To make smartphone images more inclusive, Google quietly launched a project to retrain and re-engineer its face-detection software and improve its performance in a wider spectrum of lighting conditions. Rolled out in October 2021, the AI-powered post-processing software was developed with an expansive roster of image experts: photographers, cinematographers and multidisciplinary artists and colorists hailed for their stunning and accurate representation of people of color. Florian Koenigsberger, the company’s image equity lead, says: “One of the big lessons in this process is that if you want to build something for someone, you will always do a better job of that if you build it with them.”
3rd Most Influential Project of 2022
Size inclusivity may have tiptoed onto fashion week catwalks in the past, but plus-size models have typically been a minority—if they’ve been included at all. “The challenge, every season, to get even one or two models over a size 12 onto a fashion week runway is enormous,” says Chelsea Bonner, CEO of Bella Management. So the Sydney modeling agency opted for a more fashion-forward look by organizing The Curve Edit, the first-ever runway show at Australian Fashion Week dedicated exclusively to plus-size brands. As model Jess Rae King, who walked The Curve Edit, said on Instagram: “For once, I will be leaving fashion week feeling hopeful and inspired for what is to come.”
20th Most Influential Project of 2022
The neighborhood where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up is no longer officially segregated, but a deep chasm of racial inequity remains. Nearly half of the Black households in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward live on less than US$25,000 a year, and 38 percent of its Black women live below the poverty line, compared to just 8 percent of white women. The Georgia Resilience and Opportunity Fund is aiming to change that with In Her Hands, a US$13 million guaranteed income project—one of the largest in the United States and the largest to ever focus on Black women. The plan calls for giving 650 low-income Black women direct, no-strings-attached cash payments for 24 months and then analyzing the specific impact the funds made. The payoff? The project ultimately could help inform future policy decisions and guide changes to the U.S. social safety net.
Blind and low-vision sports fans can listen to a commentator’s play-by-play, but that’s an experience filtered through someone else’s perspective. To create a more equitable and immediate alternative, Australian design firm AKQA collaborated with Monash University and Tennis Australia to develop a system that translates ball movement to binaural sounds (aka 3D audio). Piloted at three Australian Open tennis matches in 2021 and deployed at 60 during this year’s tournament, Action Audio uses ball-tracking data already collected by the multiple cameras at large sporting events to create distinct audio cues that indicate ball location, velocity and type of shot. Fans with visual impairments can stream the binaural sounds online—and more than 10,000 people did so in January. And while the Australian Open was the first major sporting event to do so, it doesn’t look like it will be the last: AKQA is reportedly planning to expand the tech to other areas.
It came to be known as “the purge”: Through the mid-1990s, LGBTQ members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Public Service Commission of Canada were systematically harassed and fired. In 2016, those affected sued, and the LGBT Purge Fund was set up to manage roughly CA$25 million of the settlement money, which was to pay for projects memorializing that dark chapter of the country’s history. In March, the largest such project hit a major milestone: Thunderhead was selected as the winning design for a national monument in Ottawa. Billed as a “space for expressions of grief, healing and celebration,” the CA$8 million monument will include both an intimate gathering space and an expansive performance area. Construction on the Team Wreford structure is slated to begin next year, with the project scheduled to be completed in 2025.
Hiring formerly incarcerated individuals can be a powerful step toward social justice. But why not provide gainful employment for young people who are at greatest risk of incarceration—before incarceration happens? That’s the thinking behind Unlock Potential, a “first-chance hiring” program led by the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice and funded by Walmart, with Ben & Jerry’s and Delta Airlines among the project partners. Unveiled in May, the project aims to disrupt the U.S. poverty-to-prison pipeline by connecting at-risk youth (who are neither working nor in school) with meaningful career opportunities. A pilot at Ben & Jerry’s is scheduled to start in Q4, followed by an analysis stage that will inform how the program is scaled.
AI systems are only as unbiased as the project teams that build them and the massive data sets that train them. That’s a huge problem, as more than two-thirds of organizations have yet to address fairness in the AI systems they ds vevelop and deploy, according to PwC. To make that daunting task more doable, the consulting giant developed the Bias Analyzer. Unveiled in November, the tool analyzes output data to spot biases in automated decision-making systems—from clinical trials to financial underwriting—then analyzes how various corrections to the system might impact business. And because the tool looks only at outputs, not algorithms, companies don’t have to hesitate over fear of sharing proprietary AI models.
Travelers using wheelchairs typically need to check them at the ticket counter, making those folks dependent on airport transport to get around the terminal. It also means they’re risking damage to expensive and often personalized equipment: More than 15,000 wheelchairs have been damaged by airlines since 2018 in the United States alone. Munich startup Revolve Air has a new option: a wheelchair that takes up 60 percent less space than a conventional model when folded and, in a big first, fits into an airplane’s overhead bin, thanks to its hexagonally structured, puncture-proof wheels. In June, the Revolve Air was showcased at Toyota’s Demo Day after eight years and more than 100 3D models and 10 physical prototypes of product development. Now that’s reinventing the wheel.
The selection committee reads like a who’s who of Black creative luminaries: director Ava DuVernay, architect David Adjaye and multihyphenate artist Theaster Gates. And if Prada Group’s three-year project to nurture next-gen creatives of color is a success, the 14 designers in the first cohort may one day eclipse the committee members themselves. Announced in April, the initiative connects designers across furniture, industrial, fashion and graphic design to each other and to global companies interested in working with them. But more broadly, said Gates (who also chairs Prada’s diversity and inclusion counsel), the hope is that the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab “not only challenges the notion that Black talent is hard to identify, but also serves as an inescapable answer to it.”
For seniors or people with mobility issues, even seemingly simple tasks can prove difficult. Grabbing lunch from the refrigerator or moving laundry into the dryer, for example, is a tough ask for someone already using their hands to maneuver a walker. Enter Labrador Systems’ assistive robots Labrador Caddie and Labrador Retriever—essentially moving shelves that transport objects from point A to point B. The goal? “Empower individuals to be more active and do more on their own,” says the startup’s CEO Mike Dooley. Activated via voice or touch command, or running on preset scheduling, these tech-powered workhorses travel autonomously, stopping at preprogrammed points around a space using a navigation system that fuses augmented reality algorithms with robotics to create 3D maps of the home. They can carry up to 25 pounds (11 kilograms)—plenty of capacity for items that users want regular access to. The robots became available for customers to reserve in January 2022.