Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Facebook Checks Its Bias

When Facebook recently said it would allow outside reviewers inside its platform to look for signs of racial or political bias, civil liberties and human rights activists politely applauded.

For years, activists have called on tech companies to undergo assessments of how their policies affect people, both in the U.S. and globally. The companies have long rejected those audits as unnecessary.

But now Facebook is inviting outsiders in to look at allegations of racial and political bias.

“It’s better than nothing,” Rebecca MacKinnon said of the Facebook audits. She is director of Ranking Digital Rights a project that evaluates 22 tech and telecommunications firms annually in areas such as privacy, expression and governance.

“There’s increasing pressure on them to do this kind of thing,” MacKinnon added.

Facebook has faced criticism that it has allowed advertisers to use racial and ethnic profiles to target job and housing ads. American political conservatives have complained that Facebook has removed or taken down legitimate content because of its liberal bias, something the company has denied.

Both issues came under scrutiny following the 2016 U.S. election, but activists say the company’s focus on issues mainly concerning American users is overshadowing Facebook’s bigger problems with the platform abroad.

“The audits that Facebook is doing in the U.S., while welcomed, are very U.S.-centered,” said Arvind Ganesan, director of Human Rights Watch’s business and human rights division. “That’s really a response to domestic pressure.”

Call for global assessments

Critics say Facebook’s bias problems do not stop at the U.S. border. They point to the role that the platform is alleged to have played in incidents of mass violence, such as the persecution of ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar in recent years or sectarian violence in Sri Lanka.

The United Nations reported that in the case of violence in Myanmar, Facebook “substantively” contributed to the level of conflict.

Facebook’s News Feed, which highlights content of interest to a user based on the person’s friends and preferences, has also been accused of reinforcing false or inflammatory stories that go viral. That can help extreme viewpoints get in front of a mainstream audience.

Critics say the company is only starting to come to grips with the issue.

“There needs to be an honest, candid, comprehensive assessment,” said HRW’s Ganesan. “What is the panoply of Facebook’s impact?”

Transparency as industry trend

Self-assessments are nothing new for tech firms. Starting with Google in 2010, tech companies began publishing transparency reports that provide snapshots of how governments have turned to firms for user data or issued takedown notices because of copyright infringement or other reasons.

More than 60 companies regularly file transparency reports, according to Access Now, a digital rights group in New York.

Eleven companies, including Google and Facebook, undergo outside assessments every two years by the Global Network Initiative, a nongovernmental organization that looks at how companies are responding to government requests.

In its recent assessment, Ranking Digital Rights, which is a nonprofit research initiative affiliated with the nonpartisan New America Foundation think tank, gave low marks to Facebook for disclosing less information than other tech firms about how it handles data that can be used to identify, profile or track users.

Apple earned the greatest year-over-year score improvement of any company because it “strengthened its public commitment to protecting users’ privacy as a human right,” the report said.

How effective these assessments are in spurring companies to change is unclear. But company-run reports and outside audits can help find and measure problems, human rights advocates say.

“We call on Facebook to engage with stakeholders wherever it impacts human rights — the burden extends globally,” said Peter Micek with Access Now.” It doesn’t make sense from a human rights perspective to treat the U.S. exceptionally.”

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Official: Trump Administration Will Allow AI to ‘Freely Develop’ in US

The Trump administration will not stand in the way of the development of artificial intelligence in the United States, a top official said on Thursday, while acknowledging that the burgeoning technology will displace some jobs.

At a White House summit that included companies like Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., technology policy adviser Michael Kratsios said the administration of President Donald Trump did not want to dictate “what is researched and developed.”

“To the greatest degree possible, we will allow scientists and technologists to freely develop their next great inventions right here in the United States,” he said, according to a copy of his remarks provided by the White House.

AI and deep machine learning raise ethical concerns about control, privacy, cybersecurity, and the future of work, companies and experts say.

Kratsios acknowledged that “to a certain degree, job displacement is inevitable.”

He added: “But we can’t sit idle, hoping eventually the market will sort it out. We must do what Americans have always done: adapt.”

The White House, which has previously clashed with scientists over issues such as climate change, conservation and budget cuts, said it would create a new committee on AI. It will be comprised of the most senior research and development officials across the U.S government, tasked with looking at research and development (R&D) priorities and better coordinating federal investments.

“We cannot be passive. To realize the full potential of AI for the American people, it will require the combined efforts of industry, academia, and government,” Kratsios said.

“In the private sector, we will not dictate what is researched and developed. Instead we will offer resources and the freedom to explore,” he added.

Intel Corp.chief executive Brian Krzanich, who attended the summit, said in a blog post that “without an AI strategy of its own, the world’s technology leader risks falling behind.”

AI is already being used in a number of fields. For instance, the National Institute of Health is exploring ways machine learning can improve cancer detections and treatment, while the General Services Administration is using AI to reduce the need for federal auditors, the White House said.

Among more than 30 major companies attending included officials from Ford Motor Co., Boeing Co., Mastercard Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

The Pentagon and various U.S. departments took part, along with senior White House officials including Jared Kushner and Andrew Bremberg, who heads the Domestic Policy Council. 

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Official: Trump Administration Will Allow AI to ‘Freely Develop’ in US

The Trump administration will not stand in the way of the development of artificial intelligence in the United States, a top official said on Thursday, while acknowledging that the burgeoning technology will displace some jobs.

At a White House summit that included companies like Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., technology policy adviser Michael Kratsios said the administration of President Donald Trump did not want to dictate “what is researched and developed.”

“To the greatest degree possible, we will allow scientists and technologists to freely develop their next great inventions right here in the United States,” he said, according to a copy of his remarks provided by the White House.

AI and deep machine learning raise ethical concerns about control, privacy, cybersecurity, and the future of work, companies and experts say.

Kratsios acknowledged that “to a certain degree, job displacement is inevitable.”

He added: “But we can’t sit idle, hoping eventually the market will sort it out. We must do what Americans have always done: adapt.”

The White House, which has previously clashed with scientists over issues such as climate change, conservation and budget cuts, said it would create a new committee on AI. It will be comprised of the most senior research and development officials across the U.S government, tasked with looking at research and development (R&D) priorities and better coordinating federal investments.

“We cannot be passive. To realize the full potential of AI for the American people, it will require the combined efforts of industry, academia, and government,” Kratsios said.

“In the private sector, we will not dictate what is researched and developed. Instead we will offer resources and the freedom to explore,” he added.

Intel Corp.chief executive Brian Krzanich, who attended the summit, said in a blog post that “without an AI strategy of its own, the world’s technology leader risks falling behind.”

AI is already being used in a number of fields. For instance, the National Institute of Health is exploring ways machine learning can improve cancer detections and treatment, while the General Services Administration is using AI to reduce the need for federal auditors, the White House said.

Among more than 30 major companies attending included officials from Ford Motor Co., Boeing Co., Mastercard Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

The Pentagon and various U.S. departments took part, along with senior White House officials including Jared Kushner and Andrew Bremberg, who heads the Domestic Policy Council. 

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Italian Researchers Develop Lighter, Cheaper Robotic Hand

Italian researchers on Thursday unveiled a new robotic hand they say allows users to grip objects more naturally and featuring a design that will lower the price significantly.

The Hennes robotic hand has a simpler mechanical design compared with other such myoelectric prosthetics, characterized by sensors that react to electrical signals from the brain to the muscles, said researcher Lorenzo De Michieli. He helped develop the hand in a lab backed by the Italian Institute of Technology and the INAIL state workers’ compensation prosthetic center.

The Hennes has only one motor that controls all five fingers, making it lighter, cheaper and more able to adapt to the shape of objects.

“This can be considered low-cost because we reduce to the minimum the mechanical complexity to achieve, at the same time, a very effective grasp, and a very effective behavior of the prosthesis,” De Michieli said. “We maximized the effectiveness of the prosthetics and we minimized the mechanical complexity.”

They plan to bring it to market in Europe next year with a target price of around 10,000 euros ($11,900), about 30 percent below current market prices.

Arun Jayaraman,a robotic prosthetic researcher at the Shirley Ryan Ability lab in Chicago, said the lighter design could help overcome some resistance in users to the myoelectric hands, which to date have been too heavy for some. Italian researchers say the Hennes weighs about the same as a human hand.

In the United States, many amputees prefer the much simpler hook prosthetic, which attaches by a shoulder harness, because it allows them to continue to operate heavy equipment, Jayaraman said.

Italian retiree Marco Zambelli has been testing the Hennes hand for the last three years. He lost his hand in a work accident while still a teenager, and has used a variety of prosthetics over the years. A video presentation shows him doing a variety of tasks, including removing bills from an automated teller machine, grasping a pencil and driving a stick-shift car.

“Driving, for example, is not a problem,” Zambelli, 64, said, who has also learned to use a table knife. “Now I have gotten very good at it. I think anyone who’s not looking with an expert eye would find it difficult to spot that it’s an artificial hand.”

About a dozen labs worldwide are working on improvements to the myoelectric prosthetic, with some focusing on touch, others on improving how the nervous system communicates with the prosthetic.

“Each group is giving baby steps to help the field move forward,” Jayaraman said.

Cost remains a barrier for advanced prosthetic limbs, as well as the fact that the more complex motorized systems tend to be “heavy and fragile. They also get hard to control,” said Robert Gaunt, an assistant professor of rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Hennes design “could make a difference. I think it is a clever approach and one that could see significant benefits for people with missing hands,” he said.

Limitations remain the inability to control individual fingers for tasks like playing the piano or typing on a computer.

“But the vast majority of what many of us do with our hands every day is simply grasp objects,” Gaunt said.

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Italian Researchers Develop Lighter, Cheaper Robotic Hand

Italian researchers on Thursday unveiled a new robotic hand they say allows users to grip objects more naturally and featuring a design that will lower the price significantly.

The Hennes robotic hand has a simpler mechanical design compared with other such myoelectric prosthetics, characterized by sensors that react to electrical signals from the brain to the muscles, said researcher Lorenzo De Michieli. He helped develop the hand in a lab backed by the Italian Institute of Technology and the INAIL state workers’ compensation prosthetic center.

The Hennes has only one motor that controls all five fingers, making it lighter, cheaper and more able to adapt to the shape of objects.

“This can be considered low-cost because we reduce to the minimum the mechanical complexity to achieve, at the same time, a very effective grasp, and a very effective behavior of the prosthesis,” De Michieli said. “We maximized the effectiveness of the prosthetics and we minimized the mechanical complexity.”

They plan to bring it to market in Europe next year with a target price of around 10,000 euros ($11,900), about 30 percent below current market prices.

Arun Jayaraman,a robotic prosthetic researcher at the Shirley Ryan Ability lab in Chicago, said the lighter design could help overcome some resistance in users to the myoelectric hands, which to date have been too heavy for some. Italian researchers say the Hennes weighs about the same as a human hand.

In the United States, many amputees prefer the much simpler hook prosthetic, which attaches by a shoulder harness, because it allows them to continue to operate heavy equipment, Jayaraman said.

Italian retiree Marco Zambelli has been testing the Hennes hand for the last three years. He lost his hand in a work accident while still a teenager, and has used a variety of prosthetics over the years. A video presentation shows him doing a variety of tasks, including removing bills from an automated teller machine, grasping a pencil and driving a stick-shift car.

“Driving, for example, is not a problem,” Zambelli, 64, said, who has also learned to use a table knife. “Now I have gotten very good at it. I think anyone who’s not looking with an expert eye would find it difficult to spot that it’s an artificial hand.”

About a dozen labs worldwide are working on improvements to the myoelectric prosthetic, with some focusing on touch, others on improving how the nervous system communicates with the prosthetic.

“Each group is giving baby steps to help the field move forward,” Jayaraman said.

Cost remains a barrier for advanced prosthetic limbs, as well as the fact that the more complex motorized systems tend to be “heavy and fragile. They also get hard to control,” said Robert Gaunt, an assistant professor of rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Hennes design “could make a difference. I think it is a clever approach and one that could see significant benefits for people with missing hands,” he said.

Limitations remain the inability to control individual fingers for tasks like playing the piano or typing on a computer.

“But the vast majority of what many of us do with our hands every day is simply grasp objects,” Gaunt said.

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A New Silicon Valley is Sprouting in Middle America

Kavitha Kamalbabu needed a break. She had raised her two children and the youngest was now in kindergarten. It was time to turn attention to her career. The 36-year-old wanted to code. The mecca of high tech — Silicon Valley — wasn’t an option because she needed to stay close to home and family in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“I chose Kenzie Academy because of its life project-based learning,” she said.

Kamalbabu is now at the top of her class, getting a two-year degree as a software developer. Kenzie, based in Indianapolis, was established to keep talent in Middle America and to create a mini tech capital.

“Our point is to bring people from Indianapolis to stay in Indianapolis,” said founder Courtney Spence. To do that, they place students in local companies as quickly as possible after their enrollment.

For one class, Kamalbabu, originally from India, found herself asking questions about measuring beer and learning how data increases profit. The class was taking a tour of Steady Serve — a local beer management system that invented a device to measure the content of kegs to reduce waste and fraud.

In the past, CEO Steve Hershberger hired from big universities near Silicon Valley. Now, he needs coders to work on the connection between beer kegs to his iKeg app, and he is choosing interns from Kenzie because of the quality he sees in the candidates.

“It’s like they folded the country and brought San Jose [the heart of Silicon Valley] into Indianapolis.”

By the numbers

Indianapolis is Middle America. Located in the Corn Belt, Indiana is known for its farms — the state’s model is “The Crossroads of America.” City leaders said that perception is changing. Indianapolis deputy mayor of economic development Angela Smith Jones calls Indianapolis “Western Silicon Valley” with a “great startup culture.”

Last year, technology companies in Indianapolis contributed $7.7 billion into the city’s economy and employed 75,000 people.

Job postings for emerging tech are up 40 percent over last year, and the city’s unemployment rate is currently 3 percent, which is lower than the national average.

The average tech industry wage in Indiana is $76,860.

“It’s on the cusp of what we are seeing as being a tech boom,” Spence said.

Not so fast

But students majoring in tech at Stanford University — a research school located in the heart of Silicon Valley — were unimpressed. Freshman Max Comolli said he wouldn’t be enticed to leave California for Indianapolis because of the opportunities and “such a great tech scene already established.”

Masters candidate Diego Garcia said when he thinks of high tech, he thinks of “California or New York, not Indianapolis.” But freshman Alexa White from Detroit, Michigan, thinks a tech capital in the Midwest would “benefit the field” and create diversity.

The gender diversity hasn’t reached Kenzie, although school officials said they actively recruit females. The next class of 18 students starting later this year will have three women. Of the current class, only Kamalbabu and an African American are female.

Statistically, women — and especially women of color — make up a small percentage of the tech field. But 24-year-old Mya Williams called it a “pleasant surprise” when she saw Kamalbabu on the first day of class because she thought she would be the only female. Williams said young girls aren’t encouraged to concentrate in math and science. “They get looked over when it comes to software,” she said.

To Asia and beyond

Kenzie officials plan to duplicate the academy model, starting in Malaysia. Spence goes a step further. “We have a commitment to replicate it around the world,” she said.

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A New Silicon Valley is Sprouting in Middle America

Kavitha Kamalbabu needed a break. She had raised her two children and the youngest was now in kindergarten. It was time to turn attention to her career. The 36-year-old wanted to code. The mecca of high tech — Silicon Valley — wasn’t an option because she needed to stay close to home and family in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“I chose Kenzie Academy because of its life project-based learning,” she said.

Kamalbabu is now at the top of her class, getting a two-year degree as a software developer. Kenzie, based in Indianapolis, was established to keep talent in Middle America and to create a mini tech capital.

“Our point is to bring people from Indianapolis to stay in Indianapolis,” said founder Courtney Spence. To do that, they place students in local companies as quickly as possible after their enrollment.

For one class, Kamalbabu, originally from India, found herself asking questions about measuring beer and learning how data increases profit. The class was taking a tour of Steady Serve — a local beer management system that invented a device to measure the content of kegs to reduce waste and fraud.

In the past, CEO Steve Hershberger hired from big universities near Silicon Valley. Now, he needs coders to work on the connection between beer kegs to his iKeg app, and he is choosing interns from Kenzie because of the quality he sees in the candidates.

“It’s like they folded the country and brought San Jose [the heart of Silicon Valley] into Indianapolis.”

By the numbers

Indianapolis is Middle America. Located in the Corn Belt, Indiana is known for its farms — the state’s model is “The Crossroads of America.” City leaders said that perception is changing. Indianapolis deputy mayor of economic development Angela Smith Jones calls Indianapolis “Western Silicon Valley” with a “great startup culture.”

Last year, technology companies in Indianapolis contributed $7.7 billion into the city’s economy and employed 75,000 people.

Job postings for emerging tech are up 40 percent over last year, and the city’s unemployment rate is currently 3 percent, which is lower than the national average.

The average tech industry wage in Indiana is $76,860.

“It’s on the cusp of what we are seeing as being a tech boom,” Spence said.

Not so fast

But students majoring in tech at Stanford University — a research school located in the heart of Silicon Valley — were unimpressed. Freshman Max Comolli said he wouldn’t be enticed to leave California for Indianapolis because of the opportunities and “such a great tech scene already established.”

Masters candidate Diego Garcia said when he thinks of high tech, he thinks of “California or New York, not Indianapolis.” But freshman Alexa White from Detroit, Michigan, thinks a tech capital in the Midwest would “benefit the field” and create diversity.

The gender diversity hasn’t reached Kenzie, although school officials said they actively recruit females. The next class of 18 students starting later this year will have three women. Of the current class, only Kamalbabu and an African American are female.

Statistically, women — and especially women of color — make up a small percentage of the tech field. But 24-year-old Mya Williams called it a “pleasant surprise” when she saw Kamalbabu on the first day of class because she thought she would be the only female. Williams said young girls aren’t encouraged to concentrate in math and science. “They get looked over when it comes to software,” she said.

To Asia and beyond

Kenzie officials plan to duplicate the academy model, starting in Malaysia. Spence goes a step further. “We have a commitment to replicate it around the world,” she said.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!