Double-Edged Ethics of AI

I recently read a letter to The Ethicist in the New York Times, “Can I Use A.I. to Grade My Students’ Papers?”. For the writer, the dilemma stemmed from restricting students to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to write papers, yet use AI to grade the papers. Would that be a double standard?

The teacher made efforts to prevent students from using AI to write the papers. One strategy was to break up the assignment into different working sessions. Some of the sessions were during class time. However, the teacher could still tell some students managed to use AI for the final version. After making efforts to prevent students from using AI, could this teacher benefit from the technology for help with grading?

Last month I faced my own AI dilemma while hiring for two student positions. I received dozens of applicants for both openings. One position had over 100 applicants. I received a nearly 400-page compiled pdf for some of the resumes. Naturally, the time to review and shortlist candidates was short. Plus, who has time to manually review that many. Skimming through cover letters and resumes, I started to get a feel for which ones had been AI-generated vs. customized by hand. One stretch of cover letters were nearly identical, perhaps because they all used the same AI platform and prompt. Would it have been unethical for me to use AI to screen candidates if they were using AI to craft cover letters and maybe even resumes?

Although not quite the same as the teacher’s dilemma, it made me pause. Candidates aren’t forbidden from using AI. For some candidates, it might even help them. As the hiring manager, it meant I had a lot of boring letters to skim. Using AI may have made it easy for some students to apply, resulting in an increase of applicants. But the real question is, would AI have been good at detecting the top candidates? The only way to find out is to try it!

As for the teacher, The Ethicist didn’t find any issue in using AI to grade papers, provided the AI did a good job. The students needed to learn how to think critically and write. The teacher, however, already knew how to grade papers. Using AI to do something the teacher already mastered would leave time available to prepare something different for the students.

The Resurgence of the QR Code

Almost 10 years ago, when I first started my business, many people told me to use QR codes. QR stands for “quick response.” The QR code typically looks like a barcode, but in a square shape. When you point your camera at it, a link appears directing you to the information.

Ten years ago I thought about it, but didn’t see them being used that much. Here and there I would see a QR code. It was common enough that I knew what they were and how to use them. But not so common that I saw them everywhere. Now it seems the QR codes are everywhere. I’m not sure if the resurgence started with Covid, or maybe just a coincidence. In particular, I often notice QR codes with restaurant menus.

This past weekend I stayed in a hotel. Typically, a menu for the hotel lobby restaurant would be a paper brochure nestled with the welcome information in the room. This time, however, I found a sticker on the desk with a QR code.

Last week I went to a ramen place for lunch. When I entered the restaurant the host handed me a small, stiff card with a QR code to view the menu. As another example, a very popular ice cream place in the downtown core where I live has a QR code available to review the menu at various spots while you wait in line.

For many reasons, this is a great option for viewing menus. Providing a QR code, instead of something printed, means the restaurant can make changes instantly. Changes might include prices, daily specials, new additions, or even correcting typos. The QR code is less expensive than printing and laminating menus, plus it provides flexibility and instant updates.

From a practical point of view, they’re also easy to keep clean. Handling printed menus can leave them stained, dirty, or greasy. But with a QR code, everybody is looking at their own personal device. It also allows people to zoom in, if they have problems reading the tiny print on a paper menu.

The only downside is the tiny smartphone screen to read larger menus, even if you can magnify the print. It could take longer to review and scroll the different sections on a phone vs. a print menu. However, I think the trend is here to stay.

Mom Wisdom in the Digital Age

I would imagine when my mom and grandmothers had young children, other moms acted as the source of truth. Or maybe a trusted professional such as a doctor or school teacher. The information may not have been high quality, or even accurate, but it was accomplished with a small amount of transactions. The limited supply meant people had to trust, seek out alternative options, or maybe even (gasp!) make connections with more people.

In those days, internet wasn’t around. Phone calls were expensive. Social media maybe existed in science fiction, but certainly not in real life. As for photos, those were also largely inaccessible. Most people didn’t have cameras. If they did, the camera needed to be focused manually and developing film took time. In short, nothing was instant.

Now we live in an abundance of information. Mom “wisdom” abounds in so many forms it’s hard to know which one to trust or seek out first. Moms these days can take their pick of following other moms on social media of their choice. They can join “mom” groups or search on the internet for millions of options about anything related to their kids. While there is “something for everyone”, it can be difficult to discern what that something should be, and even if it’s valuable. I mean, if it’s for your kid, you probably want something high quality, accurate, and reliable. It should also be instant and in bite-size amounts for easy consumption.

Not to mention, all these manicured postings depicting something unrealistic and unobtainable, have the potential to amplify competition and mom-shaming. It’s hard to know where to turn, who to trust, or a good starting place.

With mother’s day here, I would encourage the moms out there to get back to the basics when it comes to information sources. Start small and meaningful. Ask moms you know, including your own! They are a fountain of valuable wisdom and insights, ingenuity, crafty problem solving, and innovation. Mom hacks are real and often very useful. Even if you don’t agree with everything, it’s a solid starting point founded on something other than random internet searching.

You’re doing a great job! In fact, you’re probably doing a better job than you think. Now that’s something you won’t hear often from internet searches, but you can hear from real life connections.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Ever Changing Definition of Privacy

Cameras are pervasive. We carry them in our pockets. They’re posted to lamp posts and store fronts. Some people have them in and around their homes. Or attached to their doorbells. In some cases, they can be helpful. For example, the doorbell camera is useful for seeing who is at the door, or to view a package delivery. However, the more cameras we see around us, the more we normalize being on display 24/7.

Although I haven’t read about the impact of being around so many cameras non-stop, I believe this has altered our perception of privacy. Sometimes it feels as though there isn’t much left now that we can all be filmed anytime, anywhere, by anyone! Last year, on vacation, one of my family members started spontaneously dancing in front of a store to some music playing. I was enjoying the impromptu show. Then looked up to notice a stranger, stopped at a red light, whipping out his camera to film the dance moves, too. I immediately jumped in between to block the view.

The whole scene lasted only a few seconds, but left me feeling uncomfortable. All I kept thinking was that’s the kind of silly, random video that ends up on Tik Tok, Meta, or Instagram with some stupid caption. A random video of somebody having a bit of spontaneous fun, forever captured on the internet. Honestly, the sort of thing that doesn’t need recording.

I also kept thinking, there’s no way for us to protect ourselves from this happening. Anybody could take a picture of anyone without warning at a good time or at the worst time. We’re powerless to do anything about that. I always felt upset when my friends posted pictures of me on social media, even if they didn’t tag me. But then again, how could I ask them not to, especially if it was a group photo. It’s awkward to never be in group photos. Even avoiding group photos isn’t a guarantee your image won’t end up posted somewhere you don’t want it.

I don’t see there’s anyway to stop people from taking photos of what and who they want, when they want. But I do see future opportunities with AI to automatically start blurring people. Or maybe because it keeps happening all the time, people like me will normalize it and stop feeling so creeped out.

The Creep of Apps

I have to confess that I’ve been using Facebook (FB) marketplace for about a year. It started out innocently. In an effort to reduce waste and cut down on costs, marketplace offered a way to purchase second-hand goods. I also post things for sale on marketplace. The sale process can be a bit tedious, especially if an item is popular, or unpopular. Also, a lot of people are flakey and noncommittal about following through on buying.

At first I felt weird using marketplace. Initially, I resisted and tried to buy and sell on other sites. But in the end, I gave in. Marketplace is one of the most widely used and popular apps. It offers a wealth of options and is viewed by many. Sometimes things sell the same day I post. Usually I can find something I want to buy within a few weeks. All in all, it was working out pretty well until the process changed.

Even though I relented to use FB marketplace, I refused to download the app. Instead I logged in to my account through a web browser. When I started to sell and buy things, marketplace forced me to download the Messenger app to communicate with other sellers and buyers. It just wasn’t possible to receive messages through the web-based version. I begrudgingly downloaded the app, grumbling, but still accepting the change because of the benefits. Recently, things changed again.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I could always post things to sell through the web-based version. However, the last time I went to post a sale item, marketplace denied the request. A prompt appeared asking me if I wanted to post through the app or “Not Now”. I selected “Not Now” but wasn’t able to complete the draft sale posting I was working on. After several futile rounds, Meta won, and I downloaded the app to continue the sale postings. Even so, the postings still didn’t work the same.

In the web-based version, marketplace automatically suggested other-related groups for the posting to reach a broader audience. However, in the app, posting in other groups isn’t an option, unless I decide to also share my sale postings with my friends. I’m still using it to post things for sale, but now exploring other options that don’t continually force me to use a service a certain way.

Spring has Sprung… Kind of

We cheered on Groundhog Day when the groundhog didn’t see her shadow. This signals the arrival of an early spring. Right around the time when we would have been expecting early signs of spring, we had snowfall instead. I dusted off the sleds and we hit the slopes. We got in a few runs before muddy earth and new shoots of grass started to appear in the tracks. It did feel like early spring, kind of. Except we hadn’t really had winter yet so it felt weird to welcome spring.

The effects of climate change are real. It’s hard to know how to dress anymore. Or what we should keep to prepare for, basically, anything to come our way. This added a new dimension to my normally, energizing spring cleaning. Last month, I was ready to swap out the boots and snowgear for sunscreen, broad-brimmed hats, and sandals. Luckily something distracted me. Shortly after the snowstorm came.

We have a bin in the entryway for seasonal outdoor gear. However, with all the strange weather, the bin accumulated something for every season. It’s got tick spray, winter gloves, sun hats, cold weather hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Even now that the temperature seems like it will stay above double digits (which in Canada means it’s at least 50 degrees, for my American readers), I’m still torn about removing the cold weather clothes. My winter coat is already in the closet. Once that goes in, I refuse to take it out again until fall. But that doesn’t stop me from layering up.

All of this impacts my approach to spring cleaning. I find I’m hesitating and waffling more about what to keep or toss. I feel confused about what to store for next winter or leave out for another random springtime snow storm! Added to my climate-change induced indecision are leftovers from the pandemic. I’ve been steadily weeding clothes out the last few years. Sometimes it feels as though I haven’t purged enough. Then a strange weather event happens. The whole time I’m hoping I didn’t purge the one thing, that I almost never wear but hang on to, “just in case.” As I go through my closets now, I’m mindful of different things, such as durability and versatility, things I might not have considered just a few years ago.