News

Almost 100 Million People a Year 'Forced To Choose Between Food and Healthcare' (theguardian.com) 356

Almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of debts accrued through healthcare expenses. From a report: A report, published by the World Health Organization and the World Bank this week, found the poorest and most vulnerable people are routinely forced to choose between healthcare and other necessities for their household, including food and education, subsisting on $1.90 a day. Researchers found that more than 122 million people around the world are forced to live on $3.10 a day, the benchmark for "moderate poverty," due to healthcare expenditure. Since 2000, this number has increased by 1.5% a year. A total of 800 million people spend more than 10% of their household budgets on "out-of-pocket" health expenses, defined as costs not covered by insurance. Almost 180 million people spend a quarter or more, a population increasing at a rate of almost 5% per year, with women among those worst affected.
Education

Universities Spend Millions on Accessing Results of Publicly Funded Research (theconversation.com) 76

Mark C. Wilson, a senior lecturer at Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland, writing for The Conversation: University research is generally funded from the public purse. The results, however, are published in peer-reviewed academic journals, many of which charge subscription fees. I had to use freedom of information laws to determine how much universities in New Zealand spend on journal subscriptions to give researchers and students access to the latest research -- and I found they paid almost US$15 million last year to just four publishers. There are additional costs, too. Paywalls on research hold up scientific progress and limit the publicâ(TM)s access to the latest information.
Education

France To Ban Mobile Phones In Schools (theguardian.com) 190

The French government is planning to ban students from using mobile phones in the country's primary, junior and middle schools. While children will be permitted to bring their phones to school, they will not be allowed to get them out at any time until they leave, even during breaks. The Guardian reports: Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French education minister, said the measure would come into effect from the start of the next school year in September 2018. It will apply to all pupils from the time they start school at age of six -- up to about 15 when they start secondary school. Blanquer said some education establishments already prohibited pupils from using their mobiles. "Sometimes you need a mobile for teaching reasons [...] for urgent situations, but their use has to be somehow controlled," he told RTL radio. The minister said the ban was also a "public health message to families," adding: "It's good that children are not too often, or even at all, in front of a screen before the age of seven." The French headteachers' union was skeptical that the ban could be enforced.
Bug

Google Glitch Took Thousands of Chromebooks Offline (geekwire.com) 77

Slashdot reader Bismillah was the first to notice stories about Chromebooks going offline. GeekWire reports: Tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of Google Chromebooks, widely prized by schools due to their low cost and ease of configuration, were reported to be offline for several hours on Tuesday. The apparent cause? A seemingly botched WiFi policy update pushed out by Google that caused many Chromebooks to forget their approved network connection, leaving students disconnected.
Google eventually issued a new network policy without the glitch -- but not everyone was satisfied. The Director of Technology at one school district complains Google waited three and a half hours before publicly acknowledging the problem -- adding that "manually joining a WiFi network on 10,000+ Chromebooks is a nightmare."
AI

Tencent Says There Are Only 300,000 AI Engineers Worldwide, But Millions Are Needed (theverge.com) 116

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: It's well-established that talent is in short supply in the AI industry, but a new report from Chinese tech giant Tencent underscores how great the need might be. According to the study, compiled by the Tencent Research Institute, there are just 300,000 "AI researchers and practitioners" worldwide, but the "market demand" is for millions of roles. These are unavoidably speculative figures, and the study does not offer much detail on how they were reached, but as a general trend they fit with other, more anecdotal reports. Around the world, tech giants regularly complain about the difficulty hiring AI engineers, and the demand has pushed salaries to absurd heights. Individuals with just a few year's experience can expect base pay of between $300,000 and $500,000 a year, says The New York Times, while the very best will collect millions. One independent AI lab told the publication that there were only 10,000 individuals worldwide with the right skills to spearhead serious new AI projects.

Tencent's new "2017 Global AI Talent White Paper" suggests the bottleneck here is education. It estimates that 200,000 of the 300,000 active researchers are already employed in various industries (not just tech), while the remaining 100,000 are still studying. Attendance in machine learning and AI courses has skyrocketed in recent years, as has enrollment in online courses, but there is obviously a lag as individuals complete their education.

Education

To Solve the Diversity Drought in Software Engineering, Look to Community Colleges (vice.com) 333

An anonymous reader shares a report: Community college is not flashy and does not make promises about your future employability. You will also likely not learn current way-cool web development technologies like React and GraphQL. In terms of projects, you're more likely to build software for organizing a professor's DVD or textbook collection than you are responsive web apps. I would tell you that all of this is OK because in community college computer science classes you're learning fundamentals, broad concepts like data structures, algorithmic complexity, and object-oriented programming. You won't learn any of those things as deeply as you would in a full-on university computer science program, but you'll get pretty far. And community college is cheap, though that varies depending on where you are. Here in Portland, OR, the local community college network charges $104 per credit. Which means it's possible to get a solid few semesters of computer science coursework down for a couple of grand. Which is actually amazing. In a new piece published in the Communications of the ACM, Silicon Valley researchers Louise Ann Lyon and Jill Denner make the argument that community colleges have the potential to play a key role in increasing equity and inclusion in computer science education. If you haven't heard, software engineering has a diversity problem. Access to education is a huge contributor to that, and Denner and Lyon see community college as something of a solution in plain sight.
Earth

Silicon Valley Billionaires Award $22 Million in 'Breakthrough Prizes' (theguardian.com) 23

An anonymous reader quote The Guardian: The most glitzy event on the scientific calendar took place on Sunday night when the Breakthrough Foundation gave away $22 million in prizes to dozens of physicists, biologists and mathematicians at a ceremony in Silicon Valley. The winners this year include five researchers who won $3 million each for their work on cell biology, plant science and neurodegenerative diseases, two mathematicians, and a team of 27 physicists who mapped the primordial light that warmed the universe moments after the big bang 13.8 billion years ago. Now in their sixth year, the Breakthrough prizes are backed by Yuri Milner, a Silicon Valley tech investor, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki from the DNA testing company 23andMe, and Google's Sergey Brin. Launched by Milner in 2012, the awards aim to make rock stars of scientists and raise their profile in the public consciousness. The annual ceremony at Nasa's Ames Research Center in California provides a rare opportunity for some of the world's leading minds to rub shoulders with celebrities, who this year included Morgan Freeman as host, fellow actors Kerry Washington and Mila Kunis, and Miss USA 2017 Kara McCullough...

Life sciences prizewinner, Joanne Chory at the Salk Institute in San Diego, was honoured for three decades of painstaking research into the genetic programs that flip into action when plants find themselves plunged into shade. Her work revealed that plants can sense when a nearby competitor is about to steal their light, sparking a growth spurt in response. The plants detect threatening neighbours by sensing a surge in the particular wavelengths of red light that are given off by vegetation. Chory now has ambitious plans to breed plants that can suck vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in a bid to combat climate change. She believes that crops could be selected to absorb 20 times more of the greenhouse gas than they do today, and convert it into suberin, a waxy material found in roots and bark that breaks down incredibly slowly in soil. "If we can do this on 5% of the landmass people are growing crops on, we can take out 50% of global human emissions," she said.

The Mercury News published a list of all the winners, pointing out they were chosen from more than 11,000 entries (from 178 countries). And Wired notes that the top prize winners get $2 million more than Nobel prize winners.
Education

Should Teachers Get $100 For Steering Kids To Google's 'Hour of Code' Lesson? 89

Tomorrow's "Hour of Code" kick-off event features Melinda Gates, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and "multiple state governors," reports theodp -- who has some concerns. With Microsoft boasting that nearly 70 million of its Minecraft Hour of Code sessions have been launched, and tech companies pushing coding and their products into classrooms, it's probably no surprise that the 2017 Hour of Code -- organized by tech-bankrolled Code.org -- seems to have presented a too-hard-to-resist branding opportunity for Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon.

And, in what might evoke memories of Dollars for Doctors, some teachers will even be rewarded for steering their kids to Google's Hour of Code lesson. "Thanks to our friends at Google," explains crowdfunding website DonorsChoose.org, "4th-8th grade public school teachers who engage their students in a 'Create your own Google logo' Hour of Code activity can earn a $100 DonorsChoose.org gift code -- and have the opportunity to receive one of five other grand prizes (including $5,000 in DonorsChoose.org credits for your school!)."
Education

Massive Financial Aid Data Breach Proves Stanford Lied For Years To MBAs (poetsandquants.com) 116

14 terabytes of "highly confidential" data about 5,120 financial aid applications over seven years were exposed in a breach at Stanford's Graduate School of Business -- proving that the school "misled thousands of applicants and donors about the way it distributes fellowship aid and financial assistance to its MBA students," reports Poets&Quants. The information was unearthed by a current MBA student, Adam Allcock, in February of this year from a shared network directory accessible to any student, faculty member or staffer of the business school. In the same month, on Feb. 23, the student reported the breach to Jack Edwards, director of financial aid, and the records were removed within an hour of his meeting with Edwards. Allcock, however, says he spent 1,500 hours analyzing the data and compiling an 88-page report on it...

Allcock's discovery that more money is being used by Stanford to entice the best students with financial backgrounds suggests an admissions strategy that helps the school achieve the highest starting compensation packages of any MBA program in the world. That is largely because prior work experience in finance is generally required to land jobs in the most lucrative finance fields in private equity, venture capital and hedge funds.

Half the school's students are awarded financial aid, and though Stanford always insisted it was awarded based only on need, the report concluded the school had been "lying to their faces" for more than a decade, also identifying evidece of "systemic biases against international students."

Besides the embarrassing exposure of their financial aid policies, there's another obvious lesson, writes Slashdot reader twentysixV. "It's actually way too easy for users to improperly secure their files in a shared file system, especially if the users aren't particularly familiar with security settings." Especially since Friday the university also reported another university-wide file-sharing platform had exposed "a variety of information from several campus offices, including Clery Act reports of sexual violence and some confidential student disciplinary information from six to 10 years ago."
Education

Physicists Made An Unprecedented 53 Qubit Quantum Simulator (vice.com) 70

Two teams of researchers have published papers [1, 2] in the journal Nature detailing how they were able to create unprecedented quantum simulators consisting of over 50 qubits. The University of Maryland team and National Institute of Standards and Technology team -- the two teams behind one of the two new papers -- were able to create a quantum simulator with 53 qubits. Motherboard reports: Quantum simulators are a special type of quantum computer that uses qubits to simulate complex interactions between particles. Qubits are the informational medium of quantum computers, analogous to a bit in an ordinary computer. Yet rather than existing as a 1 or 0, as is the case in a conventional bit, a qubit can exist in some superposition of both of these states at the same time. For the Maryland experiment, each of the qubits was a laser cooled ytterbium ion. Each ion had the same electrical charge, so they repelled one another when placed in close proximity. The system created by Monroe and his colleagues used an electric field to force the repelled ions into neat rows. At this point, lasers are used to manipulate all the ytterbium qubits into the same initial state. Then another set of lasers is used to manipulate the qubits so that they act like atomic magnets, where each ion has a north and south pole. The qubits either orient themselves with their neighboring ions to form a ferromagnet, where their magnetic fields are aligned, or at random. By changing the strength of the laser beams that are manipulating the qubits, the researchers are able to program them to a desired state (in terms of magnetic alignment).

According to Zhexuan Gong, a physicist at the University of Maryland, the 53 qubits can be used to simulate over a quadrillion different magnetic configurations of the qubits, a number that doubles with each additional qubit added to the array. As these types of quantum simulators keep adding more qubits into the mix, they will be able to simulate ever more complex atomic interactions that are far beyond the capabilities of conventional supercomputers and usher in a new era of physics research. Another team from Harvard and Maryland also released a paper today in which it demonstrated a quantum simulator using 51 qubits.

Education

Computer Science GCSE in Disarray After Tasks Leaked Online (bbc.com) 53

An anonymous reader shares a report: The new computer science GCSE has been thrown into disarray after programming tasks worth a fifth of the total marks were leaked repeatedly online. Exams regulator Ofqual plans to pull this chunk of the qualification from the overall marks as it has been seen by thousands of people. Ofqual said the non-exam assessment may have been leaked by teachers as well as students who had completed the task. The breach affects two year groups. The first will sit the exam in summer 2018. Last year 70,000 students were entered for computer science GCSE. A quick internet search reveals numerous posts about the the non-exam assessment, with questions and potential answers.
Education

Why Do Employers Require College Degrees That Aren't Necessary? (thestreet.com) 358

Slashdot reader pefisher writes: A lot of us on Slashdot have noticed that potential employers advertise for things they don't need. To the point that sometimes they even ask for things that don't exist. Like asking for ten years of experience in a technology that has only just been introduced. It's frustrating because it makes you wonder "what's this employers real game?"

Do they just want to say they advertised for the position, or are they really so immensely stupid, so disconnected from their own needs, that they think they are actually asking for something they can have...? Here is a Harvard Study that addresses one particular angle of this. It doesn't answer any questions, but it does prove that you aren't crazy. And it quantifies the craziness.

The study's author calls it "degree inflation," and after studying 26 million job postings concluded that employers are now less willing to actually train new people on the job, possibly to save money. "Many companies have fallen into a lazy way of thinking about this," the study's author tells The Street, saying companies are "[looking for] somebody who is just job-ready to just show up." The irony is that college graduates will ultimately be paid a higher salary -- even though for many jobs, the study found that a college degree yields zero improvement in actual performance.

The Street reports that "In a market where companies increasingly rely on computerized systems to cull out early-round applicants, that has led firms to often consider a bachelor's degree indicative of someone who can socialize, run a meeting and generally work well with others." One company tells them that "we removed the requirement to have a computer science degree, and we removed the requirement to have experience in development computer programming. And when we removed those things we found that the pool of potential really good team members drastically expanded."
Education

More Young People Are Becoming Farmers (axios.com) 117

An anonymous reader shares a report: "For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest Census of Agriculture," the WashPost's Caitlin Downey reports in a front-pager with the lovely headline, "A growing movement." 69% of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees -- significantly higher than the general population.
Education

'The Death of the MBA' (axios.com) 162

An anonymous reader shares a report: U.S. graduate business schools -- once magnets for American and international students seeking a certain route to a high income -- are in an existential crisis. They are losing droves of students who are balking at sky-high tuition and, in the case of international applicants, turned off by President Trump's politics. The once-venerated MBA is going the way of the diminished law degree, pushed aside by tech education. Graduates of the top 25 or so MBA schools still command the elite Wall Street and corporate jobs they always did, but the hundreds of others are scrambling, and some schools are shutting down their programs. Survivors are often offering new touchy-feely degrees like "master of social innovation." [...] In the more than 350 programs that didn't make the top ranks, rising tuition costs and smaller returns in the form of employment and income have forced a rethink of the traditional MBA degree.
Education

Microsoft Debuts Minecraft-Themed Coding Tutorial 24

theodp writes: In a few weeks, writes Microsoft Corporate VP Mary Snapp, "millions of kids and others will participate in an Hour of Code, a global call to action to spend an hour learning the basics of coding. Today, it's my privilege to announce that Microsoft has released a new Minecraft tutorial for Hour of Code, called Hero's Journey." The release of the new Code.org-touted flagship Hour of Code tutorial -- the third since Microsoft purchased Minecraft Maker Mojang for $2.5B in 2014 -- comes as Microsoft celebrates Minecraft: Education Edition reaching a milestone of 2 million users.

Microsoft boasts that nearly 70 million of its Minecraft Hour of Code sessions have been launched to-date, which is certainly impressive from an infomercial or brand awareness standpoint. But does [adding a Scratch block to] move a Minecraft character forward 7 times on an $800 Microsoft Surface offer all that much more educational value than, say, moving a peg forward 5 times on a $10.99 Pop-O-Matic Trouble board game?
IBM

Tech Companies Try Apprenticeships To Fill The Tech Skills Gap (thehill.com) 123

Slashdot reader jonyen writes: For generations, apprenticeships have been the way of working life; master craftsmen taking apprentices under their wing, teaching them the tools of the trade. This declined during the Industrial Revolution as the advent of the assembly line enabled mass employment for unskilled laborers. The master-apprentice model went further out of focus as higher education and formal training became increasingly more valuable.

Fast forward to the 21st century, where employers are turning back the page to apprenticeships in an effort to fill a growing skills gap in the labor force in the digital age. Code.org estimates there will be a million unfulfilled tech jobs by 2020.

jonyen shared this article by IBM's Vice President of Talent:IBM is committed to addressing this shortage and recently launched an apprenticeship program registered with the US Department of Labor, with a plan to have 100 apprentices in 2018. ... Other firms have taken up the apprenticeship challenge as well. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, for example, has called for creating 5 million American apprentices in the next five years.

An apprenticeship offers the chance for Americans to get the formal education they need, whether through a traditional university, a community college or a trade school, while getting something else: On-the-job experience and an income... Right now, there are more than 6 million jobs in the U.S. that are going unfilled because employers can't find candidates with the right skills, according to the Labor Department.

IBM says their apprentices "are on their way to becoming software developers in our Cloud business and mainframe administrators for technologies like Blockchain, and we will add new apprenticeships in data analytics and cybersecurity as we replicate the program across the U.S."

"Ninety-one percent of apprentices in the U.S. find employment after completing their program, and their average starting wage is above $60,000."
Education

The House's Tax Bill Levies a Tax On Graduate Student Tuition Waivers (nytimes.com) 578

Camel Pilot writes: The new GOP tax plan -- which just passed the House -- will tax tuition waivers as income. Graduate students working as research assistants on meager stipends would have to declare tuition waivers as income on the order of $80,000 income. This will force many graduate students of modest means to quit their career paths and walk away from their research. These are the next generation of scientists, engineers, inventors, educators, medical miracle workers and market makers. As Prof Claus Wilke points out: "This would be a disaster for U.S. STEM Ph.D. education." Slashdot reader Camel Pilot references a report via The New York Times, where Erin Rousseau explains how the House of Representatives' recently passed tax bill affects graduate research in the United States. Rousseau is a graduate student at M.I.T. who studies the neurological basis of mental health disorders. "My peers and I work between 40 and 80 hours a week as classroom teachers and laboratory researchers, and in return, our universities provide us with a tuition waiver for school. For M.I.T. students, this waiver keeps us from having to pay a tuition bill of about $50,000 every year -- a staggering amount, but one that is similar to the fees at many other colleges and universities," he writes. "No money from the tuition waivers actually ends up in our pockets, so under Section 117(d)(5), it isn't counted as taxable income." Rousseau continues by saying his tuition waivers will be taxed under the House's tax bill. "This means that M.I.T. graduate students would be responsible for paying taxes on an $80,000 annual salary, when we actually earn $33,000 a year. That's an increase of our tax burden by at least $10,000 annually."
AI

Stanford Trains AI To Diagnose Pneumonia Better Than a Radiologist In Just Two Months (qz.com) 75

A new paper from Stanford University reveals how artificial intelligence algorithms can be quickly trained to diagnose pneumonia better than a radiologist. "Using 100,000 x-ray images released by the National Institutes of Health on Sept. 27, the research published Nov. 14 (without peer review) on the website ArXiv claims its AI can detect pneumonia from x-rays with similar accuracy to four trained radiologists," reports Quartz. From the report: That's not all -- the AI was trained to analyze x-rays for 14 diseases NIH included in the dataset, including fibrosis, hernias, and cell masses. The AI's results for each of the 14 diseases had fewer false positives and false negatives than the benchmark research from the NIH team that was released with the data. The paper includes Google Brain founder Andrew Ng as a co-author, who also served as chief scientist at Baidu and recently founded Deeplearning.ai. He's often been publicly bullish on AI's use in healthcare. These algorithms will undoubtedly get better -- accuracy on the ImageNet challenge rose from 75% to 95% in just five years -- but this research shows the speed at which these systems are built is increasing as well.
United States

Foreign Students Have Begun To Shun the United States (axios.com) 756

In a potential threat to future U.S. innovation, new international enrollment at U.S. colleges is down for the first time in more than a decade, according to a new report. From the report: It is the first hard sign that the Trump administration's rhetoric may be frightening away some of the world's best and brightest who traditionally have been drawn to settle and work in the U.S. Why it matters: "The Chinese whiz kid, if he can find a way to America, he'll come here. If you're good, you can make a lot of money," Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, tells Axios. "That whole set of incentives has always been tied to the immigrant stream, and we're severing that connection." By the numbers: The findings are from the Institute of International Education's annual Open Doors report and its smaller joint "snapshot" report on international enrollment. It found that new international student enrollment dropped by 3.3% for the 2016-2017 academic year, and by a far higher 6.9% in the Fall 2017 semester.
Education

Is American English Going To Take Over British English Completely? (scroll.in) 526

Paul Baker, writing for The Conversation: Brits can get rather sniffy about the English language -- after all, they originated it. But a Google search of the word "Americanisms" turns up claims that they are swamping, killing and absorbing British English. If the British are not careful, so the argument goes, the homeland will soon be the 51st State as workers tell customers to "have a nice day" while "colour" will be spelt without a "u" and "pavements" will become "sidewalks." My research examined how both varieties of the language have been changing between the 1930s and the 2000s and the extent to which they are growing closer together or further apart. So do Brits have cause for concern? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, most of the easily noticeable features of British language are holding up. Take spelling, for example -- towards the 1960s it looked like the UK was going in the direction of abandoning the "u" in "colour" and writing "centre" as "center." But since then, the British have become more confident in some of their own spellings. In the 2000s, the UK used an American spelling choice about 11% of the time while Americans use a British one about 10% of the time, so it kind of evens out. Automatic spell-checkers which can be set to different national varieties are likely to play a part in keeping the two varieties fairly distinct. [...] But when we start thinking of language more in terms of style than vocabulary or spelling, a different picture emerges. Some of the bigger trends in American English are moving towards a more compact and informal use of language. American sentences are on average one word shorter in 2006 than they were in 1931. Americans also use a lot more apostrophes in their writing than they used to, which has the effect of turning the two words "do not" into the single "don't." They're getting rid of certain possessive structures, too -- so "the hand of the king" becomes the shorter "the king's hand." Another trend is to avoid passive structures such as "a paper was written," instead using the more active form, "I wrote a paper."

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