Algorithms of Inequality: A Talk With Cathy O’Neil


The advantages of diversity in the tech industry have been carefully studied and reported on. Companies that hire women and minorities outperform their competitors and see higher financial returns. New studies, reported on by FastCompany, show that industry leaders are well-aware of the value of diversity. Yet, we aren’t seeing the rush for inclusion that we would expect. Advice for how to increase diversity focuses on things like improving the language of recruitment and creating a more friendly working environment. However, there is a key component of the modern hiring landscape that gets overlooked.

Take a moment to think about what makes a good employee. What qualities do they have? What type of impact do they have on their company?

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Ben Robbins and the Making of Madoff



“This isn’t a financial story – this is a psychological story.”

This was the strategy behind Madoff, the ABC mini-series written by Ben Robbins that tells the tale of Bernie Madoff, the stockbroker associated with one of the largest Ponzi schemes and fraud convictions in American history. Ben joined Harmony Institute to discuss the production, the developing relationship between news and entertainment, and what captivates viewers.

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Marc Okrand: Klingon, Closed Captioning, and Conlangs


Last week, Dr. Marc Okrand, the inventor of the Klingon language and a key member of the team that made TV news closed captioning a reality, gave a talk at Harmony Institute. Every few weeks HI brings in a speaker to teach us more about narrative, language, statistics, and data science–anything that can help us understand the impact of media better.

It seems natural now that Dr. Okrand, whose dissertation focused on a Native Californian language with no remaining speakers, would also invent a language that has been adopted by a dedicated media fandom today. While traveling to Los Angeles to help coordinate the first Academy Awards show broadcast with live closed captioning, Dr. Okrand was invited to make up some Vulcan dialog for the second Star Trek movie. He was then invited back to create Klingon for Star Trek III, and the rest is conlang (constructed language) history.

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Embodied Cognition, Complexity Theory & the Future of Bio-Adaptive Games

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It goes without saying that technology has changed the way we think about and interact with the world around us. When many of us hear this we’ll immediately think of computer technology and its impact on modern society. But this is not a new phenomenon; in fact, it is one that can be seen in any number of major technological thresholds throughout history. Think of the invention of the mechanical clock: the shift from biological to mechanical time affected society, not just in terms of scheduling, but our psychology as well. It’s theorized that these various technological shifts actually change our brains in such a way to allow for the next advancement to take place. In essence, without the clock becoming so instilled in human behavior that its existence is completely assumed, our brains wouldn’t have the capacity to understand the mechanics that lead to modern day computer electronics.

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Virtual Worlds and Social Networking: Annie Wang on expertise in Everquest II

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Ima­­gine a research environment that brings together thousands of people for extended periods of time. The world is controlled, social, immersive, the participants are there by choice, and every moment is recorded. It’s a social science researcher’s dream—and it already exists. The environment is a virtual world called Norrath, and it’s the setting of the popular game Everquest II.

Everquest II (EQII) is a massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) developed by Sony Online Entertainment. While the game wasn’t designed with social scientists in mind, the features described above make it the home of an “overwhelming amount of data,” according to Dr. Annie Wang, an expert in organizational research and social network analysis. Curious to learn more, we invited Dr. Wang to HI for our September anti-speaker series, during which she discussed her recent work examining player expertise and social interactions in EQII.

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Where engagement meets immersion: A discussion with Frank Rose

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In order for social impact to radiate outward from a piece of media, something needs to occur to create an emotional or cognitive resonance in the audience member. This resonance is the driving force behind the tweets, votes, and media chatter that we at Harmony Institute use to measure change. One lens for examining the vital relationship between the audience member and the piece of media is to look at the interplay of media engagement and immersion. Media engagement occurs when an individual feels the combination of surprise and delight that sparks curiosity – the drive to find out about a new film or TV show. Once a person has become engaged with the piece of media, their attention grows into a hunger for immersion, the ability to delve even further into the storyworld. However, as media becomes increasingly participatory, the line between engagement and immersion has become less clear. Audience members are able to interact and engage with media across many platforms, from the pages of a book to their television to their phone, and each of these interactions embodies a unique narrative space. Therefore, as media scholars we need to be able to map the connections between these levels of engagement and each one’s potential for immersion.

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Wonder and the emotional impact of media

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Film and media engage and motivate their audiences through both content and form. At HI we’ve often looked at content—how are issues framed, what metaphors resonate with audiences, or which characters captivate viewers. But this is only part of the equation. To tackle the tricky question of form, we invited philosopher and psychologist Jesse Prinz of CUNY to discuss the role emotions play in peoples’ responses to and evaluation of art.

Prinz currently explores the hypothesis that “wonder” is a feature of art that leads to its emotional impact. Wonder, as he describes it, is a feeling of “awe” evoked by a painting, a piece of music, a performance. It’s the moment, whether alone in a gallery or in a packed theatre, when you notice your jaw dropped, head tilted, eyes opened wide, in an attempt to fully-absorb the work. Prinz and his colleague Angelika Seidel study the psychological bases of these reactions and have developed a formal definition and experimental designs to measure this characteristic of impactful art.

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Inclusive approaches to gaming: A conversation with Cornelia Brunner

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Measuring the impact of games is a complex challenge. We’ve considered why games may be effective from a psychological perspective and spoken to designers about the delicate balance between accuracy and fun. Still, fundamental questions remain. What types of people are playing games, and to what effect?

Games are a huge component of the entertainment marketplace—Industry analysts project that gaming revenue, including sales from mobile devices would reach $78.5 billion in 2012. However, detailed social research on gamers is still an emerging field. In order to better understand some of the issues at play, we spoke with Cornelia Brunner of the Center for Children and Technology.

Brunner has worked in education for over 40 years, starting at Sesame Street and moving on to experimental and progressive classrooms that incorporate new media and technology. Pivoting off our work in game evaluation, she explained her ongoing research on games in educational settings. We asked Brunner, what would an inclusive, meaningful game look like?

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Anti-speaker recap: History and videogames


Video games allow you to take on almost any role you can think of, from an extraterrestrial to a star running back in the NFL. This capacity for close engagement with characters through play is one of the aspects that makes video games such an influential form of entertainment. In one of our previous posts we discussed the psychology behind character identification, and yesterday we hosted indie game designer Josh DeBonis of Sortasoft to discuss his most latest project: Meriwether

While role playing games have traditionally focused on magical characters from fantasy worlds, DeBonis has designed a game with a unique twist. In Meriwether, the player takes on the role of explorer Meriwether Lewis on his epic journey across the American west. This historical focus poses a unique set of design challenges but also opens new modes of historical learning through gameplay.

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