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GHC15: Wednesday Keynote: Hilary Mason

 We are welcomed here by Telle Whitney herself – a good friend of Anita Borg, the woman who founded this conference.

The first GHC had only 500 women technologists – this year?  Twelve thousand people from over 60 countries. We have an increasing number of men. They are now experiencing here at this event what most of us experience every day – welcome to our world!

Alex Wolf, president of ACM, talked about ACM. It’s a member society and the largest and oldest of such in the world. It has 110,000 members.  Why would you join a professional society?  We have so many means of interacting today on social media, in ways replacing parts of the role of professional society.  ACM is the pinnacle of technical stewardship. They published 22,000 articles last year alone!

ACM also wants to work to make a difference.  They do curriculum development around the world. Continuing their focus on education, they spun out a sub group CSTA – Computer Science Teacher’s Assocation, focusing on K-12 teachers.

ACM also focuses on improving diversity. A group you’ll see a lot of here is the ACM-W group.  They have a booth here, so please go meet them.

Now our keynote: Hilary Mason, Founder and CEO at Fast Forward Labs – a computer scientist, a data scientist and a CEO! Wow!

Redit – the best and worst of the Internet. Great quote on showing someone from the past what the neatest thing about the future: I have a device in my pocket that has the sum of all human knowledge, and I use it to look at cats and argue with strangers.  Note: technology has changed, but people are the same.

Machines are now starting to do things we previously believed were only in the domain of humans: art, writing poetry, using data to build better apps.  For examples, with FourSquare – it started just as a basic checkin, but now it knows what you like and don’t, and can make food recommendations specifically for you based on your location.

Why is this happening now?  First and foremost, we can afford the compute power now!  We all have computers more powerful than an Eniac now in our pockets.

Everybody thinks their data is unique – but it turns out, human behaviour is predictable. This makes it easier to learn.

And finally – we have the data! Even if you didn’t collect it, you can get access to it (ref:

Technology is now so accessible and cheap: did research around… what’s the cutest animal in the world?  The answer: the dog.

Years ago, Sony made an electronic dog – Aibo. In 2013, Sony stopped repairing them. But, people fell in love with their “dogs” – so now they are having funerals or their pets. Check out: A Robotic Dog’s Mortality.

Our past impacts us: think about what happened to the A:  and B: drives on windows.  Where did we get 80 column screen width from?  Punch cards.  Where did we get code comments from? Yep, punch cards again.

Fifteen years ago, data science didn’t exist.  So, when you think about what you’re going to be doing in 5 years – think about where the industry will go.

A lot of startups have to rely on commodities – because inventing hardware, etc, along with a new business model and idea – can be too much.

But look out for things that are about to commoditize. For example, the price of hard drives is starting to drop – what interesting thing could you do now with lots of diskspace you couldn’t afford to do 5 years ago?

Look at Hadoop – you can be doing computations and not care where in the world they are happening.

The last thing: new data is constantly becoming available.

A dirty research secret? Many data analysis tools are trained on the English version of wikipedia, so many of these tools are better with English than other languages.

Her team has been doing research on real-estate ads – they’ve found that if a home is described as “cozy” it’s 400 sq feet smaller than the average house.  Oddly, if it’s described by agents as “large, open” etc – it’s usually average or just below average. What they learned? If the agent is talking about size… they place is not large.

She talked about analyzing photos from instagram. It’s not perfect: it identified all photos taken on the NYC subway as prison photos – oops! They had used pictures of prisons in the training set, but no subway photos.  It’s funny, but as we’re integrating this into our lives, we need to think about the impact of these errors.

Think thougtfully of what we’re going to build – together.

Careers in technology are hard to plan, as everything is changing so fast. Think about what direction you want to head into to create the world you want to live in!

What an inspiring and informative talk!

ABIE Award Winners!

Technical Leadership Award winner: Dr. Lydia Kavroki!  She’s the Noah Harding professor of Computer Science and Nuroengineering in Houston. Shes a fellow in ACM and IEEE! Congratulations!

To learn moare about ABi.local groups – how you can join or start, please see the Anita Borg website.

Post by Valerie Fenwick, syndicated from Security, Beer, Theater and Biking!