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Brush up on your tech vocabulary

A glossary of terms and technologies you’ll find in our ‘Technology Meets Humanity’ issue

As technology advances at breakneck speed, new language becomes part of the common lexicon. If you already know what a “nonce” is, you’re ahead of the game — but if you haven’t heard of it yet, don’t despair. This glossary will help you discover new terms in our “Technology Meets Humanity” issue, and learn more about terms you’ve encountered before. Click on a word to read the story in which it appears.

Algorithm
A set of rules for a computer to perform a simple task. Algorithms are the basis for everything artificial intelligence does, from facial recognition to offering up new Netflix recommendations.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)
When computer systems can accomplish tasks once unique to the human brain, including speech recognition, language translation, and complex decision making.

CGM
Short for Continuous Glucose Monitor; an innovation that first allowed diabetics to track their glucose levels without continuous finger pricks.

Cognition
The mental process of acquiring knowledge; the lighting-fast human mental processes that AI is typically trying to replicate, from facial recognition to choosing the next words in a sentence.

Cyberbalkanization
The segregation of the internet into small groups with similar interests. It makes it easier for users to find what they’re passionate about, but experts worry it can make it harder to branch out and try new things — and listen to people with different viewpoints.

Emoji
A small digital image used to express emotion in electronic communications. Emojis have become invaluable tools for suicide prevention text line workers, because in some instances they can indicate who might be in trouble better than words.

Filter Bubble
When internet users only get news and information that aligns with their political perspectives. Filter bubbles can also happen when algorithms only select certain genres of art and music for certain users.

GPT-2
An AI model that generates predictive text. Released by the OpenAI research lab in February, GPT-2 can write full paragraphs in response to a short prompt — a journalist’s worst nightmare.

Instacart
A popular (yet problematic) shopping app that uses a fleet of gig workers to buy and deliver users’ groceries.

Machine Learning
A system that gives computers the ability to solve problems using pattern recognition and inference, rather than specific instructions. Machine learning has many practical applications, from facial recognition to autonomous cars.

The Mafa
A remote tribe in northern Africa. In a landmark musical experiment, Mafa listeners were able to identify basic emotions in Western music, despite having no exposure to Western culture. 

Maximiser
A type of shopper who researches product information and scours the web intensively in order to make the perfect purchase.

Medtronic Pump
The first commercial insulin pump that could deliver precise, continuous doses of insulin as an alternative to individual insulin shots.

Nonce 
A random or semi-random number, generated for a specific use. To the hackers who tried to program an artificial pancreas, it was a changing bit of code that made it difficult for insulin pumps and glucose monitors to communicate with one another.

Omnipod
A brand of continuous glucose monitor that takes blood sugar readings via a needle fitted under the stomach.

Satisficer
The maximiser’s (see above) opposite; a shopper content with buying things that are good enough, as quickly as possible.

Social Media Envy
The jealous feeling you get looking at your co-worker’s fabulous vacation on Instagram, or from a Facebook friend’s celebratory post about a job promotion. At its worst, social media envy can fray our real-life relationships.

“Surprise Me” Button
A possible antidote to cyberbalkanization (above), which could pull unexpected songs, movies, or even political viewpoints into our personalized media feeds.

Valence
A metric by which machines measure mood in music. The higher the valence, the happier the song.

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