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A roped off entrance that says 'Coming to LA 2017'

Two Bit Circus Continues Quest to Turn Flames, Virtual Reality, and Lasers Into a Business

Brent Bushnell and his compatriots have been playing with electricity, fire, augmented reality, and classic carnival games for years now. They did it under contract to advertising agencies, they did it for the now-defunct TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, they did it as part of a Kickstarter campaign, and they did it to entertain their friends. They’ve paid at least some of their bills with it, but haven’t exactly lit the world on fire (just Brent Bushnell’s father, Atari-founder Nolan Bushnell, who they put in an asbestos suit and flambéed.)

Their latest venture, under the company name Two Bit Circus, is the “micro amusement park”. According to a press release, it covers approximately 2800 square meters, and will include multi-person virtual reality and mixed reality games, other social games, lasers, fire, and robots.

I’m not sure how well giant Tesla coils and flaming dunk tanks are going to go over with local zoning authorities. However, part of their vision has long involved augmented reality, and the “new arcade,” heavy on immersive, virtual reality and augmented reality experiences, is in the news these days. There’s been a lot of interest in VR and AR lately, high quality equipment is expensive, so it’s likely most people will experience this technology in an arcade setting, not at home, the reasoning goes. (I heard that scenario proposed many times at CES 2017.)

Given, then, that someone, somewhere, is going to make money off of AR/VR arcades, Two Bit Circus’ funding announcement this week is not surprising. The company just closed a US $15 million round, bringing total venture investment to $21.5 million. According to a press release, the money will be enable the company to start rolling out micro-amusement parks across the United States; the first will open later this year in Los Angeles. Brent Bushnell, CEO and co-founder of Two Bit Circus, defines micro-amusement as something bigger than an arcade and smaller than an amusement park that combines features of each.

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Stanford research Michael Snyder poses laden with the wearable gadgets that recently helped him realize he'd been infected by Lyme disease before he showed symptoms

Wearable Sensors Spot Lyme Disease

Stanford professor Michael Snyder was flying to Norway for a family vacation last year, wearing a Basis smart watch (since discontinued), a RadTarge radiation monitor, and iHealth, Scanadu, and Masimo oximeters. He was also using the MOVES app on his smart phone. Together, all this gear collects data on heart rate, blood oxygen, skin temperature, and activity, including sleep; steps; walking, biking, and running; calories expended; acceleration; and exposure to gamma rays and X-rays.

Snyder hadn’t loaded up on wearables just for this flight; he wore this gear regularly for two years as part of a study of 60 people, and frequently calibrated it with more standard medical tests. The goal? Try to figure out just how useful wearables can be in early disease diagnosis. The results of that study were published last week.

But there was something different about that plane ride. Snyder noticed that his oxygen levels—which he’d previously realized dropped during an airplane flight but returned quickly after landing—didn’t return to his baseline as expected. And his heart rate—that usually increased at the beginning of a flight but again quickly returned to baseline—didn’t come down as it normally would. Something was not right.

Snyder considered what, if anything, he’d been doing differently. Two weeks earlier, he’d been building a fence in rural Massachusetts—could he have been bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme disease? After his wearables also started recording a fever, he was able to convince a local doctor to treat him with antibiotics. Later blood tests for Lyme disease proved his hunch had been correct.

“The fact that you can pick up infections by monitoring before they happen is very provocative,” said high-tech health expert Eric Topol, professor of genomics at the Scripps Research Institute, in a statement.

It turns out, as noted by Snyder and the other researchers who worked on the study, that Lyme disease triggers particularly strong changes in heart rate, so was easy to detect.

The research team included Gao Zhou, Wenyu Zhou, Sophia Miryam Schüssler-Fiorenza Rose, Dalia Perelman, Ryan Runge, Shannon Rego, Somalee Datta, and Tracey McLaughlin, from Stanford; Elizabeth Colbert, from the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System; and high school student Ria Sonecha.

The team also suggested that wearables can identify insulin resistance, a precursor for Type 2 diabetes, using an algorithm that examines steps and differences between daytime and nighttime heart rates. Researchers also attribute the fatigue experienced by air travelers to a drop in blood oxygen that comes with flying—it’s likely why so many people doze during flight. Interestingly, they noted that during long flights oxygen levels improve as the body adjusts.

Are we really all going to strap on multiple gadgets, and wear them all the time? Snyder says that’s not really necessary, the Basis smart watch and the iHealth oximeter pretty much did the job. Oxygen sensors will likely migrate into wrist wearables. And then, with the proper algorithms, your smart watch could just alert you with a light or buzzer when it detects something off, like a prolonged elevated heart rate while you’re inactive. With an early warning of incoming illness you might be inclined rest a little more, or take various supplements intended to help you fight off viruses.

The researchers noted in their report that, of course, “It is possible that the use of wearables will lead to false alarms and overdiagnosis of disease. The number of false alarms will depend upon the threshold that is set, which can be personalized.”

“Overall,” they wrote, “we envision that these devices could be particularly powerful for individuals who are responsible for the health of others (parents and caregivers), and perhaps also for those who have historically limited health care access, including groups with low income and/or remote geography.”

Four antenna radiation patterns generated by an Ethertronics antenna chip; the system automatically selects the best one in a particular environment

CES 2017: Can a Self-Steering Antenna Fix Both Wi-Fi and TV Reception Issues?

CES 2017 wasn’t the show of the shiny new product. Wearables drew yawns, TV manufacturers spent more time talking about how to install their products on consumer walls than about the products themselves, and the lines to try on VR headsets were surprisingly short. Without the distraction of the next possibly big thing, it was easy to focus on the frustrations of the things we have now.

And one big frustration is Wi-Fi that isn’t always there, fast, and reliable. That frustration is why two router companies made the final round of the annual “Last Gadget Standing Event,” and earned their fair share of cheers: Ignition Design Labs, with its Portal home Wi-Fi system, and Linksys, with its Velop home mesh network.

The two take different approaches to addressing Wi-Fi frustration. The Portal’s approach of using Wi-Fi fast lanes and looking ahead for traffic jams (described in detail in Spectrum’s “Why Wi-Fi Stinks—and How to Fix It”), is suited for urban areas crowded with WiFi hotspots. Linksys, and other mesh network providers, makes sense for suburban customers, eager to get Wi-Fi signals to the outer edges of large houses and yards.

Off the show floor, antenna designer Ethertronics suggested a third approach: an automated antenna optimization technology it calls active steering.

The San Diego-based company says that its technology can generate four different radiation patterns from a single antenna. For devices with multiple antennae—like cell phones and Wi-Fi routers—these patterns can combine exponentially. The Ethertronics antenna systems monitor signal strength in order to select the best pattern, constantly switching between patterns if necessary. What’s more, as they are used in a particular environment, they learn which patterns tend to be optimal for that space.

That means, explained, Jeff Shamblin, Ethertronics chief scientist, that a Wi-Fi router using the technology would automatically react to a home’s layout to pick a signal pattern that would reduce dead spots, changing that pattern, say, when a group of people cluster in one room and affect signal strength. Or, he said, an indoor TV antenna could switch its RF characteristics when you change stations (the equivalent of manually fussing with rabbit ears) while the antenna itself remains motionless on the wall; that’d be appealing for cord-cutters who use a combination of broadcast TV and streaming services to avoid cable television bills.

Shamblin said that the company’s antenna systems will start showing up in Wi-Fi routers in the second half of 2017; TV antenna hardware is also in the works for this year.

A to do list for 2017 includes

Memo to Tech Professionals: In 2017, Ask For a Raise

At least one-third of tech workers are significantly underpaid. That’s the conclusion of a study by Paysa, a startup that markets tools designed to help software engineers and other technology professionals analyze and compare salaries and benefits. Paysa looked at 5 million resumes of technology professionals and concluded that nearly 2 million of them are currently underpaid by 10 percent or more. For an average software engineer making $112,000, the company indicated, that translates into $11,200 a year of missing income.

It’s probably a good time to ask for a raise, the study results suggest, because 2017 is looking like it will be a seller’s year for software engineers (Paysa’s original niche) and other technology professionals. “In 2017, the shift in power from the employer to the employee will accelerate, tipping the scales in favor of the employee, at least in the technology sector,” Paysa CEO Chris Bolte said in a press release.

The organization suggests that engineering managers might have reason to be worried that their tech workers might up and leave. More than 78 percent of technology and engineering workers the firm studied, Paysa concluded, “have a compelling reason to move to a new company and job within the next six months.” Those compelling reasons? Being underpaid relative to the market, having missed a promotion window, working at a company that is in a relative decline, or having been at the present company for the past two years. (I’d argue that the last factor is a bit of a stretch; there’s a lot of mobility in tech for sure, but is two years at one company really a sign that the bell is tolling for you?)

The Lily camera drone is a black quadcopter.

RIP Lily Robotics: The Flying Camera Drone Was a Great Idea That Others Will Get Off the Ground

Lily, a high-flying camera drone company that came out of stealth in 2015, came in for a hard landing today. The company announced that it spite of impressive pre-orders—$34 million worth—it couldn’t nail down the financing needed to “unlock our manufacturing line” and would be issuing refunds to all would-be customers. Lily’s founders, Antoine Balaresque and Henry Bradlow, have not yet been available for comment.

When I first met Balaresque and Bradlow, they were building prototypes of Lily in a crowded garage behind an Atherton, Calif., hacker house. I knew I was seeing the beginning of a classic Silicon Valley startup tale. The founders were fresh out of college, met at a hackathon, and had an idea and the energy and passion to run with it. Unfortunately, a lot of Silicon Valley startup tales don’t have a happy ending. At this point, it’s hard to know what went wrong.

The most likely reason may simply be that Lily couldn’t run fast enough to stay ahead of the pack. The company is no longer the only flying camera out there: other drones have been demonstrated that can be tossed into the air, self-stabilize, and follow a selected subject, like the Hover camera, from Zero Zero Robotics. (When I saw Zero Zero’s huge display at CES 2017, I did find myself wondering just what had happened to Lily.) And established drone makers have added auto-follow functions like those promised by Lily.

Maybe the company burned money too fast. Last January, when Lily announced a delay in its ship date from February 2016 to summer, the company was sitting on $15 million in venture money, had 40 employees, many with impressive industry resumes and was working out of San Francisco offices; no more hacker garage. I was a little surprised it was acting like a big company so quickly.

Or maybe software problems did it in; at the time of the delay announcement, Lily’s then-head of communications Kelly Coyne told me the problem was with the flight controls. “Making something that is following you around taking video that is perfect and seamless when you move left and right, or stop or jump, takes a lot of work to get perfect,” she said.  In a letter to preorder customers Lily explained the delay as caused by “component optimizations [that] required us to redesign core parts of our flight software to achieve smoother and more stable flight” and indicated it had needed to upgrade the image processing hardware and add sonar.

Whatever the reason, I’m always sorry to see enthusiastic and hardworking founders fail, even if, in Silicon Valley, failure is an expected part of a young entrepreneur’s education. Good luck, guys, with whatever comes next.

A man draws a crude smiley face on a touchscreen mounted on a gleaming metal fridge with french doors

CES 2017: Talk to the Fridge (and either Amazon Alexa or Google might answer back)

For years now, the consumer electronics industry has been trying to sell slightly intelligent Internet-connected appliances that you can control from your smart phone—and not gotten very far. A few of these things have caught on, like smart thermostats. But it’s harder to convince people they need their stoves and refrigerators on the Internet.

This year, however, the Internet of Appliances has gotten smarter, chattier, and cuter. It learns, talks to you, and it wants to be your friend. And the consumer electronics companies are hoping that you will now—finally—embrace the connected home.

The main force behind this evolution came from the broader tech world outside the consumer electronics industry. This force was the push to create smart personal assistant technology. Such technology constantly listens for a trigger word, then sends the next thing you say to the cloud for analysis; if it figures out you are asking a question or issuing a command, it does its best to respond.

Both Amazon (with its Alexa technology) and Google (with Google Assistant) sell stand-alone digital assistants for the home, and, as Wednesday’s CES press events made clear, have also been working with consumer electronics companies to embed this technology into new appliances. (Apple’s personal assistant Siri just lives on iPhones for now, though a stand-alone gadget is rumored to be in the works.) Right now, Amazon has the lead, mostly because it got its tools for software developers out ahead of Google. But this could shape up to be a Betamax/VHS kind of battle, as companies line up into different camps.

From the CES announcments from companies large and small, a picture is emerging of how these smart assistants will likely be used in the home.

The television, it is clear, will not be the centerpiece of the connected home despite the predictions from earlier years. Instead, as has been true since the beginnings of civilization, the heart of the home will be the hearth. That is, where we cook (and stand staring into the refrigerator wondering what to cook): the kitchen.

The kitchen is where we congregate, leave notes for each other, and get things done. I’m far more likely to think of things I want to tell or ask a virtual assistant while standing in the kitchen than when I’m watching TV—like remind a child about a doctor appointment, add something to a shopping list, even remember I need to order something online (clearly Amazon likes this one). It’s also where my children argue about whose Spotify stream plays on the Sonos; sorting that out is definitely within a smart assistant’s capabilities.

Another thing the consumer electronics companies got right this year is that they’ve stopped talking about lights. Turning lights on and off is not something that is going to make me embrace a connected home; it might be useful, but it’s not the killer app. Talking to my refrigerator—and having it talk back—just might be.

That’s the big picture, now a few product details.

LG announced that its Instaview refrigerator, an appliance with a touch screen display that covers most of the door and can turn transparent to let you see inside, will now run Alexa and can therefore act as the hub for the home assistant. The company didn’t announce pricing, but last year’s non-Alexa model sells for around US $4000.

For people who don’t want to replace their refrigerator, LG introduced a little countertop Alexa controller; company spokespersons call the LG Hub Robot a robot, but it doesn’t actually do much of anything physical, rather, it just orders other LG appliances around—like its clothes washer, oven, and robot vacuum—and look cute. A note about that vacuum—LG says it’s new robot vacuum is smart enough to know the difference between the legs of a person and the legs of a chair—and it will tell the person to move out of the way. No comment on how it handles sleeping pets. LG also announced that it has a robotic lawn mower in the works.

Samsung likewise updated its Family Hub refrigerator with smart assistant features. (Samsung’s refrigerator has a large touchscreen like LG’s, but the screen doesn’t turn transparent.) As usual, it took the opposite path from rival LG, going with Google technology to power what it calls Samsung Voice. Samsung plans to offer Family Hub as an option in all its French door style refrigerators going forward.

Griffin, better known as an iPhone accessories company, introduced a Connected Toaster; right now, said a Griffin spokesman, it’s just app controlled, but moving over to Alexa control is definitely something the company has on its radar. The $99 gadget allows you to create and save “toast profiles” for the different kinds of bread you use.

And, when you finally get out of the kitchen, the $249 Zeeq pillow from Rem-Fit lets you ask Alexa how loud you’ve been snoring (and other things about the quality of your sleep).

What Would You Do With a Waterproof MEMS Microphone? Listen to Whales, of Course

I first met Vesper CEO Matt Crowley around this time last year. Crowley said his startup had developed a prototype of a piezoelectric MEMS microphone that, he told me, was going to revolutionize the way mobile devices hear. Eventually, he said, every smart phone would have eight or more of these little microphones on board, they’d hardly use any power most of the time, and they would be the most reliable microphones we’ve ever seen.

Big claims, so I’ve been keeping an eye on Vesper since. Vesper doesn’t have their chips in any commercial mobile phones yet. But they come to mind every time a kid of mine manages to soak a cell phone and we’re both biting our nails hoping the possibly mythical rice trick works, because I know from experience it’s the microphone that’s the first thing to go when phone meets water. And I do I keep hearing more and more about piezoelectric microphone technology.

Vesper started in late 2014, coming out of a University of Michigan project aimed at using piezoelectric MEMS to create better microphones for uses as varied as aerospace and hearing aids. Conventional MEMS microphones have a backplate with an air gap separating it from the diaphragm; anything that gets in that gap—even a speck of dust or drop of water—can block that movement, killing the microphone. With piezoelectric MEMS microphones, the membrane generates electricity directly from the motion of soundwaves; there is no backplate. This is what makes them resistant to dust and water. That’s good news for people (like my kids) who drop their mobile devices in the toilet, run in heavy rainstorms, and go to dusty Burning Man.

Vesper has been collecting awards for its technology, most recently, Vesper chief technology officer Bobby Littrell received the Innovator of the Year Award in the annual Annual Creativity in Electronics competition held in San Jose in December. That same week the company scored US $15 million in venture funding, including an investment from Amazon’s Alexa Fund, to help bring its design to market.

But just because Vesper still has a lot to do to make its microphone happen doesn’t mean its engineers haven’t had time to enjoy the technology themselves. During his pitches to phone manufacturers, Crowley typically raves that the microphones will even work underwater. One manufacturer’s representative, Crowley said, asked him why anybody would want to record sound underwater. Crowley flashed on the movie Star Trek IVand its plotline surrounding an attempt to contact whales.  That led to him suggest a whale watch expedition for the next company outing, and to ask Vesper engineer Tung Shen Chew to put the microphone onto some kind of rig (basically a long pole) that would let them get it into the water.  “We got a lot of strange looks from the crew and other passengers, but once we explained what we were doing, they thought it was cool,” Crowley says. You can see a few whales—and hear their underwater sounds as recorded by the piezoelectric MEMS microphone—in the video above.

Next year, Burning Man?

Students from Stanford's first Hacking for Diplomacy class meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Stanford’s First Hacking for Diplomacy Class Takes On Refugee Crisis, Radicalization, Space Debris

How do you deter people from joining violent extremist groups? How can organizations better coordinate to help Syrian refugees? How do you get better data on missing or dead refugees? What can we do about the growing problem of space debris?

These were some of the challenges given by U.S. State Department officials to students in Stanford’s inaugural Hacking for Diplomacy class. The 10-week effort that ended last week, didn’t develop turnkey solutions—that wasn’t really the point. But they did come up with some fresh ideas.

The class, the first ever, follows a path set by Stanford’s successful Hacking for Defense class, first offered early this year and now being taught around the country. It clearly fills a need, Zvika Krieger, the State Department’s Silicon Valley representative and one of the instructors, told an audience of students, venture capitalists, leaders of Silicon Valley tech companies, diplomats from France, Great Britain, and Denmark, and a United Nations representative at the final class presentations last week.

“Big tech companies have as much impact on foreign policies as countries we have embassies to do,” Krieger said. But “tech is not high on the list of skills our diplomats have.” One goal of this class, he said, was to bring tech knowledge to the State Department; just as important, though, is to “convince the next generation of tech, engineering, computer science, and business students that their skill sets have something to offer the State Department.”

The class used the Lean Startup Model, involving multiple design iterations and extensive customer feedback. To attack the problems set out by their State Department sponsors—which included the Office of Space and Advanced Technology, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, among others—each group of three to six students talked to some 100 people involved in the problem or its solution. In most cases, these discussions prompted teams to pivot, that is, change either their definition of the problem, their approach to solving it, or both. 

For example, Team Exodus, working on the Syrian refugee problem, spent most of their 10 weeks trying to figure out how to connect private companies looking to help with the appropriate non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field. They then found that similar efforts were underway. In the ninth week, pivoting to focus on refugees as customers, they built an intelligent chat-bot that allowed refuges to use Facebook Messenger to ask for such specific types of help as where can I get clothing, or how can I apply for a visa. The chat-bot automatically taps into a network of NGOs to obtain answers, then builds a database of the answers for later reference. An early version of that chat-bot is already up and running.

Another team, Team Hacking CT, took a while to figure out how to use online tools to deter people from joining violent extremist groups. The team concluded that rather than trying to reach the at-risk people themselves, they solution involved providing resources and support for their family and friends concerned about their radicalization, via a support text-line, similar to those used for suicide prevention.

Team Space Evaders started out trying to track space debris, then decided that they could have more of an impact by developing a “debris footprint” to rate satellites before they are sent into orbit on how much space junk they would eventually generate. The team hopes this will lead to standards that encourage satellite makers to reduce the potential debris.

And Team 621/Fatal Journeys made several big pivots, after quickly determining, thanks to advice from people they consulted, that working with smugglers would be a really bad idea. They settled on a decidedly low-tech way to help identify refugees who died during the journey—a wristband, similar to those issued by hospitals, with identification and family contact information, advertised on Facebook and WhatsApp, and handed out for free by the Red Cross and similar organizations.

Addressing the students at the final class session, Steve Blank, a member of the teaching team and pioneer of the Lean Startup concept, said: “The good news is that you are going to look back on this and say, ‘I can’t believe we were able to do all this work in 10 weeks. The bad news is that this is going to set the bar for you and all the organizations you lead and manage in the future, because you now know what a competent team, well-led, can achieve.”

More analysis, as well as slides from all the student presentations, are posted in Steve Blank’s blog.

Tech execs discuss ways to ensure that people of color and women don't continue to be underrepresented in Silicon Valley's workforce

Why Isn’t the Tech Industry Doing Better on Diversity? It’s Google's and Facebook’s Fault

Three years ago, a software engineer at Pinterest, Tracy Chou, wrote a blog post calling for companies to release stats about the number of women in their tech workforces. Two years ago, thanks to the pressure that post generated, companies started releasing stats about workplace diversity—not just about gender diversity, but about racial diversity as well.

The data showed that tech companies were dramatically white and male, particularly in the upper ranks. And the biggest companies, at least, set out to do something about it

Last week, Atlantic Magazine brought together tech executives, local community leaders, venture capitalists, journalists, human resource specialists, and others to discuss diversity efforts. The discussion at Inclusion in Silicon Valley, at times, was refreshingly blunt. An early comment set that tone:

Leslie Miley, director of engineering at Slack, looking at investments tech companies make in Asia and India, and the investments they are not making in U.S. communities, said it, “shows that Silicon Valley is hostile to a certain kind of diversity. You come to Silicon Valley and you don’t see people that look like me in positions of power (Miley is black). If that’s not hostile, what is?”

Anthony Heckman, an associate at Kapor Capital, pointed out: “It’s not a diversity problem, it’s an exclusion problem. Blacks and women have been excluded, particularly from higher ranks. We have people from Turkey and France, but not Oakland.”

“Is it easier for this industry to find top folks from Mumbai than to create a pathway for kids from Oakland?” asked a member of the audience. Vayable founder and CEO answered in one word: “Yes”

The lack of diversity stems from hidden and systemic bias, believes Monique Woodard, a partner in 500 startups. “If you turned off the imported talent, would you look to Oakland and Atlanta? I’m not sure people would,” she said.

What the diversity problem isn’t about, many agreed, is the pipeline. “Largely the pipeline answer is a bit of a myth,” Woodard said. “There are large numbers of minority and women engineering professionals coming out of school every year. But where are you going to find them? Howard University? Hampton University?” Silicon Valley companies aren’t recruiting at those schools, and as a result, she said, those graduates “are going to government jobs, large national organizations—they aren’t coming to tech, to startups.”

“The pipeline is part of it,” said Y-Vonne Hutchinson, co-founder of Project Include. “But it is also what is happening inside of the company. What if a resume is from ‘Lakisha’? What if someone comes in wearing a suit because they want to impress—not a blazer and jeans—and that works against the candidate?”

Changing the practices that perpetuate the overwhelmingly white and male character of the Silicon Valley workforce are not going to be easy, the conference discussions made clear, because these practices have become so ingrained in the culture.

“I’ll call out Google and Facebook,” said Miley. “They created this culture where people are expected to come from a certain school and have a certain background. They’ve spun out hundreds of companies that have taken this model and run with it.”

“Many tech companies, Google included, have had an elitist approach, just going to top schools in country,” said Google vice president of people operations, Nancy Lee. Lee pointed out that Google recently widened its net, expanding recruitment to 300 campuses, up from 70. “That population [currently being recruited by tech firms] tends to be very homogenous.”

“I don’t think it’s about ill intent,” said Devin Wenig, CEO of eBay. “I have found strong inertia, that, at its worse, can be a bro culture, [the attitude that] ‘I’ve worked my entire life with young white engineers and they are good, that’s what I know, and I’m going to keep doing it.’”

“There is also the culture of genius, where we think some people are natural leaders, or have a technical mind,” pointed out Carissa Romero, a partner at Paradigm, a consulting firm that focuses on diversity issues. “When companies have that mindset, it leads to more stereotyping, because stereotyping is about fixed abilities.”

The lack of diversity in the venture capital industry, speakers suggested, is also holding inclusion at tech companies back.

“Venture capital comes out of finance,” said Woodard. “If you look at other areas of finance, they tend to be very white. It is also network and relationship driven—you hire an associate of whom you know. You know a guy—and it is always a guy—whose son wants to be a VC and you hire him as an associate.”

Many of the speakers indicated that the only way to seriously improve the inclusion of women and minorities in the tech workforce is to demonstrate that such inclusion benefits companies economically. Jonathan Williams, director of regional public affairs at Intel, said: “We did an economic impact study to try to quantify impact of full diversification [and] concluded that it would lead to a 1 percent increase in U.S. GDP. That’s a neat story that is under-told.”

“As the U.S. becomes browner, less white; as it becomes a majority minority nation, you can’t then say we are going to keep doing what we have always done,” said 500 Startups’ Woodard. “As economic and demographic shifts happen, what has always worked will no longer work. You have to speak to people’s pockets, and missing out on revenue speaks.”

EBay’s Wenig concurred that it’s about the bottom line. “If I don’t create an environment where best black, women, Hispanic engineers want to come to eBay, we’re not going to win in the talent war,” he said. “We have gotten people who otherwise would have gone to a sexy startup because they think we do get it. It is all about the talent war.”

Where does the tech industry go from here to fix the problem? They aren’t exactly sure. Said Wenig, “Companies, CEOs, and leaders are looking for help. They want advice, they want help; they believe in this, they want to make progress, but are struggling with how to make progress. Practical advice is welcomed.”

Five teen girls express themselves on a whiteboard wall, mixing art with engineering could attract girls like this to STEM careers

Want Girls Attracted to Tech? Put an "A" for "Art" in STEM

Two Bit Circus, a technology entertainment company cofounded by a son of video-game pioneer Nolan Bushnell, has been arguing for some time that the push for STEM in education is missing something. Brent Bushnell has used technology to make art throughout his career. He says that to really draw talented young people into science and engineering careers, STEM needs an “A” for “Art,” turning it into STEAM.

To better understand how children are drawn to different hobbies—and eventually careers—Two Bit Circus surveyed 500 parents of children between six and 14 years old in order to better understand gender differentiators in how children play and learn. According to the “STEM vs. STEAM: The Gender Gap” report, parents of both male and female children equally report that their child’s favorite STEAM subject in school is math (26 percent) or science (30 percent).

It’s when the school day ends that the differences emerge. Forty-one percent of the parents with boys surveyed said their children show the most interest in technology/computing activities outside of school, compared to 18 percent of parents with girls. Meanwhile, 45 percent of parents with girls report that their children show the most interest in art outside of school, compared to 10 percent of parents with boys. See the graphs above and below for more detailed results.


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