Unmute Presents: Friday Finds: Navigating the AI Landscape – AIRA’s Blindness Initiatives & The AI Chatbot Controversy”

Welcome to a new episode of Unmute Presents, where we dive deep into the ever-evolving landscape of AI and tech innovations.
In this episode, we discuss Everett Bacon’s new role as vice president of blindness initiatives at AIRA, a leading organization in providing sighted assistance to blind individuals. We also ponder the reliability of AI chatbots and their potential risks, as evidenced by the recent controversy surrounding an eating disorders hotline chatbot.
Marty and Lynn delve into AIRA’s revolutionary service that pairs technology and human assistance, helping visually impaired individuals with everyday tasks. They also explore the backlash against recent subscription rate hikes and highlight free usage opportunities at locations like airports and Starbucks.
The conversation shifts towards the fraught topic of AI chatbots, specifically addressing the problematic advice given by an eating disorder hotline chatbot. This raises vital questions on the reliability and programming of chatbots, the role of AI in critical health support, and the necessity of human oversight in these AI systems.
Finally, we eagerly anticipate the upcoming WWDC event and speculate about new Apple products, from larger screen MacBook Airs to AI-powered virtual reality goggles.
Join us as we navigate the promises and pitfalls of AI technology, the groundbreaking advancements and critical ethical questions they bring to the table.
Don’t forget to like, share and subscribe to stay updated with the latest tech trends and AI developments!


[0:05] Hey all, Marty here and we’re back with another Friday Finds and with me, as always, I have Lynn. How you doing, Lynn?

[0:11] Hey, how’s it going, guys? So meet Mr. Everett Bacon. You may not know him, but he is new with AIRA.
Been named vice president of blindness initiatives.

[0:29] And what is that exactly? So, of course, we know, most of us do know what IRA is, but for those who don’t, basically what it does is it provides sighted assistance to a blind person.
Say, for example, you dropped a pill on the floor, you need help locating it, you are not sure that two pieces of clothing match, or maybe you think you have a stain on a piece of clothing and you’re not really sure, you can actually call up and talk to a real human and they can do all kinds of things.
Like they can, they will tell you where to point your camera.
I’ve used it sometimes for like, if I have a box of, say I wanna make a cookie mix or something and I want real quick help to know how to actually do it.
What’s nice about them is that they are bonded. So all the people that work there are bonded.
So there’s a little bit more safety, like if you need to do personal things where you need to use a credit card or a social security or whatever, they are trained.

[1:43] So there’s just a lot of nice things And they’ve had a little controversy because of some, well, like everybody else, they were raising rates, you know, raising the amount that we had, that people have to pay. It’s a paid service.
You get like five minutes for free. and, So, you know, it’s a great service if you can afford it, which I really can’t.

[2:09] And a couple of things I will say also right out of the gate that’s really cool.
First of all, it is an app, you put it on your phone and then you use the app to contact a person to help you. And then the camera on your phone, they’re able to see through your camera and tell you what you’re looking at or what you’re trying to look at.
So that is pretty cool.
Also, as Lynn was saying, yeah, there was a little bit of controversy earlier because they were raising their subscription fees and everyone’s getting subscriptioned out as we’ve talked about here quite a bit.
But there is some cool stuff also. For example, they’re working with a lot of the airports and if you’re within an airport, if they offer it, which a lot of airports are jumping on board, you can use it for free within the airport if the airport you’re in offers it.
Also all Starbucks offer it so if you’re inside of Starbucks you can use it for free. So there’s a lot of places all over that you’re able to use the service for free which is pretty cool.
And like Lynn was also saying you get I believe a free five minutes I think it’s every couple of days or something like that. You’d have to check and find out exactly but they also have other plans that you can get for amount of minutes.
So cost you know something for you know like a 15 minutes and a little bit more for 30 minutes and so on and so on.
So, all right, Lynn, sorry.

[3:32] This gentleman, he used to be a sighted guy, and he started to lose his sight. He is now blind.
And he’s being put into a leadership position, which I think is a great thing.
He worked where he kind of gained some leadership skills.
And as he lost his sight, he started to realize that he was going blind.
And he did have some managerial experience.
He was a district training store manager for Blockbuster Video, both Dallas and Houston.
And so he really does come with some managerial experience.
He successfully managed 10 stores with an average operating budget of $20 million. That’s pretty good.

[4:30] Yeah, that’s a couple of dollars there.

[4:32] Yeah. So, you know, he worked in a fast-paced, customer-driven environment.
And he said it gave him the confidence to multitask and do other things.
So he started to need video magnifiers and low vision tech as he was losing his sight.
And then eventually he did need screen reading software.
He said he learned how to be a blind person using braille and a white cane.
Awesome. Yeah. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in vision rehabilitation therapy from Western Michigan University.
So, you know, he has a CV. He has a pretty good CV.

[5:23] Well, we’ll have to see what he does and how things move forward with them and what kind of things he can bring to improve and make Aira different, better in the future moving forward. So we’ll see.

[5:37] Last week, we did a story, about AI chatbots becoming an option for people who need mental health assistance and can’t get it for some reason.
And we sort of pose the question, you know, is this possible?
Is this a good idea?
Just this morning, there was a story in Yahoo, this is Thursday morning that we’re recording, there was a story about a chatbot that was supposed to replace a human-operated eating disorders hotline.

[6:27] And the funding ran out for this hotline and they were going to eventually shut it down.
So it’s the National Eating Disorders Association.
And so they had this chat bot named Tessa.
And what they were going to do was to replace human hotline workers with this chat bot. So it was, you know, really designed to to provide body positive information.
This is an article from Yahoo to aid those with eating disorders.
But what happened was it sort of got caught giving wrong advice.
It got caught, there was an Instagram user that reported how the chatbot gave weight loss advice to eating disorder sufferers.
And apparently, um, it was the, they’ve actually taken down the, the bot.

[7:35] Um, do we know what the bot said to the person?

[7:40] Um, so it’s instead of providing advice that could be, you know, That could be safe for someone with an eating disorder or you know somebody that’s dealing with this issue the bot.

[8:03] Actually argued that. That intentional weight losses and eating disorder recovery could safely coexist.
So the person was typing in some stuff and apparently the chatbot said, well, sure, you can still be on a diet and deal with eating disorder recovery.
So this Instagram user claimed that the chatbot advised a goal of shedding one to two pounds per week alongside weekly body measurements, counting calories and aiming for a daily 500 to 1,000 calorie deficit.

[8:48] So obviously, there was apparently they said it was a bug in the software, I guess, that allowed the guardrails to be breached.
And when we talk about guardrail, that’s something in AI that really means rules, okay?
Just rules about what it’s allowed to say and what isn’t.
And there was a lot of controversy about this eating disorder hotline shutting down the human part of the bot or the human part of the hotline.
And I guess they didn’t have the resources or the budget or whatever.
So they just kind of of figured that this chatbot could replace the human touch. Obviously not. Yeah.
So, I think that…

[9:38] It just goes to show you that, you know, as cool and as awesome as this technology is, it still has a long way to go without needing a human still there to oversee what this chatbot says or does or the way it acts because it sounds like…
And this is not the only story like this. There’s been a ton of other stories out there where the chatbots are just saying weird, inappropriate things for at a left field, you know, so it sounds like there’s a long way to go still.

[10:12] Yeah. And the guardrail part of it is, is something that they apparently they, they said they tested it and they really tested it. And they were in the process of phasing out the human part of it.
Um, I think that’s a dangerous move to make. I love AI. I’m really into AI, but I don’t think I would be so confident in it that I would…
Eating disorders are, especially anorexia, has one of the highest fatality rates of all mental illnesses.

[10:47] So I don’t think it’s safe to leave that in the hands of an AI chatbot, because it has such a high mortality level.
So, you know, I mean, I think this is where we all have to step back and take a deep breath and say, you know, let’s, let’s, let’s get a grip, let’s do a reality check about what AI is and is not capable of doing.
Of course, we had a few more AI is going to ruin the you know, destroy humanity.
We had a few more of those stories this week where leaders like Sam Altman have signed statements about what what’s going to happen and how AI is like a threat to humanity.
I, my problem with these kind of statements is these are the people that created these systems.
So could you instead of giving us these statements, could you maybe give us some possible solutions?

[11:57] Instead of, you know, instead of saying, Oh, well, this is, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re headed for an AI train wreck. Yeah, can’t we?
I would like it if I mean, these are scientists, these are the people that built these systems and work on them for a living.

[12:15] Do they what did they think would happen i mean they create these systems and um i feel like these statements are a little too late um i mean the the horse is out of the barn where they say that the horse is out of the barn or whatever you know it’s the genie’s out of the bottle it’s too late um, i don’t i mean and to go back to what you were saying about what did they think would happen i’m not sure they totally knew what would happen when it got released to the masses i mean I mean, you’re talking about trying to program something to do certain things, but then at the same time, you want it to have a personality of its own, to be able to act similar to what a human would act like, but not actually be a human.
And sometimes it just goes south, obviously, with all of these stories, in the way these chatbots are acting, is out of left field, some of the things they say and come up with.
So, you know, they obviously have a lot of work to do still.

[13:13] Great, and I would like to know how, I guess, see, I believe you can get an AI chatbot to say anything.
If you want to, I guess, engage in some malfeasance or, in other words, I think if you know enough about chatbots, you can make them say whatever you want them to say.
You just have to know how to- Yeah, you’ve got humans programming them, so, you know.
Yeah, and you have to know how to prompt that correctly. Some people are really good at prompting, and prompting is where you’re actually engaging with the chatbot.
You’re asking it questions, and if you, you know, kind of make the prompt in such a fashion that you can make it say anything.
And I just, yeah, it’s an interesting, we live in interesting times, that’s for sure.

[14:07] That’s true.

[14:08] Yes. Okay, so we’re all waiting with bated breath for the big WWDC next week.
Are you guys- That’s true. Yes.

[14:23] Yeah, I’m super excited. I mean, it’s Monday, so just a couple of few days, and we’re going to be there having the keynote, and there’s so many rumors that it’s hard to keep track of everything, but I know they’ve talked about new Macs.
They’ve talked about new MacBook Airs, maybe a new MacBook Air with a larger screen.
Right now, they’re only in 13-inch, the MacBook airs and so they’re talking about releasing one with a 15-inch screen which would be super cool I think a lot of people would really like that a lot they’re talking about coming out with AI or artificial intelligent type goggles you know where it’s like virtual reality that’ll be really interesting to see is everybody really excited about all these virtual reality things I mean I mean, I guess people are, but I don’t know, it’s just…
Yeah, I mean, you put on the goggles and it transforms like a whole room and now you’re in a whole other environment kind of a thing.
And so depending on what you want to do, whether it’s playing games or being in some kind of an educational environment or whatever, I mean, it’s kind of endless what you can do with it, you know?

[15:38] Yeah. I wonder, I guess for blind and visually impaired folks, I don’t know how much we really benefit from them, but I guess we could if they had like image description type things, well, the glasses, like I’m trying to think of the name of the company that does the glasses.

[15:59] Yeah, forget it.

[16:00] Envision.

[16:01] Envision AI.

[16:03] Yeah, they do the glasses.

[16:04] It’s still though, if you’re someone who’s not sighted at all, if you don’t have any vision, you’re depending on audio.
And so, unless the glasses have some other purpose, I mean, almost, well, I guess if you have the glasses on, there’s the camera and the camera is looking at what’s in front of you.
And then the audio describes what it is that the camera is looking at to you. Yes.

[16:31] I mean, that certainly is. We’ve had glasses in the past that do that.
Like I said, InVision has glasses. I think there are a couple other companies, but we haven’t really seen wide adoption in the blind community.
I’m not exactly sure why. I know cost is an issue.

[16:53] Yeah, cost is huge. I mean, they’re super expensive.

[16:56] Right. But wouldn’t it be nice? Although every time I wear glasses, they just irritate me. I don’t really like wearing glasses.
I’m not used to it, but yeah.

[17:11] Yeah, so we’ll have to see there’s lots of really cool stuff coming.
So, you know, yeah, I’m excited.
I hope they announce a 15 inch MacBook Air. I think that would be super awesome.
And there’s so many other things I can afford.

[17:25] That would be nice.

[17:27] Yeah, definitely.
Well, all of that news is going to hit Monday. So we’ll relay all that stuff once we see what comes out and what they announced.

[17:37] So yep, you have to get your beverage of choice and your little snack and sit there and I’m sure that we’ll be covering, um, you know, on this network we’ll be covering.

[17:49] Yes, we definitely will be.

[17:50] And so you’ll have to, you know, we encourage you guys to join us for that.

[17:56] And one way or another, we will definitely be doing it. We don’t have exact details at this point, but we will soon enough.
And one way or another, we’ll definitely be talking about all the things that happened at the keynote and the event is all through the week.
There’ll be kind of other things coming out all through the week.

[18:12] So yes, so you have a lot to look forward to and a lot to be afraid of too, if you’re afraid of AI.

[18:21] That’s true. All right, and on that note, thanks so much, Lynn. We appreciate it.

[18:26] Thank you and thank everyone for tuning in. I hope you all have a great weekend.

[18:33] Yep, everyone have a great weekend and we’ll see you next time!

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