The Remarkable Career of Shirley Ann Jackson – MIT Technology Review

She’s worked as a theoretical physicist at Bell Laboratories and chaired the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She cochaired President Obama’s President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and served on the boards of IBM and FedEx. And since 1999, she’s been president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. … She also has a magnificent ability to understand organizations and how to be effective within them … She has always been the cool head in the group.”

Jackson stayed at MIT for doctoral work, partly because she recognized the power of an MIT doctorate, and partly because she “wasn’t going to give people the satisfaction of getting me to walk away.”

I think I may have a new role model. 🙂

So during her first semester of graduate school, in the fall of 1968, Jackson traveled around the Midwest as part of a national effort do something MIT had never done before: recruit minority students. A year later, 57 African-American freshmen enrolled, up from three to five per year in previous years. To help those students succeed, Jackson helped create and then taught in a summer program called Project Interphase, designed to provide academic support for incoming minority freshmen and acclimate them to MIT. “I wasn’t the best student in her class,” says Gates, who had attended a segregated high school in Orlando, Florida, and was the first in his family to go to college. “But she was an amazing instructor and inspiration. She had standards of rigor and difficult physics problems the likes of which I had never seen.” In nearly five decades, more than 2,000 students have taken part in the program, now called Interphase EDGE.

Wow, she’s left an amazing legacy. I know first-hand how difficult it is to have a new student organization last beyond a few years.

“It’s important to serve,” Jackson says. “It does take a lot of time. But I don’t play golf. And I have the ability to learn fast.”

Instead, she focuses on pragmatic responses to serious problems. For example, even for those who deny humans’ role in climate change, the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events “stares you in the face,” she says. “You can see the effects in housing, in the stability of roads.” So she encourages people to help look for ways to address those effects “even if you don’t believe that at the front end is climate change.” (Of course, she also acknowledges that building practices only go so far, and scientists and public policy experts need to keep talking about the root causes of climate change.)

Apparently, there’s a lot of backlash on this article (see the comments). It’s a pretty good reflection of what women and minorities in STEM still need to deal with (lose-lose). Here is one encouraging response:

I am a former alum of RPI, and I a bit wary of some of the complaints of my fellow alumni, because I am a member of our alumni forum (on LinkedIn) and some of the comments there are very disparaging and question her qualifications (of a PhD from MIT for that matter). I would encourage my fellow alumni to also show a modicum of integrity by rebuking the deeply prejudicial comments that are in our alumni forum on LinkedIn. No one will trust your complaints, when the motivation behind those comments is not clear (–in some cases they are in the clear–). There are real issues such high cost of tuition, and independence of the student run Union. It is hard to focus on pertinent issues and at the same time ignore the malice of some alumni.

Dr. Jackson is widely reported to have a take-no-prisoners leadership style, but so did Margaret Thatcher (who had no shortage of critics). Are strong and forceful women leaders in a lose-lose situation? I do not know. In an era of pay disparity, some complain about how highly she is paid, yet some NCAA D-1 Football coaches make million dollar salaries. What is the balance?

Dr. Jackson has had a very distinguished career as a scientist. She has led some impressive infrastructure improvements at RPI and the school is very different than what it looked like in the late 80s and early 90s. I think she can be criticized, but our alumni community should also scrutinize itself.

via The Remarkable Career of Shirley Ann Jackson – MIT Technology Review.

Uber fires Anthony Levandowski amid self-driving tech lawsuit with Waymo

Uber on Tuesday announced the immediate firing of Anthony Levandowski, one of the leaders of its self-driving car efforts, amid a lawsuit accusing it of using data allegedly stolen from Alphabet’s Waymo unit.

Levandowski has remained silent, refusing to cooperate with either Uber or a federal judge, choosing instead to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights.

Apple’s own self-driving efforts have been largely kept in the dark. The company has started public testing using modified Lexus RX450h SUVs, but it remains unknown if the company intends to partner with an existing automaker or design its own vehicle. That decision could happen by the end of 2017.

appleinsider – Uber fires Anthony Levandowski amid self-driving tech lawsuit with Waymo

[HT mikeyp]

Californians are paying billions for power they don’t need (Los Angeles Times)

This is a consequence of long lead times for infrastructure projects, overshoot, and the difficulty of predicting the future.

The over-abundance of electricity can be traced to poorly designed deregulation of the industry, which set the stage for blackouts during the energy crisis of 2000-2001.

No longer able to produce as much of their own electricity, they ran up huge debts buying power that customers needed. Blackouts spread across the state.

State leaders, regulators and the utilities vowed never to be in that position again, prompting an all-out push to build more plants, both utility-owned and independent.

Idea: Public policy, which must be revisited/re-evaluated every year, and written alongside stated assumptions (as exhaustive as possible) such that checks can be performed as to if those assumptions still hold true (or are expected to hold true for the time frame in question).

via Californians are paying billions for power they don’t need (Los Angeles Times)

Optimizing the news feed – The sideways view

Paul proposes explicit A/B news feed user testing and optimization, with emphasis on considering the mechanisms for reflection.

After all, the press, the tech industry, and the public intellectuals all tend to share a set of common views. And those views are probably correct (says bay area techie to other bay area techies).

Interesting discussion here.

via Optimizing the news feed — Sideways view

HT Jacob Steinhardt

Our Automated Future

Ford worries that we are headed toward an era of “techno-feudalism.” He imagines a plutocracy shut away “in gated communities or in elite cities, perhaps guarded by autonomous military robots and drones.” Under the old feudalism, the peasants were exploited; under the new arrangement, they’ll merely be superfluous. The best we can hope for, he suggests, is a collective form of semi-retirement. He recommends a guaranteed basic income for all, to be paid for with new taxes, levelled, at least in part, on the new gazillionaires.

To one degree or another, just about everyone writing on the topic shares this view. Jerry Kaplan proposes that the federal government create a 401(k)-like account for every ten-year-old in the U.S. Those who ultimately do find jobs could contribute some of their earnings to the accounts; those who don’t could perform volunteer work in return for government contributions. (What the volunteers would live off is a little unclear; Kaplan implies that they might be able to get by on their dividends.) Brynjolfsson and McAfee prefer the idea of a negative income tax; this would provide the unemployed with a minimal living and the underemployed with additional cash.

via Our Automated Future — New Yorker

Self-Driving Uber Apparently Runs Red Light In San Francisco

“This incident was due to human error,” the statement read. “This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers. This vehicle was not part of the pilot and was not carrying customers. The driver involved has been suspended while we continue to investigate.”

State regulators said Wednesday afternoon that Uber must stop the self-driving car service until it receives a permit from the state.

via CBS SFBayArea – Self-Driving Uber Apparently Runs Red Light In San Francisco

HT kanaad

Manhattan traffic jam-fest likely as UN gathers to meet

The NYPD, which announced street closures beginning late Sunday, will provide security for up to 140 motorcades, with as many as 30 units protecting officials, according to a law-enforcement source familiar with the preparations.

“When heads of state come to New York City, they love to shop. Fifth Avenue often becomes motorcade alley,” Schwartz said. “When I was traffic commissioner, one of my agents ticketed Indira Gandhi’s motorcade.”

via Newsday – Manhattan traffic jam-fest likely as UN gathers to meet

Insurers Unprepared for Self-Driving Car Disruption: KPMG


In surveying senior U.S. insurance executives whose companies, in aggregate, account for almost $85 billion in personal and commercial auto premium, KPMG found skepticism about the potential transformation autonomous vehicles will bring in the near-term.

According to KPMG, few carriers have taken action—not due to doubts about the possible ramifications, but rather because most believe the change will happen far into the future, if at all. In fact, 84 percent of executives don’t expect autonomous vehicles to have a significant impact on their business until 2025, while 42 percent expect a significant impact in six to 10 years.

Nearly three quarters of insurers (74 percent) feel they are unprepared for autonomous vehicles today.


KPMG analysts think these executives are mistaken.

Albright said new technologies making cars safer are impacting underwriting practices, claim frequency and severity as well as auto premiums. “To remain relevant in the future, insurers must evaluate their exposure and make necessary adjustments to their business models, corporate strategy and operations,” he said.

“As the trend towards car-sharing proliferates and mobility-on-demand companies like Uber and Lyft become more popular, commercial lines likely will take a larger share of the automobile insurance pie,” said Alex Bell, a managing director in KPMG’s CIO Advisory practice. “The share of the personal auto insurance sector will likely continue to shrink as the potential liability of the software developer and manufacturer increases. At the same time, losses covered by products liability policies are likely to increase given that the sophisticated technology that underpins autonomous vehicles will also need to be insured.”

“The potential reduction in car ownership and decreased demand for personal auto insurance could lead to financial stress for less-diversified carriers, triggering consolidation in the insurance industry,” said Joe Schneider, a director at KPMG Corporate Finance LLC. “Assuming consumers demand lower premiums to reflect fewer accidents, there is the possibility of frenzied competition as firms attempt to maintain premium volume to cover operational expenses and market share. This irrational pricing behavior could result in a dangerous downward underwriting spiral for the broader industry.”

via Insurance Journal – Insurers Unprepared for Self-Driving Car Disruption: KPMG