Tekla Perry writes: IEEE USA says H-1B visas are a tool used to avoid paying U.S. wages. "For every visa used by Google to hire a talented non-American for $126,000, ten Americans are replaced by outsourcing companies paying their H-1B workers $65,000," says the current IEEE USA president, writing with the past president and president-elect. The outsourcing companies, Infosys, Cognizant, Wipro, and Tata Consultancy in 2014 "used 21,695 visas, or more than 25 percent of all private-sector H-1B visas used that year. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Uber, for comparison, used only 1,763 visas, or 2 percent," they say. They do support expanding green card programs, stating "America was built by green card holders, not guest workers."
Tekla Perry writes: Members of the Shakey the Robot team and other pioneers in robotics gathered at the Computer History Museum this week to celebrate the naming of Shakey as an IEEE Milestone, and talk about Shakey's development and more contemporary topics in robotics research. The discussion touched on why Shakey has no arms, the sometimes bizarre experience of being DOD-funded, whether humans or robots belong in space, and how modern robots deal with drunks in hotel hallways. Along with the human luminaries, Shakey's grandchild, Relay, made a brief appearance.
Tekla Perry writes: Photoshop Creator Thomas Knoll, speaking to a small group at the Computer History Museum, gives a nod to the power of procrastination, shares a few thoughts on fake news, and tells why he thinks the move to subscription software from packaged software has been good for the engineers who design it. For one, he says, "It changes incentive for engineers. Previously, the incentive was to create features that demo’d well. Now the incentive is to create features people actually use and don’t want to do without."
Tekla Perry writes: The Computer History Museum set out to turn the spotlight on software engineers, and show how they are the changing the world. But what projects to feature in the new, permanent exhibit (that opens to the public this Saturday)? The curators whittled a list of 100 technologies that owe their existence to breakthroughs in software down to seven: Photoshop, the MP3, the MRI, car crash simulation, Wikipedia, texting, and World of Warcraft. They expect these choices to be debated at length, in particular, World of Warcraft, but hope the exhibition elevates the prominence of software engineers and gets more than a few middle schoolers about targeting their career plans in that direction.
Tekla Perry writes: Lily Robotics' idea of a flying camera was a good one--but others quickly grabbed it and flew with it, while this startup founded by two just-out-of-college entrepreneurs got bogged down. Was the problem technical wrong turns, blowing through its venture money, or just the classic Silicon Valley story of a startup that just didn't cross the finish line ahead of its competition?
Tekla Perry writes: CES 2017 is turning into the battle of the intelligent agents: Alexa, with a head start, is everywhere; Google Assistant isn't out of the game though. Siri, however, stayed home. As to where these chatty agents will be hanging out in your home it turns out that they are no different than most people you invite to your parties--you'll find them in the kitchen.
Tekla Perry writes: Why can't Silicon Valley do better on diversity? Atlantic Magazine hosted a one-day discussion on this topic last week. Among the insights: it's not the pipeline, it's easier for this industry to connect to tech workers in Mumbai than to kids in Oakland, the culture is hostile to a certain kind of diversity, and the culture set up by Google and Facebook--that has filtered out to startups--is a big part of the problem. Said one panelist: “They created this culture where people are expected to come from a certain school and have a certain background. They’ve spun out hundreds of companies that have taken this model and run with it."
Tekla Perry writes: An autonomous shuttle from Auro Robotics is picking up and dropping off students, faculty, and visitors at the Santa Clara University Campus seven days a week. It doesn't go fast, but it has to watch out for pedestrians, skateboarders, bicyclists, and bold squirrels (engineers added a special squirrel lidar on the bumper). An Auro engineer rides along at this point to keep the university happy, but soon will be replaced by a big red emergency stop button (think Staples Easy button). If you want a test drive, just look for a "shuttle stop" sign (there's one in front of the parking garage) and climb on, it doesn't ask for university ID.
Tekla Perry writes: Startup Ommo, launching at Highway 1 Demo Day this week, says it can do millimeter-precise, 360-degree position tracking using a $30 pocket-sized magnetic field generator and a handful of 70-cent sensors. Its first product, aimed at virtual reality gaming, will be a $189 pair of gloves.
Tekla Perry writes: Stanford's Jeremy Bailenson and his Virtual Human Interaction Lab have for more than a decade been testing whether experiences virtual reality can change real world behavior. Now they are using their knowledge--and expertise at developing VR software--in what they hope will be a large-scale move towards making people behave better. The lab this week released, for free, a VR experience for the HTC Vive. It's aimed at giving people the sense of diving down to a coral reef--but the real goal is getting them to consider how carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is killing the oceans. He hopes, with the dearth of good VR content available, this software will proliferate at least as fast as VR hardware does. Next up for the lab, a deep dive into homelessness.
Tekla Perry writes: Global Equities Analyst Trip Chowdhry says his predictions of massive tech layoffs for 2016 were right, and the laid off workers will never again find tech jobs: “They will always remain unemployed,” at least in tech, he said. “Their skills will be obsolete" He also predicts worse news for tech employment in 2017, when the layoff tsunami hits startups and the tech bubble bursts. "The startup companies have exhausted the number of fools," he says. The bust starts in March and it all will last two years, according to Chowdhry's analysis.
Tekla Perry writes: Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, first VP engineering Al Alcorn, and a host of early employees, some on stage, the rest filling the 100 seats in front of them, last week turned what was billed as a discussion of Atari's role in Silicon Valley history into a night of secret telling. Getting Atari started was truly a case of fake it until you make it--and the early employees were even faking each other out. There was the fake customer, the fake competitor, the fake demo, and more... And there was Steve Jobs, watching it all and getting an education about doing a startup.
Tekla Perry writes: Software engineer Edward Newett thought Spotify was making it too hard for users to get to recommendations of new music. So he pulled together various machine learning systems used elsewhere in the company, pulled user photos from Facebook, and quietly pulled together a new recommender, "Discover Weekly" that he pushed out to Spotify's employees, and then the world. The first "production incident" verified its popularity: Some users “went into blind rage or existential crisis.” Newett told the story of Discover Weekly at the @Scale conference last week. “This wasn’t a big company initiative,” he said, “just a team of passionate engineers who went about solving a problem we saw with the technology we had.”
Tekla Perry writes: Stanford wrapped up its first "Hacking for Defense" class this week; the plan is to roll it out at universities around the country as a sort of cyber ROTC. The eight teams in this first, 10-week effort worked with various defense agencies on pressing problems--some found solutions, some redefined the problem--and one already has $200,000 in seed funding to take it to the next level. In many cases, the apparent need was a hardware problem ("more sensors," "defensive drones") turned out to be a software problem (better data aggregation and analysis).