Chinese Companies Hunt for AI Talent at American Conference ( 73

Chinese internet players have flocked to a research conference on artificial intelligence here, fighting to attract students from their home country who received a top-notch education in the U.S. From a report: Chinese is the language of choice among 34 company and group booths occupying prime real estate near the entrance to the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference, opened Friday. Native speakers represent companies including virtual mall operator Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings, which runs the communication platform WeChat. They woo students, mainly of Chinese origin, with descriptions of comfortable jobs or invite them to attend parties. The intense competition reflects the great strides China has made in the field. This year, the AAAI received research submissions in record numbers -- at least 3,800. Entries from China increased 57% on the year to a level roughly even with those from the U.S. Moreover, Chinese researchers were involved with about 60% of the research posters on display -- a privilege given to selected papers. The research poster exhibition was sponsored by Chinese internet company Baidu.

Facebook Hired a Full-Time Pollster To Monitor Zuckerberg's Approval Ratings ( 109

According to The Verge, Facebook hired a full-time pollster to track Mark Zuckerberg's approval ratings last year as the young CEO was making his 50-state tour across the country. The pollster, Tavis McGinn, reportedly "decided to leave the company after only six months after coming to believe that Facebook had a negative effect on the world." From the report: It was April, and Facebook was caught up in the fallout of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. After initially discounting the possibility that fake news had contributed to Donald Trump's victory, Facebook acknowledged that Russia-linked groups had spent more than $100,000 on political advertising. Zuckerberg undertook a nationwide listening tour modeled after a modern political campaign. McGinn would fill another role common to political campaigns: leading an ongoing poll operation dedicated to tracking minute changes in Zuckerberg's public perception. "It was a very unusual role," McGinn says. "It was my job to do surveys and focus groups globally to understand why people like Mark Zuckerberg, whether they think they can trust him, and whether they've even heard of him. That's especially important outside of the United States."

McGinn tracked a wide range of questions related to Zuckerberg's public perception. "Not just him in the abstract, but do people like Mark's speeches? Do they like his interviews with the press? Do people like his posts on Facebook? It's a bit like a political campaign, in the sense that you're constantly measuring how every piece of communication lands. If Mark's doing a barbecue in his backyard and he hops on Facebook Live, how do people respond to that?" Facebook worked to develop an understanding of Zuckerberg's perception that went beyond simple "thumbs-up" or "thumbs-down" metrics, McGinn says. "If Mark gives a speech and he's talking about immigration and universal health care and access to equal education, it's looking at all the different topics that Mark mentions and seeing what resonates with different audiences in the United States," he says. "It's very advanced research."

Social Networks

Former Google/Facebook/Mozilla Employees Will Fight Addictive Technologies ( 121

An anonymous reader quotes Quartz: A new alliance made up of former Silicon Valley cronies has aseembled to challenge the technological Frankenstein they've collectively created. The Center for Humane Technology is a group comprising former employees and pals of Google, Facebook, and Mozilla. The nonprofit launches today (Feb. 4) in the hopes that it can raise awareness about the societal tolls of technology, which its members believe are inherently addictive. The group will lobby for a bill to research the effects of technology on children's health... On Feb. 7, the group's members will participate in a conference focused on digital health for kids, hosted by the nonprofit Common Sense.
The group also plans an anti-tech addiction ad campaign at 55,000 schools across America, and has another $50 million in media airtime donated by partners which include Comcast and DirecTV.

The group's co-founder, a former Google design ethicist, told Quartz that tech companies "profit by drilling into our brains to pull the attention out of it, by using persuasion techniques to keep [us] hooked." And the group's web page argues that "What began as a race to monetize our attention is now eroding the pillars of our society: mental health, democracy, social relationships, and our children."

Gates On a Plane: Alaska Airlines Inflight Entertainment Stars Bill Gates ( 50

theodp writes: On Tuesday, it was announced that Alaska Airlines will make a new series of six short videos starring Microsoft's Bill Gates on How Computers Work available as inflight entertainment. "Because students and adults alike can learn from these videos," wrote CEO Hadi Partovi, "we are pleased to announce Khan Academy and Alaska Airlines will make them available beyond classrooms."
The original submission notes that Gates (and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) have contributed millions to both educational groups, but Alaska Airlines calls the videos "entertaining and approachable," and says they'll start appearing on their flights in April.

But the videos are also available online, and besides Gates also feature appearances by former Apple designer May Li Khoe and Nat Brown, one of the creators of Microsoft's Xbox gaming system.

YouTube Will Put Disclaimers On State-Funded Broadcasts To Fight Propaganda ( 126

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: YouTube's latest strategy to fight the spread of misinformation involves putting a disclaimer on videos from certain news sources. The online video website announced it will start labeling videos posted by state-funded broadcasters to alert viewers that the content is, in some part, funded by a government source. YouTube will begin labeling videos today, and the policy extends to outlets including the US's Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the Russian government broadcaster RT. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, PBS videos will now have the label "publicly funded American broadcaster," while RT will have this disclaimer: "RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government." The new policy is YouTube's way of informing viewers about where the content they're watching is coming from, a piece of information often hidden or left unsought by the viewers themselves. "The principle here is to provide more information to our users, and let our users make the judgment themselves, as opposed to us being in the business of providing any sort of editorial judgment on any of these things ourselves," YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan told the WSJ.

This Chinese Math Problem Has No Answer. Perhaps, It Has a Lot of Them. ( 443

Fifth-graders in China's Shunqing district were recently asked to answer this question: "If a ship had 26 sheep and 10 goats on board, how old is the ship's captain?" The Washington Post: The apparently unsolvable question sparked a debate over the merits of the Chinese education system and the value it places on the memorization of information over the importance of developing critical thinking skills. "Some surveys show that primary school students in our country lack a sense of critical awareness in regard to mathematics," a statement by the Shunqing Education Department posted Jan. 26 reportedly said. One student offered a pragmatic law-abiding answer: "The captain is at least 18 because he has to be an adult to drive the ship." Meanwhile on Twitter, some have gone with 42, a reference to the science fiction novel "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," by Douglas Adams, in which 42 is the "Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything." BBC: "If a school had 26 teachers, 10 of which weren't thinking, how old is the principal?" another asked. Some however, defended the school -- which has not been named -- saying the question promoted critical thinking. "The whole point of it is to make the students think. It's done that," one person commented. "This question forces children to explain their thinking and gives them space to be creative. We should have more questions like this," another said.

High School Computer Science: Look Ma, No Textbooks! 110

theodp writes: Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson wonders how other high school CS teachers use textbooks. "It's not a conversation I hear much about," he writes. Indeed, many teachers apparently don't rely on CS textbooks much at all. In fact, the highly-touted new AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) course does not require a CS textbook for students (sample College Board AP CSP syllabus), albeit to the chagrin of some. Some of the bigger providers of AP CSP curriculum -- e.g., BJC and, both of whom partner with Microsoft TEALS -- don't require a traditional CS textbook. But with teachers being recruited to teach Computer Science even if they don't have a CS background, should students learning CS have a textbook? Or is the high AP exam pass rate enjoyed by AP CSP students proof that no-more-books works?
The Almighty Buck

How a PhD Student Unlocked 1 Bitcoin Hidden In DNA ( 58

dmoberhaus writes: A 26-year-old Belgian PhD student named Sander Wuytz recently solved a 3-year-old puzzle that had locked the private key to 1 Bitcoin in a strand of synthetic DNA. Motherboard spoke with the student about how they managed to crack the puzzle, just days before it was set to expire. From the report: "As detailed by Nick Goldman, a researcher at the European Bioinformatics Institute, in his pioneering Nature paper on DNA storage, to encode information into DNA you take a text or binary file and rewrite it in base-3 (so rather than just ones and zeroes, there are zeroes, ones, and twos). This is then used to encode the data in the building blocks of life, the four nucleobases cytosine, thymine, adenine and guanine. As Wuyts explained to me, coding the data as nucleobases depended upon which nucleobase came before. So, for instance, if the previous base was adenine and the next pieces of data is a 0, it is coded as cytosine. If the next piece of data is a 1, it's coded as guanine, and so on. After the data is encoded as synthetic DNA fragments, these fragments are used to identify and read the actual files stored in the DNA. In the case of the Bitcoin challenge, there were a total of nine files contained in the DNA fragments. The files were encrypted with a keystream, which is a random series of characters that is included with the actual plain text message to obfuscate its meaning. The keystream code had been provided by Goldman in a document explaining the competition.

After running the code, Wuyts was able to combine the DNA fragments in the correct order to form one long piece of DNA. After working out some technical kinks, Wuyts was able to convert the DNA sequence into plain text, revealing the private key and unlocking the bitcoin (as well as some artefacts, including a drawing of James Joyce and the logo for the European Bioinformatics Institute). He had cracked the puzzle just five days before it was set to expire."

United States

The US Drops Out of the Top 10 In Innovation Ranking ( 364

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The U.S. dropped out of the top 10 in the 2018 Bloomberg Innovation Index for the first time in the six years the gauge has been compiled. South Korea and Sweden retained their No. 1 and No. 2 rankings. The index scores countries using seven criteria, including research and development spending and concentration of high-tech public companies. The U.S. fell to 11th place from ninth mainly because of an eight-spot slump in the post-secondary, or tertiary, education-efficiency category, which includes the share of new science and engineering graduates in the labor force. Value-added manufacturing also declined. Improvement in the productivity score couldn't make up for the lost ground.

South Korea remained the global-innovation gold medalist for the fifth consecutive year. China moved up two spots to 19th, buoyed by its high proportion of new science and engineering graduates in the labor force and increasing number of patents by innovators such as Huawei Technologies Co. Japan, one of three Asian nations in the top 10, rose one slot to No. 6. France moved up to ninth from 11th, joining five other European economies in the top tier. Israel rounded out this group and was the only country to beat South Korea in the R&D category. South Africa and Iran moved back into the top 50; the last time both were included was 2014. Turkey was one of the biggest gainers, jumping four spots to 33rd because of improvements in tertiary efficiency, productivity and two other categories. The biggest losers were New Zealand and Ukraine, which each dropped four places. The productivity measure influenced New Zealand's shift, while Ukraine was hurt by a lower tertiary-efficiency ranking.


'Reskilling Revolution Needed for the Millions of Jobs at Risk Due To Technological Disruption' ( 427

A new report, published by The World Economic Forum on Monday estimates that 1.4 million U.S. jobs will be hit by automation between now and 2026. Of those, 57 percent belong to women. Without re-education, 16 percent of affected workers will have no job prospects, the study finds. A further 25 percent would have one to three job options. The report adds The positive finding from the report is that with adequate reskilling, 95% of the most immediately at-risk workers would find good-quality, higher-wage work in growing job families. Report highlights the urgent need for a massive reskilling programme, safety nets to support workers while they reskill, and support with job-matching.

Microsoft Unveils Windows 10 S Laptops Starting at $189 and New Office 365 Tools for Students ( 107

An anonymous reader shares a report: Microsoft today unveiled new Windows 10 S devices from Lenovo and JP, starting at $189, aimed at the education market. The company also announced new Office 365 learning tools for students. The news mirrors Microsoft's firstline workers push in September, which saw new Windows 10 S devices starting at $275. The company is now simply doing the same as part of its latest EDU push, and it's not mincing words when it comes to explaining its target audience: "schools who don't want to compromise on Chromebooks."

Microsoft unveiled four new Windows 10 devices that are all supposed to offer more than Chrome OS. Two are standard laptops: the Lenovo 100e powered by Intel Celeron Apollo Lake for $189 and JP's Classmate Leap T303 with Windows Hello for $199. The other two are 2-in-1s: the Lenovo 300e convertible with pen support for $279 and the Trigono V401 with pen and touch for $299. All four are spill resistant, ruggedized for students, and promise long battery life to avoid having wires all over the classroom.


Tim Cook: 'I Don't Want My Nephew on a Social Network' ( 93

Tim Cook, speaking at Harlow college in Essex, shared his views on the limits on technology and social media he feels should be imposed on kids. He said: "I don't believe in overuse [of technology]. I'm not a person that says we've achieved success if you're using it all the time," he said. "I don't subscribe to that at all." Even in computer-aided courses, such as graphic design, technology should not dominate, he said. "There are are still concepts that you want to talk about and understand. In a course on literature, do I think you should use technology a lot? Probably not." The 57-year old chief executive, who took the reins at Apple after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, said the company cared deeply about children outside the classroom. "I don't have a kid, but I have a nephew that I put some boundaries on. There are some things that I won't allow; I don't want them on a social network."

Interviewing the Interviewer ( 94

Terry Gross, NPR's The Fresh Air host, on the art of the Q&A: "People are always projecting things. They're hearing things that weren't said or projecting meaning that was not intended and, perhaps, not even implied. I've gotten both insults and compliments for interviews I've never done. What can you do? There's no way of controlling what people think. I do have a bullshit detector and it's something I'll use, but I do think I try and be empathetic to everyone I interview," said Terry Gross.

More Colleges Than Ever Have Test-Optional Admissions Policies ( 180

Back in the 1980s, Bates College and Bowdoin College were nearly the only liberal arts colleges not to require applicants to submit SAT or ACT test scores. On Jan. 10, FairTest, a Boston-based organization that has been pushing back against America's testing regime since 1985, announced that the number of colleges that are test-optional has now surpassed 1,000. From a report: This milestone means that more than one-third of America's four-year nonprofit colleges now reject the idea that a test score should strongly determine a student's future. The ranks of test-optional institutions include hundreds of prestigious private institutions, such as George Washington, New York University, Wesleyan University and Wake Forest University. The list also includes hundreds of public universities, such as George Mason, San Francisco State and Old Dominion.

Efforts Grow To Help Students Evaluate What They See Online ( 166

Alarmed by the proliferation of false content online, state lawmakers around the country are pushing schools to put more emphasis on teaching students how to tell fact from fiction. From a report: Lawmakers in several states have introduced or passed bills calling on public school systems to do more to teach media literacy skills that they say are critical to democracy. The effort has been bipartisan but has received little attention despite successful legislation in Washington state, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Mexico. Several more states are expected to consider such bills in the coming year, including Arizona, New York and Hawaii.

Advocates say the K-12 curriculum has not kept pace with rapid changes in technology. Studies show many children spend hours every day online but struggle to comprehend the content that comes at them. For years, they have pushed schools to incorporate media literacy -- including the ability to evaluate and analyze sources of information -- into lesson plans in civics, language arts, science and other subjects.


Ask Slashdot: Has Technology Created A Monster? ( 244

Stack Overflow co-founder Jeff Atwood posted a worried blog post on New Year's Eve. Remember in 2011 when Marc Andreeseen said that "Software is eating the world?" That used to sound all hip and cool and inspirational, like "Wow! We software developers really are making a difference in the world!" and now for the life of me I can't read it as anything other than an ominous warning that we just weren't smart enough to translate properly at the time... What do you do when you wake up one day and software has kind of eaten the world, and it is no longer clear if software is in fact an unambiguously good thing, like we thought, like everyone told us... like we wanted it to be?
Slashdot reader theodp adds: "The year 2018 is the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," provocatively notes Dr. Ainissa Ramirez, "in which a scientist neglects to ask about the consequences of his creation. I suspect (and hope) that there will be much debate on the impact of technology on our lives in the numerous lectures and events scheduled this year. It is a long-overdue discussion because scientists sometimes get so excited about their innovations that they forget to ask, 'Am I building a monster?' This anniversary offers a pause to see if society likes where it is headed."
That quote is from a "predictions for 2018" article on the Mach technology site (hosted by NBC News) in which Dr. Moshe Y. Vardi, a Professor of Computer Science at Rice University, also sees a looming debate. He remembers how Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan referred to tech's CEO's as "our country's real overlords" and described them as "moral Martians who operate on some weird new postmodern ethical wavelength."

Keep reading for some even more dire predictions...

A Glitch Stole Christmas: S.C. Lottery Says Error Caused Winning Tickets ( 113

An anonymous reader shares a report: The South Carolina lottery game is called Holiday Cash Add-A-Play, and the rules are pretty simple: Get three Christmas tree symbols in any vertical, horizontal or diagonal line, and you win a prize. Monday was Christmas, and some folks in the Palmetto State were feeling jolly. "I don't play the lottery that much," Nicole Coggins of Liberty, S.C., told local NBC affiliate WYFF. "Every once in a while, I'll buy a Powerball ticket, but something told me to buy a lottery ticket." She paid an extra dollar to add a play. The ticket was a winner, and she was excited.

The station says that as word got out about the sudden proliferation of winning tickets, a frenzy ensued. One store manager told WYFF that "it was crazy" as people hurried to buy the tickets. But the Christmas miracle was too good to be true. The South Carolina Education Lottery says a programming error in its computer system vendor is to blame for so many winning tickets. "From 5:51 p.m. to 7:53 p.m., the same play symbol was repeated in all nine available play areas on tickets which would result in a top prize of $500," the lottery said in a statement Wednesday. "No more than five identical play symbols should appear for a single play. As soon as the issue was identified, the Add-A-Play game was suspended immediately to conduct a thorough investigation."


People Who Know How the News Is Made Resist Conspiratorial Thinking ( 368

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Conspiracy theories, like the world being flat or the Moon landings faked, have proven notoriously difficult to stomp out. Add a partisan twist to the issue, and the challenge becomes even harder. Even near the end of his second term, barely a quarter of Republicans were willing to state that President Obama was born in the U.S. If we're seeking to have an informed electorate, then this poses a bit of a problem. But a recent study suggests a very simple solution helps limit the appeal of conspiracy theories: news media literacy. This isn't knowledge of the news, per se, but knowledge of the companies and processes that help create the news. While the study doesn't identify how the two are connected, its authors suggest that an understanding of the media landscape helps foster a healthy skepticism.

[...] "Despite popular conceptions," the authors point out, "[conspiratorial thinking] is not the sole province of the proverbial nut-job." When mixed in with the sort of motivated reasoning that ideology can, well, motivate, crazed ideas can become relatively mainstream. Witness the number of polls that indicated the majority of Republicans thought Obama wasn't born in the U.S., even after he shared his birth certificate. While something that induces a healthy skepticism of information sources might be expected to help with this, it's certainly not guaranteed, as motivated reasoning has been shown to be capable of overriding education and knowledge on relevant topics.

[...] As a whole, the expected connection held up: "for both conservatives and liberals, more knowledge of the news media system related to decreased endorsement of liberal conspiracies." And, conversely, the people who did agree with conspiracy theories tended to know very little about how the news media operated.


The Last Man on Earth To Speak His Language ( 177

From a report: An elderly man in Peru named Amadeo Garcia Garcia is the last person on earth to speak his native language, Taushiro, the NY Times' Nicholas Casey reports in a remarkable long-read. A combination of disease and exploitation have led the Taushiro, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in the Amazon, to the verge of extinction. In the last century, at least 37 languages have disappeared in Peru alone, lost in the steady clash and churn of national expansion, migration, urbanization and the pursuit of natural resources.

Cash Might Be King, but They Don't Care ( 679

In Midtown and some other neighborhoods across New York City, cashless is fast on its way to becoming normal, The New York Times reports, sharing anecdotes where merchants have refused to accept bills from customers (the link may be paywalled). From the report: Cashless businesses were once an isolated phenomenon, but now, similarly jarring experiences can be had across the street at Sweetgreen, or two blocks up at Two Forks, or next door to Two Forks at Dos Toros, or over on 41st Street at Bluestone Lane coffee. In the future, when dollar bills are found only in museum display cases, we will look back on this moment of transition and confusion with the same head-shaking smile with which we regard customs on the Isle of Yap in Micronesia, where giant stone discs are still accepted as payment for particularly big-ticket items. Some people already live in this cashless future. They find nothing strange about paying for a pack of gum with a swipe of a card. If you are one of these people and you are still somehow reading this article, you may be thinking, "What on earth is the big deal?" At Two Forks on 40th Street, where the lunch offerings have cheery names like Squash Goals, Kristin Junco, a 34-year-old auditor for the state Education Department, said she had not used cash for about a week and much prefers a cashless establishment to its opposite. "We travel a lot for work," she said, gesturing to a colleague, "and if they don't take credit cards that makes things difficult." [...] Not surprisingly, the credit card companies, who make a commission on every credit card purchase, applaud the trend. Visa recently offered select merchants a $10,000 reward for depriving customers of their right to pay by the method of their choice. A Visa executive described this practice to CNN as offering shoppers "freedom from carrying cash."

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