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Can Web Designers Save the World?

I know this might seem like an odd question to ask. After all, it’s not like we’re living in a villain-filled Gotham City in need of saving.

When it comes to asking the question, “Can web designers save the world?”, I look at it like this:

Superheroes don’t exist in real life, so there’s no way that one single person on this planet is going to “save” the world — web designer or otherwise. But heroes that fight small battles that add up to larger wins for humanity? They certainly do exist and web designers collectively have the ability to help shape and save the world this way.

 

How Can Web Designers Save the World?

We see it all the time from those around us: People who donate blood regularly; Volunteers who rebuild homes and cities after natural disasters; Households that practice sustainability through recycling and composting.

These might seem like small acts of kindness on an individual level, but when you put everyone’s efforts together, there’s a lot of good being done for the world.

Web designers can make contributions of their own, too.

1. Work for Clients Doing Good

I know it can be hard to be picky about who you work with. But when you reach a point in your design career where your revenue stream is stable and you feel confident saying “no” to clients that aren’t a good fit, you may want to factor this in.

In other words, rather than say “yes” because a client can afford your rates, build websites for businesses that:

  • Have sustainable initiatives;
  • Lend support to their local communities;
  • Take really good care of their employees;
  • Build products that make the world a better place;
  • And so on…

By building websites for companies like these, you’ll empower them to spread their positive messages and missions far and wide.

2. Design Accessible Websites

It’s not just the World Wide Web Consortium that promotes a “web for all”. Accessibility is an innate human right that governments are now taking action to protect as well.

As a web designer, you have a crucial role to play in this. If you aren’t yet in the habit of making your websites accessible, today is as good a time as any to start.

Keep in mind that it’s not just about making a website easy for impaired visitors to navigate or see. Accessibility means making it so that everyone can access a website equally. For instance, building a progressive web app would allow a business to get its website into the hands of people in developing parts of the world that might not always have fast or reliable Internet access.

So, don’t forget to think outside the box for accessible solutions.

3. Practice Ethical Web Design

The Internet has done a lot of good for this world, but as we grow more permanently connected to it and our devices, users have begun to experience a slew of negative side effects.

While you don’t want to keep people from the web or the companies and services they need, you can make better choices about how you design online experiences for them. Namely, you can use ethical design features and techniques to encourage healthier online habits.

Many apps, for example, now come with daily time reminders.

Although this solution wouldn’t work for a website, you could try to accomplish something similar by reducing the number of push notifications or emails sent from your site. You use these elements to promote re-engagement with your website, so by reducing how many or how frequently they go out, you can keep users from aggravating their addiction to the web or their smartphones.

4. Use Eco-Friendly Design Tactics

If you want to help save the physical planet we’re on, utilizing eco-friendly or sustainable design practices would be a good idea. You may be using many of them already without actually knowing it.

For instance, many leading web hosting providers are investing in renewable energy to power their infrastructure and, consequently, their customers’ websites. It’s a simple thing — switching to a “green” web hosting plan — but it can have a significant impact on the planet as more and more companies head in that direction.

Certain choices you make for the websites you build can help the planet as well. For example, by creating more efficient user pathways, people won’t spend as much time on your website and, hopefully, online. Even things like minimal design, image optimization, and caching can help as your server doesn’t have to waste so much energy trying to serve it to visitors.

5. Lend Your Skills During Global Crises

As I was looking over recent research and reports for web designers, I discovered an article from Dr. Stephanie Evergreen on Fast Company. It suggested that web designers had an important part to play during global crises, like the Coronavirus pandemic.

As a data visualization specialist, she knows how much easier it is for consumers to understand data and directives when it’s designed visually. And we’re not just talking about laying out statistics in a table. She cites various examples of creative graphics that spell out difficult-to-understand concepts.

This graphic on the Australian Government Department of Health homepage, for instance, is a good example of that in action:

Australian Health Department - Coronavirus Graphic

The graphic on the left could’ve just been a boring text banner (like the one on the right) or, worse, a cheesy stock image of people coughing. Instead, the designer made a great choice by creatively depicting and labeling the most common symptoms of the virus.

Whether you’re tasked with designing something like this to help in a crisis, or you normally work with medical or scientific organizations, your ability to translate quantifiable data into beautiful graphics can make a world of difference.

 

Wrap-Up

Will you, as one web designer, be able to save the world? Eh, probably not. But your contribution made alongside other web designers definitely will.

Just remember that saving the world isn’t always about cleaning up the planet or locking away criminals. The people that you choose to work with, the design techniques you use, and the kinds of websites you put out into the world can have an impact, too.

 

Featured image via Unsplash.



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Only AI can us from a world of fakes (a world AI is also creating)

The truth is out there.

When I was a kid, my brother and I made a UFO out of paper plates, tin foil and marbles. Then we got on the roof with our spaceship dangling from a fishing line and, using our mom’s plastic 110 camera, captured incontrovertible proof that we are not alone in the universe.

Fakery has always existed. But when everything went digital, creation and distribution both got easier, faster and more broadly distributed. And artificial intelligence (AI) will take it to a whole new level, enabling anyone to create perfect fakes of difficult-to-fake media, like video and audio.

How will we function with a world full of fakery?

Fake news (or, news about fakes)

Media reports obsess over the fear that deepfake videos will be used in politics. And just this week, it’s happened. Bharatiya Janata Party President Manoj Tiwari used deepfake videos to speak to supporters in different languages. It was not used to falsify the comments of an opponent. Still, it’s a milestone that deepfakes are now officially being used in politics.

Another demonstration of authorized AI fakery is a new song written for, and in the style of, rapper and songwriter Travis Scott. The song, called Jack Park Canny Dope Man, has AI-generated music and lyrics and was performed by Scott himself in a music video. The project was headed by Los Angeles-based agency, space150.

An unrelated website lets you create your own AI-generated song lyrics.

OpenAI GPT-2 is a language creation AI that can write English in just about any style. It

The truth is out there.

When I was a kid, my brother and I made a UFO out of paper plates, tin foil and marbles. Then we got on the roof with our spaceship dangling from a fishing line and, using our mom’s plastic 110 camera, captured incontrovertible proof that we are not alone in the universe.

Fakery has always existed. But when everything went digital, creation and distribution both got easier, faster and more broadly distributed. And artificial intelligence (AI) will take it to a whole new level, enabling anyone to create perfect fakes of difficult-to-fake media, like video and audio.

How will we function with a world full of fakery?

Fake news (or, news about fakes)

Media reports obsess over the fear that deepfake videos will be used in politics. And just this week, it’s happened. Bharatiya Janata Party President Manoj Tiwari used deepfake videos to speak to supporters in different languages. It was not used to falsify the comments of an opponent. Still, it’s a milestone that deepfakes are now officially being used in politics.

Another demonstration of authorized AI fakery is a new song written for, and in the style of, rapper and songwriter Travis Scott. The song, called Jack Park Canny Dope Man, has AI-generated music and lyrics and was performed by Scott himself in a music video. The project was headed by Los Angeles-based agency, space150.

An unrelated website lets you create your own AI-generated song lyrics.

OpenAI GPT-2 is a language creation AI that can write English in just about any style. It can imitate writing styles, like in The New Yorker magazine, and even write poetry. OpenAI is a non-profit research organization founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and others.

One real fear is that AI-generated fakery will be used for crime. And that’s already happening, too.

Symantec has verified three separate cases of audio deepfakes used to socially engineer employees by impersonating the voice of the CEO. Harvesting samples from YouTube speeches and earnings calls, CEO voices were simulated in calls to finance employees to urgenty wire money to the crooks.

How AI will make perfect fakes

There are two general ways to create deepfake videos. The first is a face-swap, which uses an encoder and decoder to match and replace just the face on a person in a video frame-by-frame.

The second way is called a generative adversarial network, or GAN. With this method, which can be used to create all kinds of convincing but fake data, uses two AI algorithms. One creates fake data and the other judges it, providing feedback for the creator algorithm. This is repeated on a huge scale, with both algorithms improving their ability. Eventually, the creator algorithm gets so good it can churn out fake data — video, audio, text, fingerprints — you name it.

The creation of fake video is getting super sophisticated.

A Hong Kong-based startup called SenseTime, working with the Nanyang Technological University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Automation, developed a framework they call SenseTIme, which edits video automatically given spoken audio.

The Korean company Hyperconnect built a tool called MarioNETte, which can map the face movement of one person to the face of any other person — say, a politician or celebrity — in real time.

Deepfake technology is simultaneously becoming more capable, and also becoming more democratized, now showing up in consumer apps. It’s only a matter of time before anyone can create perfectly convincing deepfake video and audio.

And that’s why it’s imperative that we figure out how to detect fakes.

Fake-finding tech is coming online

Technology incubator Jigsaw, which started out as a division of Google, was moved to parent company Alphabet, and this month moved back to Google, created a platform called Assembler to help fact-checkers verify images. The tool combines different techniques and algorithms developed at seven universities, plus one created by Jigsaw itself, to process images by discovering evidence generated by known methods of creating fake photos.

Google is also using a combination of AI and humans to find and remove fake, unethical or malicious reviews on Google Maps. The company claimed this month they’ve removed more than 75 million policy-violating reviews and 4 million fake business profiles. The AI takes a first pass on every review and business profile, auto-deleting clear violators. The iffy ones are then passed along to human moderators to decide their fates.

University of Washington and Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence researchers invented an algorithm called Grover, which can identify deep-fake generated writing with 92% accuracy, according to the researchers.

Facebook recently agreed to let independent researchers access some of its information about user activity in a program called Social Science One.

Harvard and MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab scientists released what’s called the Giant Language Model Test Room, which is a web-based space for figuring out whether any given text was written by AI.

A Canadian startup called DarwinAI, created by researchers at the University of Waterloo, created technology they call DarwinAI, which uses deep learning to detect fake news. Their technology now compares the content of the headline with the article. In future iterations, DarwinAI will compare the text of an article against other articles.

One of the most bonkers ideas for challenging our divisive, fake-news fueled politics, is to “resurrect” founding fathers Adams, Hamilton, Jay, Jefferson, Madison and Washington by simulating their thinking in AI. Using their voluminous writings and speeches,

Some have proposed blockchain as the solution to verifying content. But that will require an unlikely degree of buy-in by just about everybody.

No, the future of fake detection is clearly AI, as these early products, technologies and trials demonstrate.

The arms race between fake-creation and fake-detection AI

Some estimates claim that one-quarter of all new social media accounts are fake or fraudulent. Fake accounts sound harmless, but they tend to be closely correlated with fake news, spam and cybercrime. Current systems for detecting fake accounts don’t work well, according to reports. A NATO trail found that 95 percent of the fake profiles they created were still online weeks after they published their report.

This is an astonishing fact, when you consider that Twitter, Facebook and other social sites have invested billions and worked for many years on systems for detecting fake accounts. Each time they make another advancement in detection, they toss out millions of fake accounts — which means the fakesters are staying ahead of detection.

In a way, the cat-and-mouse contest between creation and detection mirrors GANs. The fakers create fakes. The detectors detect, which provides information to the fakers about what’s being detected. The fakers then adjust their methods and come back with better fakes.

It’s very likely that this contest will continue indefinitely. Human perception will be completely left behind, and the competition will exist almost entirely between AI systems.

Yes, the truth is out there. But now we’ll need machines to find it.



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What does it mean to be a human in a world of computing?

If you’re interested in learning about the history of the computer industry or even if you just want to figure out how to lead an enterprise technology company, then you should take a look.

The Computer History Museum

I think millions of computer users will have heard of the Computer History Museum, a world-class institution in Mountain View, California.

It’s a place in which you can learn everything about the history of the technologies which continue to transform the way humans interact with each other and with the world.

Being human in a computer world

“What does it mean to be a human in a world of computing?” asks Dan’l Lewin, President and CEO, Computer History Museum in the latest StoriesHere podcast.

Lewin worked with Steve Jobs at Apple after spending time running Sony’s Silicon Valley distribution; became a NeXT co-founder; joined upper management at Microsoft and more.

Now he’s working to make the museum a more interactive experience, “a programmable institution,” as he puts it.

Steve Jobs was motivated to use the 3.5-inch floppy disk having seen it at Sony, at which point Lewin was part of Apple’s 10-strong workforce.

Later, Jobs asked him to help him launch NeXT. “I spent a day with him and then quit my job the following week,” he said.

“At Apple, I got to work with the engineers who invented everything that we live with today.”

3 Silicon Valley tips for enterprise leaders

 I’ve listened to the podcast to pull out just a handful of ideas that should interest Apple and other technology users and anyone involved in management or enterprise IT.

You can (and should) hear the entire 45-minute transmission here.

Tip #1: Find the story

A senior Silicon Valley executive, Lewin led numerous negotiations as the tech industry grew. (He even managed to beat Steve Jobs in at least one deal).

He tells a story in which he claims one of the reasons Jobs eventually got fired was because he wanted to “blow up” the distribution deals (typically 15%/85% in favour of the distributor) that existed at the time.

Jobs still felt the same at NeXT, where Lewin had to figure out how to make a mutually good deal that gave Jobs the 50% revenue share he wanted without bankrupting Heidi Roizen, who was to be the distributor.

He looked at the royalties and how the revenue actually worked to find that in terms of profit after costs both parties could end up with a 50 percent share. He suggests that in this business deal, as in others, a little negotiation was all it took once the costs were properly analyzed. Sometimes both sides can win.

Tip #2: People matter most

There’s a tendency to see business as dependent on systems, distribution, management hierarchies, connections, but this doesn’t reflect the big picture. And the big picture is the little picture. Even in the tech industry, business is about people, Lewin stressed.

“When I was in college, I had a professor who focused on the topic as relationships between people. I never lost touch with the fact that business is made up of people, it’s about the person in the moment and what you need to do to make that work,” he said.

Another tendency is for organizations to become relatively flat.

Diversity makes businesses thrive, but many managers find it hard to look for people who are different than they are.

Lewin has a unique advantage here.

His father was a Marine with three Purple Hearts. This led Lewin’s father to become a professional wrestler at the beginning of broadcast TV. Lewin would go to work with his dad, which meant he became used to incredible diversity, and was able to engage with people at lots of different levels.

Diversity, and being familiar with it, helps businesses thrive – at least if Lewin’s success is your guide.

Tip #3: Peace is good for business

After NeXT, Lewin ran a series of start-ups (some failed, some didn’t), ending up working at Microsoft, where his challenge was to create peace with others in the industry following the famed anti-trust case against the company.

The sense of how the people in the groups worked with others in Silicon Valley was part of this. The links between Microsoft and the rest of the industry run deep.

“The PowerPoint team was an acquisition right at the beginning of Microsoft and were a bunch of ex-Apple staff,” Lewin says.

Much of the business of making peace with the industry was (once again) on politics, which means people.

Competition can be collegiate, and that focus means Microsoft is now seen as a good company to do business with, explains Lewin. It means the company can seek new business opportunities and continue to hire good people.

Where are we going in computing?

In a sense, Lewin’s future plans for the Computer History Museum may reflect what he sees as the future of the tech industry.

“We’re moving into a digital world where computing is ambient and life as we know it doesn’t exist without computing,” he explains.

Yet the museum has decades of history packed inside it, including extensive oral history recordings from some of the great and the good in the industry.

“The museum presents an interesting opportunity to unleash the historical artifacts of the past to present day technologies,” he explains.

“These cycles tend to take about 50 years. If you go back to the beginning of the microprocessor, or if you look at other cycles like the one from railroads to aerospace … we’re basically entering the next phase, from 1970 to 2020.

Where we are today, tech is everywhere, but people are now and always have been at the center of that.

But technology was never principally about hardware. It was about information technology, which is about communication. “Media and art are fundamental,” he says. “They matter from a cultural perspective.”

You can get some sense of how the history of computing will impact the future by visiting the Computer History Museum, which seems (just like Steve Jobs once said) to be deeply coalesced around the crossroads that exists between technology and the liberal arts.

The computer world is a people’s world, after all.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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It’s a small world after all

It’s the mid-’90s and this pilot fish is the DBA for DB2 running on MVS. He’s the software DBA and the application DBA, meaning he does it all: installing and tuning DB2 itself, backing up the catalog, changing the ZPARMS, designing the application tables with the programming staff, backing them up, tuning the buffers for each application, and more.

A new head of IS is installed who seems to just like to stir things up. Which may be the entire reason she decides they should use DB2/2 running on OS/2 for a new project.

Fish points out that no one on staff is familiar with either OS/2 or DB2/2, but the boss isn’t concerned: “I’ve hired an expert on DB2/2 because you don’t know anything about it.”

When said expert shows up, the boss takes him around for introductions. He sees fish and says, “Hi, Steve.” Fish responds, “Hi, Mark.” The boss doesn’t exactly sound pleased when she asks, “You two know each other?” She looks even less pleased when Mark the expert says, “Yeah, Steve taught me everything I know about DB2.”

Sharky tries to do it all but I still need you to send me your true tales of IT life at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Apple is changing the world of enterprise IT

I spoke with the CEO of one of Apple’s most recently announced enterprise mobility partners, Sunil Patro, founder and CEO at SignEasy, to learn more about Apple’s commitment to enterprise technology – and the growing importance of India to the tech economy.

Apple is an enterprise company

Apple’s focus on enterprise computing is intensifying, much to the surprise of the old guard in IT, for whom Macs, iPads and iPhones will always be “toys,” despite their proven effectiveness in the real world.

I believe it was the iPad that really drove Apple into the enterprise; that trickle has become a flood and it means you’ll find Apple platforms in most businesses today.

SignEasy was recently named an Apple mobility partner. Among other things, this means Apple’s enterprise developer relations worked with the company to help SignEasy become a better app for enterprises.

Sunil Patro SignEasy

Sunil Patro

“We have deep respect for how Apple works with partners to ensure users are always given the best experience on Apple platforms. Their focus on beautiful product experiences trickles down to everything that they do, including this program, which makes us doubly honored to be a part of it,” Patro told me.

“More than half of our business customers use SignEasy on their iOS devices, and we expect that number to grow as we leverage our new status as an Apple mobility partner,” he explained.

Integration matters.

Consumer-friendly apps for business pros

In today’s enterprise environment, it’s not appropriate to balkanize user experiences, offering different UIs across different platforms. What works on one device needs to work the same on other devices.

“Today’s business software solutions need to be optimized to work equally well on a mobile device, laptop computer or desktop computer. It also needs to integrate with other software solutions and systems at work where the exchange of data and files are as seamless as possible,” he said.

Design matters, too.

It’s not enough to have poorly designed solutions that work equally badly across platforms, the implementations need to be up to consumer standards — even for internal enterprise provisions.

“Poor design just doesn’t fly anymore,” he said. “With the proliferation of SaaS and ease of high-quality app development, consumers and businesses have innumerable options for digital solutions. Great design and user experience has become one of the biggest criteria that software can compete on, and more often than not becomes the deciding factor for a buyer because the end user demands it.”

Apple’s winning message

It seems clear that Apple’s enterprise appeal has always been, and continues to be, the attempt to provide superior user experiences. This gives it an advantage in a more digital economy.

“Apple wants to increasingly deliver more value to enterprise users because of their belief that the user should benefit from the same experience and delight that he or she is used to on their iPhones and iPads at work,” Patro said. “Since they are one of the biggest consumer brands in the world, many of the enterprise users come across the iOS experience first in their personal lives.

“So these users automatically become the champions in their workplace for carrying their business tasks using an iPhone, iPad or Mac on the go. That’s why you will see programs like ‘Apple at Work’ being promoted in Retail Stores, Channel partners and also online on their website.”

Digital transformation, boosted productivity

I asked about other rising technology implementations, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Patro admitted that his company is seeing tremendous adoption of RPA — customers come on board to use SignEasy as a SaaS solution for one department, and then learn the value of using the the company’s APIs to create business-wide solutions to provide automated or simplified processes across their business.

“We have customers like Rappi who on-board thousands of restaurant partners every month on their website and they have eliminated the repetitive and mundane human work involved in getting the

SignEasy SignEasy

SignEasy is designed to automate workflows involving legal and commercial contracts.

signed by automating that workflow using SignEasy. In another example, we have customers like OnBlick with a SaaS solution for customers who simplify the HR processes required for compliance and onboarding of new employees,” he said.

Like many tech giants, Apple is becoming increasingly active in India, where SignEasy’s development center is based.

The importance of India

“Bangalore is also home to Apple’s app accelerator in India, the very first to open anywhere in the world, where Apple’s team works directly with app developers to build solutions on its platforms,” he noted. “This is a strong acknowledgement by Apple that it recognizes the skill that exists in India, especially for developing solutions on its platforms.”

He explained a little about how the tech industry is evolving in India, where demand for skilled and experienced developers is high.

“India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with the tech industry being one of the biggest contributors. India is also the largest off-shore destination for IT services, so technology skill-development is a big focus for the country.”

India is also investing in the industry: “Programming is being inculcated at the grassroots level, with kids learning to code in schools of all sizes and in the smallest of towns,” Patro explained.

I’ll be reporting extensively on Apple technologies in the enterprise in this week as I’ll be at JAMF Software’s annual JNUC event, the world’s largest event for Apple pros in enterprise IT. To keep up with news from this event, please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.





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