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Welcome to the October 8, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Veterinarian Julie Renoux caring for cows on a farm in France. The Future Farmers of France Are Tech-Savvy
The New York Times
Liz Alderman
October 7, 2021

The Hectar venture hopes to address France's farmer shortage by nurturing technologically adept next-generation growers. Founder Audrey Bourolleau said ensuring a future agricultural industry requires "a social revolution," while French technology billionaire and main Hectar investor Xavier Niel highlighted the venture's goal "to make agriculture sexy." The effort involves drawing 2,000 young people from urban, rural, or disadvantaged backgrounds annually and training them as farmer-entrepreneurs who can produce sustainable agriculture ventures, attract investors, and generate profits. Niel's non-traditional 42 coding school is Hectar's template, and the program offers free tuition and training, without state-sanctioned diplomas.

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A sole IT person maintaining a datacenter. Lack of Engineers Keeping Some Firms Out of the Cloud
The Wall Street Journal
Aaron Tilley
October 6, 2021

Major cloud computing companies like Amazon and Microsoft are competing to hire engineers, squeezing out others as the pandemic has driven up demand for an already scarce workforce. Labor and economics research firm Emsi estimated annual cloud job postings grew 94% between 2017 and 2020, versus approximately 20% for all technology job postings over the same period. Students and engineers are investing more time and money to obtain cloud computing skills, and online education company Coursera said enrollees in its cloud-related courses rose 78% last quarter from two years ago. Smaller companies face an engineer shortage; Howie Liu at business collaboration startup Airtable said cloud project managers are the toughest talent to hire. Recruiters said cloud-skilled people generally receive multiple offers, often with salary packages worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Blockchain Technology Could Provide Secure Communications for Robot Teams Blockchain Technology Could Provide Secure Communications for Robot Teams
MIT Media Lab
Adam Zewe
October 5, 2021

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Spain's Polytechnic University of Madrid suggest blockchain technology could ensure secure communications for robot teams. A blockchain supplies a tamper-proof record of messages issued by robot team leaders, so follower robots can note inconsistencies in the data trail. In a simulation, data was stored in each block as a set of directions from a leader robot to followers; a malicious robot attempting to alter the content of a block changes the block hash, so the doctored block is no longer connected to the chain and false directions can be easily disregarded by followers. MIT's Eduardo Castelló said, "These techniques are useful to be able to validate, audit, and understand that the system is not going to go rogue."

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The Tech That Slumlords Hate The Tech That Slumlords Hate
Bloomberg CityLab
Ethan McLeod
October 7, 2021

Housing activists, city officials, and scientists are implementing new tools to empower tenants, penalize negligent landlords, and curtail evictions in U.S. cities. Baltimore, for example, is deploying quick response (QR) code signs on properties with vacant building notices, which people can scan with smartphone cameras to access publicly available data. Such programs boost transparency and help the public rein in property owners and landlords, while others aim to expose serial evictors, stave off forced displacement, and help tenants survive nationwide rent spikes. Detroit software company Regrid's crowdsourced Motor City Mapping project became a platform for organizations helping families facing eviction through property tax foreclosures. More recently, the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project developed an online map of properties owned by real estate investment trusts and serial evictors in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City.

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Flying High-Speed Drones into the Unknown with AI Flying High-Speed Drones into the Unknown with AI
University of Zurich (Switzerland)
October 7, 2021

Researchers at Switzerland's University of Zurich used artificial intelligence (AI) to train an autonomous quadrotor to fly through unknown and complex environments at speeds as fast as 40 kph (25 mph). The researchers used an algorithm that flew a computer-generated drone through a simulated environment of complex obstacles to teach the drone's neural network to fly. The data from this "simulated expert" helped the neural network learn to predict the best trajectory using only data from on-board sensors. Said Zurich's Antonio Loquercio, "While humans require years to train, the AI, leveraging high-performance simulators, can reach comparable navigation abilities much faster, basically overnight."

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Researchers Reach Quantum Networking Milestone in Real-World Environment Researchers Reach Quantum Networking Milestone in Real-World Environment
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Elizabeth Rosenthal
October 6, 2021

A team of researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Stanford University, and Purdue University have developed a fully functional quantum local area network (QLAN). The researchers connected three remote nodes ("Alice," "Bob," and "Charlie") in three different research laboratories in three separate buildings on ORNL's campus. The lab containing Alice and the photon source distributed entanglement using ORNL's existing fiber-optic infrastructure to Bob and Charlie. The researchers used GPS-based clocks to ensure close synchronization of the timing of each node's activity. The GPS signal ensured higher quality data and fidelity.

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Doctors examine images of a patient's lung at a hospital in Xiaogan, Hubei province. China's Data-Driven Dream to Overhaul Healthcare
Sara O'Meara
October 6, 2021

Biomedical engineers, radiologists, respiratory experts, and clinicians at institutions and hospitals across China teamed up to develop machine-learning software to assist radiologists during the pandemic. The algorithm was trained on more than 145,000 chest X-rays from seven hospitals and found to be more than 90% accurate in detecting COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases. The researchers provided the data and computer code to the China National Center for Bioinformation open-access data platform to help with global COVID-19 research. The project is one of many initiated in China over the last decade as that nation has set its sights on data-driven healthcare.

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U.S. Tech Salaries Grow, but Not For Everyone
IEEE Spectrum
Tekla S. Perry
October 6, 2021

IEEE-USA's 2021 Salary & Benefits survey estimated that median income for U.S. technology professionals rose from $148,500 to $154,443 from 2019 to 2020, an approximately 2.8% bump. This particularly benefits engineers this year, given inflation-adjusted salaries were unchanged in 2019. Yet gains were distributed unequally: consumer electronics and broadcast technology engineers earned the highest median wages of $209,373 and $209,000, respectively. Near the bottom were energy and power-engineering professionals, earning a median salary of $140,000. Gender- and race-related salary disparities widened, with the median gap between men and women's salaries climbing $5,500 to $28,000 from 2019, while that between Caucasians and African Americans increased $2,250 to $24,250 in 2020.

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An Uber Eats delivery person bikes to the next stop. Uber Faces Legal Action Over 'Racially Discriminatory' Facial Recognition ID Checks
Tech Crunch
Natasha Lomas
October 5, 2021

Uber's use of real-time facial recognition technology in its driver and courier identity check system in the U.K. is the subject of a legal action filed by the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) alleging the technology discriminates against people of color. Uber requires identity checks in which drivers must provide a real-time selfie; they face dismissal if the selfie does not match a stored reference photo, as well as automatic revocation of their private hire driver and vehicle licenses. The real-time facial recognition checks, in use in the U.K. since March 2020, use Microsoft's FACE API technology. The union said its lawyers will argue that facial recognition systems are "inherently faulty and generate particularly poor accuracy results when used with people of color."

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A representation of Internet of Things security Singapore Inks Pact with Finland to Mutually Recognize IoT Security Labels
Eileen Yu
October 6, 2021

Singapore and Finland have agreed to recognize each other's cybersecurity labels for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, in order to help consumers evaluate the products' security. Singapore's Cyber Security Agency (CSA) said the alliance aims to reduce duplicated testing and help manufacturers bring products to market more easily. Both countries would acknowledge cybersecurity labels issued by the CSA and by Finland's Transport and Communications Agency. Consumer IoT products that met Finland's cybersecurity label mandates would be recognized as having satisfied Singapore's Cybersecurity Labeling Scheme Level 3 requirements, and vice versa.

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An image of the single-celled organism <em>tetrahymena thermophila</em>. Biological Computer Made From Single-Celled Organisms Can Crunch Data
New Scientist
Matthew Sparkes
October 5, 2021

Japanese scientists have assembled colonies of single-celled organisms into a reservoir computing framework to consider a series of historical data points and make forecasts. The researchers deposited a colony of Tetrahymena thermophila in an incubation chamber and photographed it once a minute, with an algorithm automatically counting the population. They rendered input data on the size of catches from fishing boats as a series of temperature readings, and adjusted the chamber's temperature accordingly. The temperature was altered after a set period to the next temperature in the series, and data on the colony's size formed the output. Experiments showed the colonies reacted predictably and similarly when provided the same set temperature input series.

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LEONARDO the bipedal robot shown jumping Bipedal Robot Can Ride a Skateboard, Walk a Slackline
Caltech News
Robert Perkins
October 6, 2021

The bipedal LEgs ONboARD drOne (LEONARDO) robot built by California Institute of Technology (Caltech) researchers combines walking with flying to perform nimble, complex movements. LEO can balance itself using multi-joint legs and propeller-based thrusters, enabling it to walk a slackline, hop, and ride a skateboard. Caltech's Soon-Jo Chung said birds' ability to flap and hop to traverse telephone lines inspired LEO's design, while the way humans wearing a jet suit-wearing humans control their legs and feet when landing or taking off informed the way LEO synchronizes its thrusters and leg joints.

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