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Remote exam software is crashing when the stakes are the highest

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Molly Savage never expected she’d be taking the Michigan state bar exam remotely after graduating this year from Wayne State University’s law school. Nevertheless, in July, she found herself sitting down in an office at the law firm where she already worked, taking the final seven-hour test that stood between her and a license to practice law.

Michigan, like many states around the country, had chosen a software company—in this case, ExamSoft—to administer the test and “proctor” it remotely. Savage had had a bit of trouble tracking down a computer that could run the software, which films test-takers through their computer’s camera, and the whole thing felt a bit creepy.

“Who’s actually reviewing this?” she wondered. “Is it a human being who’s reviewing it in real time?”

And then something even stranger happened: Midway through the test, a website meant to deliver passwords used to access the exam failed.

For Savage, the already high-stakes, high-stress test became “kind of chaos,” she said.

The log-in process, the company later said, had been targeted in a “sophisticated” cyberattack. Panicked test-takers around the state were calling ExamSoft, unable to pass the log-in page as the time ticked down on their exams. The company was able to get the test back on track, and according to a statement, “at no time was any data compromised.”

Nici Sandberg, a spokesperson for ExamSoft, said the company has since taken steps to improve its defenses against future attacks. But it’s not the first time ExamSoft’s digital proctoring has run into problems.

“Barmageddon”

In 2015, the company agreed to pay more than $2 million to settle a class action suit after software failures affected the bar exams in 43 states. At the time, the situation spawned a catchy epithet: “barmageddon.” The company declined to comment on those incidents.

And this year, two states with contracts with the proctoring company ILG Technologies, Indiana and Nevada, postponed their remote bar exams after technical glitches were revealed during practice testing. ILG Technologies did not respond to a request for comment. Officials offering the exams in Michigan, Indiana, and Nevada also did not reply to requests for comment.

But that hasn’t stopped more and more state bar associations, along with a growing number of universities, from turning to companies that produce remote proctoring software—the University of Washington, University of Missouri, and the University of California system are just a few of the many schools that have turned to the tools.

One executive from a company called Examity recently told Inside Higher Ed that the company’s growth was up 35 percent over what was expected in its quarterly forecast. Another, from a company called Proctorio, told The Washington Post his company would “probably increase our value by four to five X just this year.”

Even before the pandemic, the tools were being widely adopted. In 2018, Examity reported that it had seen five straight years of more than 50 percent growth. That growth is likely to continue unabated as schools remain remote.

The states The Markup contacted did not respond to requests for the dollar amounts of contracts with exam companies, but ExamSoft, for example, has been known to charge each exam-taker $134.50 in licensing fees as part of its contract. Normally, thousands of people take the bar around the country each year.

Tracking eyes and faces

Meanwhile, privacy advocates say the technology, which purports to track eyes, scan faces, and monitor typing, is troubling.

“A bar exam that forces our future colleagues to use invasive and unproven technology … and potentially endure discrimination is antithetical to everything the law is meant to uphold,” Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, wrote this month in a letter to New York officials asking them to reconsider the use of ExamSoft for the state’s bar exam, citing concerns of the potential for racial bias in tools like face-scanning. (Some test-takers have recently said they faced exactly that problem with the software—that it appeared to struggle to recognize darker features.)

ExamSoft’s Sandberg said, “[A]ll exams are first reviewed by AI, flagged for potential incidents and then also re-reviewed by professional human proctors.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation raised similar concerns about the California state bar exam. Both that exam and the New York exam were given remotely through ExamSoft last week.

Open Book Tests or No Tests at All?

The question is, in a pandemic’s world, what the alternatives really are.

One option, “diploma privilege,” is used in Wisconsin. It’s a process that allows some in-state law graduates to become licensed to practice without taking the bar exam. A few other states have given 2020 law school graduates who complete certain requirements such privileges, laying a path to practice as lawyers without taking the exam.

But other states have been more reluctant. In Florida, a group of law graduates filed a petition in the state’s Supreme Court court against the use of ILG software for the state’s exam this year. The graduates asked to have the exam waived for the year and to be allowed to practice after working with a licensed attorney for six months. The court ultimately shot down the request. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners did not respond to a request for comment.

At the University of California, Santa Barbara, faculty sent a letter to the administration objecting to the broad categories of data, from identifying physical details to keystrokes, used by ProctorU, another provider of software used for remote exams. “We recognize that in our collective race to adapt our coursework and delivery in good faith, there are trade-offs and unfortunate aspects of the migration online that we must accept,” the faculty wrote. “This is not one of them.” (The company threatened legal action against the faculty over the letter and said it only collects data for proctoring purposes. Use of the software is currently optional.)

“On campus, we are there to protect our students; we feel responsible for our students,” Jennifer Holt, a film and media studies professor at UC Santa Barbara and part of the faculty association, told The Markup. “That,” she said, “doesn’t change because instruction has moved online.” The use of the software isn’t required, but there’s little alternative beyond changing the format of tests.

Some experts in education question whether the problems go beyond the use of any specific software.

“This is a case where we’re trying to use the technology Band-Aid for a problem that’s much more fundamental,” said David Rettinger, a professor of psychological science at the University of Mary Washington, who studies ethics in education.

Rettinger said educators should consider relying more on different forms of testing, like open-book exams, which may better demonstrate how much students have learned. That could also create a less adversarial learning environment, he said, one that’s built more soundly on trust. It’s not exactly a silver lining, he said, since these are problems that suddenly have to be solved immediately, instead of over time.

Holt, for one, said she’d given the first open-book exam of her career recently. “These are crazy times,” she said. “We’ve got to make adjustments.”

But, she added, “we have to do it in a way that has these students in mind first.”


Originally published on themarkup.org

This article was originally published on The Markup by Colin Lecher and was republished under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license.

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How to create an AI that chats like you on WhatsApp

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To train a GPT-2 neural network, first of all we need to pre-process the data, in order to obtain a single .txt with a machine-learning compatible structure.

2.1 Google Colab

For the sake of simplicity and since the machine learning model we will use requires a GPU to work, we’re going to use Google Colab for the next step.

If you don’t know what Google Colab is, check this other article here.

2.2 Start the notebook

Open this Colab notebook and follow these steps:

  1. Run the first block of cells called under the “0️⃣ Init” chapter
  2. Press “Run Anyway” on the pop-up
  3. Make sure that the first command !nvidia-smi shows that a GPU is connected (p100 is suggested)
  4. If no GPU is connected, go to Runtime > Change Runtime type > Hardware accelerator > GPU
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Example output when a Tesla T4 GPU is properly connected. | Image by Author

2.3 Load the data

To work with the data, we need to upload them on Colab, into the right folders.

WhatsApp chats
Select all your .txt files and upload everything into the following notebook folder:
./messaging-chat-parser/data/chat_raw/whatsapp/

Telegram JSON
Get the file telegram_dump.json and upload it into the following notebook folder:
./messaging-chat-parser/data/chat_raw/telegram/

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Example of the notebook files after the chats are uploaded | Image by Author

2.4 Parse the data

Now, run all the cells up until the block “2️⃣ Parse the data”.

Here we need to replace the variable “whatsapp_user_name” with your WhatsApp name, called  on the 1.1 chapter.

You can also change the date format parsing system if some of the exported data show a different format due to local time formatting.

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Cells used to set the user name. | Image by Author

So, for example, if my name is “Bob” and I’m from America, the code I should use is the following:

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Here’s why scientists think women are better suited to space travel

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Are women better astronauts than men? This question will become central to the selection of crews to the Moon, Mars, and beyond as we undertake the colonization of space.

In the struggle for gender equality, women have already proven they are capable of doing anything — including conquering space, showing that not even the sky is the limit for their success.

[Read: Meet Alyssa Carson, the 18-year-old training to become the first human on Mars]

“The first all-women spacewalk at the International Space Station was carried out in October of 2019 and many other milestones have already been accomplished by women astronauts. But there has yet to be a first woman on the moon (or on Mars),” Katharina Buchholz writes for Statista.

The first woman in space 

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Valentina Tereshkova seen in 1963 became the first woman in space. Image credit: RIA Novosti

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born in Russia, in 1937. At the age of 18, working at a textile factory, she designed parachutes to aid her love of skydiving.

In the early 1960’s, the Soviet and American space programs were each engaged in reaching milestones in space exploration, attempting to upstage their adversary. Striving to beat the United States in sending the first woman in space, Soviet officials selected Tereshkova to become the first woman in space.

Tereshkova was launched into space on June 16, 1963, aboard the spacecraft Vostok 6. After 3 days, Vostok 6 reentered the atmosphere, culminating in Tereshkova successfully parachuting to Earth after ejecting at 20,000 feet. (This was standard for cosmonauts at the time).

“After her historic space flight, Valentina Tereshkova received the Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union awards… In 1966, Tereshkova became a member of the Supreme Soviet, the USSR’s national parliament, and she served as the Soviet representative to numerous international women’s organizations and events. She never entered space again, and hers was the last space flight by a woman cosmonaut until the 1980s,” The History Channel reports.

Although women successfully trained as American astronauts in the 1960’s, It took 15 years for the U.S. to fully accept women in their astronaut corps. In 1978, NASA approved six women to become the first woman astronauts of the U.S. space program.

One of them was Sally Ride, a doctor in physics who became part of the STS-7 crew on April 30, 1982, serving as a mission specialist. She was also the first American woman astronaut to return to space a second time, in 1984.

“Ride again made history when she became the first American woman to fly to space a second time on October 5, 1984, on shuttle mission STS-41G, where she was part of a seven-member crew that spent eight days in space. Another woman, mission specialist Kathryn D. Sullivan, was also part of that crew, making it the first NASA space flight with two women aboard (Sullivan became the first American woman to walk in space during that mission),
The History Channel reports.

After that, more than 59 women including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and foreign nationals have flown in space, and several other women astronauts are now preparing to take their first flight beyond Earth.

Despite enormous progress, since Sally Ride took her first flight, over 80% of the astronauts are still men. The 2013 class of incoming astronauts were the first to reach a 50/50 division of women to men.

Advantages of flying women astronauts

There are some reasons suggesting that women astronauts may perform better than men in some respects, including:

  • Women are lighter: Sending too much weight to space requires fuel, costing a lot of money. Having more women on the crew could help reduce the cost of space travel.
  • Women eat fewer calories and use fewer resources: When you plan to send humans to Mars, it may be a good idea to have more women on the crew because they require 15 to 25% fewer energy calories than men. They also expend less energy despite possessing similar activity levels. Additionally, because women are (on average) smaller than men, they produce less waste (CO2 and body excretions), making it easier for the spacecraft systems to recycle it.
  • Space traveling affects men and women differently: Due to the effects of microgravity and radiation, space-traveling can have several implications on astronaut’s health. It seems that men are less affected by space motion sickness than women, but men are quicker to experience diminished hearing. Men also have a higher risk of vision problems, while women tend to have more urinary tract infections.
  • Women can give birth: One idea for the long-term colonization of space is to send an all-women crew to Mars or other colonies. This would reduce travel costs, as an all-women crew to reproduce over time through artificial means.

“More significantly, men tend to have problems with deteriorating vision, which women don’t experience as often or as severely. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly — who has spent a cumulative 520 days in space and has the eye problems to prove it — half-jokingly wrote in his autobiography that if scientists can’t figure out what’s causing those eye issues, ‘we just might have to send an all-women crew to Mars,’” Nadia Drake writes for National Geographic.

Women have already proven to be great astronauts. However, there have not yet been enough studies to conclude whether or not women should make up most — or all — of the first colonists to space.


This article was originally published on The Cosmic Companion by Dr. Ana Luiza Dias and James  Maynard. You can read this original piece here.

Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion is also available as a weekly podcast, carried on all major podcast providers. Tune in every Tuesday for updates on the latest astronomy news, and interviews with astronomers and other researchers working to uncover the nature of the Universe.

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Yale may have just turned institutional investing on its head with a new diversity edict

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It could be the long-awaited turning point in the world of venture capital and beyond. Yale, whose $32 billion endowment has long been led since 1985 by the legendary investor David Swensen, just let its 70 money managers across a variety of asset classes know that for the school, diversity has now moved front and center.

According to the WSJ, Swensen has told the firms that from here on out, they be measured annually on their progress in increasing the diversity of their investment staff, meaning their hiring, training, mentoring and retention of women and minorities.

Those that show little improvement may see the university pull its money, Swensen tells the outlet.

It’s hard to overstate the move’s apparent significance. Though the endowment saw atypically poor performance last year, Swensen, at 66, is the most highly regarded endowment manager in the world, growing Yale’s endowment from $1 billion when he joined as a 31-year-old former grad student of the school, to the second-largest school endowment in the country today after Harvard, which currently manages $40 billion.

Credited for developing the so-called Yale Model, which is short on public equities and long on commitments to venture shops, private equity funds, hedge funds, and international investments, Swensen has inspired legions of other endowment managers, many of whom worked with him previously, including the current endowment heads at Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania.

It isn’t a stretch to imagine that they will again follow Swensen’s lead, which could go a long way in changing the stubbornly intractable world of money management, which remains mostly white and mostly male across asset classes.

While the dearth of woman and minorities within the ranks of venture firms may not be news to readers, a 2019 study commissioned by the Knight Foundation and cited by the WSJ found that women- and minority-owned firms held less than 1% of assets managed by mutual funds, hedge funds, private-equity funds and real-estate funds in 2017, even though their performance was on a par with such firms.

Swensen tells that WSJ that he has long talked about diversity with the fund managers to which the endowment commits capital, but that he had he held of anything systematic owing to a belief, in part, that there were not enough diverse candidate entering into asset management for a mandate to make sense.

After the Black Lives Movement gained momentum this spring, he decided it was time to take the leap.

What about that perceived pipeline concern? Fund managers will have to figure it out if they. For his part, says the WSJ, Swensen suggested to the U.S. managers that they forget the standard resume and consider recruiting directly from college campuses.

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