The Cortico Newsroom

The Cortico Newsroom

What’s it’s like to be a journalist? Where do stories come from? How does the reporting process actually unfold and produce the news we consume each day?

Journalism is essential to a healthy public sphere, but right now it’s struggling to be a sustainable business, especially on the local level. So Cortico is developing AI-powered tools that will help journalists find voices and stories that reflect the reality of life in the communities they cover.

Welcome, Allison!


What drew you to join Cortico? 

The tools that Cortico is developing all seemed really neat and at an intersection that I've often found myself in but which didn't seem common in mainstream tech companies. I had trouble merging my fondness for storytelling with the fun I found in engineering in the past, but Cortico seemed like it was really blending the two together in a very exciting way. 

Which song will be your first add to the team's music playlist? 

I've been really into Mandarin pop music lately, so I'll say Red High Heels (紅色高跟鞋) by Tanya Chua (蔡健雅).

What do you like most about being in the intersection of media, storytelling, and technology? 

I like that the three combined facilitate story sharing in rather unpredictable ways. For example, I spent a lot of my childhood reading Harry Potter and while waiting for the next book to come out, I'd read fan fiction online about the series and discover which characters were important to different people and begin to appreciate minor characters more or think about them more critically. I don't believe that's something an author predicts will happen when they create a character, but it's something that technology has created a space for.

Technology should...

help stories be shared and understood!


Measuring The Health of Our Public Conversations

The Internet and social media have transformed modern society in many positive ways by connecting us to the world’s information, enabling social connections that transcend space and time, and giving everyone a voice. Within this transformation, social media have become an essential part of our public spheres, where people come together freely to identify and discuss societal issues.


For all their benefits, social media have also contributed to certain ailments of public discourse: balkanization, sustained isolation of socio-political tribes, failure to entertain other points of view, distortion of others’ views, etc. It’s clear now that these and other ailments encourage growing extremism of opinions and dehumanization of individuals and groups. Extremism and hostility towards others are not new, but are sometimes being amplified and accelerated by social media.


Through studies done by our colleagues at the MIT Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines on propagation of rumors and political tribalism during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we started to see ailments of the American public sphere(s) through the lens of data science grounded in data from Twitter, news organizations, and other sources.

This experience led us to the idea that perhaps we could measure aspects of the health of the public sphere—in terms of communication exchanges between groups or tribes—grounded in data from public social media and other public media sources.  As a starting point, we are developing a set of health indicators for the U.S. (with the potential to expand to other nations) aligned with four principles of a healthy public sphere:

  1. Shared Attention: Is there overlap in what we are talking about?

  2. Shared Reality: Are we using the same facts?

  3. Variety: Are we exposed to different opinions grounded in shared reality?

  4. Receptivity: Are we open, civil, and listening to different opinions?

Our plan is to develop these indicators building on research from the MIT Media Lab and other organizations. We will make the indicators and the underlying methods by which they work publicly available and open for discussion and debate. We seek to analyze public discourse across social media and traditional broadcast media (e.g., talk radio and television).

For the health indicators to serve the public effectively, we plan to work with social media platforms and other media distributors, content producers, advertisers, and the public to understand how the health of our public spheres is evolving, and what actions can be taken to improve it. We are happy to see Twitter aligned with our approach (see here) and hope to see other stakeholders engage in the future as well.

We don’t pretend to have all the answers to how these health indicators will work in practice. We will need to learn through experimentation. As we prototype these methods, we will seek input from social and political scientists, legal scholars, journalists, behavioral economists, designers, policymakers, data scientists and others on the design of health indicators and how they can best serve the public.

Come help build these health indicators with us. We’re hiring at Cortico!

Welcome, Bridgit!


What drew you to join Cortico? 

Before joining Cortico I was a pop music artist and I became familiar with social media platforms as a means to communicate with fans and other artists. I witnessed the power of social media technology to instantaneously capture the attention of a broad audience. That exposed me to the strength of digital platforms for spreading messages of national significance. I am fascinated in what a healthy public sphere would look like with the technology we have now and will have in the near future. 

Which song will be your first add to the team's music playlist? 

“Times They Are A-Changin’” -Bob Dylan 

What do you like most about being in the intersection of music, acting, and technology? 

Technology can take down barriers and gate keepers that once inhibited creative voices from being heard. I like open technological systems that empower people to understand the context of the world they live in and generate artistic commentary on their circumstances.

Technology should...

Be a tool for healing and human flourishing.

The Cortico Name

In naming Cortico, we aimed to balance the "artificial" in AI, our technological domain, with the heart of our mission: human connections built on common ground.

Cortico's philosophy follows from our collaboration partner, the MIT Media Lab's Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM), which aims to use AI and machine learning to bring humans into collaborative systems, as opposed to legislating us out of them. 

Cortico is the prefix of “cortex” -- the part of our brains where senses come together to help us understand the world. It’s human, empathetic, and connective.

By mapping social and mainstream media signals, Cortico surfaces where shared understandings form in the public sphere. We believe a healthy public sphere is one that has areas of common ground and understanding amidst competing signals.

In that spirit, we drew our logo to be transforming, with each letter wanting to connect and come together to create meaning as one body and one word.

We look forward to connecting meaningfully with you, too.



Our Favorite Quotes

We kicked-off our product offsite with each of us sharing a quote we resonate with — here's the roundup of guiding mantras and inspirations that rev us:

"No one goes there nowadays - it's too crowded." Yogi Berra

"Don't oppose forces, use them.” — Buckminster Fuller

"Between the lips and the voice something goes dying.” — Pablo Neruda

"There's nothing more practical than a good theory." — Kurt Lewin

“The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” — Muriel Rukeyser

“How astonishing it is that language can almost mean, / and frightening that it does not quite.” — Jack Gilbert

"History is merely a list of surprises.  It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again." — Kurt Vonnegut

“In testing primality of very large numbers chosen at random, the chance of stumbling upon a value that fools the Fermat test is less than the chance that cosmic radiation will cause the computer to make an error in carrying out a ‘‘correct’’ algorithm. Considering an algorithm to be inadequate for the first reason but not for the second illustrates the difference between mathematics and engineering."

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” — Robert A. Heinlein

“the whole world + the work = the whole world” — Martin Creed

"To state it is to refute it." — Daniel Webster

“above up there is only up.” — John Maeda


Welcome, Wes!


What drew you to join Cortico? 

W: I had for a while a latent interest in journalism, but I didn't really acknowledge it until a few years ago. A lot of Cortico's work surrounds the sharing and divisiveness of media. That sounds paradoxical somehow, that we're sharing more and more on social media, but for some reason society is more divided now than before. I think that we've been cursed, as the saying goes, to be alive at such an interesting time, and Cortico is one of the few outfits that has a shot at understanding the state of social discourse.

Which song will be your first add to the team's music playlist? 

W: The Old Westside by The Tillers

What do you like most about being a Software Engineer? 

W: The sound of my own typing.

Welcome, Peter!


What drew you to join Cortico? 

P: When I first heard about Cortico's mission I was really inspired since it seemed like a very real problem worth working on today. To be able to have an impact on reducing divisiveness in the world is something I would love to achieve. After meeting some of the team during the interview process, I was convinced that these were people that actually had the capability to do so and I didn't want to miss an opportunity to work and learn from them. 

Which song will be your first add to the team's music playlist? 

P:  It's tough to choose a first song, but I'm going to go with Weird Fishes by Radiohead. This song is on one of my favorite albums, In Rainbows, and just continuously surprises with new layers of beauty as it goes on. Plus who doesn't like the terms "weird fishes"? Can't take things too seriously all the time.

What do you like most about being a Design Technologist? 

P: I love my job. I get to do a balance of design work and development of products which is really satisfying. Being able to split time between engineering, designing interfaces, and discussing potential future products and directions for Cortico makes each day new and interesting. It's all the more fun since the people I get to work with have such interesting and varied opinions on everything being made-- never a dull moment.

Welcome, Doug!

Per new tradition, Doug sits down with the team for our inaugural 3 question introductory interview. Welcome aboard, we're thrilled you're here! 

Doug (1).jpg

What drew you to join Cortico? 

D: Cortico is at the intersection of so many things that I care about -- large-scale data analysis, natural language processing, and journalism, to name a few -- and it focuses these powers on a vital social mission.  It also gives me the chance to learn from people across many disciplines, not just the software engineers and computer scientists I'm used to working with (not that there's anything wrong with us!).

Which song will be your first add to the team's music playlist? 

D: Hard to choose.  My most recently played songs are "Free Man in Paris" by Joni Mitchell and "Room Where it Happens" from the Hamilton cast album, both great songs, so I'll probably play those.

What do you like most about being a Software Engineer? 

D: I like building tools that expose new information to people, whether it's about words or news.  That moment when a complex data pipeline comes together and you start to see the first insight from it is really special.