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University of Michigan School of Information


Fun Size for 3/1/18: 5 things AI is good for

Angels on horseback
The Works Progress Administration of the 1930s funded many public projects, but few as photogenic as the Pack Horse Library Initiative that put librarians on horseback to deliver books to Kentuckians living in remote regions. The goal was to improve literacy and thus employment options. has a photo gallery of the gallant brigade of mostly women riders.

Speaking in tongues
Google’s digital assistant is adding to its language repertoireC|Net reports. By year’s end, it will be able to respond in text in 30 languages, including Dutch, Thai and Hindi, reaching 95% of all eligible Android phones worldwide. Down the road, the Home speaker will be able to understand multiple languages and multiple commands. “Hey, Google, unlock the front door and tell me a joke in Swedish.”

Accounting for time
Why would you want analytics for your Gmail account? Perhaps you’re curious about how many emails you send and receive each week, their average length, and your peak usage times. It might improve your personal productivity or just explain where the heck the morning went. The Next Web has a rave review of this new Gmail Metrics product. 

Your sunny, funny face
Plastic surgeons are used to patients bringing in photos of celebrities they want to be remodeled to resemble, but lately, according to Digital Trends, they’ve been presenting Snapchat-filtered versions of themselves to show how they’d like to look. Which is usually a more realistic starting point, 4 out of 5 doctors agree.

Digital closet snooping shares an eye-opening look at a photographic representation of incomes around the world called Dollar Street, a platform of 30,000 photos that provide an intimate look at families’ possessions at all income levels, from Cote d’Ivoire to Kazakhstan. Search by country, by monthly income, even by a family’s most prized possession. Fair warning: it’s a bit addictive and more than a little humbling.

Social studies
It’s about time: K-12 schools are adding courses on digital citizenship (DigCit) to the curriculum, with help from a number of providers such as Common Sense Media, reports. Numerous ed tech platforms are available to support teachers as they cover responsibility, internet safety, privacy and cyberbullying. 

New app for old map
19th century isochrone maps showed how long it would take to get from, say, London to Melbourne. Today, updated with algorithms and transit-related data, isochrones maps can help shorten commutes, visualize transportation-related inequalities or help friends trying to find a mutually convenient place to meet for coffee, AtlasObsura relates

A less tempting Apple
Tech “addiction” is a growing national concern, even among some tech leaders themselves. A former design ethicist at Google, Tristan Harris suggests ways for Apple to design a less compelling phone, in this NYTimes article. For example, it could gently chide: “Don’t you think you’re spending too much time on Twitter?” Or some tough love: “How does it feel to have wasted an hour of your life?”

Five things AI might be good for
Artificial intelligence is in danger of becoming simply a marketing term, argues Tech Republic, but concedes there are many things AI is good for, including farming, medical diagnosis and customer service. Yes, Tech Republic apparently considers chatbots a good thing. 

News from UMSI
Congratulations to Judith Olson, professor emerita and a founding faculty member of the School of Information, who has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, one of the top honors for engineers. Read more>>