Monthly Archives: November 2016

Information Bias in Social Media

Photograph of a skeptical young man.I am enrolled in a refresher course on critical thinking and philosophy. I have been studying knowledge and particularly skepticism as it relates to knowledge. In applying these concepts, I realize that I need a healthy dose of skepticism when consuming social network news. Recent reports suggest that fake new sites on social networks and search sites could even have swayed the U.S. election. This news has spread over the last couple of weeks so I want to explore our personal responsibility for critiquing news and social network feeds and determining whether we are getting the full picture or whether we have customized the information we receive to fit our worldview.

Strength of Networks

There has been a visceral reaction to the U.S. presidential election with many people publicly expressing shock and joining in protests in cities in America. According to their network, their candidate should have had a clear path to the nomination. The problem is that we have intentionally and unintentionally built our social networks to look like us. Intentionally, we connect through our networks with friends and colleagues who share our political and religious views. Our network, and particularly social media newsfeeds, are fed by algorithms built to reinforce that bias, which is unintentional on our part. For example, your news feed on Facebook is influenced by who you are friends with, pages you like, what you post, and how you interact with others in your network. A recent article from Spredfast, a social media marketing firm, said it best: “On social media platforms, the world looks different depending on the candidate that you support.”

Is it True

We create networks of associates that look and think like we do. The news we get matches our biases. The question now is how do we know that the news we are receiving is true. We may read several articles a day but not take the time to consider whether they are factual or even plausible. As I mentioned in my post last week, our move away from deep reading may have left us unable or unwilling to take the time and effort to apply that skeptical filter. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are reportedly stepping up their efforts to filter fake news feeds but even if they succeed there will still to be a built in bias, fueled by our online behavior.


I am challenging us all to slow down and take in news thoughtfully and skeptically. Challenge the source and ponder the premises and conclusions the author is making. Are they plausible and factual? Are their sources reliable? Are they slanted toward a particular bias or ideology? Does that bias color the actual news that I am getting?

I will strive to be more careful and thoughtful about news I am reading and will try to find articles from trusted foreign news sources as well so I can get a perspective outside of my own normal network. Do you think the U.S. election has been a wake up call to how we view social media in terms of shaping our worldview? Will it change our habits and usage? What would a less biased and more responsible social network look like? I think the responsibility lies with us to find out. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Evolution of the Deep Reading Brain

Image of two human heads on a labyrinth pattern with a laser light connection.I recently attended a lecture on the restoration of the deep reading brain in the digital age. The implication was that in the digital age we no longer read and contemplate deeply but skip from one short article to the next. In other words, we live in a world of sound bites. Studies suggest that our new form of reading and study is actually changing neural connections in our brain. While this may be true, I think we need to understand whether this is a bad development or just part of our continued human evolution.

Deep Reading Brain

Maryanne Wolf, author of “Proust and the Squid,” coined the phrase deep reading brain. Deep reading is the process of sustained study and concentration, but more importantly it is associated with the ability to connect reading to other ideas in order to create unique thoughts. Shallow reading, on the other hand, is cast in a bad light as not promoting further understanding but merely informing about news or information. Some authors link the shift to shallow reading to the proliferation of digital devices and particularly handheld devices. This does not take into account the fact that we have a lot more information available to us than in the past, and it is available in a format that does not require us to sit down and actually read a paper book. Does the potential loss of a deep reading brain jeopardize other areas of our thinking?

Socrates and the Written Word

Is the concern about a shift from a deep reading brain a problem unique to us? The short answer is no. As humans, we have only been reading and writing for the last 5,500 years. Before that we communicated verbally in order to exchange information and record history. During the last transition, Socrates is reported to have expressed concern about the new written word of his day in an account from Plato. He was worried that young people would think that knowledge was now all recorded and required no further pursuit or contemplation. Does this sound like a familiar argument? To quote French critic Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”


Aristotle writes about three lives that we should lead, the highest being a life of study and contemplation. Some argue that we now lead a distracted life instead and cannot slow down long enough to pursue the contemplative life. My purpose for this blog entry is to ask questions. Is this the new reality in our modern day thinking? Is it good, bad, or just different? As we build new neural connections geared towards processing large amounts of information, are we losing the ability for deep thinking and processing or are we building a new and more valuable skill? I would love to get your thoughts and start a dialogue to work through these questions.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Can Technology Help to Feed the World?

Aerial view of the tractor spraying the chemicals on the large green fieldThe world population is expected to exceed nine billion people by 2050 from an estimated 7.3 billion today, according to various sources. How will we be able to feed all of those extra people? Water is already in short supply so it will be difficult to create additional arable land. Forests around the world are being plowed under to meet this growing need, but in the process we are changing the balance of fragile ecosystems. A National Geographic author asks: How can the world double the availability of food while simultaneously cutting the environmental harm caused by agriculture?

The answer may be farms capable of increasing food production through technology while also reducing their environmental impact.

So Many Cows

Three Mile Canyon Farms in rural Boardman, OR combines a dairy operation with cropland dedicated to potatoes, onions, carrots, and various organic crops. The sheer size of this operation sets it apart from other private or even corporate farms. The entire ranch covers 93,000 acres and houses 24,000 cows that produce 165,000 gallons of milk each day. There are milk trucks lined up 24 hours a day to haul the milk to a nearby cheese processing plant. This farm is set up to be a closed loop system in terms of waste management. The manure is used to fertilize the potatoes and the potato skins and culls from the processing plant are used as feed for the cows. Any excess methane from the waste collection is used to create electricity for the operation. Automated milking machines collect the milk, which is how they are able to run such a large operation. The water for the potatoes and other crops comes from the nearby Columbia river but is used judiciously by employing computerized hydrology maps, which I wrote about in a recent blog. The farm has set aside 23,000 acres as a preserve for wildlife and endangered plant species. They are trying to reach a balance of feeding an increasing population while still being good stewards of the land and environment.

The Science of Crop Production

Another technology that is available is the controversial genetically modified organism or GMO. These modified seeds can achieve increased yield through built in drought or pesticide resistance. The manufacturer often controls the seed so it may not be widely available or affordable for emerging nations. The controversy surrounding GMO is that there are many unknowns. How will the genetic modifications affect the health of the consumer in this generation or in generations to come? How do we keep GMO seeds in one field from cross-pollinating with non-GMO seeds in another field? Will crops from GMO seeds have the same nutritional value as their unaltered counterparts? As with any new technology, there are initial barriers, but GMO is one potential solution for feeding a growing population.

Low Tech Solutions

In a Nature Journal article earlier this year the authors compared yields between organic crops and those raised with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Studies show a consistently lower yield for organic crops but when grown in drought conditions, the organic crops came out on top. This is due to the fact that non-chemically treated soils better retain moisture. Organic farming is potentially one piece of the puzzle for feeding a growing population.


Eighteenth century cleric and philosopher Thomas Malthus suggested in his book “An Essay on the Principle of Population” that prosperity would bring about population growth but that growth cycle was not sustainable and would eventually end in famine and starvation. It remains to be seen whether technology will help us forestall his predictions or whether his ideas are no longer valid. It is certain that we will need to produce more food for a growing population and technology is one way of achieving that. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Geek Gifts for the Holidays

Hand emerging from laptop, holding wrapped gift.I am compiling my gift list for the upcoming holiday season and paying particular attention to my tech friends. New devices are being developed to provide comfort, efficiency, or just plain fun. What would be the perfect gift for my geek friends?

Smart Devices For A Smart Home

Google introduced Home last week, just in time for the holidays. It is similar to Amazon Echo as a home device that accepts voice commands and can queue up a music play list, answer questions or interact with other smart devices in the home. It is basically a voice activated internet device that is paired with home wifi to connect to cloud storage or various web sites to check weather, traffic, answer trivia questions, or activate audio from sites such as Spotify or Pandora.

Home can be paired with Nest products which are home control devices. Nest, like Google, is a subsidiary of Alphabet so devices are compatible. The internet connected Nest Learning Thermostat replaces a traditional home thermostat and can maximize energy efficiency and comfort at the same time. Indoor and outdoor cameras can also be integrated into the home system to be controlled via an app while away or Google Home while in the house. OK, Google, it’s cold in here, and what is that noise outside?

You can go one step further this holiday and add TP-Link Smart Light Bulbs to your home system. These are wifi LED dimmable bulbs that you can operate via a smartphone app, Amazon Echo and presumably the new Home. Check to make sure your lights are turned off or turn them on remotely to greet you upon return. You can also establish a timed schedule. Home automation devices have come a long way to ensure security and comfort during the holidays and the rest of the year.

Just For Fun

For the geek on your gift list there are some fun new toys. Nanotips makes a conductive paint you can apply to the fingertips of your favorite gloves so you can operate smartphones and tablets without exposing your hands. This would be great for my ski, motorcycle or biking gloves, but I still need to figure out how to make a sharper fingertip so that I can text.

The Tap A Tune Musical Gloves sound like a lot of fun. These are musical gloves that play like a piano on any surface. There are sensors in the fingertips that are fed back to the speaker/controller so you can practice the piano or compose a new tune anywhere.

Finally, for the geek on your list who also happens to be a Harry Potter fan there is the Kymera Magic Wand Universal Control. It works through gestures instead of boring buttons and provides haptic feedback so you know whether you are casting the right spell or changing the channel up or down.


Technology is constantly evolving and entrepreneurs are innovating exciting designs they hope will enhance our lives. Some are practical and some are just for fun. There are many products to help automate our lives and some to bring a smile or a laugh. What are you going to get the geek on your holiday list? Let me know of great potential gifts you have found.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

City as a Service: The Future of Urban Transportation

Model of a smart city resting atop a computer tablet.Anheuser-Busch just made the first ever beer run in a self-driving truck. The truck delivered 51,744 cans of beer from Ft. Collins, CO to Colorado Springs, CO while the driver monitored the trip from the sleeper cab, at least on the Interstate 25 portion of the ride. The historic delivery was made by Otto, the trucking arm of rideshare company Uber, partly to showcase their capabilities and partly to deliver beer. The inaugural run had the full backing and blessings of the state of Colorado.

I have written about autonomous passenger vehicles and recently wrote about the development of flying cars. I wonder how these developments will change the landscape of cities. If in the future we just rent cars by the mile to take us to work and back, where will they go at night? Or will the same car be used at night to take us to the theater? Will there need to be as many cars, since people can share them? How will this change how we live? How we think about car ownership and the role of vehicles in a community could change. Just as we have moved to software as a service for our computing needs, we could soon have city as a service for transportation.

The Next 100

BMW just wrapped up a worldwide series of presentations they called the Iconic Impulses Tour. The final show was two weeks ago in Santa Monica, CA and highlighted their vision for BMW’s next 100 years. In addition to introducing new concept cars from Mini, BMW, and Rolls-Royce they are rolling out their vision of how these cars will fit into a new urban environment. To this end, BMW/Mini has created a venture accelerator called URBAN-X to encourage entrepreneurs to help develop their vision.


The mission of this new venture is “to catalyze, educate, invest in and advocate for startups who are shaping the future of cities through technology.” I assume they are hoping that future includes vehicles, however they are encouraging forward thinking about all aspects of the urban experience. If you are a successful applicant, you get $60,000 in seed money and access to hosting, legal consultation and proprietary software. You also get a chance to spend three months with business developers and engineers from Mini to help bring your idea to fruition. Some of their recent ventures include Brooklyness which makes an intelligent bike helmet, CTY which creates data analytics products for traffic flow, and Nello which makes keyless entry products though a smartphone app. The application deadline to join the next group of lucky entrepreneurs is November 29th,  details at


I am impressed that an automobile company is thinking ahead to a time when there are fewer cars and limited private car ownership. I assume that the car companies will own the vehicles and make money through subscription services, like today’s cloud service providers. With this scenario, the city will indeed look different and perhaps we can convert at least some city parking to green space and make other improvements. What ideas do you have for the future cityscape? Perhaps your idea is worthy enough to attract funding from a car company. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.