2023 is here, and I’m not ready. As the project manager at QIC, I ensure that our project objectives are met using techniques rooted in the Agile methodology. No project has felt too daunting to manage nor a team too challenging to collaborate with. Yet here I am, staring January in the face, terrified of how I will manage my family and household. I need a plan. I need help. There’s going to be a crib-to-bed transition. Potty training. Swimming, ballet, soccer, gymnastics, skating, and karate classes. It’s. All. Too. Much. How to stem the hysteria? How to tackle this overwhelm?
I repeat I’m a capable, successful project manager. Can’t I use the same tools at home to bring order to the chaos? As it turns out, I’m late to this revelation. According to Bruce Feiler (TED talk), Agile was just what his household needed to “cut parental screaming in half.” I was simultaneously floored and elated. I had spent a decade working on mastering a framework that I could have been using in my personal life all along.
I will spare you the history and details of Agile, but if you’re interested, here is an excellent place to start. In short, the purpose of Agile is to make progress in an ever-changing environment, utilizing an empirical process to make decisions to ensure we move the needle in the right direction. As we understand at QIC, R&D contracts often come with many unknowns, having to meet tight timelines and budgets while leaving room for exploration, collaboration, and adaptation. Using Agile principles, our team meets at predictable regular intervals to regroup and connect to share progress and information to continue to improve and deliver value.
On the home front, my husband and I connect after the kids’ bedtime to have a warming beverage and look at the day ahead. This often involves laughing over who cried more, us or the kids, and ways to reduce tears. This is similar to the sprint retrospective when the team discusses ways to work better together to avoid recurring problems. It is also like the daily standup when the team shares what they will be doing for the day, enabling them to communicate roadblocks early, and assist where necessary. Granted, we may not have much progress involving our 2yo and 5yo kids in these discussions despite being key stakeholders; I would like to think that very soon they will be. Empowering them to participate in the process will hopefully lead to cooperation and a happy home life.
Agile applied in the home is a compelling idea, one that I’m willing to try this year. If I fail, at least I’ll be failing fast! Would you try any of these approaches to household management in your personal life? What skills do you hone in your workplace that you could apply at home?
Last week, Congress blocked a $400 million award to Microsoft for the purchase of nearly 7000 Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) systems for the Army. The award would have followed the Army’s investment of $125 million to develop the Hololens-based augmented reality headset. The issue? IVAS proved to be spectacularly problematic in user testing last year, with 80% of Soldiers reporting physical discomfort, eye strain, nausea, and other issues within the first three hours of use. Instead, they awarded a $40 million contract to develop yet another version of IVAS…to Microsoft, the same company that delivered the current system.
On the one hand, as one who conducts these kinds of end user research, it’s gratifying to see the Army doing extensive user experience testing before deploying something this invasive and frankly, potentially dangerous. Using a Hololens, or any other augmented reality headset, in a controlled environment is one thing. Having your field of view occluded by constantly changing data streams while you’re being shot at is potentially a human factors nightmare. At the very least, if Soldiers don’t like it, they won’t use it. And it turns out, they don’t. In addition, the methodology of this testing has been criticized by the Inspector General.
User research is critically important when you’re developing a capability your users will interact with on a daily basis. The process should start before the prototype stage, though. The impetus for IVAS did not come from the boots on the ground; it’s the result of nearly 20 years of research and development into head-worn augmented reality. It’s not clear whether Soldiers were ever asked “What are your problems?” before they were asked “Do you like this thing we’ve made to solve them?”
We see this problem a lot working in the training technology space. We’re regularly asked to develop solutions without talking to the intended users until a prototype is developed. I get it. Their time is valuable. They’re hard to get a hold of. There’s a lot of bureaucracy involved. We don’t need to talk to them, we’re the experts. Yes, we’re the experts in how to apply the science behind why things work, and we’re the experts in designing the solution. We’re also the experts in evaluating the solution. But we can’t be the experts in how people do their jobs, the problems they have, the barriers to solving them, and their work environment without listening to them. Because it’s never as straightforward as it seems.
Where does IVAS go from here? Some would argue there are too many technical barriers to overcome right now. Others would argue that the contract should be recompeted instead of continuing to throw money at a sunk cost. I would argue the Army should take a step back and ask if this solution broadly is the right one to solve the Infantry’s problems today.
As AI technology continues to advance, we are seeing more and more applications in the research and scientific fields. One area where AI is gaining traction is in the writing of research reports. AI algorithms can be trained to generate written content on a given topic, and some researchers are even using AI to write their research reports. While the use of AI to write reports may have some potential benefits, such as saving time and providing a starting point for researchers to build upon, there are also significant ethical concerns to consider.
One of the main ethical issues with using AI to write research is the potential for bias. AI algorithms are only as good as the data and information that is fed into them, and if the data is biased, the AI-generated content will be biased as well. This can lead to the dissemination of incorrect or misleading information, which can have serious consequences in the research and scientific fields. Another ethical concern with using AI to write research reports is the potential for plagiarism. AI algorithms can generate content that is similar to existing work, and researchers may accidentally or intentionally use this content without proper attribution. This can be a violation of copyright law and can also damage the reputation of the researcher and the institution they are associated with.
Additionally, using AI to write research reports raises questions about the ownership and control of written content. AI algorithms can generate content without the input or consent of the individuals who will ultimately be using it. This raises concerns about who has the right to control and profit from the content that is generated. Overall, while the use of AI to write research reports may have some potential benefits, there are also significant ethical concerns to consider. It is important to carefully weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks of using AI in the writing of research reports and to consider the potential ethical implications of this technology.
I didn't write a word of that. It was produced by ChatGPT ( https://chat.openai.com/), an AI chatbot that launched to the public on November 30. Since its launch, it's been at the forefront of the tech news cycle because it's both very good and very easy to use. Yesterday, I asked it to write a literature review on a couple of topics and pasted the results in QIC's Teams. They all got a weird, uneasy feeling reading it; we all joke about the day "the robots will take our jobs," but we hadn't realized that our jobs were on the list of those that could be so easily automated. Is the copy above particularly eloquent? No. Does it answer the mail for a lot of things? Yes. And sometimes, as they say, that's good enough for government work.
The QIC crew wasn't alone in their unease. Across the internet, authors are writing to minimize the impact of technology like this or demonize it. If you try hard enough, you can make it do racist things. It'll help kids cheat at school. But that's not really why we react to it the way we do, is it? It's the realization something we thought made us human - the ability to create - is not something only we can do. In fact, it's not even something we can do as efficiently as something that is not only inhuman, it's not even alive.
While I was playing with ChatGPT, many of my friends were posting AI-generated stylized selfies using the Lensa app. Its popularity reignited a similar discussion in the art community. Aside from the data privacy discussion we've been having since the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, artists are rightly concerned about ownership and the ability to make money from their work. At the core, though, it's the same fear that if AI can do your job, where does that leave you?
When robots were anticipated to take over the world, many of us expected they would take the jobs we didn't want, like fertilizing crops and driving trucks. These were supposed to be the jobs that are physically exhausting, dangerous, and monotonous. They weren't supposed to be the ones that we went into thousands of dollars of student loan debt to be qualified to do. We didn't think it would be so easy for a machine to do something that when we do it reflects our feelings and thoughts. The phrase “intellectual property” presupposes an intellect, and an intellect presupposes a person.
As one who tries to maintain cautious optimism about the future of technology, I find it exciting that I may live to see the day when AI is far more efficient at most things than I am. Obviously, there’s a lot we have to consider from an ethics perspective. I’ve watched the Avengers enough times to appreciate the potential for Ultron to make decisions we might not like as a species. But that day is coming, and it’s important to have those conversations now. On a broader level, it’s time we start thinking about what it means for us as creative people, what we value, and why we are special on this planet. Because I do believe that we are.
Unless you either live under a rock or don’t have a relative/friend/boss who’s a Swiftie, you know that Taylor Swift concert tickets went on sale this week. You probably also know it was a catastrophe, with the blood and tears of millions of Swifties on Ticketmaster’s hands. It was enough to divert an entire news cycle away from Elon Musk. I’m here to tell you how in the future, this sort of thing might not happen.
Here’s what happened: Prior to the presale, Swifties registered as “Verified Fans” through a partnership between Ticketmaster and Taylor’s management team, Taylor Nation. From Ticketmaster’s reports, over 4 million fans signed up. The night before the presale, 1.5 million of them were notified by text and email that they won the presale lottery and were given access codes to buy tickets the next day. If you bought merchandise from the Taylor Swift store using the same email address as your Ticketmaster account, this helped your chances. I am both simultaneously proud and embarrassed to say that I have dropped enough money on that website to score a presale code.
The events of the following morning will live forever as one of the darkest of days in the annals of Swiftie history. Over the course of the morning, 1.5 million fans tried to buy tickets simultaneously – along with 12.5 million other people…and resale bots. (If you want to learn about how these bots work, this is a good primer.) The site crashed in spectacular fashion, codes did not work, and many irate Swifties did not score tickets. Moments later, ticket resale sites like StubHub and Vividseats immediately showed plenty of inventory – marked up to $30,000 a ticket in some places. The whole point of fan verification was to prevent something like this from happening. So, what went wrong?
This is not a post about that. This is a post about how it could have gone.
Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, have a bad rep in some circles because they are often associated with “tech bro” culture and extremely ugly AI-generated cartoon apes. However, they are useful for situations in which you want to tie a digital asset to its owner. If concert tickets are issued on NFTs, the organizer would have a record of the owner of the ticket on a blockchain, and more importantly, would know when that ticket is sold to someone else and how much it sold for. Keeping these records could limit price gouging, scalping, and ticket fraud. Because the ticket resides on a blockchain, the organizer could set resale cost limits and conditions.
There are other benefits to using NFTs for ticket sales. Because this technology moves quickly and efficiently, it may be less likely to crash a website. Artists could attach digital collectibles to tickets as souvenirs of the show. Tickets are potentially more securely stored digitally using ticket wallets tied to a single device. And paying for tickets could be more seamless, too. Ticketmaster sees the value, too, and has partnered with blockchain providers for other kinds of events.
It'll be a while before the world buys Taylor Swift tickets on blockchain, but there’s a good chance it’ll be better than not being able to buy Taylor Swift tickets at all. I, for one, am ready for it.
I have been brushing my teeth for 40 years, which is approximately 1,000 hours of practice. Not exactly the 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, according to K. Anders Ericsson, although seemingly sufficient for a menial task. I didn’t think much about my toothbrushing proficiency, but if pressed, I would have said it’s “good enough.” However, the last few trips to the dentist indicated otherwise. Nothing major, but clear signs that my technique was flawed. So, I had a choice to either continue to accept good enough or try to improve my performance. Yes, toothbrushing is a mundane task, but why not finally listen to the expert and do it better?
I am an underperforming teeth brusher not because I’m incapable of performing the task but because I formed unproductive habits and lacked the motivation and tools to overcome those habits. I would buy an inexpensive toothbrush and then mindlessly move it around in my mouth for some reasonable amount of time twice a day. As a major step toward improvement, I bought an electric toothbrush (spurred on by my dentist, of course).
At QIC, we know that in order to push yourself to the next level, you require insight into your performance. Not only do you need enough data, you need the right data. It must be presented to you in a way that’s easy for you to understand at a glance, and it must be coupled with feedback. Knowing you’re not performing at your peak level isn’t enough – you need to know what to do to fix it! I was pleased to see these features in the companion app to my toothbrush. The brush itself gives you brushing guidance through a timing feature and sensor. The downloadable app provides insights into your brushing habits, and importantly, gives you specific strategies you can use to improve. Feedback on brushing frequency, average duration, and performance is displayed after each session, along with corrective actions such as “slow down.” Taken together, this Cadillac of toothbrushes is designed to break unproductive habits, model and maintain the correct behaviors, assess performance, and provide feedback. From a human factors and training perspective, it’s quite impressive!
Whether government or private industry, our customers are regularly faced with the choice of seeking opportunities for improvement over accepting good enough. Not about teeth brushing, necessarily, but for job tasks on which they are trained, practiced, and may not have to think much about. The most elite performers are motivated to improve even on the tasks that have become mundane. Despite the desire to constantly improve, how to improve may not always be clear to them. We, as human factors and training professionals, know how. Analyzing job tasks allows us to understand the negative habits, well-designed training and performance support can help break those habits, active participation and demonstrable results can motivate, and assessment and proper feedback can maintain performance. The fighter pilot, CEO, Navy SEAL, etc. choose to shun the good enough, whether in the mundane or extraordinary. It is part of what makes them great, and we can help focus that motivation to make them even greater. In the meantime, let’s start with brushing our teeth… properly.
These posts are written or shared by QIC team members. We find this stuff interesting, exciting, and totally awesome! We hope you do too!