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Gender Identity for AI

Artificial neural networks have given AIs the functionality for complex problem solving and pattern recognition, and they have entered the workforce, particularly in areas of big data analysis and global finance. As we begin to interact with and study these new learning machines, interesting questions arise. Are they going to take on human behavioral and gender distinctions (gender identity), because they have been programmed with data sets that have unconscious bias? Will those who are giving the learning machines feedback to focus their problem solving allow behavioral constraints into the teaching? If we give the AIs a woman’s voice, and a woman’s name, will we interact with her as if she was a woman? And does that mean she will in turn internalize those social expectations and become more female?

Naturally we are interested in all things having to do with gender. It is the first sentence the world places upon us, when the midwife announces boy or girl. We love gender. We give our teddy bears genders, and can describe in detail why we think-no, why we know that our little darling is a boy or girl. We give our cars genders, names, and personalities. It’s just because we’re human, and we want to humanize the things we love, and that surround us. And part of humanizing inanimate objects is to give them a name, a gender, and shower them with affection.

Part of our fascination with gender has led to some poor science, the popularity of which has trickled down into our collective consciousness. The idea that male brains and female brains are different in a significant way is probably not true, though the debate rages. Structure follows function, and hormones affect the developing brain. But even with minor structural and functional differences in the brains that are most probably hormonally-based, there is very little difference in boys and girl’s brains. There is a much wider variance between individuals than can be measured than between generalized groups based just on gender. We are more complicated than can be described in pop-science about hardwired aggression and nurture vs nature.

What is different between genders is communication, how we use language, and there the gender differences are significant enough to be measured. If we think of communication as the way we input data into our brains, we grow our biological neural networks with the complex range of human communication to which we’re exposed. And there are differences between male and female communication.

So with the science showing that biological neural networks- aka human brains- are more complex than can be measured, but are influenced by hormones, language, biology, and the wide range of human culture, we are left to consider if artificial neural networks will also be influenced by language and human culture. (This is assuming that the artificial neural networks that are biology and hormonally mediated are still a few years in the future.) Continue reading

stratecta beans

Disaster Brewing: Climate Change and Coffee Beans

Global stakeholders throughout the coffee industry, consumers, foodies and farmers are beginning to understand the catastrophic nature of global climate change: it is not just that the world is in danger, but our supply of high quality coffee beans is affected, and that catastrophe is happening right now. In the highlands of Ethiopia, coffee bean quality and yield had dropped. Costa Rica and India have had similar decreases in yields. Worrisome pests, disease, changes in global weather patterns, and the entire coffee ecosystem teeters on the brink of disaster. What is going on, and, more importantly, what is being done?

Coffee needs a relatively narrow band of climate, weather, and elevation to produce really superb beans, in the quantity needed for global demand. The cloud-forests and fragile, diverse mountain ecosystems that grow the best coffee have a unique blend of temperature, rainfall, sunshine, nurse-trees, companion plants, and pest and disease resistance. Even a change in global temperature of a degree can change rainfall patterns and promote diseases that can impact the coffee crop radically.

For many countries in the narrow tropical zone that supports the coffee ecosystem, this commodity product in one of only two that grow uniquely in these areas- the other being cacao- and entire political and economic systems depend on the revenue brought by this product. Climate change has the potential to destroy the coffee farms across this tropical zone.

What is being done to protect the world from what can only be described as a global catastrophe? The SCA, the Specialty Coffee Association, sponsored a conference in October in Guatemala City to address the challenges and look for solutions. With stakeholders from across the coffee supply chain, the conference, called Avance, sought cross-cultural collaboration and problem solving to address the changes in the industry. Topics under discussion included farm labor and the development of producer’s cooperatives, issues affecting profitability of coffee farms, including new markets outside of traditional commodity markets, and climate-smart practices for farmers. Some of the climate-smart practices, specifically developed to address the impacts of climate change, include reforestation, encouraging diversity, and safe pest and disease control.  Continue reading

startup

The New Capitalism

The New Capitalism brings together business values and practices to make a product, make some money, and change the world. The business values that are being built into these new companies from the beginning include fair labor practices, environmental stewardship, a supply chain with a conscience and transparency, and a social justice heart. They are also using new capital funding options such as crowdfunding to build sustainability into the bones of the enterprise.

Several successful textiles industry startups are using the new models to build companies that address, first and foremost, the issues of unfair labor practices and supply chain fixing. The textile industry is the source for some of our most shameful practices, including sweatshops that use child and forced labor and keep workers living in poverty, practices to fix prices of raw materials so farmers and shepherds continue to live in poverty without access to markets, and use of hazardous materials, such as heavy metal dyes for silk and other natural fibers that bring disease and environmental degradation to communities of craftsmen.

The new models are building environmental stewardship and fair labor practices into their companies through company values that address these areas, and many are structuring a business model with both profit and non-profit arms. Everlane is a clothing company that uses what they describe as radical transparency to give consumers a look into their supply chain and factories. They recently took their Black Friday profits and turned them over, providing worker-focused benefits. A couple of shipping container hydroponic gardens will be moving across the ocean to live outside the cafeteria of the factory in Ho Chi Mihn City, where many of their clothes are made, to supply the workers with fresh leafy greens. Continue reading