IBM Releases Dataset to Help Reduce Bias in Facial Recognition Systems

IBM wants to make facial recognition systems more fair and accurate.

The company just released a research paper along with a substantial dataset of 1 million images with intrinsic facial features including facial symmetry, skin color, age, and gender.

The tech giant hopes to use the Diversity in Faces (DiF) dataset to advance the study of diversity in facial recognition and further aid the development of the technology.

“Face recognition is a long-standing challenge in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI),” the authors of the paper wrote. “However, with recent advances in neural networks, face recognition has achieved unprecedented accuracy, built largely on data-driven deep learning methods.”

Lead scientist at IBM, John Smith told CNBC that many prominent datasets lack balance and coverage of facial images.

“In order for the technology to advance it needs to be built on diverse training data,” he said. “The data does not reflect the faces we see in the world.”

Bias in facial recognition technology is an ongoing issue in the industry and tech companies are starting to take steps to address the problem. In December, Microsoft president, Brad Smith, wrote a company blog post outlining risks and potential abuses of facial recognition technology, including privacy, democratic freedoms, and discrimination.

The company also wrote that it is calling for new laws that regulate artificial intelligence software to prevent bias.

Joy Buolamwini, a researcher at the M.I.T. Media Lab, researched how biases affect artificial intelligence and found the technology misidentified the gender of darker-skinned women 35 percent of the time.

“You can’t have ethical A.I. that’s not inclusive,” Buolamwini said in the New York Times. “And whoever is creating the technology is setting the standards.”

IBM’s Diversity in Faces dataset is available to the public and researchers are urging others to build on this work.

“We selected a solid starting point by using one million publicly available face images and by implementing ten facial coding schemes,” they wrote in the paper. “We hope that others will find ways to grow the data set to include more faces.”

Black STEM Ph.D. Students Less Likely to Publish in Academic Journals

A new study found that Black Ph.D. students in STEM fields were three times less likely to have published a paper in an academic journal than their peers.

Researchers at UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) explored how personal characteristics—such as race and gender—and preparedness for graduate-level coursework affected their likelihood of being published.

The study, titled “Structure and Belonging: Pathways to Success for Underrepresented Minority and Women Ph.D. Students in STEM Fields,”  showed that Black STEM scholars published at significantly lower rates than their counterparts—including other underrepresented students—due to perceived readiness, feelings of belonging, and perceptions of program structure.

Of the 430 students found most likely to publish academic papers, white, Asian, Latinx and Native American students published at nearly equal rates.

“Our study strongly indicates that the onus should not fall on minority students to make changes to succeed in STEM settings,” said study lead author Aaron Fisher, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. “Institutional changes that make students feel welcome and provide clear guidelines and standards for performance are optimal ways to ensure the success of all students.”

The representation of Black, Latinx, and American Indian/Alaska Native scholars in STEM fields remains at under 10 percent overall, according to the study.

Only 5.7 percent of total graduate students pursuing engineering degrees were Black, and 3.7 were enrolled in physical and earth sciences degree programs in Fall 2017, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. Black graduate students made up 10.6 percent of mathematics and computer science students.

“It’s not so much that being black results in fewer publications, but that the experience of being black in a university setting presents challenges and obstacles that white students are either not facing, or facing to a lesser degree” Fisher said. 

Black doctoral students have been vocal about their experiences navigating doctoral programs and confronting racism in academia. Adjunct professor at Queen’s University, Ontario Anita Jack-Davies chronicled her graduate school experience noting how her lack of understanding the culture and lack of formal support for marginalized students impacted her time as a student.

“As a first-generation student, I needed support beyond the confines of my relationship with my thesis supervisor,” she wrote. “I needed to belong to a community that would encourage me as I fulfilled key requirements of the program.”

Read the full study to learn more. 


NBA Star Aaron Gordon Is Launching A Coding Program In Orlando

Orlando Magic player Aaron Gordon is no stranger to Silicon Valley. 

Through his mom, Shelly Davis Gordon–who worked in the industry for various high-profile companies over three decades–Aaron practically grew up immersed in tech. 

Gordon’s mother worked for chip maker Alera (which was previously acquired by Intel), and started a computer science after-school program to teach students how computers operate.

Now, the the fourth year power forward out of Arizona is following in his mom’s footsteps to launch CodeOrlando, a coding program for local youth with disadvantaged backgrounds.  

“I just want kids from a not-so-great upbringing who are underprivileged to have the same opportunity that everybody else has,” said Gordon to the Orlando Sentinel. “I want them to not be cast aside because of the color of their skin or what they look like or if they don’t have both parents. I want everything to be equal and fair.”

CodeOrlando will use smartphone or tablet apps to build code that will program Sphero—a spherical robot—to teach students foundations of computer programming.

“It’s an opportunity for underprivileged kids to get a seat at the economic table,” Gordon said. “It can give a chance on what could be a promising career. It’s not just about getting a job but creating jobs or creating a business for themselves. There are too many white guys in tech.”

The summer program plans to operate out of the Academic Center for Excellence in Orlando serving 30 kids grades 8th to 12th beginning next year. 

Google Links With MotherCoders and to Diversify Tech With Moms

Google is teaming up with MotherCoders, a nonprofit helping mothers thrive in tech, and to put on a nine-week tech training program for moms of all backgrounds in New York City.

The program is designed to set moms on a tech career path through skills training for career advancement, accelerating a startup, or re-entering the workforce.

To qualify, moms must be at least 21-years-old, have a college degree, and some experience trying to learn to code.

“There’s a huge population of very educated people, but moms tend to get pushed out of the workforce,” said MotherCoders founder Tina Lee to TechCrunch. “We end up with a lot of moms who are overeducated and underemployed. There’s no reason why moms shouldn’t be included in the diversity and inclusion initiatives going on.”

MotherCoders participants learn HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, during the program and are offered free childcare throughout the duration of the nine-week training. MotherCoders NYC will be entirely sponsored by Google.

“Creating opportunities for everyone and increasing access to CS Education is something we have in common with MotherCoders and and we can’t wait to see the impact this program has on women across the city,” said Google NYC external affairs head Carley Graham Garcia in a statement.

The cohort begins in February 2019 and has already started accepting applications

Lenovo Releases First Ever Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

As the tech industry moves towards transparency in the workplace, more companies are committing to improving diversity and fostering inclusion. This includes publicly sharing their employee diversity data.

While it is clear the industry still has work to do, companies are tracking internal progress and sharing how they plan to move diversity and inclusion forward.

Lenovo just joined the slew of high-profile tech companies in releasing their diversity figures and core inclusion strategy for the first time.

The report showed the computer manufacturing company is only 7.3 percent Black and 4.9 percent Latino. The comparison shows the majority of their workforce is white at 66.9 percent and 18.6 percent Asian.

The computer manufacturing company plans to hire and retain diverse talent while focusing on reviewing their hiring process and searching for potential structural bias. Part of the recruitment strategy to reach diverse candidates is through their University Hiring program targeting five HBCUs each year. 

The company also has a resource group dedicated to mentoring and leadership development for Black employees.

“In a time of great global transformation and uncertainty, it’s right that we reflect on what it means to both be and succeed as a global business today. At its core, global means being diverse and inclusive,” said Lenovo chairman and CEO, Yang Yuanqing, in a statement released to the press.

In the report, Lenovo also outlined a four-point strategy for improving diversity at the company: build inclusive leadership behaviors, foster diverse and inclusive systems, ensure accountability, and tell our story.

Yolanda Lee Conyers Chief Diversity Officer, President Lenovo Foundation

“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made…but we have more work to do,” said chief diversity officer Yolanda Lee Conyers. “With focus on measurable commitments that bring us closer to our vision of a technology structure—and by extension, a social structure—that allows everyone to participate fully.”


How a College and Coding Bootcamp Are Teaming Up to Boost Enrollment

Dominican University of California and Make School, a coding boot camp based in San Francisco, are teaming up to give students a more well-rounded education.

In an effort to increase enrollment, liberal arts school Dominican University is offering computer science courses taught by Make School professors and Make School is offering general education courses taught by Dominican Univerisity professors.

The partnership is working to stifle enrollment declines in coding programs, as well. Low enrollment in coding bootcamps has caused some companies to close or target corporations as training programs.

Dominican University plans to offer a computer science minor within five years; however, creating curricula and finding professors will be expensive and time-consuming. The partnership with Make School gives students the chance to learn coding skills, while providing Dominican University the framework for creating a computer science minor.

Make School currently offers a two-year bachelor’s degree in applied computer science. Students can pay tuition as they go or opt to pay a percentage of their gross salary after graduation. The program received funding from Emerson Collective, a social change organization, and Y Combinator, a tech startup incubator based in Mountain View, Ca.

Make School is also paying Dominican University to help the coding program navigate federal and local academic regulations.

Other universities like Queens College and Northeastern University have partnered with coding boot camps; however, students receive professional certifications instead of degrees.



CodeFWD Is Facebook’s Latest Effort Toward Getting Kids Hooked On Coding

Photo: Sphero

Students and teachers can apply to receive a free robot in the mail from Facebook and Sphero (the creator of the Star Wars BB-8 toy). The bolt robot is part of Facebook’s CodeFWD program, its latest attempt at getting kids passionate about coding.

The spherical robots can be told to roll in certain directions, light up and more with the use of block-based JavaScript that the kids learn how to execute.

By having this kind of fun technology in schools across the nation, Facebook hopes that underrepresented groups in technology will gain access and build interest in the industry at a younger age.

Right now the program is available for fourth through eighth-grade classes being led by credentialed teachers as well as registered non-profits with internet and computer access.

More details of the program can be found on Facebook’s newly launched Facebook For Education website, which serves to bridge computer science programs with educational programs that encourage them.

Although these programs and efforts are a clear investment in Facebooks public brand and in communities that it is reaching out to, it’s also an investment in the future of Facebook (and technology in general). These kids will grow up with a deep familiarity and longstanding knowledge of the importance and presence of coding and other parts of computer science that will make them great potential candidates for employment.

Right now, the CodeFWD program has been piloted at the Harlem Children’s Zone and Austin’s Latinitas according to TechCrunch.

More Women And Minority Students Are Taking AP Computer Science Classes Than Ever

Photo: CreateHerStock

According to a new report from, more minorities — including women, black and Latino students — took Advanced Placement computer science classes than ever before in 2018. Even rural participation was up in a major way, expanding the average demographic for who takes AP courses in America.

In general, 31% more students are taking AP computer science exams than previous years, but within that group, black students who took the courses grew 44 percent, Hispanic and Latino students grew by 41 percent, women grew by almost 40 percent this year and rural participants grew by 42 percent.

The growth is significant, especially when you consider that just 2 percent of schools with high percentages of underrepresented students of color offer AP computer science classes to begin with.

These courses are essential because of the power and opportunity that comes from computer science. We’re still on the technology wave, and through these courses, students can get exposed skills that lead to successful careers in tech, a job market that is always growing.

“There will be one million job openings in the next decade that require computer science experience,” said Trevor Packer, senior vice president of AP and instruction at College Board.

By providing the opportunity for more minorities and women to participate in the program, the future tech leaders in the country have a higher chance of being diverse in race, gender and experience.

All Star Code Has Raised $1 Million To Develop Its 5th Annual STEM Summer Program

Photo: All Star Code

All Star Code’s “Summer Intensive” summer program (held in NYC and Pittsburgh) helps teach students about entrepreneurship, game design, computer science and web development over a six-week period — for free. ASC’s mission is to increase diversity in STEM and help young boys of color join careers in the field, and Black Enterprise announced this month that the organization successfully raised more than $1 million to further this mission.

ASC hopes to educate 10,000 young men of color by 2022. Already in the past five years, it has educated around 300 students in the summer programs. As a result, 95 percent of those graduates have attended four-year colleges and half of them have started a business or tech project.

According to the website, the program is open to current male high school sophomores and juniors who are able to commute to the host cities daily. Preference is given to black and Latino applicants, and no coding experience is necessary to be accepted.

This year, ASC received almost 1,000 applicants for the 160-spot program.

“Tech is one of the most influential and lucrative industries, so it’s vital that Black and Latino young men are better represented in this space to capture its economic opportunity,” said Christina Lewis, ASC founder.