Beauty Convos with Gad Cohen: How Do I Get My Mojo Back?

As I’ve begun to settle into my ‘new-normal” state during this Covid era, I’m able to stop and take stock a bit.  The first few months I was working at a frenetic pace trying to manage increasing work, kids and home needs.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful that my family is healthy, I’m still gainfully employed and that the weather has been warm enough that I can get outside one a while.  But as I settle into my new routine, I’ve started bumming on the new beauty reality of social distancing.   How can I express my me-ness?  Can I share the part of me that’s associated with how I look and show up, my sense of fashion and beauty?  If my life consists of presenting on camera..how do I do that well?

Oh, yeah, what do I do when I have to give a speech at a “virtual” conference next month?  You see when I present, I see it as a performance of sorts.  Of course my content is the most important part of the experience.  But for my information to resonate, I do a lot to make it entertaining — including how I come across on stage.  I use videos, jokes and gestures to make my points.  And I try to present an image — one of intelligence, fun, AND glamour.  So what happens now that I’m relegated to giving a speech on a tiny screen?

Who do I turn to for some advice (and commiseration) on this topic?  My close friend and beauty stylist to the stars, Gad Cohen.   His response?  First, he totally sympathizes.  “We need responses from other ppl…that’s natural. We get dressed up for work and look for a reaction of some sort. And now we  don’t have that ‘audience’ anymore.”

Then we moved beyond the moping and when into solution-mode.  “We have to be creative in our confinement,” said Gad.  In addition to all the typical tricks we’ve been reading, e.g., make sure your background looks nice, ensure your sound works, or don’t just wear your PJ’s all day, Gad gave us some new tips.  Here are some:

1. It’s not enough to have a great background, but change it up!  It not only refreshes you but the folks that you tend to chat with virtually too.

2. Watch other ppl … you see what’s good and what’s not so good.

3. Think of your appearance on the computer camera like you would a portrait..only its a LIVE portrait.  Consider the framing, the composition and the lighting   Natural light is the most even.  Don’t get too close to the camera.  Make sure your heads and shoulders are in frame.  And sit at the right angle.  Maybe face on isn’t the best but at a slight tilt or angle changes everything

4. Be smart about hair and make up — you don’t want to look too done up.  “As long as we look fresh — fresh is the keyword — don’t look like you just got out of bed..a day time look.  Look polished.  Polish is key.  Add a little lipstick.  Give hair volume — freshly washed, blown out, velcro rollers.  Never ever cut it!”

And now I’m adding something:

 5.  Have fun with wigs and head scarves!  I never thought about this myself until I had a virtual birthday bash a few weeks ago and my friend came on the camera wearing a fun wig.  Instead of  panicking about your hair color, just dress up in a wig or scarf.  I ended up wearing a blonde pixie wig and then went online right after and bought myself a bright red wig for the next cocktail hour we have.

Yes, we may not be able to totally express our fashion sense or head to toe beauty during this era, but that doesn’t mean we can’t express it in different and even more creative ways.  And the even better news is that when things start to return, we will have the tips and tricks to make even the simple call as beautiful as possible!

For for the full video of our convo, check below:


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.

 

 

Data, Intimacy & Wearables: A New Take on “We are What We Wear” And How We Feel About It

The beautiful, scary, amazing and conflicting role of data is a conversation that has only gotten hotter over the years.  And now with our clothes and jewelry offering access to intelligence about us like never before, the conversation has gotten that much more dynamic.

Welcome to our fifth podcast about fashion-tech from the NRF Big Show event.  For this discussion, I was, again, accompanied by my friend and ESPN Exec, James Eshricht.  And, again, I had the fortune of hosting a few amazing guests who are shaking the business paradigm and bringing it to new, exciting places.

We kicked off this session with the brilliant and highly fashionable co-founder of Trendalytics, Karen Moon, and her colleague, Amos Chiou.  And then we had the privilege of hosting Julie Rodgers Vargas, director, Digital Solutions at Avery Dennison and Andy Hobsbawm, co-founder & CMO, EVRYTHNG (Yep there’s no vowels…I didn’t forget to spell check :)).

Trendalytics is the “moneyball for fashion,” according to Karen.  Thanks to the company’s sexy combination of data scientists, engineers and retail experts, Trendalytics can forecast fashion trends based, not on the age-old source of historical data, but on a slew of sources including user searches on Google, social buzz and e-com data.  This means they can truly be ahead of the curve.  I couldn’t agree more!  As you can imagine, I’m constantly surrounded by data.  And I love it.  But just because data is so valuable, doesn’t mean it’s not all created equal.  We have to take into account the source.  Historical data is much less foretelling, and, frankly less “human” than data from people’s own search behavior, conversations and activities.  The company is only 2 years old but working with a host of retailers.  Like so many of our guests, Karen and Amos spoke to the key value of understanding the end-user, i.e., the human element.

Speaking of data, James and I had a quick but captivating conversation with the folks of EVRYTHNG, a company that combines hardware, software and real time data in the form of our clothing. “Clothing is the ultimate wearbable”, they said.  (The reason for no vowels?  The company provides “only the essentials,” according to Andy.)  As you interact with these clothing items, “rules in the cloud trigger analytics” which then give you back something like, let you in to a VIP event with a special invitation, or gifts, and the list goes on.

While I’m a big fan of data, I was a bit weirded out by this notion.  After all our clothing is so intimate.  As the technology develops, how much of our intimate feelings, experiences, bodily function do we want to emit?   I couldn’t hold myself back, I had to push this with the EVRYTHNG folks.  Their answer?  You can choose what you want to share of yourself.  Of course, we all realize that this is a new world, and we’re still navigating it.  There is indeed a value exchange.  When we give data, we get something in return.  It’s only a matter of time when we figure out the comfortable boundaries of that exchange.  But there’s no question that the train has left the station and we have to figure out what that means for us.

In a sense we’ve always been using data to understand one another.  It may not have been in such large quantities or at such speeds.  And int he case of “wearables”, we have learned something about someone through their clothing for ages.  When someone wears something of high quality, with particular fabrics from distant origins, we are hit with a number of pieces of data.  We know that person cares about his/her appearance, is affluent, and has a sense of the aesthetic.   So are times really changing or are we just collecting, analyzing and sharing data in new ways?

Personally, I’m more excited than not about what’s to come and how we can make everything (or evrthng :)) — even our clothing and jewelry –be even greater sources of awe and inspiration for us.  And the more we understand this world, the better we can turn it into something valuable vs bizarre.

Please click on these two podcasts to hear more:

Interview with Trendalytics

Interview with Evrthng

And if you want to see us chat, have fun watching this Periscope version.  Please start at 25 minutes into the podcast.

Podcast #4: Fashion Tech Rock Stars Show Their Amazing Wares and Share What Inspires Them

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I’m really excited about bringing to you all our fourth podcast in our fashion-tech series of conversations from the NRF Big Show.  For this discussion I had the honor of co-hosting with my hilarious and highly accomplished friend and ESPN exec, James Eschricht.  We had a few amazing, brilliant and beautiful guests joining us in the fun, including Veronika Harbick, founder of Thursday Finest; Christina D’Avignon, founder and CEO of Ringly, and Betsy Fore, Founder and CEO of Wondermento.

This rapid-fire series of conversations were all about product, product, product.  Like the earlier conversations, there was a lot of talk about aesthetics being key to the experience.  In other words, if one of these fashion tech products doesn’t make me drool because it looks so damn good, it’s not worth it.  That’s why Veronica focuses on customization.  Thursday Finest is a 3D knitting company (check out the blue knit scarf worn by James in the Periscope video below — that’s one of their creations).  The company produces the whole garment, i.e., no need for self-assembly.  BUT you can choose the style and even order “granular” sizing (that’s a totally new term for me!).  One of their best items?  The knit tie.  Yep, it’s back, and for all you fashion-forward guys, knit ties are super IN.

Ringly, a smart jewelry accessories brand — namely rings and bracelets — creates all their items with semi-precious stones so every product is unique.  Again,  the good have to look special, not just act it.  As Christina, the CEO of Ringly, states: “So many of these types of products look gadgety and unisex, but that’s not the way men and women shop…I have to want to wear it even if it did nothing.”  Even Wondermento gets this!  The brand’s founder, Betsy, has created smart jewelry for pets.  She showed off one of the products that’s like a “Fitbit” for dogs called Wonderwoof — oh, and it’s one of Oprah’s faves, BTW.  This product let’s you track your dog and her exercise progress, and find other doggie friends.  She can even compete for top dog status!  My favorite line of our conversation: “I often get asked: ‘can I put this on my boyfriend?'”  LOL

What’s super clear about these products, as the guests noted themselves, is that they are really defining a new category.  They are, certainly, high-tech devices but also works of beauty.  Many of them sell in top-end department stores and there’ often a debate by the retailers about which section of the store to sell them in.  Should they been the jewelry section, tech section, watch section, you get it. How cool is it to be creating a whole new category, charting new courses, and having a ton of fun while doing it?!

But what eclipsed all the cool products, was Veronika’s uplifting and gracious story of gratitude.  As an immigrant from Russia to the U.S., she realizes how fortunate she is to be in the U.S., and in New York in particular.  She recognizes the value of hard work her but also appreciates the American spirit that buoys her.  Her words: “People are really rooting for you.”  While many of us complain about the U.S. being a country “divided,” let’s still remember this country is also a place where we can rise from being an immigrant to an amazing tech star, and do it with a spirit of encouragement and comradery around us.

Please click on the image to enjoy each of our three podcasts below.

Interview with Thursday Finest, Veronika Harbick

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Interview with Ringly’s, Christina D’Avignon

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Interview with Betsy Fore

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And if you want to get a glimpse of our amazing guests and their fantastic products, click on our periscope video starting from the beginning until minute 25 or so.  I have to confess the sound is very faint but you at least you can feast your eyes on some cool stuff!

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What’s the Unexpected But Key Role of a Fashion Tech Boss? Check Out This Story & Find Out

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Welcome to our third podcast from the NRF Big Show a month ago.  For this podcast I spoke with Dolly Singh, founder of Thesis Couture, and Alison Lewis, founder of Switch Embassy.   We also had the privilege of re-joining with Monica Phromsavanh, Founder of Modabox.  Dolly and Alison shared with us gorgeous, hi-tech items including: Thesis Couture’s first-of-its-kind scrappy, high-heels that are as beautiful for your back as they are for your feet; and covetable purses like a light, “soft, squishy,” nature-inspired, blue-tooth enabled leather clutch with LED lights and flexible display.

Our conversation spanned topics from how to gather and learn from one another as tech bosses  (leveraging those “secret societies” out there) to what we wished our shoes could do in a dream world (flying, being able to hold our babies, you name it).  One of my favorite statements of the discussion came from Dolly: “It’s desire that drives the world…I don’t want ugly shoes, I want shoes that make me feel like a million bucks…logic doesn’t prevail.”  I couldn’t agree more!

What became so evident from our conversation is the importance  of these women’s ability to communicate — better yet — translate to others.  I immediately connected with that.  So much of my role at Google is to decode and translate the true value of digital to our clients, or translate the user’s underlying motivation and needs to my creative and engineering counterparts.

The same is true for these women.  Not only do they have an amazing sense of vision, but they have a strong ability to translate that vision to all the respective parties.  These different parties often come from very very, different “worlds”, like Silicon Valley engineers and luxury Italian shoe designers.   Alison named her company “Switch Embassy” because of the necessity to be able to pivot AND be “bi-lingual” (my words, not hers).  She has to “speak” fashion AND tech in order to combine these two worlds.  Her role is to really listen, translate and bridge all the expertise.   In her words: “Tech guys don’t know how to talk to brands, and brands don’t know what to ask.”

We sometimes forget how valuable being a great translator and communicator truly is.  We revere the creator, which, having grown up in the advertising world where the creative  director is king, I get it.  But without the ability to bring people together and to get them to see one another’s needs, aspirations and visions, nothing would come to fruition.  As Monica pointed out, “it’s about getting things to market, not just creating them.”  Without the ability to translate among many different teams, collaboration could never happen, and the final product would just be a nice image in someone’s head.  I don’t know about you but I want those beautiful, hi tech purses and shoes in my hands and on my feet, not in my dreams! :).

For the full, fantastic conversation among these tech bosses, have a listen to our audio podcast.

https://soundcloud.com/kathleen-kiley/show-3-beautyskew-mixdown

And if you want to see the live version on camera, have fun watching this…again forgive us for the sound!

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Fashion Tech: A Dichotomy or Beautiful Pairing? Two Amazing Experts Tell It Like It Is

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Last week I kicked off my series of posts dedicated to the amazing people I interviewed on my fashion/beauty tech podcast at the NRF Big Show.  This week I’m excited to share with you the fantastic discussion I had with tech genius and fashionista, Amanda Parkes; and entrepreneur, tech boss, founder of SWSI: Smart Women Smart Ideas, and producer of Fashion Geeks & Queen Boss, Heidi E Lehmann  (phew, lots of accomplishments, eh?).

We chatted about the beginnings of wearable tech, why women are at the forefront of the industry, and how fashion tech brands will win in this market.  One of my favorite discussions focused on the role of women in tech, and how fashion tech is actually a great way to bring young girls into the fields of engineering and technology.  This conversation reminded me of a post I wrote a few years back about how to get girls interested in STEM.  I suggested that we have an opportunity to attract girls with tech if we introduced them to it, not just through typical “boy” spaces, i.e., video games, but, rather, through the world of beauty (Want More Women in STEM? Start with Beauty).

Amanda told us a story about an article she read in a tech journal bashing wearable/fashion tech as something frivolous and unworthy of attention.  She was so incensed that she wrote an op-ed demonstrating how vital fashion is for the economy, and in no way a lesser form of tech endeavor.  After all, each of us wears something everyday, right?  We all benefit from or contribute to the world of fashion in more ways than we know.  So true!  For better or for worse, it’s been the business of fashion that has fueled and dramatically changed the economy over the centuries — think silk trade, textile manufacturing, cotton crops, to name a few.  Of course you can’t help but think that there’s a degree of sexism at play.  Well, if fashion tech is is seen as too “fem” then BRING IT ON!  Let’s get our girls excited about tech, whether that means creating cosmetics or their own clothing designs.

For full 25 minute conversation, have fun listening to the audio podcast.

https://soundcloud.com/kathleen-kiley/show-2-beautyskew-mixdown-1

And if you want to see it via our Periscope livestream, here ya go…please mind the background sound:

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Monica Phromsavanh: From refugee to serial entrepreneur. Hear her story on our first-ever-podcast!

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A few weeks back I announced my panel and podcasts at the National Retail Federation‘s Big Show (“Getting Up Close and Personal with the Hottest, Coolest Ladies in Fashion Tech).  I was so fortunate to meet with some of the brightest, loveliest and most interesting women in the world of fashion tech and wearable technology.  Over the course of the next weeks I will be sharing their stories via the podcasts that we taped.

During our podcasts, we discussed a slew of topics like these women’s journeys, their points of view on the convergence of beauty and fashion with technology, and the challenges and opportunities they face as women in the technology.

In light of President Trump’s deplorable immigration ban, I have to kick this series off with the amazing story of Monica Phromsavanh, Founder of Modabox and formerly from Burberry, and Limelight Shops, to name a few.  She overcame tremendous odds to become the amazing entrepreneur that she is.  Her journey starts as a refugee in Argentina, working in a sweatshop.  

My favorite quote of her’s: “Technology is a great tool but at the end of the day we’re still human and we still want human connection.”

See what she’s referring to in this snap shot of our conversation.

No question the conversation with Monica could have gone on for hours.  Chatting about the beauty of, implications of, and challenges with the interplay of fashion and technology is and was fascinating.  But let’s also recognize what Monica, and others like her, gift us.  Perspective, new ideas, tenacity, grit, gratitude…to name a few.  Can you imagine if we let this administration ban more brilliant, game-changing people like Monica from entering and flourishing in this country?

You can hear the whole conversation, plus interesting dialogue with my co-host Valerie De La Rosa of Conde Nast Entertainment, and my other special guest, Jackie Trebilcock, Founder NY Fashion Tech Lab, via our podcast below!

https://soundcloud.com/kathleen-kiley/show-1-beautyskew-mixdown

Looking forward to your feedback!

 

Virtual VS Physical: What Really Drives Us

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VR, Placemaking and spirituality … one momentous day clarified it all for me.  While VR and AR are among some of the hottest topics at CES this year, we still have a fundamental need to find meaning in and add value to our physical world.  The anthropologists have been speaking about this for decades.  They call it Placemaking.  In essence, we, human beings, have a deep seated need to connect with the physical places and spaces that surround us.  This explains why we love to take photos of our environment, why so many social media groups popped over of the years dedicated to local communities, and, why vinyl records soared last year according to last year’s SXSW; and why we still love to decorate our homes. (For more of a description of Placemaking, see my article, Meaning of Mobile)

The concept of Placemaking didn’t just crop up just because of CES, but because I experienced it, first-hand, and in a highly dramatic, spiritual and meaningful way during this holiday season.   You see, my family traveled to Israel, specifically, Jerusalem, to celebrate my son’s bar mitzvah.  We gathered my extended family for a weekend of prayer; good and plentiful Israeli food; and togetherness in the historic Mt Zion Hotel.  Through it all we were overlooking the old city of Jerusalem, and the Hinnom Valley.

To give you some context, the Mt Zion structure was built in 1882 by Members of the Order of St. John, a British charitable organization dating back to the time of the Crusades.  The building housed an eye hospital serving Muslims, Jews, and Christians from all over the Middle East.  During Israel’s War of Independence, the building and a secret cable car attached to it, were used during the night to transfer medicine and arms to Mount Zion, and the wounded soldiers and Old City dwellers to the hospital.  In the daytime the cable was lowered to the ground so as not to be seen.  Years later it was converted into a hotel.  As you can tell from the pictures, it has a classic middle eastern feel, with arched ceilings, mosaic walls, Jerusalem stone and lush gardens.

Experiencing the events of the bar mitzvah in such a historic building — all the while having a view of Jerusalem’s Old City Wall, places of worship and ancient buildings — impacted us greatly.  The setting added beauty, spirituality, history and meaning to my son’s once-in-a-lifetime event that we would not have experienced anywhere else.   The  environment reminded us that my son’s bar mitzvah is a ritual that has dated back centuries, and is part of a religion that has a vast and rich history.  The beautiful hotel rooms in which we dined added a sense of splendor to the event.  And the middle eastern touches, he turkish hammam, morrocon-style furniture and decor, and the classic Judaica surrounding the common spaces, exemplified the mixing of cultures that has strongly impacted the people of Israel and their country.

Like so many of you, I love technology and what it brings us.  How can I not?  I make my living from it :).  But while technology can  transport us out of reality and out of our physical environments, let’s not forget the primal desire we have to surround ourselves with the physical.  We strongly need to touch, feel, plant our feet and smell the real world around us.  As my son’s bar mitzvah shows us, physical space not only grounds us, it heightens our experience.  It connects us to our worlds, to others, and to ourselves.

As we race into the future, don’t forget to embrace our physical world.  It’s primal, it’s necessary, and it’s amazing.

P.S., If any of you are attending NRF Big Show in NYC in a week, please join me on my panel and Beautyskew podcasts! More details to follow in next week’s post.

Election Protests & Reacting With Grace and Style : Lessons Learned From NYTimes’s Bill Cunningham

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I had one of my usual circuitous, yet brilliant, conversations with someone from my team this week.  You know those dialogues that starts going in varied directions but then comes full circle as we start to see how these different directions connect?  I love those!  During this particular discussion, we touched on a range of subjects — from human insights, to NYC traffic, to learnings from the recent election.  We also somehow got to the topic of the late and much-missed Bill Cunningham of the New York Times.  For those of you unfamiliar with him, he gifted us with wonderful images and videos of the people of NYC.  When we got to the topic of Bill, we must have spent 20 minutes just gushing over how great he was — all his great work, his sense of curiosity, and his humble but so-uplifting attitude.  Even his intro music to his videos makes me smile wide!

Ah, Bill.

Despite Bill’s simple, unpretentious personal style (he rode an old-school bicycle everywhere, wore something akin to my father’s ordered-from-Sears office uniform everyday, and never tried to hide his Boston accent), he had a deep but fun appreciation for others’ sense of it.  You could feel his energy and absolute love for people.  The streets were his playground and canvass.  The people of New York were his subjects, the camera his tools, and his columns and quirky, lovable slide shows were his masterpieces.  People loved getting photographed by him — you can see it in all of their broad smiles — and fashion designers looked to his work for a sense of current looks.  Essentially, he peered into the mini-world of street style and elevated it for us.  Bill gave the people of NYC an extra dose of dignity.  He shared the amazingness of people’s everyday behaviors.  And he saw style as a way for people to express themselves.  Bill would say things like: “Everyone can put fashion down and that it doesn’t mean a thing.  But it does!  Because each morning when you get dressed, when you go out, it just lifts your spirits!”

You can imagine why Bill’s work should be celebrated in this blog.  We are all about embracing beauty.  But I’m celebrating him for whole other reason.  And it’s this reason that he randomly made an appearance in work conversation about the election and human insights.  (Note: our brains don’t just leap to random thoughts for no reason.  We may not consciously realize the connection at first, but our brains do!)  Bill surfaced because he represents EXACTLY what we all need to do post election: be humble, observant, celebratory of others’ cultures.  While he was not a fashionista himself, he could see and, more importantly, appreciate, the beauty of others.  While he didn’t put a lot of creative effort in his own wardrobe, he took such pleasure in others who did.  He recognized the small but brilliant behaviors we express to give our selves happiness, meaning and fulfillment.  And we ALL do this in different ways.  We just need to start appreciating both ourselves and others for it.

So what does this all mean, really?  What is Bill actually teaching us …especially with regard to the election results?

I think it’s something like this: no one is totally stupid, wrong or misguided for living the way they do or thinking the way they do.  We have to stop looking inwardly and crying in our soup.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t protest changes in government that we don’t agree with, like Trump’s pick today of Exxon CEO as new Secretary of State.  What I am saying that we have start looking outwardly with a keen eye and respectful, considered mindset.  We need to be more observant and try to understand and appreciate the brilliant behaviors that we so often overlook in others.  We don’t do things for no reason — whether its wearing chevron stripes or voting for Trump.  We have to give others the respect Bill gave every person on the street, i.e., observe, dig deep, learn and understand, and even appreciate others.  And by doing so we not only grow but we also give others a sense of dignity.

Oh another thing we learned? We can’t forget to have a bit more fun with what we and others wear too, of course! 🙂

Can Technology Be Biased? This Beauty Contest Reveals How Much

 

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Before I start, allow me to thank you all for your super interesting comments on last week’s post.   I love hearing and learning from all of you!

And now for our regularly scheduled program…:)

For about a year I’ve come across a few stories about beauty contests being judged by robots, that is Artificial Intelligence.   By measuring people’s (let’s face it, women’s) facial structures these robots can accurately determine beauty.  And given the judges are robots versus actual humans, we assume that the judgements are devoid of cultural or ethnic biases.  I’ve read these stories with mild interest.  But this time, a recent story stuck with me…and not in a good way.

I’m sure such a contest raises a whole host of issues for many of you.  First, I imagine many of you oppose such contests — humans or no humans as judges.  How can one judge beauty anyway?  Second, so much of physical beauty emanates from within.  I’m not talking about inner beauty.  That’s a whole other subject.  I’m talking about the energy, the light, the passion that springs forth from someone making then either more or less beautiful.  Can a robot really judge that?

But those issues aside, my biggest concern with this contest is what is conveys about technology as a whole.  The results of these contests showed how actually, how terribly biased A.I. can be!

According to this article in NextWeb, the contest drew over 6,000 applications from across 100 countries. And despite the obvious diversity of beauty that the robots were exposed to, out of the 44 winners, only a few were Asian, one was black, and the rest were white.  None had dark skin.

WTF!

Are the foolproof “complex algorithms” that biased?  I’m afraid so.  How can that be?  Easy.  A human being has designed them that way.  And that’s pretty scary.

I’m not saying the engineers behind the algorithms intentionally developed them to be pro white.  It’s just that bias is going to inevitable when the majority of the brilliant brains behind the development of technology are of a certain gender, ethnic background or culture.  No matter how much we try to rid ourselves of our biases, it’s super, super hard to erase the ones we don’t even know we have.

If technology can be biased when it comes to beauty, could it also be biased when it comes to truly understanding the user and what s/he needs?  Or can it be biased with regards to places on the map or particular destinations?  You get the point.

So what do we do?  It’s not a new news that we should push harder for diversity our work places.  It makes for diversity of thought and ideas.  But it goes deeper than that.  Diversity ensures that the seemingly “judge-free,” non-biased technologies we create actually hold up to that expectation.  When humans are led by their biases, we forgive them.  Because, well, it’s “human” not to be perfect.  But technology shouldn’t make mistakes, right?  It can’t be biased.  So if technology, or in this case A.I., declares someone fit or beautiful or smart, well then it must be so!    And the result?  People deem the seemingly unbiased robots as arbiters of truth.

I’m not the first person to call for more diversity.  It’s a MUST.  But I’m also calling on all of us to challenge our notions of how “smart” our technology really is.  Believe me, I LOVE technology.  I’m benefiting from it in all aspects of my life, and, most, importantly in my job.  But let’s realize that behind all technology are human beings.  This recognition should mostly strike a sense of admiration in human kind. After all it takes a buttload of brilliance to be creating the amazing technology we have, and will have in the coming years.  But it should also open our eyes to that fact that technology isn’t fool proof, totally unbiased or “right” all the time.

Let’s remember, human beings are the smartest, most elegant and beautiful “machines” that exist.  We are complex, emotional and gorgeous in so many diverse ways.  We don’t need a technology-driven beauty contest to prove that.