To Build Less-Biased AI, Hire a More-Diverse Team
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A group of diverse engineers huddled around a project

By Michael Li

We’ve seen no shortage of scandals when it comes to AI. In 2016, Microsoft Tay, an AI bot built to learn in real time from social media content turned into a misogynist, racist troll within 24 hours of launch. 

A ProPublica report claimed that an algorithm — built by a private contractor — was more likely to rate black parole candidates as higher risk. A landmark U.S. government study reported that more than 200 facial recognition algorithms — comprising a majority in the industry — had a harder time distinguishing non-white faces. The bias in our human-built AI likely owes something to the lack of diversity in the humans who built them. After all, if none of the researchers building facial recognition systems are people of color, ensuring that non-white faces are properly distinguished may be a far lower priority.

Sources of Discrimination in the AI and Technology Fields

Technology has a remarkably non-diverse workforce. A 2019 study found that under 5.7% of Google employees were Latinx, and 3.3% were Black. Similarly low rates exist across the tech industry. And those numbers are hardly better outside the tech industry, with Latinx and Black employees making up just 7% and 9%, respectively, of STEM workers in the general economy. (They comprise 18.5% and 13.4%, respectively, of the U.S. population.) Data science is a special standout — by one estimate, it underrepresents women, Hispanics, and Blacks more than any other role in the tech industry. It may come as no surprise that a 2019 study by the non-profit Female Founders Faster Forward (F4) found that 95% of surveyed candidates reported facing discrimination in the workplace. With such a biased workforce, how can we expect our AI to fare any better?

Sources of bias in hiring abound. Some of this comes from AI. Amazon famously had to scrap its AI recruiting bot when the company discovered it was biased against women. And it’s not just tech titans: LinkedIn’s 2018 Global Recruiting Trends survey found that 64% of employers use AI and data in recruiting, including top employers like Target, Hilton, Cisco, PepsiCo, and Ikea. But we cannot entirely blame AI —­ there is a much deeper and more systemic source of hiring bias. An established field of academic research suggests that human resume screening is inherently biased. Using innovative field experiments, university researchers have shown that resume screeners discriminate on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and age. Discrimination is so prevalent that minorities often actively whiten resumes (and are subsequently more successful in the job market). Scanning resumes, whether by computer or human, is an archaic practice best relegated to the dustbin of history. At best, it measures a candidate’s ability to tactfully boast about their accomplishments and, at worse, provides all the right ingredients for either intentional or unintentional discrimination. So how are companies overcoming this challenge?

A Musical Interlude

An unlikely parallel exists in — of all places — the field of classical music. In the 1970s and 1980s, historically male-dominated orchestras began changing their procedures for hiring. Auditions were conducted blind — placing a screen between the candidate and their judging committee so that the identity of the auditioner could not be discerned — only their music was being judged. The effects of this change were astounding: Harvard researchers found that women were passing 1.6 times more in blind auditions than in non-blind ones, and the number of female players in the orchestras increased by 20 to 30 percentage points. By focusing on the candidate’s performance (rather than irrelevant discriminatory attributes) companies can increase both diversity and quality of their new hires. Here’s how.

Continue on to Harvard Business Review to read the full article.

NASA Perseverance Rover Records First-Ever Sound of Wind on Mars
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The NASA Rover rests on the brown sands of Mars

By Natalie Colarossi

NASA’s Perseverance rover, which successfully landed on Mars on February 18, has obtained the first ever audio recording of wind on the red planet.

In a video shared by CBS news on Friday, NASA engineer Elizabeth Duffy describes the recording as “awesome,” and said the new audio will allow scientists to discover a “whole complete story of Mars.”

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Hearing the wind is just so awesome. When you think about it, we are hearing something that is so far away on another planet, and now we know what that wind actually sounds like,” Duffy told CBS News.

“It’s going to be able to tell us a whole complete story of Mars, which is what we’re after.”

Along with 25 onboard cameras, the rover also carries two microphones. Though one failed to work during the rover’s descent, the other captured the sounds of wind blowing past, as well as the noise of the spacecraft itself, CBS reported.

The audio tape was first released on February 22, and marks the first time noise has ever been recorded on another planet. NASA released two separate clips of the same recording, one that filters out the noise of Perseverance and one that includes it.

“I think of the microphones on the rover as adding another sense for us,” Duffy told CBS. “It just is going to give us this whole picture of what it’s like to be on Mars.”

Mission team members have said that they hope to hear many more sounds from Mars, including storms, falling rocks and the sound of the rover’s wheels as it moves across the planet’s surface.

“Imagine yourself sitting on the surface of Mars and listening to the surroundings,” Dave Gruel, lead engineer for the rover’s camera and microphone subsystem, said during a February 22 news briefing. “It’s cool. Really neat. Overwhelming, if you will.”

In addition to audio, the rover has captured some of the most stunning images of the planet to date.

Color photos have been captured using the rover’s Mastcam-Z camera system, which can zero in on the planet with extraordinary detail.

Images so far have shown the arid landscape of the rover’s landing site—the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater. Researchers believe this area was once home to a river delta billions of years ago, making it a promising spot to search for signs of ancient microbial life.

The agency says the rover’s cameras can zoom in, focus, and take 3D pictures and video at high speed, enabling the detailed examination of distant objects.

Read the full article at Newsweek.

Finding Yourself and Your Community when You Are Black in STEM
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A Black scientist wearing a lab coat closeup

Antonio T. Baines knows what it’s like to feel alone in the lab. He lived it while getting his doctorate. “I was in this Ph.D. pharmacology/toxicology graduate program, and there was nobody who looked like me when I first got there,” he says.

At the time, Baines, who is African American, was studying at the University of Arizona. He entered his graduate program with a friend, who was also Black. “She was in the master’s program,” Baines says, “but we were the only two.”

Now, as an associate professor and a cancer researcher in the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at North Carolina Central University, he is working to change such situations. He mentors, he teaches, and he is a spokesperson and advocate for the next generation of students of color coming into the sciences.

“I think representation is so important—you need to see folks who look like you, no matter who you are, and others need to see that, too” Baines says. “If you don’t ever see it, then, is it possible?”

This discussion is part of a speaker series hosted by the Black Employee Network at Springer Nature, the publisher of Scientific American. The series aims to highlight Black contributions to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) a history that has not been widely recognized. It will cover career paths, role models and mentorship, and diversity in STEM.

Read the original article at Scientific American.
California Tech Hub Bitwise Industries Raises $50 Million In Quest To Diversify The Workforce
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professional shot of Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin Jr standing side by side smiling

When Jake Soberal founded tech hub Bitwise Industries alongside Irma Olguin Jr. in 2013, the “volume of injustice” for impoverished communities of systemic poverty rang at a medium decibel. Since then, the noise has noticeably increased.

“Trump gets elected, and now the volume is quite high. Then there’s a pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, and now the volume is deafeningly loud,” Soberal, 35, says. “There is no waiting [for our company]. Going slow is not an option. This is work that desperately needs to be scaled.”

Image: Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin Jr. were frustrated by the limited career prospects in their hometown, and wanted to find a solution. Photo Courtesy of Bitwise Industries

Bitwise Industries, which trains tech workers in marginalized communities, develops software and invests in tech-friendly real estate, announced today that it has secured $50 million in Series B funding from Kapor Capital, JPMorgan, Motley Fool Ventures and ProMedica. To date, Bitwise has raised $100 million at a valuation Forbes estimates at roughly $200 million.

A third-generation Mexican American and the first in her family to go to college, Olguin told Forbes in June that she’d been working to make coding instruction available to disadvantaged members of her local community when she met fellow Fresno, California, native and intellectual property lawyer Soberal. They teamed up to find a “fundamentally different way to rebuild American cities.”

In 2013, the pair established Geekwise Academy, the coding and tech skills boot camp arm of Bitwise. The downtown Fresno institution offers classes in website building and programming languages like HTML and JavaScript to people of all ages. In California alone, Bitwise has trained roughly 5,000 people, with more than 80% of them finding gainful technical employment.

Olguin and Soberal later launched Shift3 Technologies—a software development division that builds apps and custom programs for small and medium-sized businesses—to boost the hiring pipeline for Geekwise alumni.

Bitwise’s third business-line is investing in commercial real estate. In California, the cofounders have developed and leased 450,000 square feet of previously blighted, long-forgotten buildings, transforming them into coworking spaces, restaurants, theaters and other desirable commercial real estate.

With a 2020 revenue that Forbes estimates at $40 million, the company has expanded its three-pronged model from Fresno to Bakersfield, Merced and Oakland. With the new funding, Olguin and Soberal hope to move into markets outside California, starting with Toledo, Ohio.

“For the first time we can start thinking about what an equitable recovery looks like,” says Olguin, 40. “What does it actually mean to rebuild an American city coming out of the pandemic, and coming out of this age of justice? Bitwise can deliver to the world and to the cities a diverse and inclusive technology workforce, where those high-wage, high-skilled jobs now are creating and endeavoring to bolster that local economy.”

Read the complete article at Forbes.

Hyundai: The Carmaker Aiming to Become a Tech Firm
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Black car by Hyundai

For a few weeks this year, South Korean carmaker Hyundai was dusted with the Apple magic. Last month Hyundai let slip that it was in talks with the maker of the iPhone to co-operate on a car project, but this week it said the talks were over.

However, this is by no means the end of Hyundai’s push into technology.

The car firm has been investing heavily in new technology with a string of partnerships, acquisitions and investments within the tech space.

Its takeover of robotics firm Boston Dynamics last year was a clear indication of the direction it is taking – into cutting-edge technology.

The whole auto industry has been forced to innovate as the move towards electric cars and autonomous vehicles accelerates.

Hyundai has been criticised in the past for lagging behind rivals in adopting emerging technologies but is fast catching up, sealing a string of alliances and investments with technology groups recently.

“Hyundai has a different set of motivations and more incentive to push the limit. They have been a lot more aggressive in reinventing themselves,” says Dale Hardcastle, a partner at consultancy firm Bain.

Hyundai has been ramping up the electrification of its line-up of cars with a dedicated battery electric vehicle (BEV) range called Ioniq.

Its aggressive electric car ambitions will see it launch 12 new BEV models over the next four years, and fully electrify its line-up around the globe by 2040.

Beyond battery electric vehicles, Hyundai has been busy developing charging points and hydrogen refuelling stations.

“It’s very clear where Hyundai sees its future. It’s a brand that wants to disrupt and push forward, to break up the status quo,” says Mr Hardcastle.

The purchase of a majority stake in Boston Dynamics in a $1.1bn (£810m) deal in December was seen as a major step to becoming a leader in car technology.

Boston Dynamics is a pioneer in consumer robotics, while it has a shared interest with Hyundai in autonomous driving and smart factories.

“Hyundai is being very responsive to the dynamic market trends,” says Bakar Sadik Agwan, senior automotive consulting analyst at GlobalData.

“With the automotive industry getting more dynamic day by day due to the fast technological advancements, companies need to transform their business strategies to secure their position in the future mobility era. Hyundai seems to be well on track in this direction.”

Read the full article at BBC.

Kenyan Woman’s Startup Recycles Plastic Waste into Bricks That Are 5x Stronger Than Concrete
LinkedIn
black female engineer holding a brick recycled from plastic

An absolutely brilliant young woman in Kenya has started a company manufacturing bricks from plastic waste.

Nzambi Matee says she was “tired of being on the sidelines” while civil servants struggled against plastic waste in the capital city of Nairobi, so the materials engineer created a product that is 5 to 7 times stronger than concrete.

Founder of Gjenge Makers, which transforms plastic waste into durable building materials, Matee also designed the machines that manufacture the bricks in her factory.

Getting dumps of plastic low and high-density polyethylene and polypropylene from local packaging plants for free, Gjenge Makers produces a variety of different paving stones after the plastic polymer is heated and mixed with sand.

“There is waste they cannot process anymore; they cannot recycle. That is what we get,” Matee told Reuters.

The result is a line of versatile building materials pressed via hydraulic machine into different thicknesses, that sell in a variety of colors that cost an average of $7.70 per square meter.

Read the original article at Good News Network.

Tesla buys $1.5B in Bitcoin, will begin accepting digital currency as payment soon
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elon Musk is pictured speaking to an audience using a microphone

Originally posted by Associated Press

Holders of Bitcoin may be able to cash in some of their investment in the digital currency for a brand new electric car.

Electric automaker Tesla said Monday that it has invested around $1.5 billion in Bitcoin and it plans to begin accepting the digital currency as payment for its high-end vehicles soon. The price of Bitcoin soared 15.4% to around $44,500 Monday in reaction to Tesla’s announcement, according to CoinBase.

The California-based electric car maker headed by Elon Musk revealed the new strategy in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, saying its investment in digital currency and other “alternative reserve assets” may grow.

Bitcoin has drawn enthusiasts for its scarcity and security, but the volatile digital currency still is not widely used to pay for goods and services. It’s mostly been a store of value, like gold, with some limited merchants like Overstock accepting bitcoin for payment. It’s also used by those distrustful of the banking system or criminals seeking to launder money.

Whether other major companies will follow Tesla’s lead in investing in Bitcoin or accepting it for transactions is unclear. A vehicle is a large purchase, which could make Bitcoin a better fit to pay for it, but the wild price swings in Bitcoin could be a significant risk to any merchant who decided to accept it.

“It was wise of Tesla to announce that it will deem its investment in Bitcoin as an “alternative asset.” That is certainly appropriate, because Bitcoin might be coming into greater acceptance as currency, but it is not cash,” said Anthony Michael Sabino, a professor of law, at St. John’s University.

Tesla said last month that it had cash and cash equivalents of $19.4 billion after selling new shares to take advantage of a rising stock price. Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said the move gives Tesla “more flexibility to further diversify and maximize returns on its cash.”

Tesla is in a unique position to accept digital currencies for payment, since the automaker does not rely on a network of independently owned dealerships to sell its vehicles unlike traditional car companies such as General Motors and Ford.

“It certainly seems that beyond embracing it as a store of value for his own trust or his own assets, it does appear that (Musk is) embracing it as a transactional tool as well,” said Michael Venuto, co-portfolio manager of the Amplify Transformational Data Sharing fund, an exchange-traded fund that tries to invest in digital currency technologies.

Venuto’s fund holds a small amount of Bitcoin but mostly invests in companies that build around such technologies.

Even with Tesla’s support, it could take some time before those who’ve made money investing in Bitcoin to use it to buy a car.

Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.com, doesn’t expect it to become commonplace because most people take loans to buy their vehicles or lease them and don’t pay in cash, said Plus, most people at present would not be comfortable taking a risk with cryptocurrency on such an expensive purchase, she said.

Other experts say it’s just a matter of time before Bitcoin finds more widespread use in transactions.

“I think the trend is inexorable,” said Richard Lyons, a finance professor at the University of California at Berkeley, predicting Bitcoin and other digital currencies “will become transactional currencies increasingly over the next five years. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Whether Tesla will get a definitive competitive advantage in accepting Bitcoin remains to be seen. The automaker could be simply investing in Bitcoin because Musk has been known to have eclectic tastes. Musk launched a Tesla car into space to demonstrate the payload capabilities of his SpaceX company rockets.

Similar to Tesla, Virginia-based MicroStrategy Inc. announced in August that it would use some of the excess cash on its balance sheet to invest in alternative assets such as Bitcoin. The move has paid off so far. As of Feb. 2, the business analytics company said it held 71,079 Bitcoins that it purchased for an aggregate price of $1.15 billion since last summer. Using a value of $44,500, those bitcoins are worth $3.16 billion.

Continue on to the Associated Press to read the complete article.

Why Representation Is So Important In The STEM Industry
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Black girl in the science engineering class

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industry as a whole has a lot of work to do when it comes to adding diversity to its field.

As a Black female meteorologist, I didn’t see myself growing up. Often times, that led to doubt and frustration. But little did I know it was also becoming part of my purpose — giving little girls who look like me an opportunity to see themselves.

The lack of diversity doesn’t only exist in the meteorology field. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industry as a whole has a lot of work to do when it comes to adding diversity to its field.

According to an analysis by Undark, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to Black students in a STEM field peaked in the early 2000s and has been falling ever since.

Abi Olukeye is the founder and CEO of Smart Girls HQ, an organization helping to bridge the gender and resource gap for girls in STEM.

It was support at home,” Olukeye said. “They also felt that their teachers or parents were not supportive of their choice in a STEM career much more than the other students did.”

Olukeye said exposure is key to encouraging more girls into STEM.

According to a recent study conducted by The Girl Scouts, 48% of African-American girls are more likely to know someone in a STEM career compared to 61% of Caucasian girls.

Only 18% of African-American girls have one or both parents in a STEM career compared to 29% of Caucasian girls.

“I think, honestly, it’s exposure as early as possible,” Olukeye said. “But it’s also the intentional safe space to experiment.”

As a mother of two daughters, she pushes her girls to experiment.

It’s not uncommon for me to walk into my freezer, open my freezer and to see a baggy of lotion that’s been frozen because they want to see what happens when you freeze lotion,” Olukeye said.

Read the original article at WCNC.

NASA Pays Tribute to Fallen Heroes with Day of Remembrance
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memorial stone for NASA Fallen Heroes

NASA will honor members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery, including the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, during the agency’s annual Day of Remembrance Thursday, Jan. 28. This year’s NASA Day of Remembrance also marks 35 years since the Challenger tragedy.

“NASA has a unique culture that is fueled by possibility, set on a path to the next giant leap for humanity, and guided by its history,” said NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The lessons of our past are the enduring legacy of the brave women and men who did not put limits on what could

(Image Credit – NASA/Bill Ingalls)

be achieved, and we all recognize the honor of being counted among them as part of the NASA family.”

Jurczyk will lead an observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, which will begin with a traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, followed by observances for the Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia crews.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event will be limited to invited guests and closed to media.

Various NASA centers also will hold observances on the Day of Remembrance. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, attendance will be limited at these events, and CDC-recommended health and safety protocols – including physical distancing and face coverings – will be followed.

Kennedy Space Center, Florida
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, in partnership with The Astronauts Memorial Foundation, will host a Day of Remembrance ceremony at the Space Mirror Memorial at Kennedy’s Visitor Complex with limited in-person invited guests. The ceremony will feature remarks by Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana, as well as retired space shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach, and Astronauts Memorial Foundation President and CEO Thad Altman. The ceremony will livestream at 11 a.m. EST on Kennedy’s Facebook account.

Johnson Space Center, Houston
NASA’s Johnson Space Center will hold a commemoration at the Astronaut Memorial Grove with limited in-person invited guests. The ceremony will feature remarks by Johnson Center Director Mark Geyer, as well as Cheryl McNair, widow of Challenger astronaut Ronald McNair, NASA astronaut Drew Feustel, and former Johnson Center Director George Abbey.

Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will observe Day of Remembrance with a prerecorded observance featuring remarks from Marshall Center Director Jody Singer, NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore, and a moment of silence. The event will appear on Marshall’s YouTube channel and will be shared on the center’s social media account.

Glenn Research Center, Cleveland
NASA’s Glenn Research center will observe Day of Remembrance with a virtual observance for Glenn staff only.

Video and still images of various agency observances will be available at:

https://www.nasa.gov/mediaresources

The agency also is paying tribute to its fallen astronauts with special online content at:

https://www.nasa.gov/dor

Images and multimedia from this year’s events will be added following the events.

Read the original article at NASA.

20 worthwhile conferences for women in tech
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women in tech graphics

Diversity is a hot topic in the tech industry — and because it’s discussed frequently, it might be easy to feel like things have already changed. But according to a recent Women in Technology report from IDC, only 42% of women feel their employer offered equal pay, compared to 75% of men who feel the same.

Additionally, 56% of women feel that women are underrepresented in STEM fields in their organization compared to 26% of men. Women also feel that their workplace is more geared towards men (45%), that there is a lack of support for women in STEM (33%) and

                                                                                                                 (Image Credit – CIO)

that taking time off for family will impact their career opportunities (35%).

Whether you already have a strong network of women colleagues in your industry or if you’re looking to expand your community, there are a number of conferences designed for women in STEM fields. And most of these aren’t just for women — they’re open to allies and anyone who supports diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Here are 20 tech conferences that aim to connect women and other underrepresented groups in technology to build a more diverse community in the tech industry.

Black Women Tech Talk

The Black Women Tech Talk conference is dedicated to founders and offers “self-enriching sessions, networking and one-of-a-kind experiences.” The three-day event includes keynote speakers, sessions on how to practice self-care as a founder, how to balance your personal life and career, and other workshops specific to being a female founder. The retreat also includes less traditional sessions and perks such as free hair and makeup appointments, group yoga sessions, and other networking and social events that give attendees a chance to mingle.

Global Women in Tech Awards

The Women in IT Awards & Summit is a one-day event covering topics such as blockchain, AI and machine learning — there is also an awards gala at the end of the conference. Award categories include CIO of the Year; Advocate of the Year; Entrepreneur of the Year; Future CIO of the Year; Business Role Model of the Year; CTO of the Year; Rising Star; and Diversity Initiative of the Year. The NYC and Silicon Valley conferences were held virtually in 2020 — dates and location for 2021 haven’t been announced yet.

Grace Hopper Celebration

The Grace Hopper Celebration was co-founded by Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney in 1994 and is now the world’s “largest gathering of women technologists,” according to the event website. The conference is named after Admirable Grace Murray Hopper, who is considered the one of the first computer programmers — her work is directly responsible for the development of COBOL.

Read the original article and learn more about tech conferences for women at CIO.

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Upcoming Events

  1. Commercial UAV Expo Americas, Las Vegas
    September 7, 2021 - September 9, 2021
  2. Wonder Women Tech
    October 26, 2021 - October 29, 2021
  3. AEC Next Technology Expo & Conference, International Lidar Mapping Forum, and SPAR 3D Expo & Conference
    February 6, 2022 - February 8, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. Commercial UAV Expo Americas, Las Vegas
    September 7, 2021 - September 9, 2021
  2. Wonder Women Tech
    October 26, 2021 - October 29, 2021
  3. AEC Next Technology Expo & Conference, International Lidar Mapping Forum, and SPAR 3D Expo & Conference
    February 6, 2022 - February 8, 2022