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U.S. must invest more in artificial intelligence development or face Chinese domination in the field, billionaire venture capitalist says
Global superpowers are battling to lead the development of artificial intelligence. In the race to technology’s new frontier, it’s China versus the western world, Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr said.
That has him worried.
“There are no voluntary or mandatory ethical standards that apply to how the Chinese are going to develop and promulgate and use AI technologies,” Doerr said.
The microchip, the internet and smartphones have defined technological innovations for the past four decades, Doerr said at a press conference Monday.
AI is next.
The chairman of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins was an early investor in Amazon and Google. Doerr’s investments now span from service companies like Slack and DoorDash to educational organizations like Coursera and Remind.
Doerr’s concern with China leading the AI charge is that the country will develop and use the technology in a way that does not mirror western values. He also worries about the creation of artificial general intelligence, a type of AI where computers are taught to learn and able to program machines humans can’t.
Doerr, based on conversations with his colleagues in the tech world, said he predicts artificial general intelligence will arrive between 2030 and 2050.
“My fear is that the Chinese would get the artificial general intelligence tools faster than the west,” he said.
He has long tried to warn of the dangers of China leading the race and has thought of some solutions to curb the threat of Chinese AI domination.
Extend legal residence to anyone who comes to the U.S. to study AI and gets a degree in it, he said.
“We’ve got a crazy national strategy,” Doerr said. “Let’s educate these people, then tell them they can’t stay. That’s stupid.”
The second way is to make a national investment in developing AI technology. He wants the government to pour billions of dollars into AI research through a “big, bold, bipartisan and backed-by-Trump bill.”
But some companies, like Google, have faced backlash when they have partnered with U.S. government.
Last year, the tech giant decided to end a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense that applied AI to analyze drone footage after a decisive response from employees, according to Gizmodo. Experts on Google’s AI team petitioned the company to stop working with the Department of Defense. Some even resigned in protest.
Soon after, Google released its guiding principles on ethical AI development. It’s number one objective: Be socially beneficial.
The concern over the ethical development and use of AI isn’t going away, and neither is the threat from China and its researchers. Doerr said there are more people studying AI in China than in the U.S.
“I’m not sure we are going to win,” Doerr said. “Right now, I predict will lose.”
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Venture capitalist unhappy with quality of public schools invests in education technology
Education has touched all parts of billionaire John Doerr’s life.
From investments to charity donations to creating a university leadership institute, Doerr has put his time and money into strengthening parts of the U.S. education system.
Doerr, a venture capitalist leading Kleiner Perkins, may be best known as a founding investor in Amazon and Google and a long list of other wildly successful companies. The Silicon Valley legend has earned a reputation as a backer of pioneers in the technology field. But also he is interested in social issues.
Public schools in the U.S. today are failing its students, he said. That idea irks him.
“Education is a great equalizer,” Doerr said.
Too many schools leave kids behind, Doerr said. They prevent them from graduating high school and going to college.
The companies he invests in now reflect a man who is looking to change that.
Doerr was raised in in St. Louis and is one of five children. His father, a businessman himself, is Doerr’s hero.
He attended Rice University for his undergraduate and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and Harvard University for his MBA.
He came to Silicon Valley with no job or place to live, according to his Kleiner Perkins biography. He worked at Intel while they were creating the 8-bit microchip. After Intel, he made his journey into venture capital.
One of his current investments is Remind, a free text messaging app that allows students, parents and teachers to communicate.
Remind co-founder Brett Kopf said likes to think of Doerr as a smart, thoughtful, laid back uncle.
Kopf first met Doerr in 2013 at the Kleiner Perkins office where Kopf was pitching him Remind. The app was he and his brother’s brainchild.
Kopf remembers how helpful Doerr was in laying out vision for the company. Kopf said he was a consistent advocate for their customers, the teachers and students.
“He cares a lot about the same things you and I care about,” Kopf said.
Kopf’s experience building Remind is featured in Doerr’s 2018 book, “Measure What Matters.” It’s a guide to setting goals and making them happen. He said he has sold nearly 400,000 copies.
The book also highlights one of Doerr’s guiding philosophies that he brings to nearly every company he works with. OKRs, objectives and key results, help define what an individual or a company wants to do and plan exactly how they are going to do it.
Doerr brought OKRs to Coursera, an online learning hub where people can take classes or earn degrees through colleges partnered with the site. Doerr sits on the board of Coursera after investing in it seven years ago.
“His influence has been on not just investing, but shaping how we act,” Coursera spokesperson Arunav Sinha said.
They still use OKRs as a business planning tool on a quarterly and yearly basis, Sinha said.
Doerr takes an active interest in the needs of the evolving higher education company. Sinha said he understands that their work is not about just creating another app but rather the future for students.
Doerr was a founding partner of Khan Academy, an internationally recognized non-profit that provides free instructional videos to students in math, science, programming, economics and more subjects. He and his wife, Ann, have donated over $10 million to Khan Academy.
He has sought out companies with power to transform education.
Doerr’s investments have been more than just capital for growing companies. At his alma mater Rice University, he and his wife donated $50 million to create The Doerr Institute for New Leaders.
The institute supports Rice’s undergraduate students and faculty with leadership development including one-on-one coaching, seminars and introductions to influential leaders in the Houston area.
Perris Lewis, a senior studying economics and managerial studies at Rice, is a lead affiliate with the Doerr institute. He works as a campus ambassador for the organization.
Lewis had the chance to meet Doerr in December 2018 when he visited Rice. Doerr and his wife had dinner with students from the institute.
Lewis was surprised to see Doerr arrive in joggers and tennis shoes. He said Doerr was very relaxed and excited to learn about what the students were involved in at Rice.
“I thought he was very genuine,” Lewis said.
Joey Black, a junior studying mathematical economic analysis and a Doerr institute lead affiliate, was also at the December dinner. He found Doerr to be relatable and funny. He was shocked to hear the alumnus use a cuss word at dinner.
“He is a very generous, caring individual,” Black said.
Doerr could have easily used his money to put his name on a building, Black said.
Instead, he invested in the students.
Teachers in San Francisco being pushed out of the bay, education as rent continues to rise
Lexi Stephenson’s began her career in education with a juggling act.
She started as a paraprofessional in 2011 in a special education classroom at Marina Middle School. At 2 p.m. when her day was over at Marina, she drove across the town to Fairmount Elementary School, now known as Dolores Huerta Elementary School, to work at an after school program.
She was chasing a calling familiar to so many drawn to education. She grew up wanting to be a teacher. She always knew that’s what she wanted to do.
But Stephenson was living on a minimum wage paraprofessional’s salary fighting against San Francisco’s rising rent prices.
Soon after she started working, she faced an ultimatum.
If she wanted to afford to live in the Bay Area, she needed to make more money. If she wanted to get her teaching credential, she had to move away.
So Stephenson made the career jump to technology company, Main Street Hub, and began a working in sales.
For years now, San Francisco has been losing its teachers because of rising rent and a high cost of living. They are not the only service workers who have been priced out of the Bay Area — social workers, first responders and other have felt it the effects of the housing crisis, too.
Skyrocketing rent has pushed overworked educators to seek second jobs as rideshare drivers, to rent rooms rather than apartments and to move out of town as far away as Sacramento.
With already exhausted teachers facing the added stress of not being able to make ends meet, it has forced the city to start to come up with solutions to end the educator drain or face the consequence of hemorrhaging professionals from its schools.
San Francisco area teachers are feeling the greatest effects of state housing crisis.
Los Angeles is spread out enough that there are pockets of affordability within the surrounding suburbs, said California Teachers Association spokesperson Frank Wells.
Teachers living in the Bay Area are pushed out to Oakland or cheaper places to live, Wells said. They don’t often get to live near where they teach.
Because of these affordability issues, he said school districts are having a harder time bringing new teachers in and keeping them.
“It becomes difficult to recruit and retain people,” Wells said.
South San Francisco Unified School District board of trustees president John Baker wrote a letter in May to state Senate leader Toni Atkins lamenting the large number of teachers and staff who leave the district each year. The housing is unaffordable and education workers are underpaid, he wrote.
Baker urged Atkins to allow a floor vote on Senate Bill 50. The bill hoped to allow new homes near public transportation and added protection for renters. But its progress in the senate was stalled.
“While some cities have tried to do their part to address California’s severe housing shortage, a haphazard approach cannot solve our problem statewide,” Baker wrote. “Solutions need to come from both regional and state levels.”
San Francisco is exploring one possible solution through a partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District to create housing for teachers. The plan is to transform a district owned property in the Outer Sunset neighborhood into an apartment building that will house teachers and paraeducators who make between $37,000 to $150,000.
They expect to start leasing the building in 2023, according to the site’s developer.
“We know that San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the country, and as a district we’re dedicated to doing everything we can to attract and retain teachers,” district spokesperson Laura Dudnick said in an email.
Still, Baker said his colleagues around San Francisco’s are all complaining of the same issues. Limited affordable housing is leading to qualified teachers leaving schools.
“We can’t pay teachers what they’re worth,” he said.
The special education paraprofessional turned sales associate yearned to be teaching while she was at work. Five years after she left education, she decided reading a script and making cold calls was boring.
She wanted to be back in the classroom. So she surfed EdJoin where San Francisco Unified School District jobs are posted. She found another paraprofessional job and applied.
She got the role, put in her two week’s notice and was back on the path to working in education.
Stephenson was able to go return to the field because she had saved money from her tech job and split the rent with her now-husband.
“I don’t get why teachers don’t make a lot here in San Francisco,” Stephenson said. “There’s so many people, so many schools.”
Some don’t have the same support Stephenson does. She knows a PE teacher who commutes to different schools all day and works as an Uber driver at night.
“You hear that story all the time now,” she said.
Stephenson is working on completing her general and special education credentials. After those are completed, she plans to earn her master’s in special education.
Originally, working in special education was a way to get her foot in the door while she was working on her credential. But she loves the students she has worked with and getting to seeing their growth from the beginning to the end of the year.
“When you just are able to connect with the kid that is unique in so many ways, it’s pretty special,” Stephenson said.
Despite the joys of teaching, teacher salaries are still something that weighs on her mind.
“Pay makes me nervous in terms of people wanting to go into education,” Stephenson said.
It’s a difficult time for teachers in the Bay Area as they are forced to reconcile soaring rent with low wages.