Greenhouse Gas Emissions Accelerating

A scary report from the New York Times:

Greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are growing at an accelerating pace this year, researchers said Wednesday, putting the world on track to face some of the most severe consequences of global warming sooner than expected.

Scientists described the quickening rate of carbon dioxide emissions in stark terms, comparing it to a “speeding freight train” and laying part of the blame on an unexpected surge in the appetite for oil as people around the world not only buy more cars but also drive them farther than in the past — more than offsetting any gains from the spread of electric vehicles.

As someone who spends lots of time working with data, I especially appreciate the data visualization with error bars later in the story. Very well done.

Atul Gawande on the Challenges of Computerization in Medicine

From the New Yorker:

Many of the angriest complaints, however, were due to problems rooted in what Sumit Rana, a senior vice-president at Epic, called “the Revenge of the Ancillaries.” In building a given function—say, an order form for a brain MRI—the design choices were more political than technical: administrative staff and doctors had different views about what should be included. The doctors were used to having all the votes. But Epic had arranged meetings to try to adjudicate these differences. Now the staff had a say (and sometimes the doctors didn’t even show), and they added questions that made their jobs easier but other jobs more time-consuming. Questions that doctors had routinely skipped now stopped them short, with “field required” alerts. A simple request might now involve filling out a detailed form that took away precious minutes of time with patients.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Use of Instagram

An interesting analysis from An Xiao Mina in an article on Fast Company:

What’s striking about Ocasio-Cortez’s style is just how digitally native it seems. Sprinkled with emoji, cute stickers, hand-drawn illustrations on top of content, colorful fonts, and not a small number of selfie videos, she embraces all the affordances of Instagram. On Halloween night, for instance, she started up a live stream while she prepared ramen in an Instant Pot. As she chopped up vegetables, she answered questions from her followers about her thoughts on politics and the midterms. A portion of the video used the VCR filter, which created a grainy image along with a timecode, and she then posted the results of her meal (yes, it looked tasty), along with a recipe on her Pinterest account.

The thing I find most interesting about this is how effective she is at it. Other politicians like Chris Murphy have been doing their own Snapchat account for a while, but people seem particularly stricken by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s social media presence. Given that this is not the first time a politician has used social media in this way, I tend to think the excitement about it is more a function of the content creator than the medium.

Public Student Loan Forgiveness is a Quagmire

I read the following scary tidbit from CNBC:

Just 96 people across the country have been released from their debt, thanks to public service loan forgiveness. Last year was the first year of eligiblity, since the program was signed into law in 2007 and it requires at least 10 years of payments to qualify. Nearly 30,000 borrowers have applied for the forgiveness, according to the Education Department’s data.

Reading this article it appears that many borrowers were not aware of nor able to follow all the rules, but thought they did. I had hoped to participate in this program but my political employment did not qualify and while I do not make as much as my peers in private industry, my government salary does not qualify me for a significantly lower income based repayment. In fact the CFPB illustrates the value of the income based repayment in a report:

Recent projections made by the Department of Education indicate that this effect is even more pronounced when comparing a public service borrower, absent PSLF, to a typical borrower enrolled in REPAYE.56 The Department of Education estimated that, in general, borrowers who earn less than $70,000 per year and owe more than $25,000 in student debt would repay approximately 107 percent of their initial principal balance over the lifetime of their loans.

The fact so few people have qualified for forgiveness under this program is a political quagmire, and it should be fixed. Building and advertising a program people rely on but making it hard to qualify does not improve people’s trust in government.

Artificial Intelligence Driven User Interfaces

When I was working on the Youth Jobs project at MAPC one of the core principles we based our work on was that a good user interface developed with user research could reduce or eliminate the need for training and helping employees use software. Good design could make it easier for young people to apply for jobs, but it also could help the staff view and select youth without learning complex software. This is easy to do when you do user research and your users only need to use a subset of functionality, or the software has little functionality to begin with. However many software packages are used in different ways by different people. The old approach to this was to let the user customize the user interface in a configuration screen or file. Today software companies are deploying artificial intelligence to create customized user interfaces for every user.

If you use an iPhone you might be familiar with searching by swiping down from the home screen. iOS keeps track of what you do on your phone and some information on when and where you do it, and then will suggest those actions back to you based on what you have done previously. The four apps that show up at the top are based on your usage history. Below that you get actions. If you log your weight in the health app every morning, an action to do that will appear. If you typically message someone or tweet, Siri will suggest that as well. Siri builds a user interface just for you, without much work on your end.

Other software does this as well. Google Drive started suggesting I open documents based on the fact I usually open them at a certain time. I have read that Facebook customizes the buttons that appear at the bottom of its mobile app based on individual users. If you have two twitter accounts you can see the difference in the kinds of notifications and nudges you get based on the account and who it follows. Artificial intelligence built user interfaces are here today, and are here to stay.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.