Webinar Recap: Automation & Design | How to Avoid a Deeper Digital Divide

The way we experience digital services and products varies greatly. Our experience is affected by many factors, chief among them, the inherent biases in how these tools are designed and engineered. Designers and engineers are looking to AI and machine learning to create digital experiences. How will automation solve the current social and ethical issues affecting our digital world?

Howard Pyle, Founder of ExperienceFutures.org, sat down with our Founder and CEO, Ethan McCarty to delve into the social, economic, and political rifts caused by the digital divide and how automation like AI and machine learning need to be implemented in the design process with ethical considerations.

Essentially designers need to be mindful of all kinds of human users (and their privilege or lack thereof) as society heads toward a future run by AI.

Watch Howard and Ethan’s full conversation, hosted by Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies or catch the main takeaways below. 


Digital privilege equals real world privilege

Even after the pandemic, we will still rely on online tools and services to navigate every aspect of our lives. These tools consist of apps, sites, and content that shape our digital lives. If we cannot access or utilize these tools, then we are considered disadvantaged in life. (6.44)

Every organization in the world is a digital publisher. From our interactions with the government all the way to financial institutions, we cannot exist outside their digital spheres as many services are more convenient online rather than in-person. Organizations and individuals have the autonomy to publish and organize new apps, websites, and content for their benefit. It is powerful and empowering to nurture our own personalized digital ecosystem, but not all have the benefit of equal access. (8:06)

The dissonance with personalized digital ecosystems

The shortcoming of personalized digital ecosystems is that we are incredibly overwhelming when it comes to integrating our numerous digital tools. Currently, organizations do not have the incentives to integrate their digital tools and services across other organizations. (12:10)

We as users are responsible for bringing together enormous amounts of data across multiple apps and make sense of it all. The problem with this on a societal level is that we don’t all have the ability, know-how, or access to navigate these complex systems. Some of the obstacles that users encounter include the inability to afford premium services, the inability to understand technical terminology, or even the complexity of the user interface.  (14:02)

How automation affects digital equity

The solution to the digital divide is creating personalized experiences. However, there aren’t enough experts to create apps, screens, and content customized for us all. This is why we look to automation to create experience apps. But this too comes with ethical challenges because the digital experience is built on data, cultural and algorithmic biases. (16:43)

The digital divide today is based on creating a one-size-fits-all approach to content and tools. Where AI and machine learning come in is to eliminate this experience bias with solutions that are personalized while taking into consideration ethical protocols that will overcome these biases. (20:10)

The good news is that ExperienceFutures.org is made up of people who make digital experiences ensuring all individuals can have fair and equitable access to online resources. We are presented with a unique opportunity to support Howard’s work and nurture a future where ethical automation design is the norm. (29:45)


Learn more about how ExperienceFutures.org is closing the digital divide and how you can help level the digital playing field.

Janeth Mutalemwa
Summer Intern
As a college student, Janeth was a champion for creating supportive professional and academic cultures at Columbia University by assisting staff and faculty as well as advocating for underrepresented student populations in several leadership positions.
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