What we can learn from “Tay”

Microsoft had a couple of embarrassing moments in the past while.

First, there was the Xbox party.  “Microsoft takes blame for ‘dancing schoolgirls’ at Xbox party“.

Then, there was the issue with the chatbot Tay powered by Artificial Intelligence that took off in an unintended direction.  “Microsoft ‘deeply sorry’ for Tay chatbot, will bring it back when ‘vulnerability’ is fixed“.

It’s always easy to point fingers after the fact.  The first incident should never have happened in 2016.  It’s just common sense and real people had to plan and pay for the dancers.  I don’t know how that could ever be justified.

The second incident with the chatbot is a little more interesting.  Researched with good intentions, the internet itself hijacked the artificial intelligence and took the experiment into a direction that wasn’t planned.

For more details on either of these, just do a Bing search with the appropriate search terms and you’ll find lots of articles with details and pictures if you’re so inclined.

I’m sure that there are lots of discussions at Microsoft about both incidents with plans for damage control and basically learning from the situation.

As educators, there are a few things from the Tay situation that we need to observe.

  1. Don’t leave your social media un-moderated.  While we’re not “bots”, we can be part of ongoing conversations and discussions.  Sure, you can control what you say (provided you don’t use weak security and someone takes over your account), but do you monitor what others say about you?  Or comments that are attributed to you?  Or pictures you’re tagged in by someone else?  You should do it manually and a service like IFTTT.com can automate some things for you.
  2. Beware the Bot.  So, if you did the above, you know how easy it is to create your own bot to do things for you.  It’s not at the same level of sophistication as Tay but can become part of your digital interactions.  It’s easy now to understand why you get an immediate personal message when you follow someone or you mention certain topics.  These people have created their own bot to respond on their behalf.  Be careful of getting into a conversation with one and expecting satisfaction!  All bots don’t have to be electronic.  There are some real people bots who only participate to sell their book or a friend’s book.  Other than injecting themselves into the conversation for this purpose, they’re non-existent.
  3. Know when to stop.  One of the strengths I think most teachers have is knowing that they will always have the final word with students if they want.  Depending on who or what you’re interacting with online, that may not be possible.  They may be looking for the last word.  Sometimes, it’s just wise to walk away.
  4. Choose your friends wisely.  That’s always good advice but even more important on social media where connections can extend world-wide.  Having a Personal Network of Co-learners can be the best thing that you can do for yourself.  But not all friends or connections are friendly or connected for the right reasons.  In fact, you might get dragged into situations with no way out.  It most definitely is worth your time and effort to learn how to unfriend or block those who would hijack your professional appearance on social media.  A personal example – I was connected with a leader in a big professional organization in the US.  It turns out that he had another persona that wasn’t quite so professional online.  I wanted no part of this.  You don’t need to explain or rationalize to others; protect yourself and make sure that your network is just what you want it to be.

The most valuable thing that you have is you.  How are you protecting you?   Can you learn from Tay’s experience?

3 thoughts on “What we can learn from “Tay”

  1. Hi Doug,

    Thanks yet again for another great post which has made me think.

    I know this may sound silly, but when I first got a Twitter account in 2009, I would accept almost everyone who connected with me, without prior research sometimes, because I thought it was the “polite” thing to do. I did the same later on when I got a Facebook profile in 2012 (which I do not have anymore). I used and I use both mainly to connect with educators and my family who are far away (in Canada and Greece).

    I’d only block and report spammers and scammers. After a point, I started to realise that not everyone had genuine intentions and either connected to ask for professional favours (ranging from “can you give me a lesson plan on….” any given subject to “can you write my dissertation for my Masters program?”). And I hope I don’t sound horrible, but if I do have a lesson plan or a teaching idea that I think is worth sharing, I share it on my blog for anyone to use, but sit and write any kind any person would ask me for? People asking me to do their work for them and sometimes pressuring me because they “had to teach this class in four hours”?

    So, I learned to be more careful and filter and I did not have to be polite to people who used a horrible character for any reason.

    I must say though and I will always keep saying it, that on social media I got to know educators and amazing characters at the same time, that I think I would not have had the chance to meet otherwise.

    You are one of them and I am very happy to know you! We interact on a daily basis and I love your blog. I have learned and keep learning from you. We have had a great interview via Hangout. Now, if we get to meet in person, that will be SUPERB!

    Like

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