Jennifer Strong

Strong Versus The Machine: Guess Who Wins

6 mins read

Automation—powered by Artificial Intelligence, or AI, as it is commonly known—runs our lives, whether we believe it does or not. 

In the “olden” days, automation was controlled by simple programs that didn’t learn the behaviors of its users. Today, almost anything you buy or use has had automation at some point in the process that decided what you would see and how and when you would see it. 

Isaac Asimov’s famous sci-fi books, including I, Robot, talked about machines-gone-wild, but they also outlined rules to follow to prevent the machines from gaining control of humanity and destroying all human life. Think Skynet from Terminator or HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Are these stories coming true today?

Should we place our trust in machines? If we do, what do we need to consider? What are the ethics and moral leanings to be considered?

In Machines We TrustEnter In Machines We Trust, hosted by award-winning journalist Jennifer Strong, also the creator of the podcast powerhouse show from The Wall Street Journal, The Future of Everything. In Machines We Trust is by the folks at the MIT Technology Review, the oldest technology magazine in the world, founded in 1899. Jennifer is the Senior Editor for Podcasts and Live Journalism and can often be found speaking on stages around the world on technology and its intersection in our lives.

Rather than go surface on machine learning, aka “AI,” Jennifer and the team go deep into topics that affect our lives without our even realizing it. Research and data are at the core of all they do, and each episode is a masterclass on what happens behind the scenes of an award-winning show to keep it relevant and accurate. Topics are often the ones deemed “too heavy for broadcasting.”

Last season included a series on machines and hiring. Referencing it, Jennifer shared nuggets that should not be spoiled by this feature. They also raised questions in her own mind, like, “Is AI-based hiring propagating current business staff makeups of gender and personality by only presenting exactly what the machine has learned is currently successful?” 

Those are the kind of thoughts that go through Jennifer’s mind. As a 2019 co-chair of the United Nations AI for Good Global Summit Strategy Lab exploring how newsrooms can prepare to report on the use and impact of AI, Jennifer looks at each episode as a link in a chain of an ever-evolving story that needs to see the light of day. Public policy, government, and technology have been her newsbeat for years, and her gift for unlocking doors and uncovering the unintended consequences of technology feeds her purpose—to “help us become a more informed society.”

An upcoming live event interview will have her on stage with her guest, an avatar version of a real person deep in the investigation of ransomware attacks who cannot risk being exposed. Jennifer has also created a personal avatar with voice and personality to do research on how AI perceives an individual. To get the answer, you will need to listen to the season two finale that ran in August.

Covid means in-person interviews are not always an option, and virtual interviews can be complicated by uncertain Internet or sound equipment on the other end of the call. Jennifer and her team have remained undaunted, figuring out how to make the best of what they have while remaining focused on telling good stories. Over the course of her career, Jennifer has had to improvise and sometimes even pivot when it comes to finding an optimum location to record (think backseat of a car under a blanket, for example). All that experience has proven invaluable in how quickly she can pivot when challenging factors arise in recording or production.

Curiosity about how the world works, what drives people to make the choices they make, where the world might be going, and just people in general leads Jennifer down many different paths professionally and personally. With three children ages 10-14, curiosity is something she gets to explore every day. Currently, learning to sail is one exploration her teenage daughter has gotten her to enjoy in the chaos that is the Hudson River.

Living in a 100-year-old apartment also creates some opportunities to learn new things. This past year, Jennifer has refinished woodwork, rewired lights, made things for her home, and tried to find a spot in her home from which she can quietly record without picking up sounds from other apartments. Currently, her linen closet with a recorder and mic is her favorite spot.

No matter where she is recording, getting to the facts and opening listeners’ minds to perspectives they might have never considered is the goal. Showing the world the deep nooks and crannies where AI helps decide who gets hired, what you see on the Internet, what you buy, and what you believe is a noble goal, and one upon which Jennifer Strong has built a career.

 

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September 2021

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