Snapchat’s My AI Companion

I first heard about Snapchat’s “My AI” companion on a podcast. Essentially it’s an AI (artificial intelligence) chatbot automatically rolled out to everybody’s Snapchat account. According to the Snapchat help pages, My AI “can answer a burning trivia question, offer advice on the perfect gift for your BFF’s birthday, help plan a hiking trip for a long weekend, or suggest what to make for dinner.” It’s based on ChatGPT’s technology. My impression is that it’s there to be an assistant and helpful.

Admittedly, I haven’t tried experimenting with ChatGPT yet, but I felt conflicted hearing about this new roll out. It feels revolutionary and at the same time, poorly thought out. For starters, mostly younger people use Snapchat. It’s possible that younger people using powerful technologies like this may not fully grasp the consequences or dangerous implications yet. It’s equally possible that they will push the technology in new directions, some of which may be undesirable.

As I continued to read through the help pages to learn more, some of my fears felt founded. Woven into the Q&A’s about using My AI are warning statements. Some answers caution users about the quality of the My AI responses. My AI could produce biased, discriminatory, or inflammatory content. It might also produce content that is inaccurate. Snapchat advises users to verify My AI responses.

While I’m not totally dismissing the idea, or inherent usefulness of having an AI chatbot readily available, the amount of effort felt questionable. On the one hand Snapchat is advertising My AI as a way to answer a burning trivia question. Then a few sentences later suggests users verify answers with another source, given that My AI may not always be accurate. So why not go straight to the source the first time?

I also had to wonder about privacy when using My AI. One article I read discussed adding My AI to the chat as another participant. When discussing innocent things like where to meet for dinner, I can see the advantages of including a chatbot in the conversation. However, what if the messaging took a turn towards discussing other kids in the school, how to stalk someone, or be destructive. Would My AI blindly offer suggestions for things like that?

This technology is so big, powerful, and popular, we’ll have to wait to see what happens. Hopefully it won’t be too late to correct.

Tax Time: Tips to Make it Easy

It might seem strange to write about tax time right after it passes. Once taxes are filed and settled, most people push them out of their head until April of the following year. Who could blame them? However, now is the prime time to think about them for next year.

Put simply, while all the challenges and frustrations are still fresh in one’s mind, it’s the best time to be proactive about next year’s filings. While I don’t enjoy preparing my taxes to file in two countries, I’ve learned a few tricks. After going through some rather complicated adjustments, and a month-long stomach ache from the stress a few years ago, I devised a two-part system. My system eliminates delays and stress from searching for what you need.

Step 1: Identify what you need to prepare your taxes.

For some, this may be straightforward and involve only a few documents. For others, such as sole proprietors or Americans living over seas, a bit more may be required. Every year, for example, I need to fill out an FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) for my US taxes. Basically I have to report the maximum balance for each bank account. It’s not hard, but it’s really, really tedious. And I know I need all my bank statements for my tax prep. If you have extra documents like this, create a checklist. Eliminate the guesswork and know what you need for next year.

Step 2: Designate a place to save the documents you need.

This works for paper and electronic records. When I had my own business, I set up a box with a pen and small stapler to collect paper receipts. That way I could label and staple receipts when I dumped them in.

For electronic records, I designate dumping areas. In every email account I have a folder (or label) called “Taxes.” Throughout the year I move anything tax-related to this folder. Or label it as “Taxes” for easy searching later. When I sit down to prepare my taxes, I can find everything I need, even if it takes me time to download. I also maintain a Tax folder on my laptop by year so I can file as I receive documents.

My two-part strategy won’t eliminate all the bad feelings associated with taxes, but it does make the process of filing easier and less stressful.

Making Things Modular

With the pandemic impact lessening, at the moment, I’ve been enjoying some of my most cherished activities. All of a sudden my life is busy in a way it hasn’t been in a couple years. It’s strange how quickly I adapted to some of the changes, such as the hybrid work model.

My commute used to be about three hours a day, five days a week! Now I only commute twice a week but the effort feels more significant than it did when I went everyday. I’m not sure if this is because I fell out of the habit or because I go fewer times the routine is less mechanical, making it seem more onerous.

In addition to weekly commutes, orchestra rehearsals are part of the routine. I recently joined a quintet, though rehearsals are more casual. I’ve been making an effort to exercise more, trying to swim and attend a pilates class once a week. Though I don’t miss the commute, it did keep me more active every day bouncing from one public transit system to another.

With the social restrictions relaxed and the promise of nicer weather coming, I’ve also been able to socialize more. In short, my schedule is getting full again. It’s hard to imagine this is what it was like pre-covid. I need to be mindful to avoid getting too busy. This sudden influx of activities requires some serious organization.

One of my favorite strategies to stay on top of everything is to make things modular. Making things modular allows me to have things prepped so I can quickly “mix and match” them to get ready. For example, I keep my swim bag packed and ready. Going swimming already adds a bit of extra time with changing and showering. I have a small waterproof pouch containing my suit, goggles, cap, swim shoes, shampoo, comb, and lock. It’s in a special bag with my designated swim towel. If I can manage to squeak in a swim, having everything ready to go helps maximize the time by minimizing the effort.

I usually do pilates right before my orchestra rehearsal. Similar to swimming, I use the same strategy to attend two very different activities in the same night.

Whenever I can, I prep in advance. Another favorite tip is packing up dinner leftovers as an office lunch. It’s a win-win. Kitchen clean up combined with meal prep.

Is AI-generated Art, still Art?

The advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) is raising all kinds of new dilemmas and questions in our world. For example, the release of a new track called “Heart on my Sleeve.” AI-generated, it featured the voices of Drake and The Weeknd. Yet, neither of them created it. One of their labels pulled the track immediately. However, hundreds of thousands of people already viewed it.

This brings to mind a few questions. Who has rights to that type of content? Does an artist own his/her voice? And, is it still art? These are important questions to consider when AI can easily replicate one’s voice. Although arguably more relevant for a performer, who makes a living from his/her voice, it’s also important for other types of people. For example, I recently listened to A Promised Land, written and narrated by Barack Obama. It was neat to hear the book read by the author. Currently, I’m listening to Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. This book, however, sounds as though a robot read it. Initially it made the audio difficult to listen to without the intonation, inflection, and emphasis we would get from a human reading.

Then I had a thought that AI could probably replicate Obama’s voice to read any of his other novels. Somebody listening likely wouldn’t be able to tell if Obama the human was reading it, or if it was an AI-generated imitation based on analysis of his other readings and public speeches. In instances like that, would Obama be entitled to royalties, or some form of compensation, for allowing others to replicate the likeness of his voice? And what if it was used to narrate works that weren’t his own?

I must admit, I feel a bit daunted how to manage something like this. How could an artist/performer be able to track and monitor the likeness of their voice across all types of media? How could they trademark the unique characteristics of their voice? Even answering the management and financial aspects doesn’t resolve the fundamental question about whether or not it’s art. Can we say that AI-generated art is still art? How does this change if a human is directing the AI creation or if the AI is generating it all on its own.

Deleting Trends for 2023

At the start of 2023, it seemed as if the tech world had never been more exciting. Naturally this coincided with my first break from the blog in over ten years. Not sure if this is a real world example of the “grass is always greener,” but I’m happy to catch up now.

Shortly before my pause, ChatGPT arrived. The effects of Elon Musk taking over Twitter started to become apparent. Public institutions started banning TikTok. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is in the news daily, it seems. It’s been an eventful few months.

First off, ChatGPT! People in my personal and professional life ask me about this. Have I used it? Would I use it? Should we be concerned at work about people using it? What can we use it for?

In summary, ChatGPT is an AI-powered chatbot designed to be conversational and use more natural language (i.e., how we speak with one another) to interact with us. Chatbots have been used for customer service for years already. You may have used one at some point by texting or calling customer service. The chatbot listens, or reads your words, and then directs your query accordingly (e.g., to an agent, more information, etc.). ChatGPT, however, does a lot more than customer service. The uses discovered already are mind boggling. I’ve read some articles about people using ChatGPT to create content (i.e., something like this humble blog post) or write essays for school. Others use it for conversations, to answer challenging questions, or help preparing for interviews, including writing CVs and customized cover letters.

To answer the questions above, I haven’t used it yet. However, I’m planning on using it to write a blog post and see if my regular readers can tell. Yes, we should be wary of using any new technology before we fully grasp how to use it and its impacts.

This last point is a good transition to TikTok. I haven’t blogged much about TikTok, probably because I don’t use it. But it’s popular, and similar to ChatGPT, has an awesome array of uses. Recently, many public institutions started banning TikTok from work phones and onsite resources (e.g., college campuses) citing security concerns. In my opinion, too little, too late. Though I am glad to see digital privacy concerns getting some attention.

To sum it up, top trends: AI, privacy and security, and stronger regulations for the tech industry.

Registering for Email Accounts In Utero?

I recently read an article about parents who set up their children’s email and social media accounts at birth. In some cases, parents registered accounts before the birth!

Although we all want the best for our kids, is this really a good idea?

On the practical side, it assumes that our kids will be using the same email and social media we use. Keep in mind, technology changes rapidly, on average every three years. Facebook (Meta) and Twitter haven’t even been around twenty years yet. Email has been around for decades. Should we assume that our kids will use that as a primary form of communication the way we do? Last summer my practicum student replied to our ad to work on an email management project. She did a brilliant job, which I found impressive for someone who doesn’t even use email.

On the privacy side, shouldn’t our first priority be to protect our children from, and on, social media? I have an email account with my real name. Though sometimes I wonder if that’s such a good idea with email handles linked to so many aspects of my identity. In many ways, an email address is another unique identifier. Although an email address may not be as distinct as a SIN/SSN, driver’s license, or passport number, in combination with other elements it can be used accurately for identification. All this to say, is registering an email or social media account with our kid’s real name in their best interest? Especially before the child is even able to use social media.

Another point on the privacy side is posting images or news about children on social media. The article described some parents creating an ersatz digital archive for their kids on social media accounts. But again, this assumes the technology will be around by the time the child is able to use it. Or interested in it.

And what about the child’s right to privacy? A lot of new technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition to identify people in real life instantly by using posted images on the internet. When our kids grow up, do we want some cache of digital images documenting their babyhood and childhood available on the internet?

Until privacy laws improve and technology protects our privacy better, I wouldn’t set up anything for my kid digitally, unless it was absolutely necessary.