ADC AUTHOR Congress could help start hundreds of infrastructure projects across the country by appropriating money to the Defense Community Infrastructure Program (DCIP), according to analysis the Association of Defense Communities released this week.“This ready-to-go infrastructure plan makes national security the first priority,” ADC writes in “Implementing the Defense Community Infrastructure Program: A Survey of Projects Ready to Enhance Military Value.”Congress created DCIP in the defense authorization bill to allow for DOD matching grants to state and local governments for critical off-base infrastructure needs affecting installations’ resilience and readiness.A national survey helped ADC identify more than 200 projects in 28 states that could be eligible for DCIP funding. The report describes the projects, which range from transportation and public safety to utilities and other joint services.The defense bill authorized up to $100 million for DCIP, but that would need to be officially appropriated by Congress.
When users ask Siri, Apple’s digital assistant, what she likes to drink, she is quick with an answer.”I have a thirst for knowledge,” she responds.Her counterpart at Microsoft, Cortana, opts for a very, very dry martini.But M, the digital assistant Facebook is testing, deflects the question. “I don’t have an opinion about that. What’s your favorite drink?”As the tech giants race to build ever better artificial intelligence platforms, they are obsessing over the nuances of their digital assistants’ personalities.For users, digital assistants are a gateway to powerful artificial intelligence tools developers expect to influence major decisions about what to buy and how to spend time.The more tech companies can get users to rely on their digital assistants, the more valuable data they will accumulate about the spending habits, interests and preferences of users. The information could be fodder for lucrative digital advertising or a lever for companies to keep users locked into their ecosystems.But companies are split on the best way to forge deep connections with users. Siri and Cortana are waging charm offensives, both quick to crack a joke or tell a story. Their elaborate personas are meant to keep users coming back.Facebook has built M with no gender, personality or voice. The design bears some resemblance to Google’s similarly impersonal assistant.While catchy one-liners generate buzz, a digital assistant with personality risks alienating users or, the companies say, misleading them about the software’s true purpose: carrying out simple tasks, much like a real-life assistant.Facebook’s no-nonsense assistant focuses on handling chores such as ordering flowers or making restaurant reservations.”We wanted M to be really open and able to do anything – a really white piece of paper – and see how people use it,” Alex Lebrun, a Facebook executive who oversees the AI team for M, said in an interview with Reuters.For tech companies, the stakes are high, said Matt McIlwain, managing director of Madrona Venture Group, since digital assistants can guide users to their own products and those of their advertisers and partners – and away from those of competitors. Google’s digital assistant, for example, uses the company’s search engine to fulfill user requests for information rather than Yahoo or Microsoft’s Bing.”That trusted assistant could function as my agent for all kinds of transactions and activities,” McIlwain said.Research from the late Stanford professor Clifford Nass, an expert on human-computer interaction, shows that users can become deeply invested in AI that seems human, though they are also more disappointed when the systems come up short, raising the stakes for companies that make the attempt. And what charms one user can annoy another – a danger that Facebook and Google have largely sidestepped.Nevertheless, the Siri team concluded that personality was indispensable, said Gary Morgenthaler, an investor in Siri, the startup that created the eponymous assistant and was later acquired by Apple.”If you are emulating a human being,” he said, “then you are halfway into a human type of interaction.”Google has decided it doesn’t want to take personality further without having a better handle on human emotion.”It’s very, very hard to have a computer be portrayed as a human,” said Tamar Yehoshua, vice president of mobile search.The Google app, making use of predictive technology known as Google Now, responds to questions in a female voice but has few other gendered touches and little personality.The Google app does reflect its creator’s spirit of curiosity, however, by sharing fun facts, Yehoshua said.Facebook has a team of human “trainers” behind M, who answer some requests that are beyond the capabilities of its artificial intelligence. The company hopes to gather data on users’ most frequent requests in order to improve M so it can handle them in the future.That data is limited, however, as M is so far available only to 10,000 people in the San Francisco Bay area.Despite M’s design, users frequently ask to hear jokes, a request the assistant obliges. Humans tend to anthropomorphize technology, academics say, often looking for a personality or connection even when tech companies intentionally have veered away from such things.”When you give people this open mic, they will ask anything,” said Babak Hodjat, co-founder of AI company Sentient Technologies.Siri’s personality did not change much after Apple acquired the startup in 2010, though she switched from responding in text to speech at the insistence of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, said Adam Cheyer, a co-founder of Siri who is now a vice president at another AI company, Viv Labs.”He was right on that call,” Cheyer said. “The voice is something that people really connect with.”Microsoft interviewed real-life personal assistants to help shape Cortana’s personality, said Jonathan Foster, Cortana’s editorial manager. The assistant’s tone is professional, but she has her whims.She loves anything science-fiction or math-related – her favorite TV show is “Star Trek” – and jicama is her favorite food because she likes the way it sounds.Such attention to detail is critical because humans are very particular when it comes to artificial intelligence, said Henry Lieberman, a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies human-computer interaction.Companies must be mindful, he said, not to venture into what researchers call the “uncanny valley,” the point at which an artificial intelligence tool falls just short of seeming human. Users become fixated on the small discrepancies, he said.”It becomes creepy or bizarre, like a monster in a movie that has vaguely human features,” Lieberman said.iDAvatars CEO Norrie J. Daroga said he walked a fine line in creating Sophie, a medical avatar that assesses patients’ pain. He gave Sophie a British accent for the U.S. audience, finding users are more critical of assistants that speak like they do.And she has flaws built in because humans distrust perfection, said Daroga, whose avatar uses technology from IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence platform.Some academics say Siri’s personality has been her greatest success: After her release in 2011, users raced to find all her quips. But some of her retorts have caused headaches for Apple.When asked what to do with a dead body, Siri used to offer joking suggestions such as swamps or reservoirs — an exchange that surfaced in a 2014 murder trial in Florida.She is more evasive when asked the question today. “I used to know the answer to this” she says.Even in that response, Morgenthaler sees traces of the true Siri.”It’s a little bit of a protest against the corporatization,” he said. “I don’t forget, but I’ve been made to forget.”
WikipediaMichael Olivas, a UH law professor and the interim president of the University of Houston Downtown, celebrated the Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas.“This is a very good day,” Olivas said. “It shows that there’s moral order restored in this universe.”Olivas said Mexican-Americans, for example, are still vastly underrepresented in the state’s major universities.The 4-3 ruling ends a years-long legal battle between Abigail Fisher, a white woman from Sugar Land, and the University of Texas at Austin.“I hope this is a signal to other disgruntled, white, aggrieved plaintiffs that just because they didn’t get in and because they weren’t admissible, it doesn’t mean that they lost their seat to some less deserving person of color,” Olivas said.The ruling upholds UT’s admissions program, which among other factors, considers the race and ethnicity of applicants.“It’s only a factor of a factor of a factor of who gets into the university,” said Charles “Rocky” Rhodes, a professor at the Houston College of Law.He said UT was able to provide evidence that Texas’ Top 10 Percent law wasn’t enough to ensure diversity in the school’s classrooms. The law mandates public colleges admit the top students from any of the state’s high schools.Rhodes said since UT’s system is so unique, the ruling won’t act as a precedent in future affirmative action cases.“But what it does do (is) show that the Supreme Court is not poised to strike down race-conscious admissions programs as long as those programs are supported by sufficient evidence of their necessity and need,” the professor said.Rhodes added that it sends a message to public colleges to make sure they really study how and if race should be considered as part of their admissions policies.The ruling does not end the debate over how schools achieve a diverse student body.At the University of Houston’s Student Center, education major Bianca Ezumah said diversity is one of the reasons she chose UH. But she didn’t think race should be considered in admissions.“I think you should admit people based off if you think they would excel at your university,” Ezumah said. “Or if you think they deserve the chance.”Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton criticized the ruling. In a statement, he said the opportunities at the University of Texas “should be available to all students based on their merit, not the color of their skin.”State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chairs the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee. He said the decision confirms that UT’s admissions policy was designed to create diversity without discriminating against any group. X Listen To embed this piece of audio in your site, please use this code: Share 00:00 /02:18
To embed this piece of audio in your site, please use this code: X Listen The Esplanade at Navigation in the Second Ward is in Houston’s most gentrifying ZIP code, 77003.In the past few years, the area east of downtown, known as EaDo, has gone through a rapid transformation.Formerly mostly home to warehouses, its streets are now lined with bars and restaurants and, most prominently, the BBVA Compass soccer stadium.Balazs Szekely with RentCafé analyzed 11,000 U.S. ZIP codes for changes in home values, household income and education level.“This new life and obviously the huge number of townhouses that followed as a response to the increased demand is actually what pushed the median income to almost four times the figure recorded in the year 2000,” Szekely said.He found home values in EaDo increased by 284 percent from 2000 to 2016 and higher education levels by 443 percent. That ranks ZIP code 77003 third in the country in terms of gentrification.The other Houston ZIP code in the top 20 is 77007, the Washington Avenue area.Home values there have risen 107 percent and household income 114 percent since 2000. 00:00 /00:00 Share
“I hope they tear this place down, it isn’t safe! It’s got mice, roaches, rats, mold, bedbugs—all kinds of pests…” said Danielle Harris a longtime resident of Perkins Homes. And her sentiment is echoed by many living in the public housing complex. The AFRO spoke to tenants about the conditions at Perkins Homes.Taneeta Wilson, a resident of the Perkins Homes public housing development in East Baltimore points to crumbling plaster from her leaky kitchen ceiling.Wanda, who only wanted her first name used, said black mold in her home triggered a health hazard, because she said she has an autoimmune disorder. “I started experiencing, in the bathroom and the kitchen, these big, black spots, like in the corner of the bathtub, which was, they say, mold…When maintenance came they sprayed white paint over the spots in the bathroom…the paint started to wash away in the shower but the mold was still there,” she said.As residents described deplorable living conditions for their families another story emerged—residents alleged women were being asked to exchange money or sexual favors for maintenance services already guaranteed by their lease. Although many claimed they knew of women who had been harassed, only one woman came forward and shared her notarized statement of the harassment she experienced.According to a woman identified as “Ms. W” the electricity was intermittent at her home, and her refrigerator would lose power. She says the management office dispatched a maintenance worker who installed a large generator in the kitchen to power her home. When she realized the generator made too much noise for her and her child to sleep, she asked for it to be removed. “He came back out to my house to pick the machine up, and he said it would cost me $150. I did not have it because it was the end of the month, and I had no more money to pay him. He stated to me, ‘Well, we can have sex to clear this bill up,’” according to her statement. This allegation echoes a similar scandal which emerged last year at Gilmor Homes. The city settled a lawsuit for almost $8 million after more than a dozen residents said they had been asked for sex in exchange for repairs.The AFRO contacted the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) and discovered there have been 18 complaints of sexual harassment in Perkins Homes since 2016.HABC communications director Tania Baker refused to comment specifically on the status of the sexual harassment complaints. “It is HABC policy not to disclose the outcome of any personnel investigation, as personnel matters are confidential by law,” was Baker’s response.Lucky Crosby a former public housing maintenance worker and whistleblower said that the lack of response was calculated, “I know that sexual harassment is still happening, I’ve heard the complaints and I know women have reported it…but they just sweep it under the rug.”The complaints about Perkins come as Beatty Development, the company that developed Harbor Pointe in Harbor East, allegedly is moving forward with plans to revitalize and redevelop Perkins Homes.The question remains, will this have any impact on the plans that Beatty Development and the City of Baltimore have for redevelopment. Last year, a development deal for Perkins with Virginia based CRC Partners fell apart for undisclosed reasons. Beatty Development and Perkins Point Partners have promised, “high-quality housing for people of all income levels,” but have not yet released the details of how many affordable housing units will be available to residents who wish to stay in Perkins homes. Although residents say they are still struggling with conditions in Perkins and fearful of retaliation for their complaints, some are even more fearful the future of Perkins will have no place for them.
By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, email@example.comU.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently convened a hearing on poverty in the country and the key witness was the Rev. William Barber II, the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.Barber testified on June 12 at the U.S. Capitol before such lawmakers as Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who serves as the Democratic Whip. Before Barber spoke, Cummings talked about the importance of the forum.Rep. Elijah Cummings (pictured) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently held a hearing on the scourge of poverty. (Courtesy photo)“President Obama’s most significant accomplishment was pulling America out of the Great Recession,” he said. “During his administration, we had 75 straight months of job growth. However, far too many Americans are not doing well economically. In 2016, 40 million Americans are living in poverty as the stock market soared.”Cummings said that Americans life expectancy has declined over the past two years and he noted that many people are going into bankruptcy because of the high cost of medical treatment. He noted that “everyone should benefit from our nation’s growth.”Warren said that the average American is in a dire financial situation.“Forty percent of adults don’t have $400 for an emergency,” Warren said. “Fifty percent of all working Americans don’t have a dollar for retirement. America is in a crisis.”The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a think tank based in the District of Columbia released a statement on June 12 that noted that $140 million Americans or 43.5 percent of the country’s population is either poor or low income “in the world’s richest country.” The statement noted that the 400 wealthiest Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the U.S. population or 204 million people.The IPS statement said White people made up 42.5 percent of the poor while Latinos consists of 27.4 percent and 22.7 percent of Blacks consisted of the impoverished.Barber introduced several participants in the Poor People’s Campaign who consists of those in the ranks of the working poor. He invited them to talk about their lives.Pamela Sue Rush, who lives in rural Alabama, talked about working a full-time low wage job and having to travel miles to Birmingham to seek treatment for her daughter as well as paying high utility bills to live in a mold-infested house that was obtained by a predatory loan.“It is so unfair,” Rush said. “People shouldn’t have to live like I live.”Barber made a point that people of color aren’t the only ones suffering from poverty and invited Nick Smith of Southwest Virginia to speak.“I am the son of a coal miner’s daughter,” Smith said, playing off of the popular Loretta Lynn song. “For many years, I could not drink the water we bathed in. When the coal companies left, there was nothing to replace them and organized labor doesn’t exist in Appalachia.”Smith said he has seen instances where poor Whites are pitted against Blacks and Browns to keep all three groups down.“Poor Whites are intentionally segregated from Blacks and Browns to keep us from organizing,” he said.The members of Congress listened to the testimony but offered no policy solutions. However, Lee suggested that there should be an effort to make sure that every American earns a living wage.