Education

H-1B Visa Alternative 'OPT' Grew 400 Percent In Eight Years, Report Finds 185

theodp writes: Almost 1.5 million foreign students have been allowed to stay and work in the U.S. after graduation as part of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which is now larger than the controversial H-1B program (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). According to new Pew Research analysis of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the number of students authorized to work under OPT has grown 400% since the federal government in 2008 increased the amount of time graduates with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees could remain in the United States and work. More than half of those working under OPT from 2004 to 2016 were in STEM fields, Pew found, and as a result, were eligible for the so-called STEM extension.

The OPT program added a 17-month STEM extension in 2008, shortly after Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates suggested it in testimony to Congress after complaining that the cap for the H-1B program had caused a serious disruption in the flow of talented STEM graduates to U.S. companies. In 2016, another 12-month extension was added after a Federal judge threatened to torpedo the STEM extension program, saying it "appears to have been adopted directly from the unanimous suggestions by Microsoft and similar industry groups." In its Top Ten Tech Issues for 2018, Microsoft expressed "concern that in 2018 the White House will announce a rollback of the extended period of Optional Practical Training for STEM graduates." Pew also took note of allegations that "visa mills" have sprung up in response to demand driven by the OPT program.
Transportation

Tesla's Engineering Chief Takes Leave of Absence (wsj.com) 57

Tesla's senior vice president of engineering, Doug Field, is taking a leave of absence from the company (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) at a crucial moment when the electric-car maker is struggling to boost production of the Model 3 sedan. While Tesla declined to say when he would come back, one person familiar with the matter described the absence as a "six-week sabbatical." The Wall Street Journal reports: Mr. Field has been a key leader at Silicon Valley auto maker since joining in 2013 from Apple. He oversees the engineering of Tesla's vehicles, and last year he was also given oversight of production to better align the two efforts. That changed this spring when Chief Executive Elon Musk acknowledge he retook control of production. The Silicon Valley auto maker is at a critical juncture as it tries to produce enough Model 3 cars to generate cash to fund the business and instill confidence in investors the company can create its first mass-market vehicle.

Tesla has a history of key executives departing on so-called sabbaticals. Jerome Guillen, Tesla's current vice president of truck and programs, for example, took a sabbatical in 2015 from his role as vice president of worldwide sales and service only to return in the new role. He had led development of the Model S sedan. The hiring of Mr. Field from Apple, where he was vice president of Mac hardware engineering, was touted as a win for Mr. Musk who had big ambitions for the electric-car company. Mr. Field had also worked at Ford and Segway, giving him unique experience in both the tech and autos industry.

Education

Carnegie Mellon Launches Undergraduate Degree In AI (cmu.edu) 76

Earlier this week, Carnegie Mellon University announced plans to offer an undergrad degree in artificial intelligence. The news may be especially attractive for students given how much tech giants have been ramping up their AI efforts in the recent years, and how U.S. News & World Report ranked Carnegie Mellon University as the No. 1 graduate school for AI. An anonymous reader shares the announcement with us: Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science will offer a new undergraduate degree in artificial intelligence beginning this fall, providing students with in-depth knowledge of how to transform large amounts of data into actionable decisions. SCS has created the new AI degree, the first offered by a U.S. university, in response to extraordinary technical breakthroughs in AI and the growing demand by students and employers for training that prepares people for careers in AI.

The bachelor's degree program in computer science teaches students to think broadly about methods that can accomplish a wide variety of tasks across many disciplines, said Reid Simmons, research professor of robotics and computer science and director of the new AI degree program. The bachelor's degree in AI will focus more on how complex inputs -- such as vision, language and huge databases -- are used to make decisions or enhance human capabilities, he added. AI majors will receive the same solid grounding in computer science and math courses as other computer science students. In addition, they will have additional course work in AI-related subjects such as statistics and probability, computational modeling, machine learning, and symbolic computation. Simmons said the program also would include a strong emphasis on ethics and social responsibility. This will include independent study opportunities in using AI for social good, such as improving transportation, health care or education.

Privacy

The Tech Used To Monitor Inmate Calls Is Able To Track Civilians Too (thedailybeast.com) 35

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Daily Beast: Securus Technologies' programs are used in thousands of prisons and detention centers nationwide to track calls to inmates, but the company's offerings are also capable of tracking and geolocating people's cellphones without any warrant or oversight, The New York Times reports. Securus obtains location information though data from major cellphone providers the same way marketers do. It also advertises the technology to law-enforcement agencies as a tool to find murder suspects, missing people, and those at-large -- but the feature can easily be abused for access to millions of cellphone users.

One Missouri sheriff used the service at least 11 times between 2014 and 2017, and secretly tracked state highway patrol members and a judge, prosecutors said. While the company said it "required customers to upload a legal document" to certify the location lookup, the Federal Communications Commission claims Securus did not "conduct any review of surveillance requests" -- giving law enforcement tracking power without verification of approval or oversight.

AI

Google's 'Duplex' System Will Identify Itself When Talking To People, Says Google (businessinsider.com) 77

Google's "Duplex" AI system was the most talked about product at Google I/O because it called into question the ethics of an AI that cannot easily be distinguished from a real person's voice. The service lets its voice-based digital assistant make phone calls and write emails for you, causing many to ask if the system should come with some sort of warning to let the other person on the line know they are talking to a computer. According to Business Insider, "a Google spokesperson confirmed [...] that the creators of Duplex will 'make sure the system is appropriately identified' and that they are 'designing this feature with disclosure built-in.'" From the report: Here's the full statement from Google: "We understand and value the discussion around Google Duplex -- as we've said from the beginning, transparency in the technology is important. We are designing this feature with disclosure built-in, and we'll make sure the system is appropriately identified. What we showed at I/O was an early technology demo, and we look forward to incorporating feedback as we develop this into a product."

Google CEO Sundar Pichai preemptively addressed ethics concerns in a blog post that corresponded with the announcement earlier this week, saying: "It's clear that technology can be a positive force and improve the quality of life for billions of people around the world. But it's equally clear that we can't just be wide-eyed about what we create. There are very real and important questions being raised about the impact of technology and the role it will play in our lives. We know the path ahead needs to be navigated carefully and deliberately -- and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to get this right." In addition, several Google insiders have told Business Insider that the software is still in the works, and the final version may not be as realistic (or as impressive) as the demonstration.

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