The new school

Higher education is being transformed by COVID-19, but it goes beyond universities simply “going remote” to try and cope. The changes afoot are holistic, transformative and a long time coming. These changes will extend to recruiting, training and, ultimately, how employers fundamentally go about finding potential candidates for their organizations. It also will change the very nature of higher education itself.

Before COVID-19, would-be employees would take traditional educational routes to gain employment. High school led to college which (sometimes) led to grad school. Almost all of this was done in an immersive campus setting where students tried to figure out not only who they were but what they wanted to do and with whom they wanted to do it. This path required enterprises to react specifically to an entrenched educational model that determined how would-be employees would be groomed and trained — be it for a specific skill set or cultural fit — all in an effort to determine who the right person was for them.

This model has grown bloated over the years, and the industry that supports it — projected to register $10 trillion globally by 2030 — has become increasingly vulnerable to the kind of technology-driven change that, over the last decade, has been disrupting old-school industries across the board, from retail to logistics to real estate and more.

“A reckoning is coming for schools and universities,” Scott Galloway, a professor of Marketing at the NYU Stern School of Business, told CNN in late May. “We’ve raised prices 1400% but at the same time if you look at innovation…if you walked into a classroom today it wouldn’t look, smell or feel much different from what it did 40 years ago.”

In a blog post from April, Galloway further projected that COVID-19 would lead to a culling among universities. As with retail, he suggested — where closures skyrocketed from 9,500 stores in 2019 to more than 15,000 in 2020 — there will likely be dozens, if not hundreds, of colleges and universities that simply do not recover from the virus. He also predicted a sustained drop in applications at four-year universities for the first time in decades.

The blow to the world of higher education was bound to come,” said Roei Deutsch, co-founder and CEO of live video course marketplace Jolt Inc. during a talk on the podcast, Coffee Break. “There is a higher education bubble, something there does not work in terms of cost versus what students receive in return, and you can say that the coronavirus crisis is the beginning of this bubble’s bursting.”

While the virus may hasten an overdue transformation in higher education, it also will create opportunities for startups that create alternatives to traditional higher education. As with many other sectors, though, this will be less about COVID-19 acting as a radical change agent and more about the virus accelerating what was already taking place behind the scenes, primarily within global enterprises.

Over the last decade, enterprise learning and development (L&D) has grown in importance as various technologies proliferated throughout large organizations. The global corporate e-learning market is estimated to grow up to $30 billion at a 13% compound annual growth rate through 2022. This growth was driven in large part by the increased importance of matching workforce capabilities with actual required skill sets.

Learning experience platforms (LXP) and learning management systems (LMS) are core products used by enterprises in L&D. They are used to monitor, track and administer employment learning activities. They usually serve as digitized online catalogs. Learning software is primarily designed to create more personalized learning experiences and help users discover new learning opportunities by combining learning content from different sources, while recommending and delivering them — with the support of AI — across multiple digital touch points, e.g. desktop applications, mobile learning apps and others.

Significantly, these same online education tools have also begun to be adopted by many colleges and universities as they look for ways to cope with COVID-19. This is helping to transform thinking around these applications, tools and platforms. Enterprises, which had already been adopting these tools, are now reconsidering their potential. It does not take a colossal leap of imagination to see what lies ahead.

Instead of building training academies and LMS systems to help continually train people for new or expanded roles within an organization, enterprises will now target the front end of the recruiting funnel where higher education begins. With university life transformed by COVID-19, it has opened up the possibility for enterprises to reassess how they participate in that funnel. The potential for global enterprises to own the university experience is, suddenly, very real.

Imagine leveraging these existing education and training platforms to create hyper-specific curricula for enterprises. A gig economy for professors who have been displaced from shuttered universities could provide the online faculty. They’ll design a curriculum specifically suited to an enterprise’s needs.

These new enterprise-driven, online university systems will vet people for academic excellence and cultural alignment to determine who they want to educate and, ultimately, hire. And all of it will feed them directly into their own systems. These would be university systems not unlike what we see today with, say, The U.S. Naval Academy, where a tuition-free education comes with an obligation to serve for a period of time. Others have speculated that a kind of hybrid, for-profit model that blends universities and global enterprises may also emerge.

MIT/Google could offer a two-year degree in STEM,” suggested Galloway. “MIT/Google could enroll 100,000 kids at $100,000 in tuition (a bargain), yielding $5 billion a year (two-year program) that would have margins rivaling… MIT and Google. Bocconi/Apple, Carnegie Mellon/Amazon, UCLA/Netflix, Berkeley/Microsoft… you get the idea.”

Higher education is not the only system poised for fundamental  transformation. The U.S. staffing and recruiting market, whose total size was already predicted to decrease 21% due to the coronavirus outbreak, could also see changes in how they operate. No longer will enterprises feel obliged to recruit at universities or utilize the tools, platforms and resources necessary to identify recruits coming out of these outdated systems. Now, they’ll have a direct funnel to employees perfectly attuned to their needs. This would be a boon for enterprises that would not only create novel profit centers in their organizations but would also avoid the costly and inefficient process of searching for employees common to most recruiting models today. The savings are not insignificant.

The cost of a bad hire can reach up to 30% of the employee’s first-year earnings, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Undercover Recruiter looked at misadventures in hiring potentially costing enterprise $240,000 in expenses related to hiring, compensation and retention. And one study found that 74% of companies that admit they’ve hired the wrong person lost an average of $14,900 for each bad hire, according to CareerBuilder.

Then there are the ancillary benefits for students — the cost of higher education has been skyrocketing for decades, and student debt has reached unacceptable levels, with diminished earning power associated with degrees. A tipping point is fast approaching: One study demonstrated that a college degree decreases in value as the number of graduates increases. So, in Sub-Saharan Africa (where degrees are relatively rare) a degree will boost earnings by more than 20%. In Scandinavia (where 40% of adults have degrees) that number drops to 9%.

These new, enterprise-specific universities would provide real, tangible ROI on every education investment dollar made. The promise of specific jobs upon graduation with good salaries is doubly important in a shaky economy. As universities continue to price themselves out, they’ll have a tougher time justifying their costs, particularly when juxtaposed against an online educational system that feeds directly into Google, Twitter or Microsoft. It would likely prove irresistible for many students.

The secondary effects of COVID-19 as it relates to higher education are still not clear, but a possible picture is beginning to emerge. Recruiting could have to transform who they target and how (and when) they go about it. A burgeoning industry that has been supporting a steadily increasing appetite from enterprises for digital education and training could be transformed overnight and grow by leaps and bounds. Students could see debt cut in half and have a clear path forward toward employment. Whatever the ultimate landscape is that emerges, the changes in store for universities and colleges will undoubtedly be unpleasant.

“I think we’ve stuck out the mother of all chins and the fist of COVID-19 is coming for us,” Galloway told CNN. “Think of another industry that charges 100K and gets 90-plus points of margin. Other than a pharmaceutical for a drug that cures a rare cancer, maybe, what other product gets that kind of margin? Quite frankly, we’ve had this coming.”

That some kind of change is coming seems clear, but whether or not a paradigm shift in education is a good thing is less so. Like most industries disrupted by software and technology, tremendous value will flow to millions of consumers as technologies drive market efficiencies. There will be jobs that vanish or are transformed and there will be new jobs that are created to satisfy the new way of doing things. Major global enterprise and tech companies stand to profit the most from this transformation, with more wealth and power flowing into the hands of the FAANGs of the corporate world.

There will also be a reshaping of priorities in higher education as intellectual discovery, cultural appreciation and individual growth — the hallmarks of a campus-based liberal arts education — are replaced by the pursuit of a narrowly defined set of vocational skills and corporate efficiencies. The implications of global enterprises wading into higher ed will change not only how we educate, hire and train people but how we fundamentally think about and value higher education, as well.

Societal upheaval during the COVID-19 pandemic underscores need for new AI data regulations

As a long-time proponent of AI regulation that is designed to protect public health and safety while also promoting innovation, I believe Congress must not delay in enacting, on a bipartisan basis, Section 102(b) of The Artificial Intelligence Data Protection Act — my proposed legislation and now a House of Representatives Discussion Draft Bill. Guardrails in the form of Section 102(b)’s ethical AI legislation are necessary to maintain the dignity of the individual.

What does Section 102(b) of The AI Data Protection Act provide and why the urgent need for the federal government to enact it now?

To answer these questions, it is first necessary to understand how artificial intelligence (AI) is being used during this historic moment when our democratic society is confronting two simultaneous existential threats. Only then can the risks that AI poses to our individual dignity be recognized, and Section 102(b) be understood as one of the most important remedies to protect the liberties that Americans hold dear and that serve as the bedrock of our society.

America is now experiencing mass protests demanding an end to racism and police brutality, and watching as civil unrest unfolds in the midst of trying to quell the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Whether we are aware of or approve of it, in both contexts — and in every other facet of our lives — AI technologies are being deployed by government and private actors to make critical decisions about us. In many instances, AI is being utilized to assist society and to get us as quickly as practical to the next normal.

But so far, policymakers have largely overlooked a critical AI-driven public health and safety concern. When it comes to AI, most of the focus has been on the issues of fairness, bias and transparency in data sets used to train algorithms. There is no question that algorithms have yielded bias; one only need to look to employee recruiting and loan underwriting for examples of unfair exclusion of women and racial minorities.

We’ve also seen AI generate unintended, and sometimes unexplainable, outcomes from the data. Consider the recent example of an algorithm that was supposed to assist judges with fair sentencing of nonviolent criminals. For reasons that have yet to be explained, the algorithm assigned higher risk scores to defendants younger than 23, resulting in 12% longer sentences than their older peers who had been incarcerated more frequently, while neither reducing incarceration nor recidivism.

But the current twin crises expose another more vexing problem that has been largely overlooked — how should society address the scenario where the AI algorithm got it right but from an ethical standpoint, society is uncomfortable with the results? Since AI’s essential purpose is to produce accurate predictive data from which humans can make decisions, the time has arrived for lawmakers to resolve not what is possible with respect to AI, but what should be prohibited.

Governments and private corporations have a never-ending appetite for our personal data. Right now, AI algorithms are being utilized around the world, including in the United States, to accurately collect and analyze all kinds of data about all of us. We have facial recognition to surveil protestors in a crowd or to determine whether the general public is observing proper social distancing. There is cell phone data for contact tracing, as well as public social media posts to model the spread of coronavirus to specific zip codes and to predict location, size and potential violence associated with demonstrations. And let’s not forget drone data that is being used to analyze mask usage and fevers, or personal health data used to predict which patients hospitalized with COVID have the greatest chance of deteriorating.

Only through the use of AI can this quantity of personal data be compiled and analyzed on such a massive scale.

This access by algorithms to create an individualized profile of our cell phone data, social behavior, health records, travel patterns and social media content — and many other personal data sets — in the name of keeping the peace and curtailing a devastating pandemic can, and will, result in various governmental actors and corporations creating frighteningly accurate predictive profiles of our most private attributes, political leanings, social circles and behaviors.

Left unregulated, society risks these AI-generated analytics being used by law enforcement, employers, landlords, doctors, insurers — and every other private, commercial and governmental enterprise that can collect or purchase it — to make predictive decisions, be they accurate or not, that impact our lives and strike a blow to the most fundamental notions of a liberal democracy. AI continues to assume an ever-expanding role in the employment context to decide who should be interviewed, hired, promoted and fired. In the criminal justice context, it is used to determine who to incarcerate and what sentence to impose. In other scenarios, AI restrict people to their homes, limit certain treatment at the hospital, deny loans and penalize those who disobey social distancing regulations.

Too often, those who eschew any type of AI regulation seek to dismiss these concerns as hypothetical and alarmist. But just a few weeks ago, Robert Williams, a Black man and Michigan resident, was wrongfully arrested because of a false face recognition match. According to news reports and an ACLU press release, Detroit police handcuffed Mr. Williams on his front lawn in front of his wife and two terrified girls, ages two and five. The police took him to a detention center about 40 minutes away, where he was locked up overnight. After an officer acknowledged during an interrogation the next afternoon that “the computer must have gotten it wrong,” Mr. Williams was finally released — nearly 30 hours after his arrest.

While widely believed to be the first confirmed case of AI’s incorrect facial recognition leading to the arrest of an innocent citizen, it seems clear this won’t be the last. Here, AI served as the primary basis for a critical decision that impacted the individual citizen — being arrested by law enforcement. But we must not only focus on the fact that the AI failed by identifying the wrong person, denying him his freedom. We must identify and proscribe those instances where AI should not be used as the basis for specified critical decisions — even when it gets it “right.”

As a democratic society, we should be no more comfortable with being arrested for a crime we contemplated but did not commit, or being denied medical treatment for a disease that will undoubtedly end in death over time, as we are with Mr. Williams’ mistaken arrest. We must establish an AI “no-fly zone” to preserve our individual freedoms. We must not allow certain key decisions to be left solely to the predictive output of artificially intelligent algorithms.

To be clear, this means that even in situations where every expert agrees that the data in and out is completely unbiased, transparent and accurate, there must be a statutory prohibition on utilizing it for any type of predictive or substantive decision-making. This is admittedly counter-intuitive in a world where we crave mathematical certainty, but necessary.

Section 102(b) of the Artificial Intelligence Data Protection Act properly and rationally accomplishes this in the context of both scenarios — where AI generates correct and/or incorrect outcomes. It does this in two key ways.

First, Section 102(b) specifically identifies those decisions which can never be made in whole or in part by AI. For example, it enumerates specific misuses of AI that would prohibit covered entities’ sole reliance on artificial intelligence to make certain decisions. These include recruitment, hiring and discipline of individuals, the denial or limitation of medical treatment, or medical insurance issuers making decisions regarding coverage of a medical treatment. In light of what society has recently witnessed, the prohibited areas should likely be expanded to further minimize the risk that AI will be used as a tool for racial discrimination and harassment of protected minorities.

Second, for certain other specific decisions based on AI analytics that are not outright prohibited, Section 102(b) define those instances where a human must be involved in the decision-making process.

By enacting Section 102(b) without delay, legislators can maintain the dignity of the individual by not allowing the most critical decisions that impact the individual to be left solely to the predictive output of artificially intelligent algorithms.

Mr. Newman is the chair of Baker McKenzie’s North America Trade Secrets Practice. The views and opinions expressed here are his own.

The coronavirus pandemic is expanding California’s digital divide

If every California student without an adequate internet connection got together and formed a state, it would contain more residents than Idaho or Hawaii.

A total of 1,529,000 K-12 students in California don’t have the connectivity required for adequate distance learning.

Analysis from Common Sense Media also revealed that students lacking adequate connection commonly lack an adequate device as well. The homework gap that separates those with strong connections from those on the wrong side of the digital divide will become a homework chasm without drastic and immediate intervention.

To raise awareness of the enormity and immediacy of the digital divide, I started No One Left Offline (NOLO) in San Francisco. It’s an all-volunteer nonprofit that’s creating a coalition of Bay Area organizations focused on giving students, seniors and individuals with disabilities access to high-speed, affordable Internet.

During the week of July 27, the NOLO coalition will launch the Bridge the Divide campaign to raise $50,000 in funds that will be used to directly cover broadband bills for families on the edge of the digital divide.

At this point in our response to COVID-19, emergency measures have only stopped the homework gap from growing rather than actually shrinking it. That’s precisely why we need a new form of addressing students’ lack of adequate internet and devices. The digital “haves” should embrace directly covering the broadband bills and upgrades required by the “have nots.” This form of direct giving is both the most effective and efficient means of giving every student high-speed internet and a device to make the most of that connection.

But too few people are aware of just how dire life can be on the wrong side of the digital divide. That’s why I’m hoping you — as a fellow member of the digital “haves” — will join me in taking a day off(line) on July 17. I’m convinced that it will take a day (if not more) in the digital dark for more Americans to recognize just how difficult it is to thrive, let alone survive, without stable internet, a device and a sufficient level of digital literacy.

The increased attention to the digital divide generated by this day off(line) will spur a more collective and significant response to stopping the formation of a homework chasm.

Current efforts to close the homework gap have at once been laudable and limited. For example, internet service providers (ISPs) deserve praise for taking a voluntary pledge to limit fees, forgive fines and remove data caps. But that pledge expired at the end of June, months before school starts and in the middle of an expanding economic calamity.

It’s true that many ISPs are still going to extraordinary lengths to help those in need — look no further than Verizon donating phones to Miracle Messages to help individuals experiencing homelessness connect with loved ones. However, even these extraordinary measures will not fully make up for the fact that hundreds of thousands of Californians are experiencing greater financial insecurity than ever before. They want and require a long-term solution to their digital needs — not just voluntary pledges that end in the middle of a pandemic.

In the same way, many school districts in the Bay Area have rapidly loaned hotspots and devices to students and families in need. In fact, even before COVID-19, the Oakland Unified School District and the 1Million Project were providing hotspots to students in need. These sorts of interventions, though, do not afford students on the wrong side of the homework gap the same opportunity to fully develop their digital literacy as those that have devices to call their own and internet connections sufficient to do more than just homework.

Every student deserves a device to call their own and a connection that allows them to become experts in safely and smoothly navigating the internet.

Direct giving is the solution. Financially secure individuals across the Bay Area can and should “sponsor” internet plans and devices for families in need. By sponsoring a family’s high-speed internet plan for a year or more, donors will provide students and parents alike with the security they need to focus on all of the other challenges associated with life in a pandemic. What’s more, sponsored devices would come without strings attached or “used” labels.

Students would have a fully equipped laptop to call their own as well as one that didn’t lack key functionalities, which is common among donated devices.

Because access to the internet is a human right, the government should be solving the homework gap. So far, it hasn’t been up to the task. So, in the interim, we’ll need a private sector solution. The good news is that we collectively seem up for the task. According to Fidelity, most charitable donors plan to maintain or increase their giving this year.

Consider that even 46% of millennials plan to increase their philanthropy. Unfortunately, one inhibitor to giving is the fact that “many donors don’t feel that they have the information they need to effectively support efforts” to address the ramifications of COVID-19.

That’s where NOLO and other digital inclusion coalitions step in. We’re sounding the bell: The public sector isn’t closing the homework gap; it’s on us to make sure kids have the connections and devices they need to thrive. NOLO is also providing the means to act on this information — during its Bridge the Divide campaign, donors will have a chance to sponsor broadband bills for community members served by organizations across the Bay Area including the SF Tech Council, BMAGIC and the Mission Merchants Association.

Our collective assignment is making the homework gap a priority. Our due date is nearing. The first task is taking a day off(line) on July 17. The next is donating to the Bridge the Divide campaign during the week of the 27th.

Let’s get to work.

The coronavirus pandemic is expanding California’s digital divide

If every California student without an adequate internet connection got together and formed a state, it would contain more residents than Idaho or Hawaii.

A total of 1,529,000 K-12 students in California don’t have the connectivity required for adequate distance learning.

Analysis from Common Sense Media also revealed that students lacking adequate connection commonly lack an adequate device as well. The homework gap that separates those with strong connections from those on the wrong side of the digital divide will become a homework chasm without drastic and immediate intervention.

To raise awareness of the enormity and immediacy of the digital divide, I started No One Left Offline (NOLO) in San Francisco. It’s an all-volunteer nonprofit that’s creating a coalition of Bay Area organizations focused on giving students, seniors and individuals with disabilities access to high-speed, affordable Internet.

During the week of July 27, the NOLO coalition will launch the Bridge the Divide campaign to raise $50,000 in funds that will be used to directly cover broadband bills for families on the edge of the digital divide.

At this point in our response to COVID-19, emergency measures have only stopped the homework gap from growing rather than actually shrinking it. That’s precisely why we need a new form of addressing students’ lack of adequate internet and devices. The digital “haves” should embrace directly covering the broadband bills and upgrades required by the “have nots.” This form of direct giving is both the most effective and efficient means of giving every student high-speed internet and a device to make the most of that connection.

But too few people are aware of just how dire life can be on the wrong side of the digital divide. That’s why I’m hoping you — as a fellow member of the digital “haves” — will join me in taking a day off(line) on July 17. I’m convinced that it will take a day (if not more) in the digital dark for more Americans to recognize just how difficult it is to thrive, let alone survive, without stable internet, a device and a sufficient level of digital literacy.

The increased attention to the digital divide generated by this day off(line) will spur a more collective and significant response to stopping the formation of a homework chasm.

Current efforts to close the homework gap have at once been laudable and limited. For example, internet service providers (ISPs) deserve praise for taking a voluntary pledge to limit fees, forgive fines and remove data caps. But that pledge expired at the end of June, months before school starts and in the middle of an expanding economic calamity.

It’s true that many ISPs are still going to extraordinary lengths to help those in need — look no further than Verizon donating phones to Miracle Messages to help individuals experiencing homelessness connect with loved ones. However, even these extraordinary measures will not fully make up for the fact that hundreds of thousands of Californians are experiencing greater financial insecurity than ever before. They want and require a long-term solution to their digital needs — not just voluntary pledges that end in the middle of a pandemic.

In the same way, many school districts in the Bay Area have rapidly loaned hotspots and devices to students and families in need. In fact, even before COVID-19, the Oakland Unified School District and the 1Million Project were providing hotspots to students in need. These sorts of interventions, though, do not afford students on the wrong side of the homework gap the same opportunity to fully develop their digital literacy as those that have devices to call their own and internet connections sufficient to do more than just homework.

Every student deserves a device to call their own and a connection that allows them to become experts in safely and smoothly navigating the internet.

Direct giving is the solution. Financially secure individuals across the Bay Area can and should “sponsor” internet plans and devices for families in need. By sponsoring a family’s high-speed internet plan for a year or more, donors will provide students and parents alike with the security they need to focus on all of the other challenges associated with life in a pandemic. What’s more, sponsored devices would come without strings attached or “used” labels.

Students would have a fully equipped laptop to call their own as well as one that didn’t lack key functionalities, which is common among donated devices.

Because access to the internet is a human right, the government should be solving the homework gap. So far, it hasn’t been up to the task. So, in the interim, we’ll need a private sector solution. The good news is that we collectively seem up for the task. According to Fidelity, most charitable donors plan to maintain or increase their giving this year.

Consider that even 46% of millennials plan to increase their philanthropy. Unfortunately, one inhibitor to giving is the fact that “many donors don’t feel that they have the information they need to effectively support efforts” to address the ramifications of COVID-19.

That’s where NOLO and other digital inclusion coalitions step in. We’re sounding the bell: The public sector isn’t closing the homework gap; it’s on us to make sure kids have the connections and devices they need to thrive. NOLO is also providing the means to act on this information — during its Bridge the Divide campaign, donors will have a chance to sponsor broadband bills for community members served by organizations across the Bay Area including the SF Tech Council, BMAGIC and the Mission Merchants Association.

Our collective assignment is making the homework gap a priority. Our due date is nearing. The first task is taking a day off(line) on July 17. The next is donating to the Bridge the Divide campaign during the week of the 27th.

Let’s get to work.

Regulatory roadblocks are holding back Colombia’s tech and transportation industries

“You know we don’t drive down that road,” my father said.

I had asked him why we never took the shortest path to the beach. Just eight years old, I was fascinated by maps and was questioning my father’s choice. Years later I would learn the route I suggested was mired with armed groups of all stripes whose interests didn’t align with mine or that of other Colombian families.

You may be familiar with the conflicts that plagued Colombia for decades, but you might not be aware of the progress institutions, advocacy groups and its government have made with regard to building a future where citizens have options and mobility that’s not constrained by armed conflict.

In fact, Colombia has at times improved its “ease of doing business” ranking as measured by the World Bank. The country, its institutions and its leaders have a longer way to go when it comes to ensuring that opportunity reaches all corners of the country, particularly at a time that COVID-19 magnifies the inequities that persist. But one thing is for sure, the path to prosperity would look a lot better if Colombia further embraced innovation.

I have dedicated the last decade to Colombia’s path to prosperity. I have done so by studying at Colombia’s most prestigious Universidad de Los Andes, raising more than $10 million in venture capital and building two companies that generate direct and indirect earnings for more than 70,000 Colombians. I have directly retained hundreds of computer engineers by showing young Colombians that it’s possible to earn a good living without emigrating for professional opportunities. Heck, I’ve even convinced a few past emigrants to return to Colombia and work for me at Picap.

My contribution to Colombia’s prosperity and the contribution of thousands of talented engineers that build technology in Colombia is at risk. It’s at risk because the Colombian authorities and the legislative branch have been slow to update transportation and technology regulation designed for an era when regulation could last decades because the pace of societal innovation was measured in, well, decades.

In Colombia, we need to update regulations governing technology and transportation. The ever present threats that Colombian authorities and regulators have imposed on Uber and Picap are not only futile attempts to put the technology genie back into the bottle, but also delay the critical conversations that would build long-term partnership for mutual success.

It’s urgent that Colombia and countries around the globe construct regulatory frameworks that simultaneously advance the public good and technology innovation. We, in fact, have evidence of the kinds of benefits that can expand when new mobility models and technologies are embraced. Take GoJek or Grab which started, like Picap, as two-wheel ride-hailing platforms. Each is now worth billions and facilitates commerce, financial services and more, all for the benefit of societies which then produce more consumer surplus, formalize economic activity and stimulate new forms of innovation. Picap, and others, can do this in Colombia and more places across Latin America with regulatory advancements.

There are congressional leaders in Colombia who have made considerable efforts to advance their understanding of technology platforms, but their efforts, however laudable, have not advanced. Now, more than ever, Colombia’s leaders must, for example, recognize that private transport services need regulation that works for the citizens that power new mobility options. Every country in the globe faces a reckoning based on how easily COVID-19 weakened state-supported and independent systems of health, mobility and economic activity. Technology will be an inevitable component of strengthening health, mobility and economic activity in every country. We’ve already seen that delivery platforms, including Pibox by Picap, increasingly play a role in helping countries preserve social distancing. And yet there’s an opportunity for states to differentiate and think about not just defensive strategies during the pandemic, but also how to remake themselves for the future.

Colombia can learn from the example of South Korea, which for years positioned itself to fulfill the world’s future demands for the types of silicon chips that subsequently made LG and Samsung household names. South Korea did this not by impeding technological advancement, but by facilitating the development of know-how, investing in education and partnering with technology. As technologists, there’s nothing that would make us prouder than helping Colombia develop the kinds of economic activity that will strengthen the country in the long-term. I’ve seen the future, I practice it daily, and I know that Latin America, and Colombia in particular, need to invest in retaining tech talent and advancing regulatory frameworks that attract technology investment, or our economies will struggle even further in the coming years of potential recovery from COVID-19.

Recently, the Alianza IN, a mobility platform trade group, launched in Colombia with the goal of advancing conversations with Colombian lawmakers and regulators on the principles that the Colombian MinTIC (Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications) could incorporate to help attract more investment, retain talent and proactively prepare for a future in which mobility and technology platforms are critical partners of the country’s economic future. Technology platforms are already a part of the present, and the Alianza IN’s actions are a great step on the path toward ensuring that updated regulatory frameworks serve the millions of Colombian citizens who depend on mobility and technology platforms for income, mobility and improved quality of life.

Last year, Colombian technology companies received more than $1.2 billion of investment capital. I am impressed with the new headlines my generation and Colombian colleagues across technology have achieved in only 20 years. But I can assure you that Colombia’s headlines in the 21st century will be stunted if Colombian politicians and authorities do not address the underlying need to improve regulation that embraces technology and new mobility, including Picap. We have room to grow and show the world how our tenacity and resilience will help address not just Colombian or Latin American challenges, but global challenges.

I look forward to soon meeting the young Colombian woman who in 20 or even three years will have developed a renewable energy or disease-prevention innovation that serves billions of people. We have to remove roadblocks. We’ve begun doing so across Colombia on some fronts; we need to continue to do so on the technology front. I, alongside, my generation, will continue to attract the capital, retain the talent and further develop the competitive advantages that will position Colombia to lead in the 21st century.

I hope that the Colombian government, regulators and the Duque administration does this, as well.

Dear Sophie: What does the new online classes rule mean for F-1 students?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

One of our founders is currently in the U.S. on an F-1 STEM OPT. Our company is sponsoring her for an H-1B visa, and we recently received an RFE.

What does yesterday’s F-1 visa international student immigration announcement mean for her? Is the H-1B going to be denied? Do we need a backup? What should we do?

—Concerned in Cupertino

Dear Concerned:

To find out if an F-1 student is affected by the Trump administration’s international student ban, watch my latest YouTube Live. For more on the H-1B visa ban, please read last week’s Dear Sophie column.

International students have been allowed to take online classes during the spring and summer due to the COVID-19 crisis, but that will end this fall. The new order will force many international students at schools that are only offering remote online classes to find an “immigration plan B” or depart the U.S. before the fall term to avoid being deported.

At many top universities, international students make up more than 20% of the student body. According to NAFSA, international students contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy and supported or created 458,000 jobs during the 2018-2019 academic year. Apparently, the current administration is continuing to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” when it comes to immigration.

Universities are scrambling as they struggle with this newfound untenable bind. Do they stay online only to keep their students safe and force their international students to leave their homes in this country? Or do they reopen to save their students from deportation, but put their communities’ health at risk?

For students, it means finding another school, scrambling to figure out a way to depart the States (when some home countries will not even allow them to return), or figuring out an “immigration plan B.” Yesterday’s video explores F-1 visa alternatives.

Fortunately, since your co-founder is on OPT, I don’t think the latest F-1 restrictions will affect her based on my initial reading of the tiny bit of info that trickled out of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) yesterday and the slightly broader SEVIS broadcast message guidance for schools. (“For the fall 2020 semester, continuing F and M students who are already in the United States may remain in Active status in SEVIS if they make normal progress in a program of study, or are engaged in approved practical training, either as part of a program of study or following completion of a program of study.”)

On the RFE front, I don’t know if it’s any comfort, but you’re definitely not alone: The percentage of H-1B petitioners that receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) has nearly doubled since 2016. Nearly 21% of petitioners received an RFE in fiscal year 2016 compared to more than 40% in 2019. During the first two quarters of the current fiscal year, 41% of all H-1B petitions received an RFE. Check out my podcast because we’ll be covering RFEs, Requests for Initial Evidence (RFIEs) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOIDs) soon.

Just to be totally clear in answer to your first question: No, getting an RFE does not mean your H-1B application is more likely to be denied. In fact, an RFE offers a final opportunity to strengthen your petition for approval. Because the stakes are so high, I recommend consulting with an experienced immigration lawyer when crafting a response to an RFE.

Make sure U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives your response to the RFE by the deadline printed on the RFE. Last week, USCIS extended its deadlines: The deadline for RFEs issued between March 1 and Sept. 11 is automatically extended by 60 calendar days after the due date due to the COVID-19 crisis and the budget shortfall facing the agency. If your response is not received by the deadline, USCIS will deny your company’s H-1B petition.

You always want to make sure you understand exactly what additional evidence USCIS is seeking from you. Check your original application package to make sure that the requested document or evidence was not included. Sometimes, USCIS mistakenly overlooks information already submitted. If that’s the case, resubmit the requested document in your response package. If you can’t provide a requested document, explain why and provide alternative evidence if possible. Otherwise, provide the document or evidence as requested.

Among the top reasons why USCIS issues an RFE are for failing to show that the position qualifies as a specialty occupation or that a valid employer-employee relationship exists. If the RFE you received is for either of these reasons, here’s a quick reminder of what USCIS is seeking for each requirement.

To qualify for an H-1B visa, your petition must have demonstrated to USCIS that the position sought by the international professional is a specialty occupation. You should have provided evidence that the job requires the understanding and application of highly specialized knowledge and that it usually requires at least a bachelor’s degree — or equivalent experience — in a particular specialty. In recent years, USCIS has narrowed its interpretation of what qualifies as a specialty occupation. For instance, it no longer considers computer programming to be a specialty occupation. USCIS has also challenged positions that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and positions with titles such as computer systems analyst, financial analyst, market research analyst and human resources manager.

Making the case that an employer-employee relationship exists is tricky when it involves a founder working for the company she helped create. An employer must demonstrate that it will control the work of the H-1B beneficiary. For founders, that means someone at the company — either the board of directors or a co-founder — would have to supervise the H-1B beneficiary and have the authority to fire the individual. There are lots of ways to set this up properly.

Once all the evidence and documents required to respond to the RFE are ready, they should all be submitted together in a single response package with the original copy of the RFE as the first page. Save a copy of the response package for your records and send the response to the correct location using tracking and proof of delivery options.

Given that U.S. embassies and consulates abroad have stopped issuing visas and green cards under the executive proclamations issued on April 22 and June 22 and due to the ongoing COVID-19-related travel restrictions, your co-founder should remain in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

For long-term immigration security for your co-founder, your startup should consider sponsoring her for one of the following green cards if she qualifies:

  • EB-1A green card for individuals with exceptional ability.
  • EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card, which is ideal for startup founders.
  • EB-2 green card for individuals with an advanced degree or exceptional ability, which requires a time-consuming PERM labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • EB-5 investor green card, for which your company could provide your co-founder with the investment funds for this option.

Apparently the Trump administration is not yet done with its efforts to further restrict legal immigration. They are taking a look at whether individuals currently in the U.S. on H-1B visas, as well as EB-2 green cards and EB-3 green cards limit opportunities for U.S. workers. Further restrictions or even expanded moratoriums may be put into place. Of course, I’ll cover it all here if and when it happens.

Let me know if you have more specific questions about an RFE. Good luck!

—Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

Dear Sophie: What does the new online classes rule mean for F-1 students?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

One of our founders is currently in the U.S. on an F-1 STEM OPT. Our company is sponsoring her for an H-1B visa, and we recently received an RFE.

What does yesterday’s F-1 visa international student immigration announcement mean for her? Is the H-1B going to be denied? Do we need a backup? What should we do?

—Concerned in Cupertino

Dear Concerned:

To find out if an F-1 student is affected by the Trump administration’s international student ban, watch my latest YouTube Live. For more on the H-1B visa ban, please read last week’s Dear Sophie column.

International students have been allowed to take online classes during the spring and summer due to the COVID-19 crisis, but that will end this fall. The new order will force many international students at schools that are only offering remote online classes to find an “immigration plan B” or depart the U.S. before the fall term to avoid being deported.

At many top universities, international students make up more than 20% of the student body. According to NAFSA, international students contributed $41 billion to the U.S. economy and supported or created 458,000 jobs during the 2018-2019 academic year. Apparently, the current administration is continuing to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” when it comes to immigration.

Universities are scrambling as they struggle with this newfound untenable bind. Do they stay online only to keep their students safe and force their international students to leave their homes in this country? Or do they reopen to save their students from deportation, but put their communities’ health at risk?

For students, it means finding another school, scrambling to figure out a way to depart the States (when some home countries will not even allow them to return), or figuring out an “immigration plan B.” Yesterday’s video explores F-1 visa alternatives.

Fortunately, since your co-founder is on OPT, I don’t think the latest F-1 restrictions will affect her based on my initial reading of the tiny bit of info that trickled out of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) yesterday and the slightly broader SEVIS broadcast message guidance for schools. (“For the fall 2020 semester, continuing F and M students who are already in the United States may remain in Active status in SEVIS if they make normal progress in a program of study, or are engaged in approved practical training, either as part of a program of study or following completion of a program of study.”)

On the RFE front, I don’t know if it’s any comfort, but you’re definitely not alone: The percentage of H-1B petitioners that receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) has nearly doubled since 2016. Nearly 21% of petitioners received an RFE in fiscal year 2016 compared to more than 40% in 2019. During the first two quarters of the current fiscal year, 41% of all H-1B petitions received an RFE. Check out my podcast because we’ll be covering RFEs, Requests for Initial Evidence (RFIEs) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOIDs) soon.

Just to be totally clear in answer to your first question: No, getting an RFE does not mean your H-1B application is more likely to be denied. In fact, an RFE offers a final opportunity to strengthen your petition for approval. Because the stakes are so high, I recommend consulting with an experienced immigration lawyer when crafting a response to an RFE.

Make sure U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives your response to the RFE by the deadline printed on the RFE. Last week, USCIS extended its deadlines: The deadline for RFEs issued between March 1 and Sept. 11 is automatically extended by 60 calendar days after the due date due to the COVID-19 crisis and the budget shortfall facing the agency. If your response is not received by the deadline, USCIS will deny your company’s H-1B petition.

You always want to make sure you understand exactly what additional evidence USCIS is seeking from you. Check your original application package to make sure that the requested document or evidence was not included. Sometimes, USCIS mistakenly overlooks information already submitted. If that’s the case, resubmit the requested document in your response package. If you can’t provide a requested document, explain why and provide alternative evidence if possible. Otherwise, provide the document or evidence as requested.

Among the top reasons why USCIS issues an RFE are for failing to show that the position qualifies as a specialty occupation or that a valid employer-employee relationship exists. If the RFE you received is for either of these reasons, here’s a quick reminder of what USCIS is seeking for each requirement.

To qualify for an H-1B visa, your petition must have demonstrated to USCIS that the position sought by the international professional is a specialty occupation. You should have provided evidence that the job requires the understanding and application of highly specialized knowledge and that it usually requires at least a bachelor’s degree — or equivalent experience — in a particular specialty. In recent years, USCIS has narrowed its interpretation of what qualifies as a specialty occupation. For instance, it no longer considers computer programming to be a specialty occupation. USCIS has also challenged positions that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and positions with titles such as computer systems analyst, financial analyst, market research analyst and human resources manager.

Making the case that an employer-employee relationship exists is tricky when it involves a founder working for the company she helped create. An employer must demonstrate that it will control the work of the H-1B beneficiary. For founders, that means someone at the company — either the board of directors or a co-founder — would have to supervise the H-1B beneficiary and have the authority to fire the individual. There are lots of ways to set this up properly.

Once all the evidence and documents required to respond to the RFE are ready, they should all be submitted together in a single response package with the original copy of the RFE as the first page. Save a copy of the response package for your records and send the response to the correct location using tracking and proof of delivery options.

Given that U.S. embassies and consulates abroad have stopped issuing visas and green cards under the executive proclamations issued on April 22 and June 22 and due to the ongoing COVID-19-related travel restrictions, your co-founder should remain in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.

For long-term immigration security for your co-founder, your startup should consider sponsoring her for one of the following green cards if she qualifies:

  • EB-1A green card for individuals with exceptional ability.
  • EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card, which is ideal for startup founders.
  • EB-2 green card for individuals with an advanced degree or exceptional ability, which requires a time-consuming PERM labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • EB-5 investor green card, for which your company could provide your co-founder with the investment funds for this option.

Apparently the Trump administration is not yet done with its efforts to further restrict legal immigration. They are taking a look at whether individuals currently in the U.S. on H-1B visas, as well as EB-2 green cards and EB-3 green cards limit opportunities for U.S. workers. Further restrictions or even expanded moratoriums may be put into place. Of course, I’ll cover it all here if and when it happens.

Let me know if you have more specific questions about an RFE. Good luck!

—Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

‘No code’ will define the next generation of software

It seems like every software funding and product announcement these days includes some sort of reference to “no code” platforms or functionality. The frequent callbacks to this buzzy term reflect a realization that we’re entering a new software era.

Similar to cloud, no code is not a category itself, but rather a shift in how users interface with software tools. In the same way that PCs democratized software usage, APIs democratized software connectivity and the cloud democratized the purchase and deployment of software, no code will usher in the next wave of enterprise innovation by democratizing technical skill sets. No code is empowering business users to take over functionality previously owned by technical users by abstracting complexity and centering around a visual workflow. This profound generational shift has the power to touch every software market and every user across the enterprise.

The average enterprise tech stack has never been more complex

In a perfect world, all enterprise applications would be properly integrated, every front end would be shiny and polished, and internal processes would be efficient and automated. Alas, in the real world, engineering and IT teams spend a disproportionate share of their time fighting fires in security, fixing internal product bugs and running vendor audits. These teams are bursting at the seams, spending an estimated 30% of their resources building and maintaining internal tools, torpedoing productivity and compounding technical debt.

Seventy-two percent of IT leaders now say project backlogs prevent them from working on strategic projects. Hiring alone can’t solve the problem. The demand for technical talent far outpaces supply, as demonstrated by the fact that six out of 10 CIOs expect skills shortages to prevent their organizations from keeping up with the pace of change.

At the same time that IT and engineering teams are struggling to maintain internal applications, business teams keep adding fragmented third-party tools to increase their own agility. In fact, the average enterprise is supporting 1,200 cloud-based applications at any given time. Lacking internal support, business users bring in external IT consultants. Cloud promised easy as-needed software adoption with seamless integration, but the realities of quickly changing business needs have led to a roaring comeback of expensive custom software.

‘No code’ will define the next generation of software

It seems like every software funding and product announcement these days includes some sort of reference to “no code” platforms or functionality. The frequent callbacks to this buzzy term reflect a realization that we’re entering a new software era.

Similar to cloud, no code is not a category itself, but rather a shift in how users interface with software tools. In the same way that PCs democratized software usage, APIs democratized software connectivity and the cloud democratized the purchase and deployment of software, no code will usher in the next wave of enterprise innovation by democratizing technical skill sets. No code is empowering business users to take over functionality previously owned by technical users by abstracting complexity and centering around a visual workflow. This profound generational shift has the power to touch every software market and every user across the enterprise.

The average enterprise tech stack has never been more complex

In a perfect world, all enterprise applications would be properly integrated, every front end would be shiny and polished, and internal processes would be efficient and automated. Alas, in the real world, engineering and IT teams spend a disproportionate share of their time fighting fires in security, fixing internal product bugs and running vendor audits. These teams are bursting at the seams, spending an estimated 30% of their resources building and maintaining internal tools, torpedoing productivity and compounding technical debt.

Seventy-two percent of IT leaders now say project backlogs prevent them from working on strategic projects. Hiring alone can’t solve the problem. The demand for technical talent far outpaces supply, as demonstrated by the fact that six out of 10 CIOs expect skills shortages to prevent their organizations from keeping up with the pace of change.

At the same time that IT and engineering teams are struggling to maintain internal applications, business teams keep adding fragmented third-party tools to increase their own agility. In fact, the average enterprise is supporting 1,200 cloud-based applications at any given time. Lacking internal support, business users bring in external IT consultants. Cloud promised easy as-needed software adoption with seamless integration, but the realities of quickly changing business needs have led to a roaring comeback of expensive custom software.

We need a new field of AI to combat racial bias

Since widespread protests over racial inequality began, IBM announced it would cancel its facial recognition programs to advance racial equity in law enforcement. Amazon suspended police use of its Rekognition software for one year to “put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology.”

But we need more than regulatory change; the entire field of artificial intelligence (AI) must mature out of the computer science lab and accept the embrace of the entire community.

We can develop amazing AI that works in the world in largely unbiased ways. But to accomplish this, AI can’t be just a subfield of computer science (CS) and computer engineering (CE), like it is right now. We must create an academic discipline of AI that takes the complexity of human behavior into account. We need to move from computer science-owned AI to computer science-enabled AI. The problems with AI don’t occur in the lab; they occur when scientists move the tech into the real world of people. Training data in the CS lab often lacks the context and complexity of the world you and I inhabit. This flaw perpetuates biases.

AI-powered algorithms have been found to display bias against people of color and against women. In 2014, for example, Amazon found that an AI algorithm it developed to automate headhunting taught itself to bias against female candidates. MIT researchers reported in January 2019 that facial recognition software is less accurate in identifying humans with darker pigmentation. Most recently, in a study late last year by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), researchers found evidence of racial bias in nearly 200 facial recognition algorithms.

In spite of the countless examples of AI errors, the zeal continues. This is why the IBM and Amazon announcements generated so much positive news coverage. Global use of artificial intelligence grew by 270% from 2015 to 2019, with the market expected to generate revenue of $118.6 billion by 2025. According to Gallup, nearly 90% Americans are already using AI products in their everyday lives – often without even realizing it.

Beyond a 12-month hiatus, we must acknowledge that while building AI is a technology challenge, using AI requires non-software development heavy disciplines such as social science, law and politics. But despite our increasingly ubiquitous use of AI, AI as a field of study is still lumped into the fields of CS and CE. At North Carolina State University, for example, algorithms and AI are taught in the CS program. MIT houses the study of AI under both CS and CE. AI must make it into humanities programs, race and gender studies curricula, and business schools. Let’s develop an AI track in political science departments. In my own program at Georgetown University, we teach AI and Machine Learning concepts to Security Studies students. This needs to become common practice.

Without a broader approach to the professionalization of AI, we will almost certainly perpetuate biases and discriminatory practices in existence today. We just may discriminate at a lower cost — not a noble goal for technology. We require the intentional establishment of a field of AI whose purpose is to understand the development of neural networks and the social contexts into which the technology will be deployed.

In computer engineering, a student studies programming and computer fundamentals. In computer science, they study computational and programmatic theory, including the basis of algorithmic learning. These are solid foundations for the study of AI – but they should only be considered components. These foundations are necessary for understanding the field of AI but not sufficient on their own.

For the population to gain comfort with broad deployment of AI so that tech companies like Amazon and IBM, and countless others, can deploy these innovations, the entire discipline needs to move beyond the CS lab. Those who work in disciplines like psychology, sociology, anthropology and neuroscience are needed. Understanding human behavior patterns, biases in data generation processes are needed. I could not have created the software I developed to identify human trafficking, money laundering and other illicit behaviors without my background in behavioral science.

Responsibly managing machine learning processes is no longer just a desirable component of progress but a necessary one. We have to recognize the pitfalls of human bias and the errors of replicating these biases in the machines of tomorrow, and the social sciences and humanities provide the keys. We can only accomplish this if a new field of AI, encompassing all of these disciplines, is created.