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Former NASA ‘naut and Shuttle boss weigh in on fixing Hubble • The Register

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The outlook continues to look a little bleak for NASA’s veteran Hubble telescope as a former astronaut and a Space Shuttle manager weighed in on repair options and the possibility of a fix.

NASA has remained silent on the fate of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) since an admission last week that back-up computer hardware had exhibited the same behaviour as the primary payload computer system that sent the spacecraft into safe mode several weeks ago. Engineers have since spread the fault-finding net a little wider.

Writing on Twitter, former astronaut Clay Anderson gave voice to the fears of many, saying that he believed the observatory was “beyond repair.”

NASA’s take remains that the Hubble’s instruments are in good shape as boffins on the ground ponder how to bring the payload computer back online.

The Register asked Anderson, a former Space Shuttle astronaut and resident of the International Space Station (ISS), if he meant not repairable on orbit (as in the old Shuttle days) or actually not recoverable. “Both,” he replied.

Anderson based his opinion on his decades at NASA, both as an engineer and astronaut. While he did not rule out the possibility of a fix, he reckoned it was governed by “Clays 3 D’s of Spaceflight: Danger, Difficulty, and DOLLARS!”

Wayne Hale, a former Space Shuttle Program Manager and NASA Flight Director, highlighted the challenges faced by NASA, which retired the Shuttles without replacing them with anything that matched their versatility.

Anderson, author of the astronaut memoir “The Ordinary Spaceman“, did not lay claim to current NASA insider knowledge, having retired following STS-131, Space Shuttle Discovery’s penultimate and longest mission. Others, however, remain optimistic for the prospects of the orbiting observatory.

The Register asked NASA how things were going and was told that an update was in the works, but in the meantime “The Hubble operations team is working to solve the payload computer issue onboard the Hubble Space Telescope.

“The team is working to collect all the data available to them to isolate the problem and determine the best path forward for bringing the computer back to operations. At this time, there is no definitive timeline for bringing the computer back online.”

We continue to fervently hope that Anderson is mistaken and the talented team of NASA engineers come up with a solution that restores the telescope to working order, even if a visit by astronauts with spare parts is most definitely not on the cards. ®



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‘Disinfo kills’: protesters demand Facebook act to stop vaccine falsehoods | Facebook

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Activists are to descend on Facebook’s Washington headquarters on Wednesday to demand the company take stronger action against vaccine falsehoods spreading on its platform.

Protesters are planning to cover the lawn in front of Facebook’s office with body bags that read “disinfo kills” as a symbol of the harm caused by online disinformation, as Covid cases surge in the US.

The day of protest has been organized by a group of scholars, advocates and activists calling themselves the “Real” Oversight Board. The group is urging Facebook’s shareholders to ban so-called misinformation “superspreaders” – the small number of accounts responsible for the majority of false and misleading content about the Covid-19 vaccines.

“People are making decisions based on the disinformation that’s being spread on Facebook,” said Shireen Mitchell, Member of the Real Facebook Oversight Board and founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women. “If Facebook is not going to take that down, or if all they’re going to do is put out disclaimers, then fundamentally Facebook is participating in these deaths as well.”

In coordination with the protest, the Real Oversight Board has released a new report analyzing the spread of anti-vaccine misinformation on Facebook during the company’s most recent financial quarter. The report and protest also come as Facebook prepares to announce its financial earnings for that same quarter.

The report references a March study from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) that found a small group of accounts – known as the “dirty dozen” – is responsible for more than 73% of anti-vaccine content across social media platforms, including Facebook. That report recently drew attention from the White House, and Joe Biden has condemned Facebook and other tech companies for failing to take action.

Facebook banned misinformation about vaccines from the platform in February of 2021, but critics say many posts slip through the platform’s filters and reach audiences of millions without being removed.

It also has introduced a number of rules relating to Covid-19 specifically, banning posts that question the severity of the disease, deny its existence, or argue that the vaccine has more risks than the virus. Still, the Real Oversight Board found that often such content has been able to remain on the platform and even make its way into the most-shared posts.

According to the Real Oversight Board’s report, a large share of the misinformation about the Covid vaccines comes from a few prolific accounts, and continues to be among the platform’s best performing and most widely shared content. It analyzed the top 10 posts on each weekday over the last quarter and found the majority of those originated from just five identified “superspreaders” of misinformation.

“When it comes to Covid disinformation, the vast majority of content comes from an extremely small group of highly visible users, making it far easier to combat it than Facebook admits,” the board said, concluding that Facebook is “continuing to profit from hate and deadly disinformation”.

The group has called on Facebook to remove the users from the platform or alter its algorithm to disable engagement with the offending accounts. Facebook did not immediately respond to request for comment, but has stated in the past it has removed more than 18m pieces of Covid misinformation.

Congress has also taken note of the spread of vaccine misinformation on Facebook and other platforms, with the Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar introducing a bill that would target platforms whose algorithms promotes health misinformation related to an “existing public health emergency”.

The bill, called the Health Misinformation Act, would remove protections provided by the internet law Section 230, which prevent platforms from being sued over content posted by their users in such cases.

“For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans,” Klobuchar said in a statement on the bill. “These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world, and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation.”

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Workday shares slide following claims Amazon ditched company-wide HR system • The Register

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Amazon has halted plans to roll out a company-wide HR system based on SaaS from Workday, highlighting the challenges of migrating to the in-vogue application model.

A deal between the megacorp and Workday, an enterprise application interloper, was signed in 2017 with Amazon HR veep Beth Galetti at the time declaring: “Workday is an HR cloud leader that provides an innovative, customer-focused HCM system that will support Amazon as we continue to hire employees around the world.”

Three years later, the Seattle book-seller-cum-enterprise-juggernaut has changed its tune. According to reports, a migration from Oracle’s PeopleSoft has come unstuck because Workday’s database, an in-memory system that drew inspiration from SAP’s HANA, did not scale to the needs of Amazon’s increasing number of employees. In 2017, around 300,000 worked for the firm worldwide. Now it is around 800,000 in the US and 1.3 million worldwide.

Reports claim that some Amazon businesses, like streaming platform Twitch, are using Workday’s HR system, but for the main part, the organisation still relies on Oracle’s PeopleSoft.

In a blogpost, Workday said it and Amazon had both “mutually agreed to discontinue Amazon’s Workday Human Capital Management deployment,” based on a decision taken “more than a year and a half ago.”

It said there was “the potential to revisit [the project] in the future” and denied the decision was “related to the scalability of the Workday system.” One of its largest retail customers supported 1.5 million workers worldwide, it said.

“At times… customers have a unique set of needs that are different from what we’re delivering for our broader customer base, as was the case with Amazon – one of the most unique and dynamic companies in the world,” the statement said.

The Register has approached Amazon for comment.

Workday’s shares slid by as much as 7.8 per cent when news of Amazon’s decision broke.

It is not only megacorps that seem to struggle to implement Workday software. In the last year, two North American public-sector projects have become mired in difficulties.

The State of Maine ordered an official review of its $54.6m project to renew its HR system based on software from Workday, accusing the vendor of showing “no accountability” for its part in a flawed project which could leave the state government continuing to rely on its 30-year-old mainframe-based system.

At the time, Workday told The Register it was “committed to partnering with the State of Maine to successfully complete this project.”

Meanwhile, teaching assistants at Canada’s McGill University spent Christmas waiting to be paid as the institution struggled with a new Workday HR and payroll system, according to the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM). ®

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What are the most in-demand jobs in automation, AI and RPA?

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Hays’ Tim Olsen discusses the job landscape within the automation and AI sector and the most valuable skills for workers in this area.

Click to read more stories from Automation Week.

Automation is one of the most rapidly growing job markets right now, incorporating artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotic process automation (RPA).

Why the rise in demand for automation?

Businesses are realising the untapped potential of intelligent automation. As more adopt automation, those that do not are becoming less productive and will likely be left behind. An awareness of the value of automation is nothing new, but the boom in demand is largely driven by a need for greater efficiency, rapid deployment and scalability.

According to Deloitte’s 2020 survey, two-thirds of organisations surveyed also note the Covid-19 pandemic’s role in accelerating demand for automation. For these organisations, automation has facilitated remote working and helped them meet an increase in processing requirements.

It is no longer the case of whether to automate, but when, and the best time is always now.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

RPA is a well-proved technology, but the integration of AI and other cognitive technologies broadens the scope of what can be automated and the scale of its benefits. This is accelerating the market even faster, and those with skillsets in both domains are therefore in high demand.

This demand is reflected in the training courses now available. Microsoft recently launched its own AI offering, Azure Applied AI Services, and MIT has just introduced a new RPA diploma course to meet market demand. Yet this is still a candidate-short field. The sector is growing more quickly than the skillset.

The value of transferable skills in automation

Jobs are often well-paid. In the UK for example, Glassdoor shows that RPA developers are paid, on average, £6,000 more than other developers. And jobseekers may already have some of the skills that recruiters are looking for.

I began my career on the shop floor selling mobile phones and was promoted to a management position before becoming a project manager, where I worked on speech technologies for Vodafone. Later, I moved to Capita, where I helped scale its automation department from three people to 177.

Automation has been my focus ever since, and I have seen first-hand how challenging it can be to find the right candidates to fill these roles. It is about getting that depth and breadth of skills that is difficult in the market. There are many transferrable skills which can help create a pipeline from a variety of jobs into the world of automation. Recruiters want to see that you have battle scars.

The most in-demand jobs in automation, AI and RPA

Project managers and business analysts are sought-after, while systems architects and lead developers are in particularly high demand. Experienced centre of excellence programme leads can be hard to come by, so are in highest demand.

It all comes down to experience. There are many candidates who claim to have RPA experience, but few of them have applied their skills broadly across multiple industries. People who can demonstrate a breadth of experience, including in cognitive technologies, are in highest demand.

While there are many developers in Blue Prism and UiPath, Automation Anywhere, developers are still scarce, and organisations are being forced to look overseas for resources. Knowledge of associated technologies such as cloud, chatbots and natural language processing are highly rated, while business analysts increasingly need to have deep knowledge of the vendor ecosystems and process/task mining to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Click here to check out more on the Hays Technology blog.

How to get a job in automation, AI and RPA

This is a growing sector, so newcomers can build their skills to make them employable in the longer-term. While there is no substitute for years of experience, many employers will be willing to overlook a lack of experience if the candidate can demonstrate key transferable skills, soft skills such as problem-solving abilities, or a commitment to learning and professional development.

Business analysts and project managers should be diplomatic with good communication skills. They should also understand the benefits of automation. Often, this job will involve learning how to automate certain areas of an employee’s job, which can make people concerned that their role is becoming obsolete. A good business analyst or project manager will be able to get all the information they need about a particular role while explaining how automation will help to make their jobs easier and more fulfilling.

Developers should consider specialising in complimentary technologies, such as cloud computing. As Microsoft’s Azure suite shows, the cloud can act as an entry point to the world of automation, so any awareness of cloud technology will help you understand how automation can work.

Potential candidates could sign up for online training with companies such as UiPath, Blue Prism or Automation Anywhere. These companies are on the cutting edge of AI, RPA and automation, and UiPath and Automation Anywhere currently offer free training courses that are recognised by most corporates with an interest in this field.

However, in such a fast-moving sector, it is important to top up your skills and qualifications, even after establishing your career.

Automation is the future

Automation, AI and RPA will transform the jobs market over the next few years. However, there is still fear around the impact automation could have on traditional jobs, and automation leaders around the world have been calling for an ethical roll-out of automated services.

For instance, companies might initially use automation to remove the more monotonous tasks which do not require much human engagement.

It is not about taking the human out of the equation; it is about taking the robot out of the human and liberating intellect. This takes away the drudgery of work and leaves people free to build relationships and be more creative.

Automation, AI and RPA can improve efficiencies, reduce costs and minimise churn. But there will always be a role for human interaction – whether that involves ‘managing’ your digital workforce as an automation specialist, or engaging with clients, colleagues and vendors.

The workplace will inevitably see a shift towards intelligent automation, and the most in-demand jobs will change over time, but the sector is here to stay.

By Tim Olsen

Tim Olsen is an intelligent automation director at Hays Technology.

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