Last month, I picked up The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies, a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Fritz. Fritz looks closely at the rise of prestige TV shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, as well as mega-franchises like Disney’s Star Wars and Marvel properties, and what their existence means for the future of Hollywood. He also traces the downfall of former Sony chairperson Amy Pascal following a massive email leak from the studio, and provides a good look at her approach to acquiring and developing films, as the entire film industry grapples with the growth of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.
The Big Picture is equal parts fascinating and horrifying — it suggests that even types of films…
If you’re looking for a career with good job security and a great salary, you need look no further than computer science. We live in an app-based world, after all, where there’s an exponentially growing need for software that meets the needs of our modern-day life. Since 1990, jobs in computer science have grown by 338 percent according to a recent Pew Research Center report, making them the fastest-growing occupations in the United States. These are high-paying jobs too, with a current median salary of more than $ 82,000 (which is almost double the national median income), according to the US Labor Department.
However, while the field of computer science is brimming with opportunity, women and minorities fill a disproportionately small number of these positions. According to the Pew report, only 7 percent of computer jobs are filled by African Americans and 7 percent by Hispanic workers, while these populations comprise 12 percent and 17 percent of the US labor force, respectively. The report found that while women in the states have come close to closing the overall labor force gap (now filling 47 percent of jobs), their percentage in computer-related jobs has actually dropped from 32 to 25 percent in the past three decades. The study observes an interesting correlation: since personal computers came out and the public perception set in that they’re primarily the domain of white male gamers, the percentage of women in computer fields has steadily dropped.
Big tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook have been in the national spotlight in recent years for their unequal employment of women and minorities, and many of them have launched programs to increase diversity in their workforces in response. Even while the public criticizes these programs for not doing enough (Google employs women in just 20 percent of its tech positions and Apple in just 23 percent), there has simultaneously been a backlash, culminating in a leaked internal memo written by ex-Google engineer James Damore last July claiming that diversity programs at Google resulted in reverse discrimination and that women were inherently less biologically suited to tech jobs.
Amid the din of public debate, the nonprofit Code.org has been addressing the diversity gap where it begins—at school. Twin brothers Hadi and Ali Partovi launched Code.org in 2013 after immigrating from Iran. Formerly a developer for Microsoft before becoming CEO of Code.org, Hadi said he experienced first-hand how computer science could change the trajectory of your life. Now he spends his time trying to bring computer science courses to every public school. Code.org has developed curriculums, online courses, and outreach programs that focus on including girls and students of color from kindergarten through high school. Their success has been outstanding: they’ve reached 500 million students with their Hour of Code events, they’ve prepped 72,000 new computer science teachers, and helped 40 states change policies to support bringing computer science into classrooms. In a conversation with iPhone Life, Hadi Partovi responds to the diversity backlash and makes the case for why computer science needs women and minorities more than ever.
Encouraging girls and underrepresented minorities to learn computer science is a central part of your mission. Why is that important? This is important not only because computer science leads to the best paying careers, but because in the 21st century, a basic high school background in computer science will be increasingly foundational to every career. Yet girls and students of color are still systematically left behind in this critical field. We’re addressing the problem by making sure every school teaches computer science and by providing a curriculum and teacher prep program that ensures the class is offered in a way that addresses equity and diversity at the core.
What are some of the causes you see as contributing to the gender gap and underrepresentation of people of color in computer programming? Our focus is on the diversity gap in K–12 education. There are three factors that contribute to the problem in our school systems:
1) Equal Access: Most schools don’t even offer computer science courses. This is particularly true in underprivileged urban and rural schools. If the course isn’t even offered, the students never get the opportunity to study it. Consider this: black students are more interested in studying computer science, but they are less likely to attend a school that offers it. Computer science is the most-valued subject in all education, and we believe students should have equal access to study it.
2) Biases and Stereotypes: Where computer science is offered, it’s most often an elective. And with no concerted efforts to recruit diversity, preconceived stereotypes are perpetuated through self-selection, or even through school efforts that reflect the unconscious biases of society. With few to no role models, girls and underrepresented minorities make the assumption that computer science is not for them.
3) Math-Focused Curriculum: Traditionally computer science has been taught as a math course, and that only attracts one type of student. By broadening the focus to include creativity, app-making, and social impact, we also broaden the participation by students who previously didn’t consider this an interesting course.
Students complete coding exercises using Code.org’s curriculums. Less than half of America’s schools offer computer science courses, but Code.org’s CEO Hadi Partovi is bent on changing that. “We’re addressing the problem by making sure every school teaches computer science.” Image source: Code.org
How are you working to close the diversity gap? Code.org works to get computer science taught in K–12 schools. When we began our work, only about 10 percent of schools offered computer science classes, and now it’s close to 50 percent. Code.org creates the world’s most popular computer science curriculum for K–12 schools, and we enlist schools and prepare teachers to teach our courses, with a specific focus on equity and diversity. To address stereotypes and biases, Code.org organizes widespread marketing and awareness campaigns, such as the global Hour of Code during Computer Science Educations Week that encourage diverse participation and feature diverse role models. Our professional learning programs feature sessions that help educators understand the importance of diversity and address ways to avoid unintentional biases in interacting and recruiting students. The results speak for themselves: 25 percent of all students in the United States now have accounts on the Code.org platform. Close to 12 million of them are girls. Our students are almost half female, almost half underrepresented minorities. Our diversity numbers and scale are unprecedented because of the incredible work of almost a million teachers who offer our courses as part of the K–12 school system.
In James Damore’s memo, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” Damore makes the argument that women are less inherently interested or even capable in tech. What is your response to this? Debating this, or even asking this question, is offensive to women. A 2016 study from the University of Toronto shows that genes make no difference in the ability to learn computer science. There is no evidence that biological factors hold women back from learning to code. UCLA research shows that the way computer science is taught in schools disadvantages women. The problems we witness over and over again are accessibility and social stereotyping. Code.org’s own research shows that just a single Hour of Code activity can boost girls’ attitude and confidence toward coding, by simply trying our courses, which are designed to break traditional stereotypes.
Common sense would suggest that having programmers from different backgrounds would lead to a diversity of ideas. Do you have any examples from your organization that support this notion? Code.org’s own team is mostly female, our leadership team is gender balanced, and even our tech team boasts better gender diversity than the industry average. We believe this has played a large role in the diversity results our courses show in America’s classrooms. We also pilot our courses and our ideas with a nationwide network of about 400 teaching experts that also bring a diversity of opinions. I’ve seen tech companies make embarrassing product design decisions because the design team didn’t have diversity in mind, and we’ve never had that problem at Code.org.
Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi (pictured above) and his brother Ali launched their education nonprofit in 2013. After immigrating from Iran and becoming a developer for Microsoft before founding Code.org, Hadi has experienced first-hand how computer science can change the trajectory of a person’s life. Now he spends his time trying to bring computer science courses to every K–12 school. Image source: Code.org
In a Reddit thread last August, James Damore criticized organizations including Girls Who Code and Code.org for encouraging a “women are victims” narrative. He also accused you of making coding look more “people oriented than it really is” in order to attract more women. What is your response to these criticisms? Code.org doesn’t try to increase diversity in computer science by faking what it’s about, or by dumbing it down, or by coloring it pink, so to speak. We achieve diversity by broadening access, by teaching computer science as early as kindergarten before stereotypes kick in, and by expanding it from being a math course to include app-making and creativity. Our students pass the high school A.P. computer science exam in larger numbers than any other group, and with strong diversity. Our results speak for themselves.
Do you believe it’s possible that the gender gap is not evidence of discrimination or unequal opportunity? Why or why not? It could be wrong to assume that unequal outcomes are only a result of unequal opportunity. But when the majority of schools don’t even offer the opportunity to study computer science, and this access is particularly limited in underprivileged urban and rural neighborhoods, the data easily shows that inequality of opportunity is the problem.
How can we create tech workplaces that are more welcoming to all employees? At Code.org, we strive to create a workplace that makes employees feel included regardless of gender, race, age, or politics. This isn’t just about policies like paid family leave or unconscious bias training for employees, but it’s also about considering inclusivity as a core goal of the organization that employees genuinely take to heart.
What hiring practices do you use to promote diversity? Considering there are fewer women and minorities entering the computer science workforce, do you find balancing your diversity efforts with a more merit-based approach to be a conflict of interest? Diversity is a core value at Code.org, and we strive for a diverse workforce to the extent that we can. We don’t consider it a matter of balancing diversity with a more merit-based approach—that implies that we compromise one for the other. It’s a matter of making the best effort to staff a team that is diverse and has merit. The most important tactics we use are to proactively recruit diverse candidates and to screen resumes without knowing the race or gender of applicants to prevent unconscious bias. As one example, when we were hiring software engineers from university, we hid their names when screening the resumes, and afterwards when we looked at the names we picked, our best candidates were women. We hired two of them.
Your local rag has far more value to your community than reporting on the best pancake joint or the complaints of that guy who had his yard TP’d. True story, read all about it: Local newspapers are actually valuable tools for science.
A recent STAT article highlighted one surprising use of local newspapers: tracking the outbreak of infectious disease. Epidemiologists use local papers to identify outbreaks in their infant stages — way before they’re big enough to make national papers — and forecasting how they might evolve.
For example, computational epidemiologist Maia Majumder told STAT local newspapers were essential when she and her colleagues at the HealthMap disease projection project tried figuring out the source of a 2016-2017 outbreaks of mumps in northwestern Arkansas. While it was difficult to get data from the Arkansas Department of Public Health, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette freely provided Majumder with the context she needed: the region had the highest rate of vaccine refusal in the state, and that the disease was spreading within a community of Marshall Islands immigrants even though they’d been vaccinated.
Yet local newspapers are also vanishing in many places, thanks to falling readership. A recent data project by the Columbia Journalism Review shows that many parts of the United States, particularly in the Midwest, Southeast, and Alaska, have zero local newspapers to rely on. Epidemiologists are worried that this data gap could lead to researchers missing outbreaks, or create gaps in their patterns of how diseases spread, which can make it difficult to control.
But disease outbreaks aren’t the only data point that scientific research can target using local newspapers. Local papers have also been essential in tracking the impacts and unspoken threats from broader changes, like climate change.
In Houston, The Texas Tribune became famous for a seemingly “psychic” article that predicted the city’s unchecked growth and proximity to a warming Gulf of Mexico would soon leave it vulnerable to a hurricane. A little more than a year later, Hurricane Harvey hit, devastating Houston. But, it was pointed out, the Tribune‘s writers weren’t consulting a crystal ball when they wrote their piece; “It was the natural outgrowth of great journalism by reporters who know their subjects and communities well and have covered these issues extensively.”
Reporters that know and can follow up on changes and rumors only told around town as local reporters can are able to see trends too minimal for major papers to pick up on. They also track shifts based on local interest, providing record of change as a process (rather than one only characterized by disaster). For example, research found that local newspapers have increased their sea level rise coverage at a higher rate than that of larger papers since 2012, with The Miami Herald’s coverage of the topic passing up that of The New York Times.
The context that local news provides is especially important given the “shifting baselines” that come with climate change. This term refers to our tendency to adjust our expectations based on what we see as our current reality. As eloquently described by fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly, who coined the term in 1995: “We transform the world, but we don’t remember it. We adjust our baseline to the new level, and we don’t recall what was there … Every generation will use the images that they got at the beginning of their conscious lives as a standard and will extrapolate forward.”
A recent survey by the Society of Environmental Journalists found that nearly 7 of 10 respondents were “very interested” in covering the local angle of climate change, but nearly 6 of 10 said downsizing in their organization makes it more difficult to do so. Making that possible is up to readers everywhere. Journalism is part of our collective memory, but without support of local news, we risk having some serious gaps in recall.
American tech giant IBM has unveiled a new data science and machine learning app-building platform to help companies tap into the benefits of artificial intelligence.
The system, called Cloud Private for Data, uses an in-memory database that can ingest and analyse a million data points a second, and offers companies access to a range of data science and app-building tools.
With the new platform, organisations can gain previously unobtainable insights from their data, and build and exploit “event-driven applications” that take data from IoT sensors and mobile devices, said the company in an announcement.
The service is part of IBM’s new Cloud Private offering, which the vendor describes as a “transformative private cloud platform that provides the benefits of the public cloud from the safety of your firewall-protected data centre”.
The fully integrated system is built on Kubernetes-based container architecture. Dedicated versions of the platform will be available for sectors such as financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing.
Tapping into AI
Rob Thomas, general Manager of IBM Analytics, said the new system will make it easier for companies to make use of AI technologies.
“Whether they are aware of it or not, every company is on a journey to AI as the ultimate driver of business transformation,” he said.
“But for them to get there, they need to put in place an information architecture for collecting, managing, and analysing their data.
“With today’s announcements, we are planning to bring the AI destination closer and give access to powerful machine learning and data science technologies that can turn data into game-changing insight.”
The Cloud Private Data solution works with other IBM applications, such as Data Science Experience, Information Analyser, Information Governance Catalogue, Data Stage, DB2 and DB2 Warehouse.
IBM said companies can use these capabilities to “quickly discover insights from their core business data, while keeping that data in a protected, controlled environment”.
To coincide with the platform’s launch, the company has established a dedicated data science team to help companies get the most out of big data analytics.
Patricia Maqetuka, chief data officer of Nedbank Ltd, said her company is able to make sense of growing data streams via the platform.
“Nedbank has a long tradition of using analytics on internal, structured data. More data is available now than has ever been available before, and analytical tooling has undergone rapid evolution in order to keep up,” she said.
“Nedbank has embarked on a journey to start leveraging both internal and external data, creating new data driven business models and new sources of revenue.”
She added: “Thanks to the first IBM Analytics University Live we were exposed to the guidance and counsel of IBM’s Elite team.
“This team helped us to unlock new paradigms about how we think about our analytics and change the way we look at use cases to unlock business value.”
Internet of Business says
“Every company is on a journey to AI as the ultimate driver of business transformation” could be a description of IBM itself in the 21st Century. Under Virginia Rometty’s leadership, ‘Big Blue’ has reoriented itself around cognitive services, with offerings such as its Watson AI and natural language processing system available in the cloud, along with quantum computing.
As is the case with similar moves by Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and Salesforce, the aim is to help organisations apply greater intelligence and analysis to their reams of data.
One new startup promises to kill all of its users. With support from the startup accelerator Y Combinator, Nectome wants to preserve your brain and upload as much of “you” as they can, long after your physical body is gone. Their website boldly asks: “What if we told you we could back up your mind?”
They have so far successfully used their solution to preserve the connectome, which encompasses all of the neural connections, in a rabbits’ brain, and they hope that humans may be next.
Cool, right? Actually, there’s a catch. As Robert McIntyre, Nectome’s co-founder, clarified to Technology Review, their technique is “100 percent fatal.” Nectome is excited that their unique work sets them apart, but no matter how groundbreaking your scientific achievements are, you can’t just go around killing people.
To get around this tricky issue, the company is working with lawyers familiar with California’s two-year-old End of Life Option Act which allows terminally ill patients to choose to end their lives with medical assistance. They believe that were they allowed to do so, many of those suffering from terminal illnesses would welcome the chance to take advantage of Nectome’s preservation technique.
Volunteers would be connected to a heart-lung machine and put under general anesthesia. They would then have the company’s chemical solution pumped into large arteries in their necks. They would be alive for the procedure, but not for long.
This procedure might seem terrifying, but the startup already has a waiting list. It is impossible to say whether or not Nectome’s efforts will eventually succeed, as they are working off of the assumption that scientists will figure out how to digitize consciousness at some point in the future. Still, people who signed up for the “service” clearly hope that after death they may one day “wake up” as a version of themselves in a new, digital life.
The new Disney film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 book A Wrinkle in Timefollows awkward teen Meg Murry (Storm Reid) as she hopscotches through the universe in search of her father, NASA scientist Dr. Alex Murry. Dr. Murry (Chris Pine) had disappeared years earlier, and Meg tracks him down with a combination of science and the supernatural — one that Brown University physicist Stephon Alexander helped shape.