Day 9 of the 2-week countdown to our photo shoot

To quote my friend & founder of #june4thstudio, @rebeccaliscious, “stay hydrated!” Esp the lips. So I’ve been slathering my ūüćč scented lip balm brought all the way from Tokyo multiple times a day. Hope it works! #photoshootūüď∑ #beauty #2020goals #brandimage #beautyintheboardroom

Will AI Kill Fashion or Improve It?

I have to confess: I’m FAR from being an expert on AI.  But given my role at Google, and the work of my team members, it comes up in many conversations, is the engine behind some of the tools my team creates, and it makes its way into at least one article in my news feed a day.  So I have some understanding of it.

Lately, I‚Äôve been talking about it in the context of fashion. ¬†It‚Äôs undeniable that AI will have an increasingly greater impact on the fashion world in the coming years. ¬†The question everyone asks is,”is that a good thing?” Like in other creative fields I work with, people are concerned that AI could squelch creativity or limit it altogether. ¬†After all, its key value is¬†automation. What happens to the human being behind all of this? Does all creativity just end? Will creative industries like fashion just fade away or change into something empty of artistic expression? One particular entrepreneur engaged in the fashion tech space argued that soon AI will scan our behaviors, predict what we‚Äôd like into an ideal outfit and then we‚Äôd scan the looks into a 3D printer which will print out our clothing at home. ¬†No more need for fashion design and no more need for fashion retailers.

I don’t quite agree.  

I was asked to comment about this topic and few other fashion and strategy related issues in an interview with Geoffrey Colon, a marketing disruptor and innovator from Microsoft. ¬†He hosts a podcast, ‚ÄúDisruptive FM‚ÄĚ and interviews various people from across the globe every year at the Cannes Lions Festival. ¬†His Cannes video is called ‚ÄúFashion Boutique.‚ÄĚ Geoffrey didn’t waste any time with me under the hot sun and homed into the interplay of AI and fashion. ¬†¬†No question AI will be able to get a faster, maybe even more, nuanced read of our habits, preferences and activities than a human being could. ¬†And with that speed and nuance, it can create styles that every individual would likely find appealing.¬†

But there is still a need for the human being to oversee and correct or pivot the findings of AI. ¬†Certain cultural norms or expectations may underpin our fashion sense that can‚Äôt be picked up through behavior alone. ¬†Certain permutations and combinations may seem to look nice via an algorithm but appear ‚Äúoff‚ÄĚ as the end result. Technology is our friend.¬† It does the tedious work for us¬†so we can then build off of it and spend more time playing and evolving fashion.

Prior to my podcast I was mining my friend and fashion tech guru, Amanda Parkes for insight on this matter since she speaks on stages all over the world on this and related topics.  She highlighted a few fashion companies taking hold of AI like H&M and Myntra which uses machine learning to design full collections in record speeds. But there’s human beings along the way, tapping their sense of creativity to enhance machine learning to be that much more nuanced.  AI isn’t killing fashion or creativity; it’s allowing us to do it more quickly and in different ways.

AI will give us greater personalization than ever before, we we all love that (think the craze over Nike ID).  Could the hyper personalization we crave and receive from AI further discount the need for human side of fashion?  After all, we are getting exactly what suits us, right? Of course we seek clothing that benefits our specific lifestyles and needs.  But there’s the other side of fashion. The side that surprises, enlightens and inspires us.  It’s the side that opens our eyes to something we never even REALIZED we needed. AI can bring us closer to that, but it’s human beings who can take it to the next level.

As Dr. Anastassia Lauterbach, tech entrepreneur and author, said so adroitly: ‚ÄúThe word intelligence in AI is highly confusing and causes funny discussions. Today there is nothing absolutely intelligent in Machine learning applications. Everything happens by design, and this design is done by humans – preferably in diverse teams. Humans decide what criteria get emphasized in a model. Machine learning scales what ever good or bad gets into the datasets and algorithms. Every profession needs to adjust to a world where some coding will be as normal as cooking today. Yes, you can eat in restaurants every day and let others cook for you. But it is maybe nice to be capable to produce something on your own. Same is true with AI in any industry. If you choose technology illiteracy, you can lament the death of creativity. Or you can use your great knowledge and add new skills, partner with technologists who are capable to listen, and do the work. AI is not a conscious agent. It is a tool…it can be used in a smart way, and support your ideas. The Intelligence on what and how remains yours.‚ÄĚ

The opportunity is in front of us: retreat from AI or harness it to take creativity to newer and maybe even greater heights.

For the full video, click here (My piece starts around the 10 minute mark).

Fashion & Sex: How #Metoo is Changing It, But Is It For The Better?

A few weeks back you may have a seen a short video between my friends, Rachael McCrary and¬†Marci¬†Weisler about our reactions to the #metoo movement.¬† One of the areas discussed was our attire.¬† How should women dress?¬† Are we asking¬†to be seen as sex objects if we wear something alluring or are we displaying our sense of empowerment?¬† This isn’t a new debate but it’s just that much more heightened due to the times.¬† Rachael and I believe its the latter.¬† This should be of no surprise if you know me, my blog posts, and how I tend to dress; and no surprise given Rachael’s role as a CEO of lingerie company, Jewel Toned.

But now this question is also being discussed¬†by the fashion and its surrounding industries, i.e., publishing.¬† In a recent Financial Times article, “Lets Talk about Sex,” Lou Stoppard reflects on the fear of fashion designers and magazine brands to display sexuality in¬†their designs and photo shoots.¬†The story cites the trends by fashion brands to cover up, develop more unisex¬†items and create “reserved”¬†looks¬†in response to today’s climate.¬† Likewise, style magazines¬†are forcing themselves to rethink their often-hyper sexual imagery.¬† The article aptly kicks off with these words:”There is little joy of sex in the fashion industry right now.¬† In fact, the industry seems seems almost scared of it.”

As a mother of boys and a girl, I’m not disappointed that¬†the media industry is¬†challenging itself to portray women in a more empowering light.¬† But must we avoid sexuality all together?¬† Of course not all brands are avoiding it.¬† As the article points out, designers such as Christopher Kane are still developing alluring designs.¬† His words sum it up for me: “No one should¬†be taken advantage of, but sex is not a bad thing, either.¬† Abuse is a bad thing.”¬† EXACTLY!¬† Demonizing sex or avoiding it isn’t the solution.¬† If we assume sex or being sexy is bad, we will not only inhibit women from trying to look as alluring as¬†they choose but also will link sex with abuse.¬† ¬†By making such a tight connection between sex and abuse, we may be encouraging the abuser to further use sex as a way to exert his/her power over and anger towards others.¬†¬† If we regarded sex and looking sexy as a beautiful thing¬†and as a wonderful way to commune with others (assuming its consensual), we will begin to stop using it in an abusive manner.¬† Call me crazy, but I liken it to our relationship to food.¬† ¬†We need food.¬† And it’s wonderful!¬† Of course we should treat our bodies with respect and not over do it.¬† Nor should we stuff crap down our throats.¬† Both of those are harmful.¬† But to demonize food¬†is harmful too. ¬†But when we have a screwy relationship to food¬†–when we feel both consumed by it and then ashamed when we eat it — we begin to hate it.¬† The result? We abuse it and¬†abuse ourselves that much more.¬†¬†We need to change this negative relationship …with food and sex.

Everyone has a different interpretation of sexy attire.¬† No matter what that is, I think we should all¬†be free to embrace our own version of it.¬† As I’ve said in past posts and in our video conversation, eschewing sensuality or sexuality isn’t necessarily empowering.¬† For me is depressing.¬† Just as eschewing lovely foods or spirits.¬† Sexuality¬†is part of our amazing lives.¬† We just have to respect it’s boundaries and honor it.

Look out for our next video chat in a the coming weeks!

The Beauty of Social Media isn’t Just Skin Deep

A street in Paris My my trip a few weeks ago

In past posts, I have referenced the anthropology-based work¬†around various technology platforms I had the privilege to develop, including a study on Social Media. ¬†A recent article, “Instagram posts can reveal depression better than anything patients tell their doctors,” brought the insights of this social study to fore for¬†me. ¬†It reminded me of the¬†deep beauty that we can actually derive from social media. ¬†I’m not referring to pretty pictures, though that has an important role in our lives. ¬†I’m referring to the deeper, societal benefit Social gives us.

Yes, for many of us social media is a playful pastime. ¬†We can post great bikini pics or vacation vistas. ¬†We can air our grievances or, at our worst, use it to put others down. ¬†Social media — not matter which¬†sites we frequent or how we’re using them¬†(including the posting of seemingly banal stuff)¬†–serves as greater purpose: one that fundamental and, well, beautiful.

How? ¬†Because of the very elements of social — it’s real time, and raw nature; and the relative anonymity or physical distance from others — we tend to be more real and vulnerable. ¬†And, we will often say things and show things to MANY people that we would either keep to ourselves or only tell a few friends. ¬†In doing so, we often use a¬†sort of language, what we call “poetic language,” (imagery, gifs, emoji’s or slang) that’s full of nuance¬†and emotion¬†to truly convey what we feel. ¬†For example, if you asked me how my day was over text a few years ago, the best I could offer was “good” or “GOOD” of “Way good.” ¬†But now I can add some rainbows, a video clip and an emoji looking up towards heaven to show how amazing it was.

It’s these elements that compel us to share and be open to “hearing” back — whether that’s about the best restaurant in a foreign city or if a woman should leave her abusive boyfriend (true story on Reddit). ¬†And this exchange of ideas, insights and challenges helps us learn about our worlds and our place in it. ¬†We call this “Self-Making through Others.” ¬† What does this mean? ¬†We are less and less motivated by individual self-help and more by interdependence!

So when I¬†saw this article about being able to detect depression in others thanks to Instagram images, I thought:”this is yet another wonderful example of Self-making through Others.” ¬†The article explains how we can help alert others’ to their pain and maybe suggest ways to help them thanks to¬†their Instagram photos. ¬†¬†According to EPJ Data Science, a pair of researchers, Chris Danforth of the University of Vermont and Andrew Reece of Harvard University, were able to analyze Instagram posts based on previously known markers of depression. ¬† The article points out: “Depressed people tend to prefer grayer, darker colors, and to show less evidence of social activity (which the researchers thought might be evidenced by the absence of faces in posted images).” ¬†And depressed people tend not to use filters.

Imagine if you and your social network realized one of your friend’s is experiencing deep, emotional pain and you could help him or her? ¬†Wouldn’t you want to? ¬†Thanks to social media, in this case Instagram, we can. ¬† I realize social media can also contribute to peoples’ pain, for example, when the body-shamers rear their heads. ¬†But as our research indicated, most of what we share and chat about is positive, helpful and insightful; not negative. ¬†And now, thanks to this research, we can be more aware of others’ emotional states, and help them through their situations.

Social media is certainly light and fun, and and we should enjoy that. ¬†But let’s not just sit back an admire people’s images or scroll past them. ¬†Let’s¬†pay closer attention to what others share. ¬†Let’s uplift those even higher who are celebrating their lives and embrace those who are crying out for help. ¬†And we will¬†all be better for it.