Project Us — an AI-powered platform promoting inclusivity in the digital workplace

MIT Media Lab
MIT MEDIA LAB
Published in
3 min readApr 24, 2023

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An illustration of two women sitting on either side of a table, talking. There is a laptop on the table between them, and an abstract representation of trees, leaves, clouds, and what could be a face in profile behind them.
Credit: Fluid Interfaces research group

Developed by researchers at the MIT Media Lab, the platform helps users learn empathetic and inclusive communication practices through actionable, AI-driven feedback that increases self-awareness and promotes user-led experimentation.

While digital communication has undeniably become a core part of our work and life, it doesn’t necessarily make us better communicators. But it could.

A team of researchers from the MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group has developed a platform that can help people become more effective and inclusive communicators — as they run their day-to-day videoconferences.

Project Us uses AI and biosignal processing to provide real-time feedback about communication styles. This individualized feedback can help users develop their communications skills, and organizations make tangible progress towards building inclusive work environments.

The platform analyzes communication habits during videoconferencing calls by capturing a person’s word choice, facial expressions, and tone of voice from the local audio and video setup, operating in parallel with tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Its algorithms then analyze these inputs to derive insights into the emotional and linguistic dynamics of the conversation and provide users with actionable, yet fully confidential feedback.

“We wanted to create a technologically enhanced feedback loop that enables meeting participants to be more aware of their emotions and behaviors, and train their own empathy muscle,” notes Dr. Camilo Rojas, lead researcher on the project. “It’s 100% a self-growth tool that we hope will empower people to become better leaders, colleagues, and even family members.”

Project Us demonstrated promising results in early trials. First tested with more than 100 participants here at the Media Lab, the platform proved successful at influencing the emergence of empathetic and inclusive behaviors. These included introspective pausing, asking more questions, using more inclusive language and a more balanced participation to the conversation, as well as an overall enhanced emotional dynamics, details of which can be found in two publications (link CHI’22 and DIS’22).

In November 2022, Project Us launched its first real-world pilot with employees at Wizeline, a global technology service provider with 2,000 employees. A key reason the team chose to work with Wizeline was the company’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as the programs they have to further DEI through training programs, earning them a high score from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Workplace EqualityProgram. In addition, Wizeline Academy, the company’s community-based educational program, offers free in-person and online training that has served more than 1,000 women with STEM bootcamps and leadership training.

The Project Us pilot showed strong results regarding both its impact on behavior and user experience. For some, Project Us offered useful feedback for better understanding and contextualizing areas of improvement. As one Wizeliner put it, “When the tool showed me that I was unknowingly making negative facial expressions during moments of conversation, I actually got it.” For others, the insights proved reassuring: “I’ve always been worried that I speak too much during meetings, but the tool showed that I don’t,” said another participant.

Participants expressed an unanimous desire to continue using the tool in their day-to-day work. In response, Project Us is now being scaled for adoption throughout the organization.

“As a leading digital and AI consultancy with a robust Diversity & Inclusion DNA, we are excited about the opportunity to use a tool that leverages cutting-edge AI technology to empower our people with an authentic means of continually cultivating an inclusive environment at Wizeline,” said Lin Cherry, Wizeline’s Chief People Officer and Chief Legal Officer. “Collaborating with Project Us on this pilot has been an inspiring experience for our people, and we look forward to the new exciting possibilities the relationship brings.”

Given its unique power to drive empathetic and inclusive behaviors, Project Us is now being deployed in diverse organizational contexts, such as supporting leadership development and conflict resolution, and is being tested for enhancing the effectiveness of telemedicine and mental health interventions. Organizations wishing to collaborate with the Media Lab on ProjectUs can contact camilo@projectus.ai / camilorq@media.mit.edu .

Financial support for Project Us comes from the MIT Media Lab, the US National Science Foundation, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Harvard iLab, MIT J-WEL, MIT Sandbox, and the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

This post was originally published on the Media Lab website.

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MIT Media Lab
MIT MEDIA LAB

The Media Lab is home to an interdisciplinary research culture where art, science, design, and technology build and play off one another.