Monthly Archives: April 2019

Penn Serves LA Joins Santa Monica Homeless Count

By Jane Gutman, CW’73, PAR’14, PAR’16

Penn Serves Homeless 1.2019 photo 4

Penn Serves LA Volunteers gather in Santa Monica at midnight in January 2019 to help count the homeless.

“California has a quarter of the nation’s homeless.”  This was one of the many stunning facts about homelessness that twenty plus Penn volunteers learned during a chilly evening in January when we gathered at 10:30 pm at a church in Santa Monica before heading out to “count” the homeless.

Our Penn Serves LA group was part of a phalanx of thousands of volunteers who were deployed across Los Angeles over three evenings in late January to count the homeless, which would then determine how resources will be distributed and to measure how local and state governments are doing in their efforts to manage this exploding challenge.  Between 2016-17, homelessness surged by 26% in Los Angeles County to a devastating 55,000 people.  In 2018 there were 957 unsheltered people in Santa Monica, up 4% from the prior year.

Penn Serves Homeless 1.2019 photo 2

Penn Serves LA Volunteers waiting for instructions to help count the homeless in Santa Monica

In 2017 LA County voted in a quarter-cent tax through Measure H, which will raise $355 million a year over a decade to help with outreach, shelters, and housing.  The “crisis on the streets” is immensely complicated: mental, health issues, high rents, lagging wages, etc., etc.  As Martin Luther King said, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”

For the Santa Monica Homeless Count, we were divided into sixty-odd teams of four people, and each team was given a precise map of an area where we were to walk and make note of people sleeping on the streets or in cars.  Prior to heading out, at a time chosen because homeless people are usually settled by midnight and thus we could get the most accurate count, we received training about how to identify homeless individuals and encampments.

Over fifty people representing the police, mental health professionals and elected officials were there to support the volunteers.  Terry O’Day, the Mayor of Santa Monica, explained how Santa Monica cares for its homeless with a continuum of services aimed at addressing the problem and preventing its expansion. Each speaker was moving and inspiring, and all shared in expressing that it will only be through collective efforts that homelessness can be eradicated.

The rallying cry was, “Volunteer, Donate and Advocate” to solve the problem.  Imagine if each of us either gave an hour a week of our time, gave $5 a week of our money or wrote a letter every week to a politician what might be accomplished.

And with that, we hit the streets with our teammates.  It was very cold and very dark, but of course, we were only out on the streets for an hour or two…imagine!

You can read the results of the 2019 Santa Monica Homeless Count here and see a video about this year’s count here (we saw a few of our Penn Serves volunteers have cameos in the video).

Upcoming Events

About Penn Serves LA

PennServesLA logo

Penn Serves LA impacts the Los Angeles community by engaging University of Pennsylvania alumni, parents and families in meaningful community service activities.

Since our founding in 2012, we have done everything from serving meals to the homeless to restoring the environment to fixing homes. Six times annually, we find another great opportunity to learn about interesting nonprofits, lend a hand and enjoy a fun experience with fellow alumni.

Join Us

We invite the Penn community in Los Angeles (alumni, parents, and kids) to join us at a future event, to help spread the word and to help us plan future activities. Join us, meet new Penn people, demonstrate what service means to your kids and friends, and help fellow Quakers make a little bit of difference in our complex city!

If you have an established nonprofit that you would like us to consider for future events or announcements, please let us know. We are looking for new nonprofits to serve in meaningful ways.

Contact Us

Questions? Want to join our email list? Reach us at pennserves@gmail.com.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter!

The Penn Serves LA Team

Christine Belgrad, W’85, PAR’15 | Michal Clements, W’84 | Justin Gordon, W’05 | Jane Gutman, CW’73, PAR’14, PAR’16 | Leanne Huebner, W’90 | Jamie Kendall, W’04 | Irene Park, C’05 | Kiera Reilly, C’93 | Michelle Wattana, C’09 | Denise Winner, W’83, PAR’21

Read about our previous events:

 

 

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Filed under Jane G., Los Angeles, Penn Club of LA, Penn Serves, Volunteering

Fireside Chat on Algorithms and Machine Intelligence in Silicon Beach

By Michal Clements, W’84, WG’89


Conversational Context

On April 4, 2019, forty Penn alumni, family, friends and work colleagues came together In the offices of Silicon beach based content targeting firm Zefr to gain insight into machine learning and algorithms. The fireside chat featured Wharton Professor Kartik Hosanagar, author of the just-released  “A Human’s Guide to Machine Intelligence: How Algorithms are Shaping Our Lives and How We can Stay in Control” and was moderated by Bing Chen C’09.

The evening began with welcomes from Penn Club of Los Angeles President, Omid Shokoufandeh W’09 and host Zefr’s Product Manager Data Science Rebecka Zavaleta, C’13.

Frankly Penn Kartik Photo #1

Attendees included Penn alumni and local colleagues who currently work directly in machine learning and artificial intelligence as well as alumni of all ages who were interested to learn more about these topics, including a Penn graduate from the class of 1957 and 1969.

Frankly Penn Kartik Photo #2

Topics Explored

  • The trend is towards reinforcement learning where the AI creates its own data vs. supervised learning where a training data set is used
  • We all have subconscious biases and algorithms learn from data based on human decisions, therefore the algorithms develop and reflect those biases
  • There are many examples of algorithm failures, whether the algorithms are ruled based (i.e., from the programmer) or reinforcement learning based
  • While diversity in the team developing algorithms is desirable, many AI teams are quite small in size (i.e., with three or four people), and it’s not realistic to have all diversity represented within them (even if the talent pool were a perfect reflection of diversity)
  • Case example: Amazon discovered that their resume screening algorithm had a gender bias which reflected the gender bias in the underlying data. While “almost no one” is testing for bias, Amazon was and moved to correct this issue
  • Case example: a Microsoft chatbot named XiaoIce “works” with forty million followers in China (a place where there are many rules on what to not say in social media), while a similar Microsoft chatbot named Tay failed spectacularly in the US. This example is explored in the book’s opening
  • Humorous case example of gaming the system: given our notorious LA traffic, and widespread use of Waze and Google Maps, one audience member regularly reports (falsely) slowdowns in his local neighborhood to prevent traffic from being routed through the area, thereby creating congestion

Predictions (some already in existence)

  • Machines will be able to detect emotions and use that information
  • Expect an exponential increase in capabilities from AI in our lifetime. Examples on the near term and current horizons are driverless cars and smart cities (at the combination of AI and IOT)
  • We have and will have AI that is creative (e.g., art, music)

Ideas to Address the Biases and Navigate an Algorithmic World

  • In the book, Prof. Hosanagar presents “A Bill of Rights” to address some of the dangers and challenges around algorithms. Some of the solutions include:
    • Transparency, particularly in socially critical settings
    • Human in the Loop
    • Auditing the algorithm

All of us are impacted daily by algorithms, and I hope our Penn alumni who are lifelong learners will educate themselves, and will also have the opportunity to see and hear from Professor Hosanagar on this topic.

 

 

 

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Filed under Michal Clements, Penn Club of LA, Uncategorized