Parity Pool

Storytelling with data requires patience, reliable sources, and creativity. I was excited to browse the aggregated data sets on the newly launched website. I soon found myself lost in statistics about occupations, income distribution, and wage gaps in the United States. Ultimately, I decided to explore educational data provided around Computer Science degrees programs. I wasn’t exactly sure what I would fine, but I new I wanted to look at issues of diversity within the technology sector. Visit to see what I discovered.

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An Interview With Ashley Smart

On Monday Feb 29 2016, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Smart about his journey into science journalism. Our half-hour conversation touched on paleontology, the optics needed to detect gravity waves, and diversity within the science field. We also spoke about an exciting new fellowship that will enable students from HBCUs to gain experience in science writing. I admire Ashley’s boldness in switching careers and his  current work to provide opportunities for others to become science writers. This week, I am writing a longer offline piece about our conversation.

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Watch Out: The Deception of the Small


My smart watch keeps me up at night.


I am making the assumption that my neutral time is focused on productive activities. There might be bias in this interpretation.

I am making the assumption that my neutral time is focused on productive activities. There might be bias in this interpretation.

Using RescueTime, I attempted to track my media diet and general digital activities. I was excited that I could download the application to my laptop, desktop, browsers (firefox/chrome), and even my android phone.

I reviewed my patterns after 7 days and was pleasantly surprised to see I appeared to be fairly productive – given that I am clearly expert at managing my attention… or so I thought.


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The chart that stood out most to me was the one indicating my most used app was for SMS. It turns out that I consume most of my media through conversation.

Perhaps, the assumed productivity was just a capture of idle screens while I busily texted with friends about a range of topics.


Just as I was dozing off after 7 days of capturing data, I felt a buzzing on my wrist. I looked down to see a tweet from EthanZ on twitter and a message from a friend.

None of the tracking applications I downloaded could document the notifications I consumed on my smart watch!

In fact, I had recently discovered I could text from my watch by speaking directly to it and even send emoticons by just drawing them. Productivity has been tanking ever since this discovery. This explained my seemingly constant use of SMS which is tracked by my phone even when I do it through my smart watch.


This weeklong exploration revealed the difficulty of tracking activities even when being very intentional. I am glad I have clear evidence for why I should turn off my watch when I need to focus.Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 8.27.37 AM My observations reveal that Rolf Dobelli was right is speaking to the time wasting side of news (to which I add social media). Productivity increases as media decreases, but I spend most of my time on media.

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ReCode: Newscape Mirror

Aspire Mirror Reimagined…

How does your media exposure and news diet impact your external and internal perceptions? Is there a way to reflect on your “newscape” that can support a range of goals aimed at consuming or producing a specified palette of news.

In the future, I believe half-silvered mirrors can be combined with digital surfaces and ccd sensors to enable individuals to analyze their newscapes in a way that evokes more empathy and reveals the perceptual impact of their news diet.


I have started this exploration with the creation of the Aspire Mirror. The Aspire Mirror is a device  that enables you to look at yourself and see a reflection on your face based on what inspires you or what you hope to empathize with.

The Aspire Mirror currently works by presenting an inspiration panel that offers six lenses. At present, these lenses are set to evoke reflection on

  • Oneness with nature
  • Dedication
  • Humility
  • Self Actualization
  • Harmony
  • Faith


By using similar underlying physical components and changing the software, I am interested in how the mirror can become a platform in the participatory news space. What news lenses can be created? How can we shape the way in which we experience the news or interact with media?


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Let’s imagine the mirror as platform and create new lenses and filters through which we can experience and experiment with news. One immediate exploration we can do is incorporate evocative art that then points observers to more information about a topic.

For example, the singer Usher released Chains on Tidal. The site with your permission tracks your eyes and only plays if you stare into the eyes of victims of violence. In a very literal way, Usher asks us not to look away. When you do look away or go to another tab in your browser, the music stops.

Since the website uses a black background, it offers a perfect backdrop for an Aspire Mirror. Anything that is black behind a half-silvered mirror does not shine through, hence black space translates to an unaltered reflective surface. The result of adding Chains as a lens to an Aspire Mirror is that the face of victims now can be reflected on to you. How does this change your experience of the song or method?

Inclusion in Tech: (Tangental, yet related note)

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Programmed Tech Exclusion? Message on the screen reads, we are struggling to detect your face. Keep trying or click for the non-interactive experience.

Since my undergraduate days at Georgia Tech, I have been working with computer vision and using  open-sources libraries like OpenCV. The algorithms at times reflect the lack of inclusion in the tech space in non obvious but important ways. Commonly used face detection algorithms are trained by providing a set of images that are described as human faces. The faces that are chosen impact what the software recognizes as a face.  A lack of diversity in the training set arises to an inability to easily characterize faces that do not fit the normative derived from the training set.

As a result when I work on projects like the Aspire Mirror, I am reminded that the training sets were not tuned for faces like mine. However, we can do something about it. We can use the power of the crowd to create training sets that reflect more diversity. While there are overfit problems to contend with since training set size and accuracy do not have a perfectly linear relationship, we can create new methods that can better handle diversity in human faces. We can recode the system. And as the founder of @Code4Rights, I would be more than happy to explore this further.

**Is being coded out a benefit when considering issues of privacy?**

Smart Mirror Space:

The materials to create smart mirrors are widely accessible, and internet tutorials on how to make one have been around for a couple of years. One dad made a fantasy magical mirror for his daughter. The smart mirrors of the past tend to focus on sartorial uses, cosmetic application(Augmented Reality) or health monitoring (Wize Mirror) of some kind. More recently, a Google engineer has incorporated a news feed into a DIY smart mirror.

The question is no longer “can it be done?”, the question is “what now shall we build?”. How do we build inclusively?


Anyone who wants to explore the mirror as a platform or recoding face detection should let me know. Tweet me @jovialjoy




Portrait of Creative Technologist

Joy Buolamwini | Media Lab Graduate Student – Civic Media Group

@code4rights @jovialjoy

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My mission is to show compassion through computation and ensure all who aspire to be creators are provided pathways to become full participants in the creation of the future. To realize this mission, I founded Code4Rights to empower individuals to create meaningful technology for their communities. Code4Rights builds on my work in Zambia facilitating the development of the Asikana Network Women’s Rights App available to all Zambia Airtel subscribers.

I am an entrepreneur, Rhodes Scholar, a Fulbright Fellow, a Stamps Scholar,  a Google Anita Borg Scholar, Astronaut Scholar, and a Carter Center technical consultant recognized as a distinguished volunteer. At the Carter Center, I created an android-based mobile surveying solution that was initially deployed to survey nearly 40,000 people in Ethiopia to help eliminate blinding Trachoma for over 17 million people. The tools are now used in Nigeria, South Sudan, Mali, and Niger to combat other neglected tropical diseases. I adore athletics and am a former Varsity Blues pole vaulter for Oxford University where I earned a master’s degree in Learning and Technology. I currently serve as a Business, Entrepreneurship, and Fellowships Resident Tutor at Harvard University. Excited to see where this class takes us all.

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