Who Runs the World? Algorithms.

Algorithms and AI have been used to make life easier as our lives continue to become more and more centered around technology. But are they really making life easier?

Algorithms decide almost everything we see on the Internet and social media. From what’s trending on Twitter to finding profitable marketing strategies, algorithms play a role. We take for granted that these resources that fill our social media feeds with content and advertisements are created fairly and unbiased, but in reality, they’re far from it.

In a nutshell, algorithms are programs that break down information mathematically and use that information to statistically analyze data. However, as wonderful and sophisticated algorithms are built to be, there is no mathematical code for fairness, as Wired pointed out in this article.

Bias and racism have sadly been entrapped in our society longer than any of us have been around. So, unfortunately, there’s no stopping mathematical algorithms from being built with the same biases and prejudices the developer already exhibits.

The story of unfair algorithms predates Facebook or Twitter, though. Wired reported that throughout the late 60s and 70s, insurance companies used technical algorithms and statistics to redline inner-city neighborhoods that housed minorities. These companies hid behind the complicated mathematics of the algorithms, claiming that the choice was a purely technical one, and that it didn’t consist of moral judgement.

Beginning to sound familiar, right? You may remember during the height of the 2016 election season, Facebook claimed they couldn’t prevent fake news from running rampant throughout the platform. Instead, the sites algorithms were to blame, and it wasn’t Facebook’s responsibility to stop them.

It’s hard to argue with solid data and numbers, even if those numbers justified discrimination. In a ProPublica report, Julia Angwin found many disparities in the algorithms used by the criminal justice system to complete risk assessments on criminals. These scores given to inmates usually determined the likelihood of a release from prison. However, like the algorithms used by insurance companies’ years prior, these risk assessments were far from perfect. In fact, Angwin found that the formula unfairly flagged black defendants as future criminals at double the rate of white defendants.

These risk assessment scores reflect poorly on black defendants, creating a feedback loop around them being labeled ‘higher risk’, more police patrolling black neighborhoods, more black people getting arrested because more police are patrolling, and the cycle continues. All of this is supported by the little mathematical algorithm that determines a defendant’s risk upon release.

So, clearly, even though algorithms are created with the claim that they are backed by mathematics and data, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are right. Social media platforms are taking a similar stance. How bad can it really be? Well, definitely not great. The algorithms used to fill our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even TikTok feeds all come with bias too.

Buzzfeed published an article that shed light on how TikTok’s recommendations algorithm is prompting some worry. When AI researcher Marc Faddoul created a new TikTok account, he noticed a strange pattern emerge—the suggested accounts to follow all looked very similar. If a user followed a white man with a beard, only white men with beards appeared in TikTok’s recommendations. If a user followed a black woman, only black women would appear. A woman wearing a hijab, you guessed it, TikTok would recommend other women, also wearing hijabs.

While this was a casual experiment, it shows that the collaborative filtering algorithm that TikTok employs is less than perfect, by leading to echo chambers and a racially stagnant feed. While it may not be the intention of the algorithm, it can reproduce bias that is already found in people’s behavior, Faddoul explained to Buzzfeed. This can lead to a lack of diversity in people’s feeds and make it challenging for minority creators to gain popularity.

This isn’t a singular case, either. In one instance, Twitter tried to combat hate speech across the social media site. A seemingly noble act. The idea is that AI and algorithms will be able to flag racist remarks far faster than any human, making the platform safer and more enjoyable for all users. It didn’t exactly turn out as planned, though.

In fact, Vox reported that while trying to mend the problem of hate speech on Twitter, the AI and algorithms employed amplified racial bias. Research showed that African American tweets were one and a half times more likely to get flagged than white tweets. The problem is mathematical equations don’t understand social context. They also can’t escape the faults of out society. Thus, using an algorithm to decipher if an offensive term is actually being used offensively, is more difficult than Twitter originally thought.

While we think artificial intelligence and algorithms are impartial and unbiased, most of the time this isn’t the case. They learn from their creators, humans, and if the human who created the algorithm has biases—guess what? The product of their creation does too.

It’s easy to believe that a machine that’s driven by data and math sees the world fairly. Computers are supposed to be accurate. That’s why you use a calculator to check your less than perfect math skills. Computers are always learning, but there’s some things that computers shouldn’t be taught: racism. It’s not that algorithms or AI are inherently racist or discriminatory, either. But they perpetuate whatever biased human assumptions the person who made them held. When creating AI and algorithms, programmers need to account for these issues. Instead of trying to fix a biased algorithm with more algorithms, maybe take a step back to understand the role of human error in the situation.

There’s no doubt that algorithms will continue to run the world. We’re there. The technology isn’t leaving. But becoming aware of the inherent problem algorithms have, resulting from human behavior is important, and hopefully in the future we can change it. We can begin to fill the void of algorithmic fairness by hiring more people of color to build them. But to truly change the way AI and algorithms work, there are much deeper problems entangled in society that must be addressed. We need to train these machines to reflect the progress we aim to make as a society, instead of training them to support the past norms we’re trying to escape from.


UChicago trauma center ends trauma desert on South Side

By Simone Rich and Brandon Graver

In August 2010, 18-year-old Damian Turner was shot at 61st and Cottage Grove—just four blocks from UChicago Medicine. However, because of the protocols in place for trauma care, paramedics transported Turner nine miles away, to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he later died.

Check out the interactive map here.

Turner was a co-founder of the youth program within Southside Together Organizing for Power, or STOP. Following his death, the community organization began to fight for a trauma center to be built within UChicago Medicine to serve the residents of the South Side.

“That youth program founded the trauma center campaign, which became a coalition,” said Dominic Surya, a developer at STOP. Surya joined the organization in 2014, four years after the death of Turner.

Unfortunately, the tragic death of Turner is not an isolated occurrence.

According to crime statistics from the Area South sector of the City of Chicago Police Department, there have been 682 shooting incidents year to date in 2019. This year’s shooting incidents are down from the past four years, the highest being 2016 with 907 shooting incidents year to date. Without a trauma center at UChicago Medicine, all these victims would be forced to be taken to the closest trauma center—9 miles away. 

Surya recalled an incident that highlights the consequences of neighborhoods that lack trauma centers. “This was before my time [at STOP], but … there was a lady whose son was bitten by a dog or something, and she was not taken at [the University of Chicago] Medical Center,” he said. “She ended up getting her kid emergency treatment at another medical center, which she had to take him to on the public bus.”

According to UChicago Medicine, after the closure of Michael Reese Hospital in 1991, the South Side was without a trauma center for nearly 30 years. Patients in critical conditions, needing specialty trauma care, were transported lengthy distances in bad traffic. 

That’s the danger of living in a trauma desert.

STOP fought for a trauma center to be added to the South Side for the next five years. In 2015, there a partnership between Mt. Sinai Hospital and UChicago was announced, in which both hospitals would work together to open a joint trauma center at Holy Cross Hospital on the Southwest Side. 

However, later that year, UChicago Medicine announced it would be launching a trauma center on it’s on, in-house, and close enough to serve the residents of Chicago’s South Side.

That’s when things changed. 

UChicago Medicine opened the doors of its trauma center on May 1, 2018. In its first year, the new Level 1 adult trauma center treated almost 3,000 patients. 

UChicago Medicine Emergency Room Signage. Photo by Brandon Graver.

“We’ve had the unique opportunity to start from scratch and design the trauma center to be what we wanted and what we thought would most serve our community,” explained Dr. Jennifer Cone, an acclaimed trauma surgeon who joined the trauma team before its launch in 2018.

Trauma cases can be extraordinarily stressful—for hospital workers, patients, and their families. Cone added that it involves more than just performing surgery.

“My job is not only to stop bleeding or repair organs, it’s also to hold my patients’ hands, listen to their stories, and connect them with the support they may need,” Cone said. “I remember the hugs, the smiles, and the tears I share with my patients and their families.”

One of the programs that UChicago Medicine introduced with its new trauma center was the Violence Recovery Program. In its first year the program assisted 792 patients and 334 families that were affected by gunshot wounds, stabbings and assaults. 

“So, I think the hope is to have a broader community presence than just the extreme [situation] when someone gets shot,” Surya said of the medical center’s new Violence Recovery Program. 

Cone described the Violence Recovery Program as an integral part of trauma care at UChicago because of the way it promotes wellness and reduces the risk of future injuries. Each intervention is individually tailored to the patient and situation with help from the community, social workers, case managers, chaplains, mental health care and vocational resources.

 “We offer dozens of community events, classes, and programming for our neighbors,” said Ashley Heher the Director of Media Relations at UChicago Medicine. 

She illustrated some other ways UChicago Medicine has helped their community. The medical center created a Stop the Bleed program that trains community members to assist bleeding victims in emergency situations.

The South Side’s new addition is also impacting more than just its patients.

“There has been a change by EMS in boundaries of the areas served by Sinai and other hospitals since UChicago opened its trauma center in 2018,” said Dan Regan, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at Mt. Sinai Hospital. “Our service area decreased slightly.”

Regan added that although UChicago Medicine and Mt. Sinai do not share any resources or staff following UChicago Medicine’s decision to move forward with their own trauma center, the two medical centers still work together in other ways to ensure the best possible patient care. 

Mt. Sinai and UChicago Medicine both work as part of the Region XI in the EMS system. This allows both hospitals to coordinate the best possible emergency care for patients. 

So, what does the future hold?

For STOP, it involves continuing to fight for the South Side of Chicago. After five long years of advocating for the trauma center, the youth branch of STOP has been re-founded and is largely based at the Hyde Park Academy. However, their team continues to work with the other branches of the organization. The next big focus: working with Mayor Lightfoot to reopen the mental health that were closed many years ago. 

For UChicago Medicine, the plan is to continue to enhance the lives of residents in the area with quality care that is unavailable in the area otherwise. 

“We are often helping people on the worst day of their lives,” Cone explains. “Saving someone’s life is incredible, but I absolutely love seeing my patients in a follow-up clinic and knowing that they are safe and doing well.”

Graphic by Simone Rich and Brandon Graver. Made with Venngage.


Google Trends: Donald Trump clashes with his looming impeachment, and Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, dominates.

President Trump gets behind amid impending impeachment inquiry

As the Colbert show so nicely put it, Don and the Giant Impeach, has been hitting every news channel, network, segment since the whistle-blower report broke a few weeks ago.

According to an analysis of Google Trends data, in the last year, while Donald Trump has become a standard player in news networks’ daily reporting, the term “impeachment” has has limited growth in hits. That is, until news broke of an impending investigation into the President’s call with Ukraine and the opening of an impeachment inquiry by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Impeachment searches towered over Donald Trump when news broke.

Although the sudden rise of impeachment searches seems to be slowing down, it will be interesting to reassess in a week when perhaps the House moves forward with a vote–will it jump back up again? As for President Trump, I am sure we will continue to see consistent numbers through the end of his presidency.

Hunter who? Joe Biden’s son hits new heights following Trump/Ukraine scandal.

You might have heard–Joe Biden is running for President of the United States. But why’s his son, Hunter, taking over the news cycle?

Well, Donald Trump. That’s why.

According to an analysis of Google Trends search data, Joe Biden’s son has dominated Google searches twice in the last year. The end of September, when news originally broke that President Trump asked the Ukrainian President to investigate the 2020 front-runner and his son, Hunter.

Attention on Biden’s son, Hunter, continues to grow.

Interestingly, after the whistle-blower broke the news of the Ukraine phone call and Hunter Biden’s searches started decreasing, they began to rise again–most likely following his exclusive interview with ABC that aired two days ago.

Venngage: Friend or Foe

Venngage is an infographic software service. It presents users with a variety of templates, some paid and some free, that are used to produce graphics that present information and data in a memorable way. Venngage markets itself as a ‘easy’ fix for people who less design-oriented, allowing them to easily customize templates to create graphics for their businesses. I was introduced to Venngage as part of a Digital Journalism course, incorporating it into an investigative news story as a more engaging way to present data. I have since continued to use Venngage for various marketing projects for a current internship.

Venngage divides itself into three levels. On its homepage, users are prompted to ‘sign up for free’ and may then continue with a free plan, or they can upgrade to premium ($19.99/month) or business ($49.99/month). The professor that introduced me to Venngage allowed us to use his premium account for the semester. When I made an account to begin using on my own, I started with a free account—since I am a broke college student, free is usually better.

Except that wasn’t the case for Venngage.

Users are presented with a variety of templates to choose from—even free ones. Venngage also allows you to filter through templates so only free ones are shown. This is an easy way to limit your disappointment when you find the perfect template for your design, only to realize the little pink or orange banner at the top that read “PREMIUM” or “BUSINESS”. However, after choosing the perfect template, editing, completing your work, and attempting to save or share your work, users will come to the sad realization that they cannot export their work without a paid account.

I’m not sure who benefits from an account where you can create something but cannot share or save your work to use afterwards. So, that being said, get the paid account, because it will be worth it.

Venngage has 32 categories of different types of templates for users to choose from. Within each of those categories, there is no shortage of actual template choices either. I have had experience using infographics, flyers, and newsletters. Beyond that, however, users can create resumes, business cards, proposals, schedules, menus, and more. The list is long.

Example of some of the templates Venngage offers. You can see the list of categories (left) goes on and on.

Once you have settled on your chosen template—make sure it’s the right page size and plan type, you can filter by both of those—you’re ready to begin editing.

Venngage’s editing interface is overall relatively easy to use and pleasant to look at. On the left-hand side there’s a menu with a list of additional options: text, icons, charts, maps, background, image options, photos, icon charts, and interactive. On the top, there are basic editing functions, like those you’d find in Microsoft Word.

One of the most notable and helpful editing features is the ability to ‘lock’ certain background items, text, or photos, so they don’t move while you’re editing the rest of the graphic. I can’t even begin to tell you how nice it is to lock something you’ve finished, instead of accidentally moving it slightly to the left, when you meant to grab the box next to it. And, change your mind? It’s easy to unlock everything too. I have noticed that you must be very particular in your movements. If you have two icons or text boxes near one another, Venngage usually tries to move the larger one for whatever reason. That is why the lock function is so helpful, because it stops you from making stupid mistakes.

Example of lock feature. By locking the heading, I am able to comfortably move around all the icons surrounding it.

The similarity of the text editing functions on Venngage to other writing interfaces make it easy to dive right in. Users can play around with fonts, font size, alignment, bold, italics, font color, line height, etc, using the same techniques they are already familiar with. There are a lot of fonts, so you won’t get bored either.

Venngage also employs lots of gridlines and alignment help. Each time you move something on your template, several guidelines pop-up and move depending on where you move. These assist you in not just aligning to the middle of the page or section but aligning with the line height of the other text on the page. This is extremely helpful. Especially if you are like me, in that, each text box must perfectly and precisely coordinate with the others. I love these gridlines. Users should note; however, I have noticed some flaws with the alignment and gridlines. For whatever reason, Venngage sometimes will only pick up on the left to right alignment and not the top to bottom alignment.

One of the best parts of Venngage is all the extra features they offer that let users customize the premade templates. Even though the underlying design is based on template that may be used by tons of people, the features Venngage offers allows users to make it their own. The ‘icon’ section of Venngage’s editor happens to be one of my favorite ways to add an easy visual touch to my work. I have yet to find an object that doesn’t exist in their list of icons, which means whatever kind of business you may be in, you’ll find the perfect little animated icon to bring your creation home. You can easily type in the actual item you’re looking for or browse through their set categories if you only have a general idea. The color of the icons varies, but most of them can be easily changed using the color dropper tool to match the other elements of your graphic.

Another thing that is important to mention, and perhaps is the most annoying things about this interface, is that you will more than likely not be able to see your entire document without scrolling. Venngage automatically sets the zoom to 100%, which allows me to see a little over a third of the document at a time on my 15.6-inch laptop screen. The interface allows you to zoom out, but only by increments of 20%, and once you pass 80% the text on the page gets too small to reasonably read.

Image at 100% zoom.
Image at 60% zoom.
Image at 40% zoom.

Not only is this frustrating while editing, since it makes it difficult to know what your graphic looks like all together—but it is also frustrating when you attempt to screenshot your work to avoid paying the premium prices. If you found yourself reading this, and asking, ‘why doesn’t she just screenshot her graphic to avoid paying the $19.99/month?’, this is the reason. Venngage was smart. To get the entire paper to fit on your screen, users must zoom out to 40%, making the text and graphics way too small to see clearly, even after cutting and cropping the other stuff out of your screenshot.

You might find yourself saying now, well, why should I bother making an account if I have to pay for it?

If you are just playing around, I would say Venngage maybe isn’t for you. But, if you’re in the market for a reliable website to create infographics for your small business, blog, or anything you feel is worth spending money on—go for it.

With a premium account, users are able to save their work to their desktop as either a PNG or PDF, or opt to share it directly from Venngage to their social media sites. Venngage also allows you to share via a private link, allowing you to post to your website, WordPress, or blog. Sometimes Venngage has trouble communicating with certain other interfaces (I’ve personally had some trouble using the link with WordPress), but as long as you don’t have any interactive features, you can always post it as an image onto your site.

Venngage can be an awesome interface to create content for your website or business, but it definitely depends what you’re in the market for. Unless you’re just practicing for your own entertainment, there’s not much point in having a free account. Being able to share and download your creations are the main reason for creating them, so I could see this being frustrating for someone who’s not prepared to pay the $19.99 a month. That being said, if you have an event or activity you’re trying to promote, I would highly recommend Venngage. The interface is simple and easy to use, even for beginners. Plus, once you create your graphic, you can always cancel your subscription until you need it again.

Rush Health on the Rise

The Rush Health system has continued to use its resources to expand itself to better serve their patients and the Chicagoland area. In June of this year, Rush University Medical Center broke ground on a brand new, state-of-the-art cancer center. The $450-million project is one of the many new expansions of the Rush family. With new facilities opening all over the city and suburbs, it’s interesting to see where Rush started and how its first and longest running institution has changed in its more than 40 years of caring for the people of Chicago. 

Seen by thousands everyday, the Rush Hospital Tower at the University Medical Center is one of the newer additions to the main Rush location. After opening in January 2012, the Tower can be seen from the Eisenhower Expressway. It doesn’t look like your typical hospital building–it’s bright white, butterfly shaped top makes it just as interesting and exciting as what’s going on inside.

As you can see in the juxtaposed photos below, back in 1999, the future Tower was not even a building yet. Try sliding the photos back and forth here to see how much Rush University Medical Center has changed in the last 20 years.

Rush University in 1999 and 2019. Made with JuxtaposeJS by Simone Rich.

The Rise of Craft Breweries in Illinois

Got beer?

Craft breweries are small, independently owned brewers. Across the country, there are over 7,000 craft brewers pumping out over 24 million barrels of beer a year. But if it seems like craft breweries are popping up all over Chicago, it’s because, well, they are. There are 229 craft breweries statewide in Illinois, and 167 of those can be found in Chicago.

According to the Brewers Association, the craft brewing industry contributed $79.1 billion to the United States economy. In Illinois, there was a $3.2 billion economic impact, which ranked 7th in the country. This number is made up of the unique three-tier system that embodies craft breweries: breweries, wholesalers, and retailers. It also includes figures from the non-beer items that taprooms and brewpubs sell, such as merchandise and food.

Graphic made by Simone Rich with Venngage.

Flu Shots in Chicago

It’s flu season. Protect yourself and neighbors from the flu by getting your flu shot. Chicago’s distribution of clinics givings out free shots is spread widely across the Chicago-land area. Many ward offices, police departments, and pharmacies are giving out free flu shots this season. Although if you’re planning to go to a Walgreen’s or CVS, be sure to call your local store first to confirm whether there’s a charge.

Flu shot clinics are most highly populated on the north-side of the city. Areas like the Loop, Lincoln Park, and Lakeview tend to have the many more clinic options than areas on the south and west side. In fact, North Lawndale, South Deering, Riverdale, and West Pullman have so little you could count all of them on one hand. Chicago needs to do a better job to make sure all it’s neighborhoods have access to free (or almost free) flu shots this winter.

A Look at Paul Konerko’s Career Home Runs

Paul Konerko played for the Chicago White Sox from the time he was 23 in 1999 until his final season in 2014 at 38. Over the years, he become a vital part of the White Sox franchise. His No. 14 jersey (now retired) is still a fan favorite to wear at Chicago White Sox games.

Made with Google Flourish. View the interactive graph here.

Over his 18 year career, Konerko scored 439 home runs and 432 of those were with the Chicago White Sox. His career high was back in 2004. He scored 41 homers that season, followed by a close second the following year. In 2005, the year the Chicago White Sox won the World Series, Konerko hit 40 home runs. Surprisingly, the biggest leap in home runs during his career came between the 2003-04 season. Konerko only scored 18 home runs in 2003, but the following year he came back strong scoring 23 more homers than he had in the previous season.

The rise and decline of home runs in Konerko’s career is really remarkable. In 1998, the year before he joined the White Sox, he was playing for the Cincinnati Reds and only scored three homers. Just one year later, during his first season with the Chicago White Sox, he hit 24 home runs. Over the next 13 or so years, he rarely hit less than 20 homers a year — many times scoring 30 or above. However, there was a clear steady decline starting in 2010. And unfortunately, his age began to catch up with him during his last two seasons playing in the MLB (2013-14). During his final season, specifically, Konerko only hit five home runs, his numbers hadn’t been that low since his third year in the league.

Featured image source: Chicago Tribune

Craft Breweries by State

Chicago might be littered with craft breweries, but surprisingly Illinois comes in 10th place when ranked against other states. California leads by over 200 breweries, with Washington and Colorado trailing in second and third place. Mississippi has the least number of craft breweries coming in at only eight for the entire state.

The map shows the number of craft breweries by state.
For more details: //datawrapper.dwcdn.net/lSV86/1/

Quinn: Illinois Pension Funds Threaten MAP Grants

Gov. Pat Quinn talks about MAP grants at DePaul University.
(Photo by Josclynn Brandon)

Editor’s note: This story was originally posted on Dec. 12, 2012 and is housed at RedLineProject.org

By Bob Smith

Gov. Pat Quinn visited DePaul University’s Loop campus on Wednesday to discuss how pension reform is harming the Monetary Award Program (MAP) college scholarships and access to higher education in Illinois.

“This is so important to our state, not only in the past, but certainly now and in the future,” Quinn said.

“We want everyone to have the opportunity to go to college that has the ability to go to college.”

MAP grants are need-based college scholarships that allow merit students who are in need across the state and do not need to be repaid by the student. Quinn said that due to cutbacks and having to pay more money in the pension amount, almost 18,000 students lost their MAP grant scholarships this year.

“We do not want anyone denied that opportunity because of finances,” Quinn said. “We can’t afford to lose all the talent that exists, all the ability that exists for higher education to help our economy and to help all of us, because there are financial challenges that deny someone the opportunity to go to community college or a four-year university — public and private — in our state.”

Quinn was joined by several Illinois college students, including DePaul Student Government Association Vice President Casey Clemmons.

“Every year over 5,000 DePaul students receive MAP grants, and just like the students who have already spoken here today, all of these DePaul students rely on this funding in order to continue their college careers,” Clemmons said.

“Because the number of Illinois students eligible to receive MAP is currently increasing, existing funding does not allow the state to assist all the eligible students. As a result, without action by the Illinois state leadership, more DePaul students than ever will see their MAP funding disappear this year and more

DePaul students than ever will be forced to give up their education due to finances.”

More than 150,000 students nationally receive MAP grants each year.

Clemmons told the audience that on Tuesday, DePaul’s SGA unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Illinois general assembly and the governor to ensure the longevity of the MAP program.  He read the resolution aloud and presented a copy to Quinn. 

Ken Thomas, a University of Illinois Board of Trustees student member, MAP recipient and University of Illinois Chicago student, told how he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for the MAP grant.

“My mom, when I was in high school, had to work two jobs just to keep food on the table,” Thomas said, “and if we didn’t have [the] MAP program like we do today, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today; graduating with a degree, hoping to be a productive member of society.” 

Having a productive and functioning society and economy is what Quinn says it’s all about.

“Jobs follow brainpower,” he said. “We want to make sure we have smart people in Illinois. Well skilled, well-educated students coming out of college with graduate degrees and diplomas so they can create jobs, create new businesses,” he said. “Our goal in Illinois is to have at least 60 percent of the adults in our state with a college degree or college associate degree or career certificate by the year 2025. In order to achieve we have to make sure we have a good scholarship program.”

Clemmons said that in order for that to happen, state legislatures need to reflect upon the question, “What must be done?” and do what’s required. 

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started