Over the past decade, technology has radically altered the average American’s relationship with the media. Since the mid-2000s, social media has grown from a nascent phenomenon to a billion dollar industry and information heavyweight. Earlier this year, a Pew Research Center study reported that 71% of American adults get at least some of their news from social media. Since algorithms built into websites like Facebook tend to foster more controversial sensational news, this has had a negative effect on media literacy. Social media posts don’t meet journalistic standards, so any information with the correct hook can go viral. The results of this effect include skewed elections, widespread exposure to traumatic photos and videos, and heightened political divisions within communities.
This barrage of confusing information has heightened the tension already present in adolescence and young adulthood. As today’s kids and teens shape their opinions and identities, their access to smartphones and social media means they’re forced to interact with a wide range of messages they don’t understand.
“During pre-teens, kids begin to understand abstract concepts like causation and fairness,” a statement from Seattle design firm Artefact said. “With the average American preteen consuming more than four and a half hours of screen media per day, it is crucial that this age group develop the critical analysis and internet literacy necessary to responsibly navigate the digital world. “
Artefact hopes to empower young people with its online game The Most Likely Machine, a free educational tool perfect for distance learning. This program teaches users the basics of creating an algorithm before illustrating the biases programmed into it. In the most likely machine, a user is tasked with creating directory superlatives for historical figures. After assigning a person to each superlative, the user must illustrate what motivated this choice. Users then assign a handful of traits that describe a person more likely to win the superlatives, creating an algorithm that will pick a winner for each. The results are accompanied by fun facts about why the algorithm picked each winner, likely contradicting one user’s original assumptions. Players might be shocked to learn that Albert Einstein was a high school dropout, or that Cleopatra liked to prank strangers.
In less than 15 minutes, this game helps young people understand the world by inviting them to question their own assumptions. These assumptions often appear in algorithms as biases, which can have devastating consequences in real life. The game briefly sums up the negative effects of poorly designed algorithms, such as a government-designed scoring tool that judged students harder than their teachers. The Artefact team hopes this will encourage students to be more critical of the information they receive.
“With so much content at your fingertips, digital literacy is proving to be one of the most essential pillars of an engaged and informed civil society,” said the Artefact team. “But digital literacy is only part of being a smart digital citizen… Algorithms are the key building blocks of the digital world and the foundation for many of its greatest capabilities – and its worst consequences. “
Accessible educational software is becoming more and more essential as increasing stress weighs on educators, families and young people. After a year of distance learning, kids are looking for stimulation, while adults are looking for educational videos and games that make it easier to nurture developing minds. With its fun, intuitive gameplay and socially responsible messaging, the Most Likely Machine makes it easy for kids and teens to learn media literacy while giving tired teachers or parents a chance to take a break. While they enjoy a moment of rest, they can rest assured that their student or child is learning more about how to consciously navigate a confusing world.
“We hope that the prototype of the most likely machine will serve as an inspiration and a step towards a future where digital learning experiences are not only engaging and meaningful, but will support students and teachers as they navigate the world. ‘distance learning,’ said the Artefact team.
The most likely machine is a professional winner in the Interaction category of the 2021 Core77 Design Awards. You can view all of the 2021 winners right now on the Core77 Design Awards website.