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Tech wrap: Amazon job fairs; US-China tech transfer probe; algae warning system; facial recognition test

Bulldog Bulletin

Aug, 2 2017, 5:44 AM

In today's Bulldog wrapup of tech and science news:

The details:

Amazon is holding a giant job fair Wednesday and plans to make thousands of job offers on the spot at nearly a dozen U.S. warehouses.

Though it's common for Amazon to ramp up its shipping center staff in August to prepare for holiday shopping, the magnitude of the hiring spree underscores Amazon's growth when traditional retailers are closing stores — and blaming Amazon for a shift to buying goods online.

Nearly 40,000 of the 50,000 packing, sorting and shipping jobs at Amazon will be full time. Most of them will count toward Amazon's previously announced goal of adding 100,000 full-time workers by the middle of next year.

The bad news is that more people are likely to lose jobs in stores than get jobs in warehouses, said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

On the flip side, Amazon's warehouse jobs provide "decent and competitive" wages and could help build skills.

"Interpersonal team work, problem solving, critical thinking, all that stuff goes on in these warehouses," Carnevale said. "They're serious entry-level jobs for a lot of young people, even those who are still making their way through school."

President Donald Trump's administration is considering using rarely invoked U.S. trade laws to fend off China's demands that foreign companies share their technology in return for access to the country's vast market, a person familiar with U.S. discussions said Wednesday.

The administration is discussing the use of Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, which empowers Washington to launch an investigation into China's trade practices and, within months, raise tariffs on imports from China, or impose other sanctions, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans have not been made public.

The investigation would be focused on China's alleged "forced technology transfer policies and practices," the person said, adding that the Trump administration could move to launch such a probe this week.

China's Ministry of Commerce did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

These deliberations come as the administration signals a harsher stance on trade than it took in the first six months of Trump's presidency.

U.S. and other Western governments and business groups accuse Beijing of blocking access to promising industries by requiring foreign companies to hand over proprietary technologies in exchange for being allowed to operate in China. Such requirements are seen as an attempt by Beijing to nurture its own competitors in fields from medical equipment to renewable energy to electric cars.

Satellites in space and a robot under Lake Erie's surface are part of a network of scientific tools trying to keep algae toxins out of drinking water supplies in the shallowest of the Great Lakes.

It's one of the most wide-ranging freshwater monitoring systems in the U.S., researchers say, and some of its pieces soon will be watching for harmful algae on hundreds of lakes nationwide.

Researchers are creating an early warning system using real-time data from satellites that in recent years have tracked algae bloom hotpots such as Florida's Lake Okeechobee and the East Coast's Chesapeake Bay.

The plan is to have it in place within two years so that states in the continental U.S. can be alerted to where toxic algae is appearing before they might detect it on the surface, said Blake Schaeffer, a researcher with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"You don't have to wait until someone gets sick," said Schaeffer, one of the leaders of the project.

Across the nation, farm runoff, sewage overflows and lawn fertilizers have washed into lakes and rivers and left behind unsightly algae blooms that can sicken people and pets and harm wildlife.

But often the first reports of harmful algae on a lake come from boaters seeing something strange in the water, said Rick Stumpf, of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

German authorities have launched a six-month test of automatic facial recognition technology at a Berlin railway station, which the country's top security official says could be used to improve security in the future.

More than 200 people volunteered to have their names and two photos stored for the project at Suedkreuz station, where three cameras film an entrance and an escalator.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in a statement Tuesday "technical progress must not stop at our security services."

But Germans generally back strong data protection. Ulrich Schellenberg, head of the German Bar Association, said "not everything that is technically possible is something we want to do as a society."

It's not clear how officials will proceed after the test.





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