Do we really know whether we have too few or too many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) students to meet the future innovation and competitive needs of the US? That was one of the questions being addressed at a STEM conference on measures for innovation and competitiveness that I attended this week in Washington, D.C. It was sponsored by several industry associations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and IEEE USA. Since the 2007 publication of the influential National Science Foundation report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future," which examined the “erosion” of the “U.S. advantages in the marketplace and in science and technology” and which stated that a “coordinated federal effort is urgently needed to bolster U.S. competitiveness and pre-eminence in these areas,” there has been a bi-partisan consensus … [Read more...] about STEM Education Funding in the U.S. – Is More or Less Needed?
Why is problem solving important in math
In the bright sunshine filtering through Caltech’s blooming jacaranda trees, there is little to distinguish the plump, middle-aged physicist from the knot of faculty and students outside the university auditorium, save the tiny StarTac cellular phone clipped to his baggy black trousers, his laptop computer-the thinnest money can buy-and the attentive publicist who carries it for him. Working up his nerve, a 17-year-old Caltech physics major edges up to the man and asks him to autograph a set of computer disks. The physicist is Stephen Wolfram. The disks contain a computer program he designed called Mathematica, the centerpiece of the $100 million company he founded after leaving academia in 1986.As Wolfram scribbles his signature with a modest flourish, he seems to savor a moment of perfect personal equilibrium, such as a tightrope artist might enjoy after a back flip on the high wire, kept aloft solely by his faith in himself. Indeed, many consider Wolfram one of the most … [Read more...] about A Study in Complexity
In any discussion of biohacking, Exhibit A is likely to be the “glowing plant,” the wildly successful 2013 Kickstarter campaign that raised $484,013 to create bioluminescent plants visible at night. The project captured an idea with growing cachet: that DNA is just computer code, living things mere hardware. This view has been reinforced by the quickly falling cost of both reading the DNA molecule and synthesizing it. If biology can be managed from a computer screen, if it is de-skilled and democratized, then what follows is what the glowing-plant team calls “a world where bio-engineering is as easy and commonplace as mobile application development is today.” Just one problem, though. There is still no glowing plant. The project, which has since morphed into the company Taxa Biotechnologies, has not made any plants that emit light unassisted. The seeds it promised to its backers are already two years overdue. “What it says is that … [Read more...] about Why Kickstarter’s Glowing Plant Left Backers in the Dark
I’m standing in what is soon to be the center of the world, or is perhaps just a very large room on the seventh floor of a gleaming tower in downtown Toronto. Showing me around is Jordan Jacobs, who cofounded this place: the nascent Vector Institute, which opens its doors this fall and which is aiming to become the global epicenter of artificial intelligence. We’re in Toronto because Geoffrey Hinton is in Toronto, and Geoffrey Hinton is the father of “deep learning,” the technique behind the current excitement about AI. “In 30 years we’re going to look back and say Geoff is Einstein—of AI, deep learning, the thing that we’re calling AI,” Jacobs says. Of the researchers at the top of the field of deep learning, Hinton has more citations than the next three combined. His students and postdocs have gone on to run the AI labs at Apple, Facebook, and OpenAI; Hinton himself is a lead scientist on the Google Brain AI team. In fact, … [Read more...] about Is AI Riding a One-Trick Pony?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, ignoring every big tech advance in the past decade, you’ve probably heard of machine learning. Whether it’s better fraud detection and prevention, the handy online recommendations made by Netflix and Amazon, revolutionary facial recognition technology, or futuristic self-driving cars, machine learning is powering the current artificial intelligence revolution. But what is it exactly? Here’s a handy beginner’s guide.What is machine learning, and why does it matter?Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence that’s focused on making machines which can learn without being explicitly programmed. Learning is a profoundly important part of what makes us human. If we’re going to build AI that can carry out tasks with human-like intelligence, we therefore need to make machines that can learn for themselves, based on their past experiences.This is different to the classical symbolic … [Read more...] about What the heck is machine learning, and why is it everywhere these days?
It wasn’t always like this, you know. The tech scene wasn’t always a continuation of frat culture with more algorithms thrown in. Women weren’t always unicorns in the tech scene, comprising just 11 percent of engineers in the field (on a good day). And while men in tech jobs overall in the U.S. currently outnumber women seven to three, with a staggering 80 percent of software developers in New York being male, this gender gap wasn’t always this pronounced.In fact, the sad truth of the matter is that when it comes to women in tech, we’ve regressed, and are regressing still. In 1984, 40 percent of computer science majors in colleges across the U.S. were women. 50 years ago, nearly half of the programmers in the field were women. Today, only 18 percent of college grads with a computer science degree have two X chromosomes. And in the workplace, it’s even grimmer.The topic of gender inequity, particularly in tech, isn’t anything new, but … [Read more...] about Why aren’t women staying in computer science?
“We don’t need to teach kids about technology — they already understand it better than we do!”That statement, though true in many ways, is at the heart of a serious problem with our education system: We’re failing to equip kids with true tech skills because we assume they’ll develop those skills on their own, or that they already possess them. That’s simply not true. And it’s hurting our kids and ultimately, society as a whole.Consider this: Gartner estimates that total global IT spending will hit $3.5 trillion this year, while Accenture predicts that the increased use of digital technologies will grow the size of the global GDP by $1.36 trillion in the next 5 years. All of those dollars equal opportunity for the people who are fluent in tech.But being able to play Crossy Road while Snapchatting and watching your favorite YouTuber does not count. These are the equivalent of being able to stop a VCR’s clock from flashing … [Read more...] about It’s time we make ‘code’ an official language, and teach it in every school
But more importantly, handwriting analysis lends a big hand to cracking criminal cases – we’ve all seen enough episodes of CSI to prove as much. Handwriting analysis is a very important aspect of forensic science and sometimes a crucial method for catching certain types of criminals, which is why it was a bit of a surprise when The Georgia Bureau of Investigation recently shuttered its Handwriting Analysis Unit after being in action for 20 years.“Just as no two fingerprints are alike, neither are two handwriting samples the same.”According to local news outlet Online Athens, the unit was actually temporarily suspended a year ago to give GBI analysts time to attain accreditation after they failed to meet requirements imposed by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. According to a report, “Handwriting analysis has dwindled in importance to prosecutors over the years. Tests for DNA and firearms matching and drug and alcohol screenings … [Read more...] about Can pen and paper survive in a world of touchscreens and tablets?
Mathematics/Statistics Romulan Bird of Prey made an unseen, surprise attack on the Starship Enterprise on Star Trek. Not only did it make for a good storyline, it likely inspired budding scientists, offering a window of technology's potential.Today, between illusionists who make the Statue of Liberty disappear to Harry Potter's invisibility cloak that not only hides him from view but also protects him from spells, pop culture has embraced the idea of hiding behind force fields and magical materials. And not too surprisingly, National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded mathematicians, scientists and engineers are equally fascinated and looking at how and if they can transform science fiction into, well, just science."Cloaking is about detection and rendering something — and the cloak itself — not detectable or seen," said Michael Weinstein, an NSF-funded mathematician at Columbia University. "An object is seen when waves are bounced off it and observed by a detector."In recent … [Read more...] about Mathematicians Play Key Role in Developing Multi-Frequency Cloaking
Mathematics/Statistics I hated biology when I was a kid. It was too messy, too shallow, too unprincipled for my taste, and I gave up studying it at school almost as fast as I could.Instead, I wanted to understand the general principles of how everything works. I wanted to be a theoretical physicist. A joint degree in math and physics gave me a great education in the mathematical tools needed for modeling complicated phenomena.But I also learned that physics had already been explored by too many great minds for the likes of me to make much of a contribution, so I looked for a new direction. Little did I realize this would take me back to biology.Learning how we learnThe first step came in the form of an opportunity to work briefly with Geoff Hinton, then at Carnegie Mellon University but now at Google. He was developing learning algorithms for artificial neural networks.Here was something really exciting: a new field of learning machines with the promise of solving problems that are … [Read more...] about Numbers on the Mind: How Math Can Help Explain the Workings of Our Brain