My Final Manifesto

This will be a collection of my thoughts reflecting on the most diverse course I’ve studied in university up till this point. I’ve learned so much and I’d like to give anyone who’d read this an idea of what to expect and hopefully inspire you to study this course as it’ll help everyone in their daily life as an online citizen. In this course, you’ll get exposed to a lot of topics such as privacy, fake news, algorithms, machine learning and data protection, however, it’s not all tech stuff. Beside all this technology topics you’ll also learn about empathy, inclusion and privilege. All these topics will raise your awareness on how to be a better person online as you’ll better understand some online stuff as well as be able to approach people better. I enjoyed writing blog posts as I never considered myself a good writer and as a result never really liked writing and dreaded writing papers for my courses but this course has helped me in this aspect. Another thing I appreciated about the course was how I usually feared that when I participated a lot in class that people would think my additions are useless or that I should just shut up and stop talking but I found out during the last class that some of my colleagues enjoyed my additions and felt that I added value to the discussion or to their general knowledge.

I learned so much in this course through too many tools and activities we’ve used and discussed in class. First off, I learned some stuff about myself, I learned that I like to engage and talk with people from different cultures as I’ve been a part of the Soliya exchange program. During Soliya we had 4 sessions of group video chatting with people online and I got to talk and interact a lot with them. I’m normally a pretty introverted person, however, I know I’m not like that when I’m in my comfort zone which is me, in my room, on my laptop, doing anything really. That’s why Soliya wasn’t that bad of an experience in my opinion – being virtual – as I know I’d have hated it a lot more if it was in person as I’d have been the introvert, shy and quiet kid sitting in the corner not talking. I also learned some stuff that I’ll be able to utilize in my academic life as I’m an MICT (Management of Information and Communication Technology) major student which depends a lot on technology and having a high digital literacy. One of the basic stuff this course has taught me that I’ve used in projects for other courses this semester is using non-copyrighted materials as I now know different types of copyright licenses. As for my social life, I’ve been constantly using Snopes now on the regular to be able to debunk news I feel are fake. This is especially helpful when my mom sends weird news on the family group and I want to set the record straight. One more thing I’ve been showing my friends regularly as I’m still impressed by till this moment is Google’s very own QuickDraw which is a little game that utilizes deep learning through neural networks to learn to recognize doodling. It’s not only impressive, but also a fun activity to do when bored and is quite fun to really see how your doodling ranks up against other people’s (some people are reaaaaallly good at it -might be a drawing board but still-). When I’m done with my undergraduate studies here at AUC I’d like to work in Data Analysis which was a topic we touched upon multiple times during the course of this semester. The main activity I liked in regards to data analysis was the Do Not Track Assignment as I watched the Big Data episode and it was very informative in my opinion.

Over the course of this semester we’ve all had to be content creators in a way and I’m quite proud of some of my creations. First off, I believe the thing I like most of all was my Alternative CV as it really had me dig deep to try and think about all those little achievements I like that other people -specially employers- would disregard or wouldn’t care about. It might be a small assignment that didn’t mean much to other people but I honestly enjoyed it and would recommend everyone to do it even if it’s outside the scope of this course. Moving on, I’ve created a little narrative game with my partner Nourhan Tantawi about something we’re both passionate about. The game’s name is Manufactured Evil and it’s about the pressing issue of plastic pollution that’s increasing around the whole world at a very quick and alarming rate. I would like to believe we’re slowly helping even if it’s a small step I’m still proud of us for attempting it. I’ve made a lot of my friends play this game, granted it was for general feedback at first, however, I’ve also gotten some people to play it in general to be more aware of the problem. Finally, one last thing I created that I’d show my friends is my contribution assignment as I would like to raise awareness to the concept of DeepFakes as it’s quite booming and people are using it to create very realistic looking videos which can be used to start hoaxes and manipulate celebrities and other public figures.

All isn’t fun and games though, if I had the power, I’d change some things about the course to improve it for future semester students. The most important thing in my opinion is the amount of workload as I believe it’s quite high. The doctor makes up for it with flexible deadlines though so it’s not that bad (still a problem though). One more thing would be the way we don’t always know what we should be following for updates as we have a lot of platforms that we need to follow to know what’s coming up, when’s the deadline and what’s exactly asked for us. The information we need is in a way divided on Slack, BlackBoard, Email and the course website which is overwhelming. I’d suggest that everything would be collected and posted on BlackBoard and updated with updates from Slack/Email also included on BlackBoard so we’d have a single platform we’d follow for all our needs. Another problem I think most of us faced was how there was a lot of vague assignments where we’d all keep asking each other and assume/speculate what’s exactly asked of us so we’d be able to start solving it and even then we’re not sure if we’re on the right track or not. One last thing, is that I feel like Soliya was too long (2 hours) I’d have liked it more if it was just 1 hour as dedicating 2 hours every week for this activity was a little time consuming specially that I wanted to engage with them and be actively listening which sometimes required a bit of effort to be actively listening and participating well.

I believe anyone should study this course as it’s an eye-opener in a lot of ways. If you’re digitally literate this course will help you increase your literacy by teaching you about a lot of different topics and get you involved as a creator in the process. And if you’re someone who is not that digitally literate in the sense that they don’t really use technology much and doesn’t use social media platforms would benefit from this course GREATLY as this course is designed to get people to understand better their online activity consequences and what goes behind the scenes sometimes.

DeepFakes

Obama really said that??

Over the course of the semester we have dealt with many topics, two of which are ones I was pretty interested in already and got to learn more about. These are Artificial Intelligence and Fake News, I thought that we’d also be discussing DeepFakes since it’s a combination of both. The portmanteau DeepFake is derived from 2 words (obviously :p) Deep & Fake. Deep from Deep learning which is a branch of artificial intelligence and Fake which comes from Faking something such as videos.

So DeepFakes are videos which are created using special softwares which you input multiple videos of a certain person so that the software would be able to use its artificial intelligence to learn and understand the patterns of movement of this person’s facial expressions and more specifically their lips as they talk. After that one can record a video of themselves talking which is then also inputted into the software so that the software can use it and fake the original video into making it seem like the original person is saying whatever the person with this kind of software wants him to say. The software edits the movement of his lips as well as change the voice of the creator to match the voice of the original person. This new technology has been seeing a lot of attention this last year and a half as people have used it in a lot of ways such as malicious hoaxes, or fake news, or celebrity pornography.

I believe this topic will be very useful in this course since it connects between two of the topics we talked about in this course. Moreover, I believe as DeepFakes technology and softwares progress they’ll be much more common and people should know now that it’s getting much harder to detect. Amateur-ish deepfakes are sometimes easy to spot by the naked eye by looking at the face as it sometimes looks disconnected, there is an apparent lack of blinking and sometimes weird shadows. However, the more professional ones aren’t easily recognized by the naked eye and what’s even more scary is that sometimes special softwares can not even detect that it’s a deepfake which might even create problems between countries on the global scale if there’s no way to prove it’s a fake.

Has AI gone too far?!

And here’s an article on the topic.

Let It Rust!

So for the curation assignment I’ll be talking about a movement that’s happening here in Egypt that started in January earlier this year. It’s the Let It Rust (ar:خليها تصدى) movement, a movement that aims to raise awareness to how abusive the automobile industry/market in Egypt is operating and how it’s time for change to happen. The page currently has 1,732,651 members and that’s only after 5 months of its creation which is huge.

Cover Image for the Let it Rust page on Facebook

The creators of this movement claim they started it to expose what happens behind the scenes in the automotive industry/market as the car dealerships as well as the manufacturer’s representatives are being very greedy overpricing the cars resulting in huge profit margins reaching about 70% of the original prices of the car. Moreover, the group also aims to have better safety measures in the cars as they claim that the 2018 & 2019 models in Egypt have been tampered so that they are below the safety standards (global as well as national). This is not all as the after sales service is basically nonexistent since warranties are quite literally null which leaves the customers in a bad spot after they leave the dealership.

The start of the group was right after the decision to lower the European car importing taxes to zero hence the زيرو جمارك part. Before the group was created the dealerships went out to the public with an announcement that basically stated that people shouldn’t expect a noticeable change in price as most European cars are now assembled here in Egypt which means that they’re not even “imported”. This begs the question, “Why didn’t the prices drop when these cars became assembled here in Egypt and the manufacturer’s representatives stopped paying the ‘import taxes’?”. When the group itself first started the dealerships took notice and again made an announcement to the public that there will be no change in prices or policies and that this is a hoax and all that it’d do is make the industry/market go at a lower pace which wouldn’t solve the problem and instead create other problems for all parties involved. In more recent times, the dealerships have also tried to be smart and act as if the movement is failing by putting some “sold” signs on the cars in their dealerships so that people would think that the market is progressing normally with no change whatsoever. This was quickly realized by some of the members and shared to social media to expose how they’re trying to deceive the public.

To raise awareness for the greediness of these dealerships, the group representatives starting releasing proof of how much these manufacturer’s representatives are making in profits by showing pictures of actual prices as well as the taxes they paid compared to the price that they sell these cars at. Below are just a couple examples.

When consumers saw the above pictures as well as many many maannyyyyyyyyyyy others they’ve accepted the fact they’re being lied to and manipulated which meant that they’ve started sharing the group to their friends and families to raise awareness for this issue we’re all facing and increase the reach. Another thing is that these consumers started boycotting these dealerships which led to a huge decrease in sales and led to the dealerships trying hard to attract customers using small discounts/promotions. However, that’s not what people are asking for, people are asking for a fair price, a safe car, a fair warranty and an existing after sale service.

The people running the group have relied on creating and sharing infographics, pictures and videos to the group to engage the people and raise their awareness. The group is constantly updating their cover picture as more members join by the minute (in the time it took me to write this much the group has gained 1200 new members and its 5 am which shows how the fast this group is growing. The group representative Mr. Mohamed Sheta also streams live on the Facebook group with updates to keep fans and supporters in the loop of what is going on and what’s the next step. I’ve been so lucky as to catch him during a streaming session as I accesses the group a few hours ago which just goes to show how active this movement is.

Mr. Mohamed Sheta streaming live on Facebook
Infographic showing the goals of the movement
Another inforgraphic about our rights as consumers

Moreover, people are constantly spamming the pages and groups of these automotive companies here in Egypt to show their support to the movement which increases reach as more people see their comments and their posts and go to check out the main group of the movement.

an example of the comments

Moreover, the boycotting has led to the cars that were imported to sit in the ports by the thousands since there is no turnover and the dealerships are not able to sell the inventory they already have.

And then this happened recently, since the manufacturer’s representatives bought more cars than the dealerships need, and in an attempt to cut losses they’ve decided to export these cars to other countries in the region such as Dubai as shown below.

So it’s evident that the movement is working and putting a lot of pressure on these representatives as well as the dealerships and it’s only going to get better from here as more people join the movement as well as more time for these greedy entities to lose more money to realize that the way they can cut costs is by actually complying with what the movement is asking for.

The movement has gotten a lot of attention from news journals/websites over those 4 months, starting with news outlets that supported the dealerships in the claim that it will not yield anything and will only put the industry on hold. On the other hand, these days the news outlets are supporting the movement and there’s a new article/ad/post everyday about how there are new discounts and promotions.

This is the link to the movement: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Khalyha.Tesady/

links to some news articles about the success of this movement:
http://www.ahram.org.eg/
https://www.tahrirnews.com/
https://www.masrawy.com/

DO NOT TRACK: S01E05

I just finished watching the Big Data episode of the Do Not Track documentary and what a trip this has been. First of all, this is such a nice website offering personalized experience for documentaries that I’ve never come across before, showing you stuff about you and letting you have some choices that have an impact on the documentary later on. The episode I watched is about Big Data, the buzzword of the century. I’m currently studying a Big Data course at university and this is of course a topic I’m very interested in as I believe it can have a huge impact on the advancements humans can achieve through the correct use of the data gathered.

The video talked about how just collecting data isn’t enough to “analyze” it and find the important insights we are going after as we first have to clean the data, make sure it’s usable then proceed and even then, gathering insights from that is not a sure thing. Moreover, “correlation does not mean causation” is the thing to always keep in mind when doing data analysis. One example the documentary gives is that there has been a high number of people drowning during Nicholas Cage’s on-screen movie viewings.

Another part of the documentary was talking about a woman who wanted to hide her pregnancy and some of the challenges ones who choose to opt out of social networks and online presence can face. The challenge here is that your offline life is tracked by knowing the stores you’ve went to using your smartphone location or your credit card purchase history. This data can be used by advertisers to target you better and show YOU what would interest YOU in particular which is what makes it much harder for us as users to opt out of this eco-system.

The problem with the algorithms which are used with Big Data and Data Analytics to judge in court or to decide who’d get loans and who wouldn’t is that they will start off using preexisting historical data. This historical data was of the decisions humans took. Humans were (and still are) biased against people/groups/ethnicity/gender/you name it which means that these algorithms have already learned this bias and will live on to perpetuate it which means that it will not give everyone a fair chance which really defies the concept of having unbiased machines.

Soliya Reflection

Over the course of April I’ve been going through an experience that’s been new to me. It was a weekly intercultural video chatting session where I’ve had the pleasure to meet some nice people from different places around the world even though I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience and was an utter waste of 8 hours (Not that these 8 hours were precious, just that they were wasted).

To me, the Soliya dialogue in the Connect Express is different from other means of online communication as there’s this concept of “holding the mic” while I’m familiar with “push-to-talk” Soliya doesn’t let more than one person talk at the same time as one can only “raise their hands” if they would like to talk and then wait till the person talking is done and has left the mic. This was good but also sometimes felt bad. It was good in the sense that everyone is forced to listen till the other person is done talking before they respond, however, it led to people sometimes “holding the mic” for minutes and not realizing which wastes time for the rest of us.

I’ve always been a content consumer, creating little to no content myself, so I consume content and share the content that other people have created. However, over the course of this soliya experience, the people who were in the same meeting room as me were very slow to answer a lot of the questions and would hesitate a lot which made me feel that the experience was boring and that someone must start anyway which made me come out of my bubble and participate and actually share my own stories and create “content” so that people would join in and get the room talking again.

The best thing about Soliya’s “mic” thing in my opinion is forcing someone to listen which is a problem for some people who have issues active listening because they keep feeling like they want to reply/respond/interrupt mid-sentence. One of the people in my group expressed that other people holding the mic has improved his active listening as he is not able to talk and interrupt the person. I believe that being silent and listening to the other person is the core of active listening whether it be online or in person (face-to-face).

The first session was the worst as we all didn’t know each other (yet!) and our facilitator wasn’t really doing that good of a job at breaking the ice. The sessions gradually became more bearable as people got to know each other and some of them started communicating more. What I disliked about Soliya was the amount of technical difficulties on their side as it happened every single session. multiple times. to multiple people. FIX IT!

Manufactured Evil Narrative Game Change Log & Final Reflection

Link to the game: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1bDaSkTsljnGfVV-MF0prClY8avdriIT5xRWliV0WxlI/edit?usp=sharing

Link to blog post of first draft of the game:
https://omareita.wordpress.com/2019/03/28/manufactured-evil-first-draft/

28th March: Game Release V1.0

7th April: V1.1 was released.

Changes in this patch:

  • Added Visuals
  • Added sources to visuals

8th April: V1.2 was released.

Changes in this patch:

  • Added more visuals.
  • Added sources to information

10th April: V1.3 was released.

Changes in this patch:

  • Changed some of the visuals
  • Changed some of the paragraphs in the game

11th April: V1.4 was released.

Changes in this patch:

  • Changed font
  • Changed background
  • Changed visuals
  • Shortened the long paragraphs
  • Added more sources

If we had more time we would have added a part at the end of the game that’d calculate how environmentally friendly the player was. We initially thought to add a score counter that’d be shown throughout the game so that the people would know what they did right or wrong. However, we decided not to do that as we felt that it’d give an incentive to the player to choose the good choices while we wanted them to choose what they actually do based on their free will. An end game score that’s hidden throughout the game itself so that the player would get the feeling of satisfaction if they did well or maybe a feeling of guilt and shame if they didn’t do that well (looking at you, turtle killers). We also wanted to add more scenarios to the game and make it just a bit longer.

While creating the game, we learnt a lot about the problem of plastic pollution that’s taking over the world. We learnt about the countries who are leading the world in the amount of plastic waste produced every year as well as the ones who dump the most plastic into the oceans and seas. We also learned that people in positions of power have a lot of choices that they can do that would make us deal with this epidemic that’s threatening the whole world. More importantly, we learned about a lot of the stuff that we as individuals can do to combat the issue by changing our lifestyles or changing the way we think about our plastic consumption. We also learned that forcing people to change isn’t the answer, instead having campaigns about awareness of that problem would be a much better solution.

Manufactured Evil First Draft

Link: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1bDaSkTsljnGfVV-MF0prClY8avdriIT5xRWliV0WxlI/edit?usp=sharing

This is a game about plastic pollution and its implications. Showcasing some of the possible decisions we as individuals as well as the people in positions of power can make to help combat this huge issue our planet is facing. It’s a game created by me and my partner Nourhan Tantawi. We still intend on expanding more on the scenarios as well as making the game more visually appealing however at this stage we’re looking for feedback to help us in improving the game. If you have any suggestions please comment below.