Leading the News
DeVos Speaks At Summit On Need To “Overhaul” System For Meeting Workforce Needs.
U.S. News & World Report (12/14, Camera) reports Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “collected advice” at the Rethink Higher Education Summit on Thursday “on how the federal government can help overhaul an antiquated delivery system to meet modern workforce needs.” In her introductory marks, Secretary DeVos said, “The reality is that there are a number of challenges and opportunities facing higher education, and Washington, D.C., does not have all the answers.” She added, “Government is not the best at finding new solutions to tough problems. … Government isn’t the best at being flexible or adaptable to a constantly changing environment. And government certainly isn’t the best at questioning the status quo.” Speaking to a panel of industry leaders, DeVos stated, “You represent a diverse group of institutions and organizations from across the higher education sector, the common denominator is that each of you began by seeing a problem or a deficiency or an inefficiency. … You questioned why it was that way, and then you developed a solution to fix it or make it better. It is that type of thinking that we need more of – lots more of – in American education today. … We need to question everything, look for ways in which we can improve and embrace the imperative of change.”
Two Lawsuits Filed Against ED, DeVos Over Backlog Of Student Loan Forgiveness Claims.
The Washington Post (12/14, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that Education Secretary DeVos is facing growing pressure to act “on thousands of federal student loan forgiveness applications languishing at the U.S. Department of Education.” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Thursday “sued DeVos and the department for failing to process more than 50,000 debt relief claims submitted by former Corinthian Colleges students.” Also Thursday, the attorneys general of Massachusetts, New York and Illinois filed a separate suit “alleging that the Trump administration is violating federal law by refusing to hand down decisions on pending claims.”
According to the AP (12/14, Thompson), Becerra’s suit alleges that ED “is refusing to process debt relief claims from tens of thousands of students who had federal loans to attend Corinthian Colleges.” Upwards of “50,000 relief claims are pending since the for-profit college collapsed, including 13,000 from Californians,” whom the suit “says…are eligible for relief after courts ruled that they were defrauded by Corinthian in violation of California’s consumer protection laws.” ED “spokesman Jim Bradshaw said he could not immediately comment” on the lawsuit.
Reuters (12/14, Lambert) reports that the New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts AGs in a separate suit “also said the administration has unlawfully declared that some of the loans are still valid, which has led to involuntary collections from students’ paychecks.” The suits reportedly follow “months of pressure from states, borrower advocates and Democratic lawmakers, who say students cannot repay the often-large debts because the schools did not give them adequate work training or diplomas. By law, anyone the government determines was a victim of education fraud is not required to pay student-loan debt.” ED’s inspector general said Monday the department had stopped canceling debts for Corinthian attendees.
Also reporting are the Springfield (MA) Republican (12/14, Schoenberg), Law360 (12/14, Posses), the Wall Street Journal (12/14, Roberts, Subscription Publication), the Boston Globe (12/14, Fernandes), the Boston Herald (12/14), and the Huffington Post (12/14).
Capstone Spotlights Student Research In Media Arts, Science.
Indiana University (12/13, Brouk) reports the Fall 2017 edition of Capstone was held Dec. 8, spotlighting “the latest homegrown innovations in 3-D printing, animation, scanning and much more.” The event “featured about 100 seniors and graduate students in the media arts and science program showcasing their semesterlong projects.” Senior Cassandra Jones, in collaboration with IUSM research, “put in hundreds of hours digitally modeling and prototyping different 3-D-printed organs for surgery demonstrations” in a project entitled “3D Print Molds for Medical Education/Simulation Tools.” John Martin, a surgical education research fellow in the IUSM, reviewed Jones’ work at the event and “effortlessly manipulated 3-D-printed tissue with pairs of long forceps before handling that rubbery liver, to which Martin then gave his approval.”
Final Agreement Nixes Tax For Grad Students, Saves Student Loan Deduction.
The New York Times (12/14, A1, Rappeport, Kaplan, Subscription Publication) reports that while Republicans “expect to unveil the final” tax reform “bill on Friday and vote on the legislation early next week so that it can be sent to President Trump before Christmas,” their plans “were thrown into some disarray on Thursday” by Sen. Marco Rubio, who, USA Today (12/14, Jackson, King) reports, said that he will oppose the bill if the child tax credit is not expanded to assist families who do not owe income taxes.
The Washington Post (12/14, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that congressional aides say conferees have agreed to jettison “many of the controversial proposals” that drew fire from higher education leaders and students. According to “aides with knowledge of the negotiations,” lawmakers “have responded to the outcry from students,” and as a result, under the agreement, “tuition waivers received by graduate students remain tax-free, students can still deduct loan interest payments and bonds that colleges use for construction stay interest-free.”
The AP (12/14, Danilova) reports congressional aides say the new version of the bill “leaves in place the deduction for interest on student loans.” It also “would no longer start taxing graduate-school tuition waivers.” Speaking at an ED summit, Secretary Betsy DeVos said, “Happy with the addition of the 529 piece in the bill. … But beyond that I know that this is like sausage making, so I am looking forward to the results and to a successful outcome.” An American Council on Education representative “praised” the changes to the bill.
Research and Development
NASA Discovers Two New Planets, Using Google AI.
Fortune (12/14, Vanian) reports that NASA has discovered two new planets using data from its Kepler space telescope and using Google artificial intelligence (AI software). During a media briefing Thursday, NASA Kepler Project Scientist Jessie Dotson said that Kepler has helped NASA discover 2,500 exoplanets, up from just 326 identified before Kepler was launched in 2009. In the briefing, “NASA focused less on Kepler-80g and more on Kepler-90i because it was found to be the eighth planet orbiting the only star in its solar system. That’s significant because it shows that this particular solar system somewhat mirrors our own in which eight planets orbit a sun, the researchers said.” In partnership with Google, NASA “applied so-called neural networks to help parse through the Kepler data and spot possible exoplanets that humans may have overlooked.” NASA scientists fed the software 15,000 examples of Kepler data containing confirmed exoplanets, helping the “neural network discover unseen patterns that it then used to discover exoplanets when the researchers fed it new Kepler data.” Google Senior AI Software Engineer Christopher Shallue said that the “key contribution of machine learning here was that it was able to search much larger number of signals than humans would have been able to do within a reasonable amount of time.” Google, Shallue said, plans to eventually release the software used on the Kepler project to the public for free.
CNN (12/14, Strickland) reports that Shallue said, “Machine learning really shines in situations where there is so much data that humans can’t search it for themselves.” NASA Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz said the findings show that “there are exciting discoveries lurking in our archived Kepler data, waiting for the right tool or technology to unearth them,” and anticipated that the data would be a “treasure trove available to innovative researchers for years to come.”
Researchers Develop Clever Tool To Detect Hacks Companies Haven’t Told Users About.
Gizmodo (12/14, Ehrenkranz) reports a “prototype tool created by researchers from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) aims to bring greater transparency to” data breaches and security violations. The system, coined Tripwire, “detects websites that were hacked” and analyzed the scenarios in a study. Gizmodo explains, “To detect breaches, the researchers created a bot that automatically registered accounts on thousands of websites. Each of those accounts shared a password with a unique associated email address.” Working with a “major email provider,” the researchers “were then notified if there was a successful login on any of the email accounts.” Joe DeBlasio, a Ph.D student of Jacobs School of Engineering at UCSD and an author on the research paper, told Gizmodo: “While Tripwire can’t catch every data breach, it essentially has no false positives—everything it detects definitely corresponds to a data breach. … Tripwire triggering means that an attacker had access to data that wasn’t shared publicly.”
US Army Research Lab Wraps Up MAST UAV Research Program.
The Economist (12/14) reports that the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Maryland is “wrapping up” the Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST) program this month “after ten successful years.” MAST coordinated UAV research, and will be replaced by its “successor, the Distributed and Collaborative Intelligent Systems and Technology (DCIST)” program, which began earlier this year. Whereas MAST researchers helped develop technology to produce “pocket-sized battlefield scouts…DCIST’s purpose is to take these autonomous robots and make them co-operate. The result, if the project succeeds, will be swarms of devices that can take coordinated action to achieve a joint goal.” Some MAST researchers believe that cyclocopters, which resemble an “airborne paddle steamer,” can “outperform” traditional “polycopters.” Cyclocopters are also more stable at smaller sizes, and are more quiet than polycopters. Texas A&M Professor Moble Benedict “reckons cyclocopters are about two years away from commercial production.” Looking forward, many researchers “particularly worry about” coordinating effective UAV swarm behavior.
Researchers Say Global Warming Caused Extra Rainfall During Hurricane Harvey.
Reuters (12/14) says climate researchers established “the rains of Hurricane Harvey that devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast this summer were 15 percent higher due to climate change.” In their study, scientists used an event attribution technique that “involves a network of computers comparing weather scenarios with and without climate change, using an array of models with historic climate data.” UPI (12/14, Hays) reports Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute senior researcher Geert Jan van Oldenborgh said, “This multimethod analysis, drawing upon both observed rainfall data and high-resolution climate models, confirms that heavy rainfall events are increasing substantially across the Gulf Coast region because of human interference with our climate system.”
Meteorologist Argues Hurricane Harvey’s Behavior Accounts For Additional Rainfall. The Daily Caller (12/14, Bastasch) says “two new studies are out purporting to show a link between Hurricane Harvey and man-made global warming,” but “there are good reasons to be skeptical.” For one, “neither study addressed the main reason Harvey dumped record amounts of rainfall over southeastern Texas and Louisiana — it stalled over land.” While researchers claim the stalling of the storm was indirectly accounted for, Weather.us meteorologist Ryan Maue said, “It’s clear that Harvey’s exceptional rainfall was due to the stalling and looping nature of the track of the storm – which this study does not address in the slightest.”
Trucking Industry Looks To Improve Female Driver Outreach.
Transport Topics (12/14, Simpson) reports that the trucking industry is looking to improve female driver outreach. A survey of women in the industry conducted by Women In Trucking (WIT) and Sawgrass Logistics “found that fewer than half of fleets were actively supporting adding more female drivers to their workforce by 2020.” The article mentions that WIT also recently contracted with FMCSA to conduct a study on threats and assaults against women in the industry. WIT is also “working with Expediter Services to establish 150 new women-owned small businesses in the transportation sector in 12 months.”
Chinese Tech Giant Tencent Opens Seattle Research Lab.
GeekWire (12/14) reports, “Tencent, maker of the popular WeChat app, is betting big on AI, and the company’s decision to open an AI research lab in the Seattle area is another example of this.” GeekWire visited the new lab, where construction is ongoing, and interviewed the lab’s head, Dr. Dong Yu. “Tencent is more diversified,” Yu said, when comparing the company to Amazon and Facebook. Yu also said, “Tencent is probably one of the best companies that has application scenarios for AI technologies.” The researchers at the Seattle lab “will focus mainly on speech recognition systems and natural language processing,” and the resulting work will be applied to “Tencent’s existing and future products, whether for WeChat’s voice-to-text feature or software for a smart home.” The company “launched a voice assistant in June similar Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana.”
Samsung Among Partners To Build Business Apps On IBM Quantum Computers.
Forbes (12/14, Konrad) reports that Samsung, JPMorgan Chase, and Diamler AG are IBM’s first partners in what it’s calling its “Network,” a group of companies that “will have access to IBM’s quantum systems and share engineering over the next several years.” IBM Research VP of AI and IBM Q Dario Gil said, “We’ve gone through such a long period of incubating the science. Now the goal is to bring the world of quantum computing to business.” The company’s goal for its Q Network partners is “to develop applications that demonstrate a business advantage because they run on quantum instead of traditional computers using silicon-based chips,” an accomplishment IBM “hopes to see…by 2020.”
Anti-Nuclelar Group Files Complaint Over Vogtle Designs.
The Charleston (SC) Post and Courier (12/14, Brown) reports that just like in South Carolina, a complaint has been filed in Georgia “over Westinghouse’s decision not to use licensed engineers to oversee and approve the designs for two unfinished nuclear reactors.” Anti-nuclear group Nuclear Watch South “filed a formal complaint with the Georgia Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors earlier this week, as state regulators continue to discuss whether construction on two reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta should be finished.” The group “asked the state regulatory board to determine whether Westinghouse and Georgia Power violated state law by allowing construction drawings for the reactors at Vogtle to be used without being vetted and signed by professional engineers.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Mathews: California Needs More Immigrants.
In his column for the San Francisco Chronicle (12/15, Mathews), Joe Mathews writes a faux letter to Santa, where he asks for more immigrants for California for Christmas. Mathews says the request is because “statistics show that California faces shortages of the kinds of people its future requires: children, skilled workers, farmworkers, construction workers, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, engineers and college graduates.”
Congress Urged To Act On The ‘Dreamers’.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post (12/14, Cook, Koch), Charles Koch, chairman and chief executive of Koch Industries, and Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, urge Congress to provide legal protections for “dreamers,” the “children of undocumented immigrants who are working, in countless ways, to make the United States stronger.” They urge Congress to recognize the situation as “a political, economic and moral imperative” and “to bring certainty and security to the lives of dreamers.” As business leaders, Koch and Cook argue the U.S. “is at its best” when it embraces diversity and that “for our nation to maximize progress and prosperity, we need more, not fewer, talented people at the table.”
Reporting on the op-ed, The Hill (12/14, Greenwood) notes that “Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans have pushed for legislative action by the end of the year that would grant dreamers legal status.” House Speaker Paul Ryan “has said that the deadline for addressing a DACA fix is in March, when the program ends.”
Also reporting are Newsmax (12/14), Business Insider (12/14), Business Insider (UK) (12/14), the San Antonio Express-News (12/15), AppleInsider (12/14), 9 to 5 Mac (12/14), Cult Of Mac (12/14), Mac Daily News (12/14), and Evaluation Engineering (12/14).
Texas Won’t Hold Back Students In Harvey-Affected Areas For Poor Test Scores.
The Houston Chronicle (12/14, Webb) reports the Texas Education Agency won’t “will not hold fifth- and eighth-grade students back in Hurricane Harvey-affected areas based on standardized test scores given this year, Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced Thursday.” Those districts suffering the most impacts from Harvey have called for “the state to postpone grading and potentially penalizing them in the wake of a storm that triggered catastrophic flooding, damaged schools, delayed the start of classes and displaced students.” Morath said fifth- and eighth-grade students located in the federal disaster area who score poorly on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exam will not be required to retake the grade. The Chronicle mentions that Texas’ education leaders “are also anxious about the state’s coming accountability rating system, which will make a soft debut next year.”
Google Expeditions AR Pioneer Program Helps Kids Learn While Having Fun.
The Pontiac (IL) Daily Leader (12/14, Westermeyer) reports a Google representative visited the fourth through sixth grade students of District 429 in Illinois Wednesday, offering the students “a glimpse of the future of education” by allowing them to take “part in alpha-testing of Google’s Expeditions AR Pioneer Program, which provides an educational augmented reality experience mapped and overlaid on one’s current environment.” The Daily Leader compares the experience to “wildly popular Pokemon Go augmented reality mobile game,” except that “kids are learning while simultaneously having fun.” According to the Daily Leader, “the latter goal, at least, was very evidently achieved at one of the afternoon demonstrations at the grade school, as students fervently bounded around the classroom exploring such augmented maps of geological formations, paleontological exhibits and even the solar system.”
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• Republicans Reach Tentative Agreement On Tax Plan.
• RIT Alum Donates $50M To College For Entrepreneurship, Cybersecurity Programs.
• Researchers In China, US Advance Light Filtering Technology.
• Blue Origin Launches First Rocket In 14 Months.
• Many Researchers Would Consider Offers To Serve In Trump Administration, Survey Suggests.
• Naperville, IL Students Test STEM Skills At Robotics Competition.