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New York City wants to be the Next American Tech Powerhouse by tripling its Investment in Programs for Computer Science Students

According to Scientific American, African American women make up 3 percent of the computing workforce, female Hispanics are 1 percent, and Asian women are 5 percent

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NYC New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul speaks during a ceremonial ground breaking at Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York, June 16, 2015. Among the school's stated goals - help close the existing gender gap in the technology field. VOA

New York City wants to be the next American tech powerhouse, and to get there it is tripling its investment in programs for computer science students.

In the middle of the East River, on Roosevelt Island, one of the keys to the city’s tech future is being built: Cornell Tech. When it’s complete, it will house 2,000 graduate students and hundreds of faculty and staff as well as an ecosystem of companies, researchers and entrepreneurs.

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Cornell Tech has also partnered with the City University of New York (CUNY) and other tech leaders to launch Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York (WiTNY) to prepare young women for careers in technology and help fill the gender gap in America’s tech fields.

Why not women?

Thirty-five years ago, a third of computer science degrees went to women, according to Accenture, a leader in technology services. Now that number is 20 percent.

Brittany Greve, a first year STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) student at Hunter College in New York City, says “the expectation of young women when they are growing up isn’t necessarily to do anything in STEM, no one pushes them in that direction.”

Greve is one of a handful of women at Hunter in a curriculum that is male-dominated. She says that’s changing slowly.

“We know that this isn’t going to happen in a year or two years,” she said, “it will probably take a decade to make the change. We have to keep pushing back when people say that women aren’t supposed to be in STEM.”

 Two women are seen seated ahead of a technology panel in New York, Oct, 29, 2015. According to Accenture, a leader in technology services, today, only 20 percent of computer science degrees go to women. VOA
Two women are seen seated ahead of a technology panel in New York, Oct, 29, 2015. According to Accenture, a leader in technology services, today, only 20 percent of computer science degrees go to women. VOA

Accenture supports women in tech in New York and across the United States by making 40 percent of its new hires women. Lynn McMahon, Accenture’s managing director for the New York metro area, talked about her company’s approach to getting more women interested in technology.

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“One of the things our company is trying to understand is what works at the college level, pre-college level, high school, and even as far back as junior high,” she said. “We want to help women and girls envision that this is the place they want to be.”

Other industry partners, such as Kickstarter, Viacom, Genome, LearnVest, Bloomberg and Google, are committed to expanded training and job opportunities for both women and men.

Plentiful jobs

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates there will be 1.1 million computing-related job openings in the U.S. by 2024. The National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) believes only about 40 percent of these jobs will be filled by people with degrees from U.S. colleges and universities.

In 2016 the federal government allowed U.S. companies to sponsor 65,000 foreigners with at least a bachelor’s degree from any university, and 20,000 more visas went to individuals with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions.

NCWIT and other organizations want to help more Americans compete for these jobs, especially women.

Terry Morreale, NCWIT associate director says educators need to do their part.

“Computer science is not offered in all high schools,” Morreale said. “In fact computer science is not even considered a part of a core curriculum in many high schools. And, there are definitely schools that have no computer science classes at all.”

Students are seen completing an exercise at a Girls Who Code class in San Jose, California, June 18, 2014. Girls Who Code, a national non-profit, aims to prepare young women for futures in computing-related fields. VOA
Students are seen completing an exercise at a Girls Who Code class in San Jose, California, June 18, 2014. Girls Who Code, a national non-profit, aims to prepare young women for futures in computing-related fields. VOA

She believes that the federal government could help solve this educational problem.

“At the very least,” she said, “everyone should have a fundamental understanding of computing.”

Incentives

In the meantime, the organization ‘Girls Who Code’ is stepping in.

Noting that at age 13 to 17, girls lose interest in computing, Girls Who Code began offering a year-long program to teenage girls. It runs after-school clubs, monthly workshops, and special presentations by industry role models.

NCWIT also has middle school programs for girls, including after-school programs, summer camps, clubs, and weekend conferences. One program, “Aspiration in Computing,” is involved in talent development, leadership opportunities, scholarships and internships for technically inclined young women. Many corporations also participate nationally in providing internships for young women.

Over time, these programs hope to raise the number of female freshmen or university undergraduates who enroll in computing programs above the current national figure of 4 percent. In New York State, it’s worse: Dr. Carlos Medina, vice chancellor of diversity at the State University of New York (SUNY), says “only 1 percent of women at the nation’s largest public university is prepared or wants to get involved in computers.”

Visibility matters

Even with the incentives of good pay and interesting work, women, especially women of color, are essentially absent from technology innovation.

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According to Scientific American, African American women make up 3 percent of the computing workforce, female Hispanics are 1 percent, and Asian women are 5 percent.

According to Google’s Computer Science research, minority women won’t embrace the field until they see more people like themselves, making them feel more welcome and less anxious. And, most important, all groups need to understand that opportunities await them. (VOA)

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Plastic Found in 83% Drinking Water on Five Continents, Nobody is Safe

While the health impact of ingesting plastics are unclear, it is not something you would want to consume

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A shelf full of various kinds of bottled water is pictured at a supermarket in Beijing. (VOA)
  • Tiny particles of degraded plastic called microplastics found in drinking water
  • Consumption of microplastics by fishes are known to stunt growth, inhibit hatching of eggs and increase mortality rates
  • The tiny pieces of plastic have been found in both, public taps and bottled water

London, September 7, 2017 : Tiny pieces of plastic have been found in drinking water on five continents – from Trump Tower in New York to a public tap on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda – posing a potential risk to people’s health, researchers said on Wednesday.

Plastic degrades over time into tiny particles known as microplastics, which were found in 83 percent of samples from Germany to Cuba to Lebanon analyzed by U.S.-based digital news organization Orb Media.

“If you ask people whether they want to be eating or drinking plastic, they just say, ‘No, that’s a dumb question,’ ” said Sherri Mason, one of study’s authors and a chemistry professor at the State University of New York.

“It’s probably not something that we want to be ingesting, but we are, whether through our drinking water, through beer, juice. It’s in our food, sea salt, mussels. Nobody is safe,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Microplastics of up to 5 millimeters are also in bottled water, she said.

The health impact of ingesting plastics are unclear, but studies on fish have shown they inhibit hatching of fertilized eggs, stunt growth and make them more susceptible to predators, increasing mortality rates.

Microplastics absorb toxic chemicals from the marine environment, which are released into the bodies of fish and mammals who consume them, Orb Media’s chief executive, Molly Bingham, said in a statement.

While many studies have shown the prevalence of microplastics in the world’s oceans, where more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating, it is the first time research has been conducted into drinking water. (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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Satellite sends First Quantum Signal to Earth

This is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them

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Micius
Micius satellite. wikimedia
  • An orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth
  • It is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications
  • They can not be cracked by ever-improving computer algorithms

June 18, 2017: It was reported by scientists today that an orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth. It is a big step towards sending quantum keys from satellites — an approach that has been heralded as a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them.

A laser on China’s Micius satellite, which was launched last year and is dedicated to researches related to quantum satellite communications, spit out pairs of entangled photons from its position, 500 km above Earth. Then two telescopes on Earth – about 1200 km apart — had 5 minutes each day to look for them as the satellite passed over both telescopes. It was found that paired photons survived the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. They detected 1 entangled pair per second out of the 6 million sent in that time.

So how exactly does all this work?

A quantum key needs to be generated first by two people who are looking to communicate. Then, one person receives one of the entangled photons in the pair, the other person receives the other. When the received photons have measured the photons, they obtain bits of information strung together to create a key that they both have. That key can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. The users can also share a portion of the key publicly to check if it has been compromised. In case if someone tries to intercept the communication at any point, they would then notice a difference between their strings.

Also read: NASA’s Curiosity rover finds a Wide Variety of Minerals in Martian Rocks

There is a certain set of problems as well. Caltech’s John Preskill believes even though it is an important proof of concept, the feat doesn’t address one of the biggest problems with quantum communications. Currently, these messages can’t be sent long distances. Photons, using an optical fiber to carry a quantum signal, can only make it about 100 km before the dissipation of the light.

Quantum systems are similar to optical telecommunications here on earth and need repeaters that are able to amplify the message so it can be passed long distances. But amplifying a quantum message in the same way optical ones are done would effectively result in the destruction of the information. That is why satellite-based communication are being eyed by researchers. The reported 500 km from space is an improvement over optical. Quantum signals were measured in another study published today from a satellite 38,000 km away to a single point. But in deploying a global network which would likely be able to combine optical fiber and satellites, the repeater problem still stands.

Preskill has predicted that it is more likely we will first come up with another form of encryption for communication. “There will be other ways of doing classical public key cryptosystems that we won’t know how to break with quantum computers,” he added.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang