Q&A: A powerful look at the future of AI, from its epicenter at Carnegie Mellon – TechRepublic

This was a great interview with Andrew Moore, Dean of CMU’s School of CS.

What’s the most pressing area of research in robotics?

We have a dirty secret. One of the reasons we’re having this renaissance in AI in the last few years is that we’ve become very good at computer vision. We’ve become very good at learning, so that robots no longer need to be programmed for every possible eventuality—they just adapt to their environment. That’s why you’re seeing this big burst in robotics, in car industries and the logistics industries and retail and medicine and so forth. But we have not had the same success in grasping and manipulation. The claw of the hand of the robot being dextrous, quickly moving around and picking things up without breaking them. That’s where we’re devoting a huge amount of effort. Roboticists around the world are focusing on that. Until then, robots will be deployed in areas where they’re not controlling manipulation, but they’re controlling machines and detecting problems, moving large bulky objects around. We’ve given ourselves a 5-year moonshot project. We want to put a robot arm on 100,000 powered wheelchairs in the US. The goal is that the people on those wheelchairs who have high spinal cord injuries or degenerative diseases, can’t use their own arms, look at an object, hold their focus on it, and the robot arm will reach to pick it up and place it where the user looks or indicates. If we can get this problem solved—we think there’s a 50/50 chance to do it in five years—it will be an extremely good thing for all the people who need this help. It’s a big test to see if we’ve broken the barriers of manipulation. This is exactly what we did about 15 years ago with self-driving car technology. That one panned out.

Are schools meeting the demands?

There’s been a lot of progress, and I’m excited by the new inclusion of CS in the New York curriculum. In Queensland, Australia, robotics is becoming an actual part of the required curriculum for kids. The countries that really push the math and statistics behind AI are the ones that will prosper in the long run.

How is CMU dealing with recruiting more women into tech?

We’re really passionate about this. We’re the first university to have broken through the 40% barrier

Is the Field of Artificial Intelligence Sexist? – Nextgov.com

This article on diversity in AI (or STEM in general) is preaching to the choir here, but I’d like to see more studies / numbers backing up some of the comments.

“There’s a difference between agentic goals, which have to do with your personal goals and your desire to be intellectually challenged, and communal goals, which involve working with other people and solving problems.”

In general, many women are driven by the desire to do work that benefits their communities, desJardins says. Men tend to be more interested in questions about algorithms and mathematical properties. Since men have come to dominate AI, she says, “research has become very narrowly focused on solving technical problems and not on the big questions.”

To close the diversity gap, schools need to emphasize the humanistic applications of artificial intelligence.

via Is the Field of Artificial Intelligence Sexist? – Nextgov.com.

How to Level the Playing Field for Women in Science – Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Our most important finding is that family formation damages the academic careers of women but not of men. Having children is a career advantage for men; for women, it is a career killer. And women who do advance through the faculty ranks do so at a high personal price. They are far less likely to be married with children. We see more women than we used to in visible positions, like presidents of Ivy League colleges, but we also see many more women than men who are married with children working in the adjunct-faculty ranks, the “second tier,” and one of the fastest-growing sectors of academe.

The most vulnerable years of a female scientist’s career are the earliest: the graduate-student and postdoc years. The greatest
leak in the science pipeline occurs before women obtain their first tenure-track job, and the major reason is childbirth. Specifically, according to the NSF survey, married mothers are 35 percent less likely than married fathers to obtain a tenure-track job. Single women without children, on the other hand, are almost as likely as men to get that job.

via How to Level the Playing Field for Women in Science – Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In summary, academia sucks for married/attached women.

Real Numbers: Asian Women in STEM Careers: An Invisible Minority in a Double Bind | Issues in Science and Technology

Percentage of doctoral scientists and engineers employed in universities and 4-year colleges (S&E occupations) who are tenured, by race/ethnicity and gender (2008)

Percentage of scientists and engineers employed in government who are managers, by race/ethnicity and sex (2006)

Percentage of scientists and engineers employed in business or industry who are S&E managers, by race/ethnicity and gender (2006)

Percentage of scientists and engineers doctorate degree holders employed in business or industry who are S&E managers, by race/ethnicity and sex (2006)


The advancement of Asian female scientists and engineers in STEM careers lags behind not only men but also white women and women of other underrepresented groups. Very small numbers of Asian women scientists and engineers are advancing to become full professors or deans or university presidents in academia, to serve on corporate board of trustees or become managers in industry, or to reach managerial positions in government. Instead, in academia 80% of this population can be found in non-faculty positions, such as postdocs, researchers, and lab assistants, or nontenured faculty positions, and 95% employed in industry and over 70% employed in government are in nonmanagerial positions. In earning power they lag behind their male counterparts as well as behind women of other races/ethnicities in STEM careers.

via Real Numbers: Asian Women in STEM Careers: An Invisible Minority in a Double Bind | Issues in Science and Technology.

Gender disparity in EECS persists | Dailycal.org

only 12.4 percent of students in the EECS major at UC Berkeley are female

via Gender disparity in EECS persists | Dailycal.org.

Well-made clip on gender diversity in EECS at Berkeley.

Somewhat related, it is comforting to learn that gender is not a huge factor in the report titled Ph.D. Student Attrition in the EECS Department at the University of California, Berkeley. The following interpretation is interesting but not fully backed with data.

A possible interpretation of this result … career choices must fit into a larger picture. For men, it is more acceptable to segregate the two. Seymour observed this same phenomenon in a study of undergraduates: “young men… are more willing to place career goals above considerations of personal satisfaction. By contrast, young women show a greater concern to make their education, their career goals, and their personal priorities, fit coherently together.” Another important concept is the idea of the science “mold.” If there are no role-models, no women faculty within the academic mold that appear to enjoy the life graduate student women aspire to achieve, women will seek a career option in which it is easier to integrate career and personal goals.

On Nerd Entitlement

These are curious times. Gender and privilege and power and technology are changing and changing each other. We’ve also had a major and specific reversal of social fortunes in the past 30 years. Two generations of boys who grew up at the lower end of the violent hierarchy of toxic masculinity – the losers, the nerds, the ones who were afraid of being creeps – have reached adulthood and found the polarity reversed. Suddenly they’re the ones with the power and the social status. Science is a way that shy, nerdy men pull themselves out of the horror of their teenage years. That is true. That is so. But shy, nerdy women have to try to pull themselves out of that same horror into a world that hates, fears and resents them because they are women, and to a certain otherwise very intelligent sub-set of nerdy men, the category “woman” is defined primarily as “person who might or might not deny me sex, love and affection”.

Women generally don’t get to think of men as less than human, not because we’re inherently better people, not because our magical feminine energy makes us more empathetic, but because patriarchy doesn’t let us. We’re really not allowed to just not consider men’s feelings, or to suppose for an instant that a man’s main or only relevance to us might be his prospects as a sexual partner. That’s just not the way this culture expects us to think about men. Men get to be whole people at all times. Women get to be objects, or symbols, or alluring aliens whose responses you have to game to “get” what you want.

And so we arrive at an impasse: men must demand sex and women must refuse, except not too much because then we’re evil friendzoning bitches. The impasse continues until one or both parties grows up enough or plumps up the courage to state their desires honestly and openly, without pressure or resentment, respecting the consent and agency of one another.

This usually doesn’t happen. What usually happens instead is that people’s sexuality and self-esteem get twisted into resentment of the (usually opposite) gender; they start to see that gender as less than human, particularly if they are men and learn at every stage of their informal and formal education that women are just worth less, have always been less, are not as smart, not as good, not as humanly human as men.

via On Nerd Entitlement.

HT Yang Ruan

This is a response to Scott Aaronson’s story concerning nerd entitlement [src].

I don’t understand her proposed action in the end, but I loved a bunch of parts of the response.

Tangent, which I’ll incorporate into another article soon, hopefully: Institutional sexism and society bias produce an environment in which women are automatically less of people than men. A by-product is of this is that women are raised to care more about what other people think of them and what they do. Some of this leads to a great skill in understanding other people, other people’s problems, and a general concern for other people. Empathy, basically. I believe that these skills place women (and others who have honed these skills) at an advantage when we consider the problems of the world, which continue to involve more and more people. We need more problem solvers who can also understand problems of people.

Many Women Leave Engineering, Blame The Work Culture : All Tech Considered : NPR

From the aerospace sector to Silicon Valley, engineering has a retention problem: Close to 40 percent of women with engineering degrees either leave the profession or never enter the field.

“It’s not women who need to change — it’s the work environment that does,” she said.

The study found that only 17 percent of women left engineering because of caregiving reasons, which Fouad said dispels the notion that pregnancy plays a big part in keeping women out. But she does point out that many of those who did leave to stay home with children did so because their companies did not offer flexible enough work-life policies.

“We’ve found that women stay in engineering because they want to make sure they are making a difference,” she says. “If women feel they are making that difference, retention levels will be higher.”

via Many Women Leave Engineering, Blame The Work Culture : All Tech Considered : NPR.