Education

Barbie Will Be Used To Teach Kids To Code (engadget.com) 190

Mattel and Tynker are teaming up to launch seven new Barbie-themed coding lessons this coming summer. "The curriculum, aimed at teaching girls about computer programming, will also expose them to potential careers like becoming a veterinarian, astronaut, or robotics engineer," reports Engadget. "The larger goal is to introduce coding to 10 million kids by 2020." From the report: The Barbie programming curriculum has been designed for beginners grades K and up. It puts learners in career roles alongside Barbie as it introduces concepts gradually. It's not all just Barbie, of course, with a few different initiatives coming in 2018, including a Mattel code-a-thon and teacher outreach program as well as involvement in the Hour of Code in December.

"For close to 75 years, Mattel has taken a visionary approach to advancing play for kids around the world, most recently promoting computer programming and other STEM skills alongside iconic brands like Barbie, Hot Wheels and Monster High," said Tynker's Krishna Vedati in a statement. "We are very excited by this expanded partnership and the ambitious -- but achievable -- goal of teaching 10 million kids to learn to code by 2020 using Mattel brands."

Businesses

Occupational Licensing Blunts Competition and Boosts Inequality (economist.com) 364

Occupational licensing -- the practice of regulating who can do what jobs -- has been on the rise for decades. In 1950 one in 20 employed Americans required a licence to work. By 2017 that had risen to more than one in five. From a report: The trend partly reflects an economic shift towards service industries, in which licences are more common. But it has also been driven by a growing number of professions successfully lobbying state governments to make it harder to enter their industries. Most studies find that licensing requirements raise wages in a profession by around 10%, probably by making it harder for competitors to set up shop.

Lobbyists justify licences by claiming consumers need protection from unqualified providers. In many cases this is obviously a charade. Forty-one states license makeup artists, as if wielding concealer requires government oversight. Thirteen license bartending; in nine, those who wish to pull pints must first pass an exam. Such examples are popular among critics of licensing, because the threat from unlicensed staff in low-skilled jobs seems paltry. Yet they are not representative of the broader harm done by licensing, which affects crowds of more highly educated workers like Ms Varnam. Among those with only a high-school education, 13% are licensed. The figure for those with postgraduate degrees is 45%.

[...] One way of telling that many licences are superfluous is the sheer variance in the law across states. About 1,100 occupations are regulated in at least one state, but fewer than 60 are regulated in all 50, according to a report from 2015 by Barack Obama's White House. Yet a handful of high-earning professions are regulated everywhere. In particular, licences are more common in legal and health-care occupations than in any other.

Microsoft

LinkedIn Users Will Soon Know What Jobs Pay Before Applying for Them (adweek.com) 62

LinkedIn just introduced a way to help its members avoid going through the interview process for jobs with salaries that do not meet their expectations. From a report: The professional network announced the rollout of Salary Insights, which will add estimated or expected salary ranges to open roles, getting the numbers either through salary ranges provided by employers or estimated ranges from data submitted by members. The feature will launch "in the coming weeks." Salary Insights marks the next step after LinkedIn Salary, which the professional network launched in November 2016 to provide its users with information on salaries, bonuses and equity data for specific job titles, as well as factors that impact those salaries, including experience, industry, company size, location and education level.
Education

Learning To Program Is Getting Harder (slashdot.org) 402

theodp writes: While Google suggests that parents and educators are to blame for why kids can't code, Allen Downey, Professor at Olin College argues that learning to program is getting harder . Downey writes: The fundamental problem is that the barrier between using a computer and programming a computer is getting higher. When I got a Commodore 64 (in 1982, I think) this barrier was non-existent. When you turned on the computer, it loaded and ran a software development environment (SDE). In order to do anything, you had to type at least one line of code, even if all it did was another program (like Archon). Since then, three changes have made it incrementally harder for users to become programmers:
1. Computer retailers stopped installing development environments by default. As a result, anyone learning to program has to start by installing an SDE -- and that's a bigger barrier than you might expect. Many users have never installed anything, don't know how to, or might not be allowed to. Installing software is easier now than it used to be, but it is still error prone and can be frustrating. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn system administration first.
2. User interfaces shifted from command-line interfaces (CLIs) to graphical user interfaces (GUIs). GUIs are generally easier to use, but they hide information from users about what's really happening. When users really don't need to know, hiding information can be a good thing. The problem is that GUIs hide a lot of information programmers need to know. So when a user decides to become a programmer, they are suddenly confronted with all the information that's been hidden from them. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn operating system concepts first.
3. Cloud computing has taken information hiding to a whole new level. People using web applications often have only a vague idea of where their data is stored and what applications they can use to access it. Many users, especially on mobile devices, don't distinguish between operating systems, applications, web browsers, and web applications. When they upload and download data, they are often confused about where is it coming from and where it is going. When they install something, they are often confused about what is being installed where. For someone who grew up with a Commodore 64, learning to program was hard enough. For someone growing up with a cloud-connected mobile device, it is much harder.
theodp continues: So, with the Feds budgeting $200 million a year for K-12 CS at the behest of U.S. tech leaders, can't the tech giants at least put a BASIC on every phone/tablet/laptop for kids?
AI

In the Wake of Fake News, Several Universities Including MIT and Harvard Introduce New Course On Ethics and Regulation of AI (nytimes.com) 177

The medical profession has an ethic: First, do no harm. Silicon Valley has an ethos: Build it first and ask for forgiveness later. Now, in the wake of fake news and other troubles at tech companies, universities that helped produce some of Silicon Valley's top technologists are hustling to bring a more medicine-like morality to computer science, the New York Times reporter. From the report: This semester, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are jointly offering a new course on the ethics and regulation of artificial intelligence. The University of Texas at Austin just introduced a course titled "Ethical Foundations of Computer Science" -- with the idea of eventually requiring it for all computer science majors. And at Stanford University, the academic heart of the industry, three professors and a research fellow are developing a computer science ethics course for next year. They hope several hundred students will enroll. The idea is to train the next generation of technologists and policymakers to consider the ramifications of innovations -- like autonomous weapons or self-driving cars -- before those products go on sale.
Education

Unknown Language Discovered in Malaysia (smithsonianmag.com) 55

Researchers have cataloged close to 7,000 distinct human languages on Earth, per Linguistic Society of America's latest count. That may seem like a pretty exhaustive list, but it hasn't stopped anthropologists and linguists from continuing to encounter new languages, like one recently discovered in a village in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula. From a report: According to a press release, researchers from Lund University in Sweden discovered the language during a project called Tongues of the Semang. The documentation effort in villages of the ethnic Semang people was intended to collect data on their languages, which belong to an Austoasiatic language family called Aslian. While researchers were studying a language called Jahai in one village, they came to understand that not everyone there was speaking it. "We realized that a large part of the village spoke a different language. They used words, phonemes and grammatical structures that are not used in Jahai," says Joanne Yager, lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Linguist Typology. "Some of these words suggested a link with other Aslian languages spoken far away in other parts of the Malay Peninsula."
Education

Cryptocurrency Classes Are Coming To Campus (nytimes.com) 81

While the price of Bitcoin has dropped since Christmas, the virtual currency boom has shown no signs of cooling off in the more august precincts of America's elite universities. The New York Times: Several top schools have added or are rushing to add classes about Bitcoin and the record-keeping technology that it introduced, known as the blockchain. Graduate-level classes this semester at Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Duke, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland, among other places, illustrate the fascination with the technology across several academic fields, and the assumption that it will outlast the current speculative price bubble. "There was some gentle ribbing from my colleagues when I began giving talks on Bitcoin," said David Yermack, a business and law professor at New York University who offered one of the first for-credit courses on the topic back in 2014. "But within a few months, I was being invited to Basel to talk with central bankers, and the joking from my colleagues stopped after that." For a class this semester, Mr. Yermack originally booked a lecture hall that could fit 180 students, but he had to move the course to the largest lecture hall at N.Y.U. when enrollment kept going up. He now has 225 people signed up for the class.
Businesses

Where Old, Unreadable Documents Go to Be Understood (atlasobscura.com) 44

From a report: On any given day, from her home on the Isle of Man, Linda Watson might be reading a handwritten letter from one Confederate soldier to another, or a list of convicts transported to Australia. Or perhaps she is reading a will, a brief from a long-forgotten legal case, an original Jane Austen manuscript. Whatever is in them, these documents made their way to her because they have one thing in common: They're close to impossible to read. Watson's company, Transcription Services, has a rare specialty -- transcribing historical documents that stump average readers. Once, while talking to a client, she found the perfect way to sum up her skills.

[...] Since she first started specializing in old documents, Watson has expanded beyond things written in English. She now has a stable of collaborators who can tackle manuscripts in Latin, German, Spanish, and more. She can only remember two instances that left her and her colleagues stumped. One was a Tibetan manuscript, and she couldn't find anyone who knew the alphabet. The other was in such bad shape that she had to admit defeat. In the business of reading old documents, Watson has few competitors. There is one transcription company on the other side of the world, in Australia, that offers a similar service. Libraries and archives, when they have a giant batch of handwritten documents to deal with, might recruit volunteers.

Businesses

Why Hiring the 'Best' People Produces the Least Creative Results (qz.com) 333

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report written by Scott E. Page, who explains why hiring the "best" people produces the least creative results: The burgeoning of teams -- most academic research is now done in teams, as is most investing and even most songwriting (at least for the good songs) -- tracks the growing complexity of our world. We used to build roads from A to B. Now we construct transportation infrastructure with environmental, social, economic, and political impacts. The complexity of modern problems often precludes any one person from fully understanding them. The multidimensional or layered character of complex problems also undermines the principle of meritocracy: The idea that the "best person" should be hired. There is no best person. When putting together an oncological research team, a biotech company such as Gilead or Genentech would not construct a multiple-choice test and hire the top scorers, or hire people whose resumes score highest according to some performance criteria. Instead, they would seek diversity. They would build a team of people who bring diverse knowledge bases, tools and analytic skills. That team would more likely than not include mathematicians (though not logicians such as Griffeath). And the mathematicians would likely study dynamical systems and differential equations.

Believers in a meritocracy might grant that teams ought to be diverse but then argue that meritocratic principles should apply within each category. Thus the team should consist of the "best" mathematicians, the "best" oncologists, and the "best" biostatisticians from within the pool. That position suffers from a similar flaw. Even with a knowledge domain, no test or criteria applied to individuals will produce the best team. Each of these domains possesses such depth and breadth, that no test can exist. When building a forest, you do not select the best trees as they tend to make similar classifications. You want diversity. Programmers achieve that diversity by training each tree on different data, a technique known as bagging. They also boost the forest 'cognitively' by training trees on the hardest cases -- those that the current forest gets wrong. This ensures even more diversity and accurate forests.

China

Chinese Companies Hunt for AI Talent at American Conference (nikkei.com) 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

Facebook Hired a Full-Time Pollster To Monitor Zuckerberg's Approval Ratings (theverge.com) 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 (qz.com) 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."
Education

Gates On a Plane: Alaska Airlines Inflight Entertainment Stars Bill Gates (miamiherald.com) 50

theodp writes: On Tuesday, it was announced that Alaska Airlines will make a new Code.org 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 Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi, "we are pleased to announce Khan Academy and Alaska Airlines will make them available beyond Code.org 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

YouTube Will Put Disclaimers On State-Funded Broadcasts To Fight Propaganda (arstechnica.com) 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.
China

This Chinese Math Problem Has No Answer. Perhaps, It Has a Lot of Them. (washingtonpost.com) 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.
Education

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 Code.org, 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 (vice.com) 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 (bloomberg.com) 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.

Businesses

'Reskilling Revolution Needed for the Millions of Jobs at Risk Due To Technological Disruption' (weforum.org) 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

Microsoft Unveils Windows 10 S Laptops Starting at $189 and New Office 365 Tools for Students (venturebeat.com) 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.

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