industry swag) called Adler conducted a fun experiment in brand recall. They asked 100 participants to draw the logos of 10 of Europe’s biggest brands:

  • Aldi
  • BMW
  • Cadbury
  • Lacoste
  • Lego
  • Puma
  • Red Bull
  • Shell
  • Spotify
  • Vodafone

Then Adler plotted each of the drawings on a graph from least accurate to most accurate. Then they pulled out key insights.

 

Some of these Pumas look like kitty cats:

Full Story Here

Why It’s Hot
While verbal or written brand recall exercises are nothing new, it was fun to see what people draw based on memory. Seems like the simpler logos fared better, not surprisingly.

The jet lag app you never knew you needed

Introducing Timeshifter: an easy-to-use, straightforward app that helps people fight jet lag. Users simply enter in their full flight details (including multi-leg flights, stopovers), chronotype (morning person or a night owl), along with their individual sleep patterns. The latter is composed of your preferred bedtime/wake-up times as well as any other favorite aids, like melatonin or coffee intake.

Timeshifter then instantly delivers a personalized sleep schedule. It’s a full plan accompanied by push notification alerts like “avoid caffeine for the next 6 hours,” “expose yourself to light starting in 30 minutes,” or “take melatonin.” One can start it three days in advance of one’s flight or up until a minute before take-off, though the plan changes depending on advance lead time. The service costs $10 per jet lag plan or $24.99 for an annual subscription.

“Our plans have a practicality filter, where the advice fits with what you can really achieve in the real world,” says Dr. Steve Lockley, a neuroscientist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. The renowned expert in circadian rhythms and former NASA consultant developed the Timeshifter app algorithm after a decade of devising custom jet lag plans for Formula 1 drivers and astronauts.

The app is unique in that it’s entirely based on sleep neuroscience and focused on shifting one’s internal clock forward. As Timeshifter cofounder and CEO Mickey Beyer-Clausen, explains, beating jet lag involves moving one’s circadian cycle to the new time zone as soon as (feasibly) possible. But it’s not one-size-fits-all. Based on the information provided by each user, Timeshifter could have hundreds of different versions of the same trip, depending on sleep patterns or even when they started using the app.

The app also strives to make actions attainable based on your schedule. “So if you’re asked to avoid light, it doesn’t mean being in complete darkness or closing your eyes. It means being exposed to less light than [usual],” explains Lockley. “There’s no point in advising you go to bed at 7:00 PM because the chances are you’re not really gonna do that.”

While several other jet lag apps exist, such as Jet Lag Rooster, they do not base circadian rhythm on personalized details. Others, like Uplift, recommend timed acupressure to prevent jet lag.

Why it’s Hot:

This is an awesome use of technology and human knowledge. It would have been an amazing piece of technology for a modern travel brand to create to build a more holistic user experience. I could also see travel brands like Away including a trial for this app with a purchase of their suitcases.

Source

“Emotional Communication” With Tech…Through Our Device’s Skin

 

It looks like a chunk of flesh, lopped out of someone’s arm and placed on a table. And it’s pretty much just that. You can touch it, tickle it, pinch it, etc. and it will know. But this skin isn’t human skin. It’s skin for our tech.

Skin-On is modeled after the layers of real human skin, it’s made of silicone, molded with the human skin patterns. Under the “epidermis” aka the top layer is the “dermis” or a grid of electrode wires. These are the same electrodes as the inside of a smartphone touchscreen, and they sense touch using electromagnetism, just like in phones. But embedded with silicone, they have the ability to measure not just contact, but squeezes and twists.

“The trick is it’s insulated and slightly stretchable,” says lead researcher Marc Teyssier, a PhD student at Telecom ParisTech, of the electrode layer. Then under this electrode layer is a microprocessor and a layer of silicone that has a different consistency and thickness than the epidermis to really simulate that human feel.

“I think the weirdest thing is to hold the phone.” says Teyssier. “Because when you hold the phone, it’s like holding someone’s arm . . . [though] once you interact, it feels quite natural.” Spooky.

Why It’s Hot:

Even though the project would be easy to scale (according to the founders), it’s not something they actually want to do. The hope of the project is that it helps us question the philosophical relationship of people and machinery. Think of Skin-On Interfaces as functional art that asks whether we should be so quick to add technology onto our human bodies, rather than reshaping technology to be more human.

“For the last 50 years, the end goal in sci-fi has been the humans are mixed with the machine. That drove research in human-computer interaction. We’ve added devices onto humans,” Teyssier explains, no doubt referencing phones, smartwatches, and augmented reality headsets. “So my point of view is that I’m trying to do the opposite.”

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