Leading the News
NYU Professor Discusses Artificial Intelligence.
The Wall Street Journal (4/6, Castellanos, Subscription Publication) published excerpts from a Wednesday speech on artificial intelligence by New York University professor Dr. Yann LeCun, the artificial intelligence director at Facebook Inc. LeCun conceded that artificial intelligence, or AI, is seemingly pervasive in nearly every industry, but researchers are “still quite far from building artificial general intelligence, and certainly far from superhuman AI.”
NYU Professors Dispel Myths Of Imminent Artificial General Intelligence Advancements. In a piece for Technical.ly Brooklyn (NY) (4/7), journalist April Joyner said several speakers at the Future Labs AI Summit, held on Wednesday at New York University’s Skirball Center, “suggested that there are several caveats to all the hype” surrounding artificial general intelligence, including the subsequent conversations on “doomsday scenarios about machines taking over the world.” NYU professor and Geometric Intelligence founder Gary Marcus “threw cold water over the grandiose predictions of technologists such as Ray Kurzweil that artificial general intelligence – in other words, computers that think like humans – is anywhere close to arrival.” Keynote speaker Yann LeCun, another NYU professor and director of AI research at Facebook, “reinforced several of Marcus’s caveats but took a more optimistic tone regarding the advancement of artificial general intelligence.” He introduced the adversarial training approach but acknowledged that advancements will take many years. On the issue of doomsday scenarios, LeCun remarked, “It’s not clear that machines will have a preservation instinct.”
Professors Discuss Adversarial Machine Learning. Government Computer News (4/6) profiled adversarial machine learning. Pennsylvania State University Google PhD Fellow in Security Nicolas Papernot described the approach as a way to understand how machine-learning algorithms behave when deployed in adversarial settings that “force the machine-learning algorithms to misbehave.” Vanderbilt University professor Yevgeniy Vorobeychik said the Defense Department, its DARPA research arm, and other government agencies have reached “a level of sophistication that we [academics] do not have.” He said the approach is “seriously considered” by agencies and law enforcement as a way to forecast criminal activity. University of Maryland at College Park assistant professor Tudor A. Dumitras said machine learning is widely applicable in the public sector. He pointed to large-scale Energy Department experiments and cyber attack defense techniques as possible applications.
Carnegie Mellon University Recruits Potential Students Through Nationwide Hacking Competition.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (4/9) reports Carnegie Mellon University is openly recruiting potential freshman class students through its picoCTF competition. More than 15,000 middle and high school students are participating in picoCTF, dubbed “the largest hacking competition of its kind.” Boeing and the National Security Agency are among the competition’s sponsors. CyLab Security and Privacy Institute director and CMU professor David Brumley explained that most people think hacking is “something bad guys do but what hacking is about is understanding the security and insecurity of systems. The end goal is to make systems more secure.” Graduate student Melanie Rich-Wittrig asserted, “There’s a huge need for professionals and early age ranges are especially important for increasing diversity.” She has created hacking lessons aimed at elementary school students, and is focused on expanding the number of female students on CMU’s hacking team.
University Of Dayton Launches Nation’s First Applied Creativity For Transformation Certificate.
On Thursday, officials at Ohio’s University of Dayton announced the introduction of the Applied Creativity for Transformation certificate, the Dayton (OH) Daily News (4/6) reported. The certificate is the first of its kind in the nation and “introduces students to the creative competencies that today’s job market demands.” The university’s School of Engineering is sponsoring the certificate program, but it will be open to undergraduates in any major. Junior biology major Karly Michel, one of 22 students enrolled in the pilot program, said that the certificate enables students “to use in various fields and is a way we can better the world by approaching problems and solutions on a more personal and human level.”
State Lawsuits Allege Sallie Mae Made Student Loans It Expected To Default.
The New York Times (4/9, Cowley, Silver-Greenberg, Subscription Publication) reports that, in cases that parallel the mortgage crisis “in scope…and in the details of the misdeeds claimed,” state lawsuits filed by the attorneys general in Illinois and Washington allege “that Sallie Mae engaged in predatory lending, extending billions of dollars in” private subprime loans, “some of which it expected to default at rates as high as 92 percent.” The GSE is accused of using these “as a tool to build its business relationships with colleges and universities across the country” despite knowing that that many borrowers would be unable to repay, “ensnaring students in debt traps that have dogged them for more than a decade.” An internal strategy memo called the loans a “baited hook” used to get more federally guaranteed loans. Now, the attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, backed by a coalition of those in 27 other states, are suing student loan giant Navient.
New York May Offer Free Tuition At State Schools To Residents Whose Families Earn Under $125,000.
The Washington Post (4/8, Douglas-Gabriel) reports New York state may become “the first state to cover residents’ tuition at public four-year universities” as its forthcoming budget includes a program, called the Excelsior Scholarship, which would pay for tuition for “any New Yorker accepted to one of the state’s community colleges or four-year universities, provided their family earns less than $125,000 a year.”
Tennessee Debates Cheaper In-State Tuition For Illegals.
Fortune (4/8) reports that the Tennessee legislature is debating whether to become the 21st state to offer “cheaper in-state college tuition to students who are in the United States illegally.” Current state law requires “immigrants who are in the country illegally” to pay out-of-state tuition “that can cost three times more than in-state prices.” The “Tuition Opportunity Bill” would require students to attend the last two years of high school in Tennessee to qualify, Forbes writes. Proponents say tuition benefits have “boosted Latino enrollment,” while detractors say the policy “wrongly rewards immigrants who entered the country illegally.”
Research and Development
Silicon Valley Experts Discuss “Brain Hacking.”
In interviews with Anderson Cooper of the CBS News (4/9), former Google project manager Tristan Harris, Dopamine Labs cofounder Ramsay Brown, California State University Dominguez Hill psychologist Larry Rosen, Rosen’s research colleague Nancy Cheever, and “gamification” expert Gabe Zichermann discussed “brain hacking.” Harris described brain hacking as a method Silicon Valley uses “to hijack people’s minds and create a habit” of constantly checking in on phones, apps, and social media. Cooper reported that Rosen and Cheever conducted research that suggested “our phones are keeping us in a continual state of anxiety in which the only antidote” is checking the cell phone. Harris recently presented a 144-page “manifesto” in which he argued that the constant distractions offered by phones are “weakening our relationships to each other” and “destroying our kids’ ability to focus.” Harris said very few tech companies would discuss the matter, and “they remain secretive about what they do to keep people glued to their screens.”
University Of Michigan Aerospace Engineering Professor Discusses Virtual Rocket Systems Testing Efforts.
On its website, WUOM-FM Ann Arbor, MI (4/5) reported University of Michigan aerospace engineering professor and Center of Excellence on Rocket Combustor Dynamics director Karthik Duraisamy described the challenge that combustion instability presents to rocket engineers. Duraisamy and researchers from the University of Michigan, Purdue, and MIT are planning virtual rocket engine design tests to reduce the time and money spent on physical rocket engine systems tests, which are largely based on trial and error. “Instead of running 20 tests or 50 tests, we want them to get away with three or four physical tests, and many, many simulations,” Duraisamy explained.
Oregon State University Professor Leads Research On Health Condition-Sensing Contact Lenses.
Gizmodo (4/4, Dvorsky) reported Oregon State University professor Gregory Herman and his team of researchers developed a lab-tested prototype of a transparent biosensor that, when added to contact lenses, can detect blood glucose levels. Herman and his team believe that in the future, their ultra-thin transistor technology “could conceivably be used to detect symptoms an array of health conditions” in the contact lens wearer. The researchers presented their findings on Tuesday at the American Chemical Society’s 253rd National Meeting & Exposition.
Virginia Tech Team To Compete In AutoDrive Challenge.
The Roanoke (VA) Star-Sentinel (4/6) reported the Society of Automotive Engineering and General Motors co-sponsored the AutoDrive Challenge, a collegiate competition in which teams develop a fully-autonomous driving platform, integrate it in a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, and compete against other teams on an urban driving course. Eight universities, including Virginia Tech, were selected to compete in the challenge. Virginia Tech College of Engineering associate professor Al Wicks, who is leading the school’s team of faculty and students, stated, “As part of our proposal to be selected for the AutoDrive Challenge, we leveraged our technical diversity by constructing a team featuring the mechanical, and electrical and computer, and civil and environmental engineering, and computer science departments.” Wicks said his team receives support from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Advance Auto Parts, and TORC Robotics.
Labor Department: Google Underpays Female Workers.
The AP (4/9) reports Labor Department regional director Janette Wipper, during a Friday court hearing in San Francisco, said that an investigation of how Google pays its employees “found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.” Google said this was the first it had heard of the charges and “vehemently disagreed.” In a statement, Google said, “Every year, we do a comprehensive and robust analysis of pay across genders and we have found no gender pay gap.” The Labor Department has been “scrutinizing Silicon Valley for patterns of pay and hiring discrimination under its powers to vet companies that bid for lucrative government contracts.” The probe into Google “evolved from a lawsuit” seeking to keep Google doing business with the federal government unless the company complied with an employee-compensation audit. While Google turned over some of records, it withheld “information that it believes would invade its workers’ privacy.”
Government Accuses Google Of Underpaying Female Employees. The CBS Weekend News (4/8, story 6, 1:50, Duthiers) reported that Federal investigators have accused Google of “underpaying women.” CBS Justice Reporter Paula Reid said, “the Department of Labor is investigating the tech giant for gender pay discrimination. At a court hearing Friday, a Labor Department official said the agency found systemic compensation disparities against women at Google.” She noted that in January the government sued the company for “statistics on employee compensation.” Google is denying the government’s charge, saying “Every year, we do a comprehensive and robust analysis of pay across genders and we have found no gender pay gap. Other than making an unfounded statement which we heard for the first time in court, the Department of Labor hasn’t provided any data or shared its methodology.”
Industry Experts Discuss Careers In Application Security Sector.
Jeff Williams, the co-founder and chief technological officer of the application security vendor Contrast Security, told ComputerWorld (4/7) that when recruiting application security engineers, he looks for people “who love programming, but didn’t necessarily want to spend their life coding other people’s ideas.” He said many corporations across a number of industries, particularly the financial services sector, have application security teams. Tenable Network Security software engineering senior director Anthony Bettini recommended New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon, Berkeley, and Purdue to those interested in application security sector careers. Bettini commented, “Cybersecurity education at the university level is a lot better now than it was, say, ten years ago.” He also recommended content from the annual Black Hat conference, which is archived online.
Startup Backed By Boeing And JetBlue Hopes To Disrupt Regional Travel Options With Small Hybrid-Electric Jets.
The Washington Post (4/8, Wang) reports a Washington state-based startup, Zunum Aero, backed by the likes of Boeing HorizonX and JetBlue Technology Ventures, is “developing a fleet of hybrid-electric planes that would” pave the way for a world where travelers can “show up at an airport” in a major city, “bypass security checkpoints, board a small hybrid-electric plane with luggage in hand, and be on the ground at your destination in about an hour – all for $25 each way.” Zunum Aero intends to disrupt not only “regional air travel, where options have shriveled and costs have crept up in recent decades,” but the prevailing regional travel options of car, bus, or rail as well, which offer far greater value and convenience on short-haul routes. The story mentions DOT’s National Household Travel Survey found that 95 percent of trips within a 500-mile radius are made by car.
The San Francisco Chronicle (4/8) reports Zunum Aero is starting out with a “focus on small regional jets that serve high-traffic, short-haul routes such as Los Angeles to San Francisco,” aiming to have multiple “10-passenger hybrid-electric jets” before 2025 and at least 50 such aircraft in the next decade.
Uber Denies Using Waymo’s Self-Driving Technology In Court.
Reuters (4/7, Sage) reported Uber Technologies Inc. said in a filing Friday that its self-driving sensor technology was “fundamentally different from” technology developed by Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo. Uber blasted Waymo’s claim that is former executive, Anthony Levandowski, stole 14,000 of Waymo’s computer files on autonomous technology before leaving to lead Uber’s self-driving program. Waymo sued the ride sharing company in February, “seeking a preliminary injunction to stop it from using trade secrets and other intellectual property at the center of the case.” Waymo claimed “Uber was able to quickly scale up its autonomous program after Levandowski downloaded the files before his departure to form a company that Uber then acquired.” Uber responded in its filing, “The record shows that Uber never possessed – and never used – any information Mr. Levandowski allegedly took from Waymo.”
The AP (4/7, Liedtke) reported the dispute between the two tech giants “centers on a pivotal part of self-driving cars called LiDAR, an array of laser-based sensors that enable self-driving cars to see what’s around them so they can safely navigate roads.” Uber explained “that its engineers are working on a more sophisticated form of LiDAR than Waymo’s.” The company said its LiDAR technology “uses four lenses for transmitting and receiving laser lights as opposed to the single lens in Waymo’s version.” Uber also said “its custom-designed LiDAR system hasn’t even been installed on the self-driving cars that it has been testing in Pittsburgh,” and that it “has been relying on LiDAR systems built by other vendors.”
According to The Wall Street Journal (4/7, Nicas, Subscription Publication), Waymo has asked Uber to search Levandowski’s computer for the key 14,000 files, but Levandowski has invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and has refused to turn over any documents he may have. Uber admitted in its Friday filing that Levandowski’s refusal to cooperate puts it in a difficult situation.
Bloomberg News (4/7, Rosenblatt) reported Waymo said Friday that Uber’s stance that it’s never viewed the 14,000 files is “disingenuous at best, given their refusal to look in the most obvious place: the computers and devices owned by the head of their self-driving program.” US District Judge William A. Alsup “has repeatedly admonished Uber and Levandowski in court hearings for being unwilling or unable to flatly deny Waymo’s allegations.” Alsup also said this week “he’d never seen a stronger record in 42 years and warned Uber’s lawyers that they’re ‘up against it,’ meaning that he’s leaning toward issuing a court order that would prohibit the use of the disputed technology.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Trump Considering Executive Order To Reverse Offshore Drilling Ban.
The Washington Post (4/7, Eilperin, Mufson) reports the White House “is considering an executive order instructing the Interior Department to reverse President Barack Obama’s withdrawal of hundreds of millions of offshore acres from future drilling in December.” The move “could open up new areas of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans to offshore oil and gas drilling.” The Huffington Post (4/7, D’Angelo) reports the order would “direct the Interior Department to develop a new five-year oil and gas leasing program.” The Hill (4/7, Cama) reports Interior Secretary Zinke mentioned the order in a Thursday conference. The Hill adds that the move “would fit within Trump’s pledges on the campaign trail and since taking office to increase domestic energy production, particularly of fossil fuels.”
Alaska Senators Introduce Legislation To Repeal Offshore, Arctic Drilling Rules. The Hill (4/7, Henry) also says that Alaska’s senators on Friday “introduced a bill that would repeal Obama administration restrictions on off-shore drilling and allow for oil production in the Arctic Ocean.” In a statement, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski said, “After years of regulatory restrictions and burdens imposed by the Obama administration, this bill charts a much better course for responsible energy production in our Beaufort and Chukchi seas that actually reflects the views of the vast majority of Alaskans.”
FERC Determines PennEast Pipeline’s Environmental Impact Would Be “Effectively Limited.”
The AP (4/7, Catalini) reports the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission determined Friday that the environmental impacts of the proposed PennEast “natural gas pipeline from northeastern Pennsylvania to New Jersey would be ‘effectively limited.’” Though the report “outlined several areas of concern,” PennEast’s proposed “mitigation efforts like well monitoring and avoiding endangered animal habitats” were deemed sufficient.
Minnesota Governor Vows To Veto Enbridge’s Pipeline Replacement Regulatory Bypass.
The AP (4/7) reports Minnesota governor Mark Dayton said Friday that “he would veto a bill allowing a Canadian energy company to bypass Minnesota regulators and build a replacement for” Enbridge Energy’s $7.5 billion Line 3 pipeline. Dayton reasoned that the project “should be vetted by the Public Utilities Commission before it gets approval to begin construction.”
Louisiana School District Pursues Federal Funding For New STEM-Themed Magnet Programs.
The Baton Rouge (LA) Advocate (4/8) reported the school board of Louisiana’s second-largest school system, East Baton Rouge Parish, will on April 20 vote on whether to add magnet programs to its Woodlawn middle and high schools. Meanwhile, school officials submitted a 156-page application to the Magnet Schools Assistance Program over the weekend. If approved, the district will launch magnet programs at Belaire High and its feeder schools. The officials requested $15 million in Federal funding to develop the proposed STEM-themed magnet programs. Proposed courses include “renewable energy, computer science, entertainment technology and film, and digital animation.” The school system already operates 21 schools with magnet programs, and it has tried to secure the funds for new programs on two separate occasions within the last five years. Magnet program director Theresa Porter said she is hopeful that her school system’s application will be approved this year because ED will grant a 10-point credit to districts that unsuccessfully applied last year.
Grant Program To Prepare Massachusetts Teachers For New State STEM Curriculum.
The Pittsfield (MA) Berkshire Eagle (4/9) reports the Massachusetts Mathematics and Science Partnership designed a $46,000 competitive grant program that will, through the collaboration of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Southern Berkshire Regional School District, and the Flying Cloud Institute, train up to 25 Berkshire County K-8th grade educators on how to teach under Massachusetts’ Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework. The state adopted the curriculum last April. The dean of MCLA’s Graduate and Continuing Education, Jake Eberwein, said he expects the program to produce “a pool of well-equipped teachers who are more confident in how they approach science.”
Texas State Lawmakers Advance Bill To Implement National P-TECH Program.
The San Antonio Express-News (4/9) reports Texas state lawmakers advanced a senate bill last week that “would eliminate the current tech-prep program and replace it with the national P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School, program.” The bill includes a $5 million fiscal note to award start-up grants to high schools interested in participating in the P-TECH program. State Sen. Larry Taylor said the P-TECH model emphasizes guaranteed job interviews and paid internships for high school graduates. San Antonio Independent School District superintendent Pedro Martinez, who helped craft the bill, said regardless of whether the proposed legislation passes, his district is collaborating with the Alamo Colleges and Texas A&M University-San Antonio to establish engineering-centered P-TECH programs at three high schools.
Miami Event Brings Students Together With Creators, Technology.
Miami (FL) Herald (4/8) reported that at Miami’s Maker Faire event drew more than 5,000 attendees and over 150 designers and innovators at its fourth annual event. The event brings together creators of drones, robots, and virtual reality games to name a few to showcase creativity and ingenuity. Hundreds of local Miami students attended to learn about new technology and fun applications of science and math.
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Ford Plans To Bring Electric Vehicles To China.
• NYTimes Criticizes DeVos For Ending Ban On High Student Loan Fees.
• Virginia Tech Engineer Studies Precision Movement In Bat Echolocation.
• J.D. Power Rankings Show Microsoft Beat Out Apple, Samsung For Highest Overall Tablet Satisfaction.
• Plan To Crack Down On Visa Abuse Receives “Mixed Reviews.”
• Columbia, Missouri Plans Possible STEAM School.