Numlock News: August 19, 2020 • Tuna, Oil, Grades

By Walt Hickey

Machines Learned

In 2003, researchers compiled a critical resource — a dataset called CoNLL-2003 — that would go on to fuel machine learning and natural language processing for nearly two decades to come. It specifically allows robots to understand sentences, specifically how subjects relate to verbs and adjectives within a sentence. The problem is that the 20,000 newswire sentences that were fed into the model in 2003 contained significantly more sentences about men than they did about women — five times as many in fact — and that’s making the models that rely on it worse at correctly identifying women’s names, 5 percent more likely to miss a new woman’s name than a new man’s name.

Hayden Field, OneZero


The petroleum business has a pipeline problem, but not the usual kind where they screwed up a pipeline really bad and need to ameliorate the environment. No, the oil and gas business is having trouble attracting younger talent, even despite the notoriously lucrative compensation that comes in petroleum engineering. A survey of 20- to 35-year-olds found that a career in the oil business was not appealing to 44 percent of respondents, and among those aged 16 to 19 fully two thirds had written off oil and gas as a career. Extraction jobs in the United States have fallen 30 percent since 1982, and from March to June the industry cut 20 percent of its jobs, roughly 105,000 positions.

Rebecca Elliott, The Wall Street Journal


Increasingly, this fall students in the United States will be forced to work from home, and that’s a serious issue because the availability of internet in the U.S. is less than one might believe. The FCC estimated 19 million Americans do not have a fast internet connection, but the actual number may be double that figure owing to poor data collection. About 15 percent of households with school-age children don’t have a high-speed internet connection, whether that’s because they live somewhere that broadband providers don’t offer service or that they cannot afford it. That digital divide is actually getting worse: in 2013, 12 percent of adults making less than $30,000 had internet access only through a smartphone, but today that’s up to a quarter.

Olga Khazan, The Atlantic

Too Much Tuna

Western Atlantic stocks of bluefin tuna are about 17 to 20 percent of the level they were in 1970, and nobody really knows what the “right” level should be since it wasn’t something that was kept super close track of before then. Japan imports 80 percent of the global seafood catch, and it was only in 1972 that Canada began exporting their enormous tuna to Japan. Today, though, the estimate is that for every 50 bluefin that swam the Atlantic in 1940, just one swims today. The response has been certification programs ensuring that the colossal fish are caught ethically, which evidently means “caught in a hella radical fashion” by harpoon or handline alone, not cowardly “nets.”

Sasha Chapman, Hakai Magazine

A Levels

The United Kingdom’s Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation is embroiled in a controversy related to how they handled exam results applied to students after their formal A-level exams were cancelled in the spring, the tests necessary for students to claim provisional spots at universities. The original solution was an algorithm that incorporated student rankings and schools’ historical performances, but that led to thousands of grades being lowered from teachers’ estimations, which imperiled placements for students. Fully 35.6 percent of grades were adjusted down by a single grade, 3.3 percent went down by two grades, and 0.2 percent by three, with evidence that students who went to fee-paying private schools benefited disproportionately from the algorithm. The office has decided to eliminate the algorithmically-determined grades and will revert to teacher estimates.

Jon Porter, The Verge


An analysis of 500,000 doses of a dozen drugs given to patients from 2010 to 2017 found that the times that drugs were given was not uniform, with about a third of orders coming at 8 a.m. to noon, most of which were concentrated from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. That’s not really coincidental: that’s when doctors make rounds. But it’s also not necessarily the ideal time to give a patient their medication, the analysis found, as the ideal time for uptake and medical need isn’t necessarily right after a resident punches in for the day and finishes their coffee.

Emily Anthes, The Atlantic


Last February, Northrop Grumman’s MEV-1 satellite successfully latched on to a doomed communications satellite Intelsat 901, which had run out of fuel after 20 years. As a result, for the cost of $13 million a year MEV-1 will allow Intelsat 901 to stay active for another five years, potentially moving on to another host afterwards. This could be the future of satellite maintenance, and a successor satellite MEV-2 — which hopes to remain in service for 15 years — is now bound for Intelsat 10-02, where it will hopefully latch on and extend that satellite’s lifespan as well.

Loren Grush, The Verge

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