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Have I gone too far in monitoring my children’s online activity? | Family

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I have two children, aged nine and 11. We’ve always limited their tech but just before the pandemic, we bought them tablets to give them access to education, entertainment and their friends. Then I became concerned about their increasing use and placed more limits on screen time.

Full disclosure: I am a phone addict. So I introduced a rule where we all put our devices in a box when we aren’t using them (I break this rule most). During the last lockdown, we got my older child a phone. She had already asked for TikTok – her friends all had it, but I refused because it has all sorts of age-inappropriate stuff. However, that was how her friends communicated, so I allowed it as long as it was a private account on my device, so I could monitor it and her messages. She agreed to this reluctantly. I know I need to step back, but how do I do that without neglecting my duties as a parent?

I have now allowed her to have her own access to TikTok, because she felt left out of conversations at school, but told her that I would check what she posts from time to time. Have I made the wrong choice? What is the right balance? Am I being too controlling? I would love some reading material on this.

A lot of parents worry about technology, and there is a tendency to be really strict (which isn’t realistic) and then feel unconfident about the decision, and so give in – then it goes into freefall. But this issue doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Some parents use the minimum age for users as a get-out, as in, “It’s not my rule – it’s not allowed.” TikTok’s minimum age is 13.

Your long letter bounced all over the place from rules to leniency to over-control to changing your mind, and I think you have excellent awareness of this. This is to be applauded, but you need clarity and consistency. Rachel Melville-Thomas, a child and adolescent psychotherapist (childpsychotherapy.org.uk), said: “This is really about anxiety; the fact that it happens to be about phones and tablets is, I think, a funnel for your worries. Your terror is possibly about your daughter spreading her wings.”

When your children were younger, it seems your rules were followed and that made you feel in control. With older children, it’s more about negotiation than being prescriptive. As children get older, they need to learn to navigate for themselves.

Melville-Thomas wondered where your partner was in all of this: “Who is helping you to balance things?” This is a load best shared.

Technology is part of our lives, so better than an all-out ban or intense scrutiny is to teach your children that they can come to you if they get it wrong. If you are too censorious, that won’t happen. Once you have said yes to social media, it’s very hard to go back, so you need to come up with some realistic rules together. Sit down as a family and talk about your concerns and needs. You could agree on no phones upstairs, say, or at mealtimes. This sort of collaborative effort is not only more likely to be adhered to, it also shows your children that you trust them and care what they think. But although you will discuss this as a family, remember that you are the adult and have the final word.

Also, you need to lead from the front. If you can’t keep to the rules, they will see you as inconsistent and hypocritical – not a label any parent wants. “All parents struggle with consistency,” Melville-Thomas says. “So if you make a mistake, you can say, ‘I thought it was OK to allow you this but I think we need to review it.’”

You asked for reading material; Melville-Thomas recommended Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle, which focuses on what we lose if we’re all staring at a screen.

In your longer letter you say you don’t use social media, but it’s a good idea for parents to have an understanding of it. Comprehension usually dilutes the fear, and at least you will be able to speak from experience. Also: stop reading their messages. You don’t need to know everything that goes on. You are not teaching your children about trust or autonomy by doing this.

Children develop by making mistakes and overcoming them. Think of this as a physical thing, say walking – you wouldn’t try to hold on to them all the time. They need to learn balance. And they do here, too.

Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to ask.annalisa@theguardian.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.

Conversations with Annalisa Barbieri, a new podcast series, is available here.

Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

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Edwards Lifesciences is hiring at its ‘key’ Shannon and Limerick facilities

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The medtech company is hiring for a variety of roles at both its Limerick and Shannon sites, the latter of which is being transformed into a specialised manufacturing facility.

Medical devices giant Edwards Lifesciences began renovations to convert its existing Shannon facility into a specialised manufacturing centre at the end of July.

The expansion will allow the company to produce components that are an integral part of its transcatheter heart valves. The conversion is part of Edwards Lifesciences’ expansion plan that will see it hire for hundreds of new roles in the coming years.

“The expanded capability at our Shannon facility demonstrates that our operations in Ireland are a key enabler for Edwards to continue helping patients across the globe,” said Andrew Walls, general manager for the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ireland.

According to Walls, hiring is currently underway at the company’s Shannon and Limerick facilities for a variety of functions such as assembly and inspection roles, manufacturing and quality engineering, supply chain, warehouse operations and project management.

Why Ireland?

Headquartered in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences established its operations in Shannon in 2018 and announced 600 new jobs for the mid-west region. This number was then doubled a year later when it revealed increased investment in Limerick.

When the Limerick plant was officially opened in October 2021, the medtech company added another 250 roles onto the previously announced 600, promising 850 new jobs by 2025.

“As the company grows and serves even more patients around the world, Edwards conducted a thorough review of its global valve manufacturing network to ensure we have the right facilities and talent to address our future needs,” Walls told SiliconRepublic.com

“We consider multiple factors when determining where we decide to manufacture – for example, a location that will allow us to produce close to where products are utilised, a location that offers advantages for our supply chain, excellent local talent pool for an engaged workforce, an interest in education and good academic infrastructure, and other characteristics that will be good for business and, ultimately, good for patients.

“Both our Shannon and Limerick sites are key enablers for Edwards Lifesciences to continue helping patients across the globe.”

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Meta’s new AI chatbot can’t stop bashing Facebook | Meta

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If you’re worried that artificial intelligence is getting too smart, talking to Meta’s AI chatbot might make you feel better.

Launched on Friday, BlenderBot is a prototype of Meta’s conversational AI, which, according to Facebook’s parent company, can converse on nearly any topic. On the demo website, members of the public are invited to chat with the tool and share feedback with developers. The results thus far, writers at Buzzfeed and Vice have pointed out, have been rather interesting.

Asked about Mark Zuckerberg, the bot told BuzzFeed’s Max Woolf that “he is a good businessman, but his business practices are not always ethical. It is funny that he has all this money and still wears the same clothes!”

The bot has also made clear that it’s not a Facebook user, telling Vice’s Janus Rose that it had deleted its account after learning about the company’s privacy scandals. “Since deleting Facebook my life has been much better,” it said.

The bot repeats material it finds on the internet, and it’s very transparent about this: you can click on its responses to learn where it picked up whatever claims it is making (though it is not always specific).

This means that along with uncomfortable truths about its parent company, BlenderBot has been spouting predictable falsehoods. In conversation with Jeff Horwitz of the Wall Street Journal, it insisted Donald Trump was still president and would continue to be “even after his second term ends in 2024”. (It added another dig at Meta, saying Facebook “has a lot of fake news on it these days”.) Users have also recorded it making antisemitic claims.

BlenderBot’s remarks were foreseeable based on the behavior of older chatbots such as Microsoft’s Tay, which Twitter users quickly taught to be a racist conspiracy theorist, forcing the company to apologize for its “wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images”. GPT-3, another AI system, has also delivered racist, misogynist and homophobic remarks. A South Korean startup’s chatbot, designed to resemble a 20-year-old college student, had to be suspended after it rattled off racial slurs and anti-LGBTQ+ remarks.

Given the cesspool that is the internet, Meta appears to have expected similar things from its own service. Before logging on, users must acknowledge that BlenderBot is “likely to make untrue or offensive statements”. As Vice notes, Meta researchers have described the AI tech behind the bot as having “a high propensity to generate toxic language and reinforce harmful stereotypes, even when provided with a relatively innocuous prompt”.

“Everyone who uses Blender Bot is required to acknowledge they understand it’s for research and entertainment purposes only, that it can make untrue or offensive statements, and that they agree to not intentionally trigger the bot to make offensive statements,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.

My own conversation with BlenderBot did not veer into that territory, but it did highlight another flaw in the service: its utter inanity.

The bot began by asking me what subject I liked in school. The bot is open about which “persona” it is using in the conversation; our discussion involved a persona it described as “I like to read. I went to college.” When I asked it tough questions, such as which colleges accepted AI bot students, it offered nonsensical replies (“in some ways, aren’t we all chatbots?” No) and offered further reading by saying, “Here’s the link”, without providing a link. It also kept steering the conversation back to chatbots.

It did, however, maintain its firm stance against its own creators. When I said I wasn’t a fan of Facebook’s ethics, it wholeheartedly agreed: “Me too! That is why I stopped using it and just stick with reading books instead.”



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Midwest universities unite to support US chip industry • The Register

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A dozen US midwestern research colleges and universities have signed up to a project intended to bolster the semiconductor and microelectronics industries with combined research and education to ensure work for their students in high-tech industries.

The “Midwest Regional Network to Address National Needs in Semiconductor and Microelectronics” consists of a dozen institutions, made up of eight from Ohio, two from Michigan, and two from Indiana. Their stated aim is to support the onshoring efforts of the US semiconductor industry by addressing the need for research and a skilled workforce.

According to Wright State University, the network was formed in response to Intel’s announcement that it planned to build two chip factories near Columbus, Ohio, and followed a two-day workshop in April hosted by the state.

Those plans, revealed in January, are to build at least two semiconductor manufacturing plants on a 1,000-acre site, with the potential to expand to 2,000 acres and eight fabs.

At the time, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said he expected it to become the largest silicon manufacturing location on the planet. Construction started on the site at the beginning of July.

However, the university network was also formed to help address the broader national effort to regain American leadership in semiconductors and microelectronics, or at least bring some of it back onshore and make the US less reliant on supplies of chips manufactured abroad.

Apart from Wright State University, the 12 institutions involved in the network are: Columbus State Community College, Lorain County Community College, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, Sinclair Community College, University of Cincinnati, University of Dayton, University of Michigan, and the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

The president of each institution has signed a memorandum of understanding to form the network, and the expectation is that the group will expand to include more than these dozen initial members.

The intention is that the institutions taking part will be able to make use of each other’s existing research, learning programs, capabilities, and expertise in order to boost their collective ability to support the semiconductor and microelectronics industry ecosystems.

Challenges for the network include developing mechanisms to connect existing research, and training assets across the region, and developing a common information sharing platform to make it easier to identify opportunities for joint programming and research across the network.

University of Cincinnati chief innovation officer David J Adams called the announcement a game-changer. “This highly innovative approach illustrates that we’re all in this together when it comes to meeting industry workforce and research needs,” Adams wrote in a posting on the University of Cincinnati website.

The move follows the long-awaited passage of the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act at the end of last month, of which $52 billion of the total spend is expected to go towards subsidizing the building of semiconductor plants such as Intel’s, and boosting research and development of chip technology. ®

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