The toughest IT job to fill in Georgia is one farmers could use

By David Pendered

The hardest tech job to fill in Georgia may be one that’s needed the most. Experts in artificial intelligence help devise tools that one agricultural user says can enable farmers to, “feed the world without wrecking the climate.”

artifiicial intelligence, farming

A Swiss company is pioneering the use of drones to collect data including moisture and fertilizer content from fields, and sending the information to be processed by artificial intelligence software to provide advice to farmers. Credit: Gamaya via fortune.com

These tools include sensors installed in fields to track 12 factors including moisture levels in soil and leaves, and the amount of sunlight, wind and rain. Other approaches use drones to collect data.

The data is processed by artificial intelligence software to produce ever-improving recommendations to farmers on when and where to plant crops, irrigate, fertilize and harvest, according to a description of an agriculture AI program posted by microsoft.com.

Farmers can expect to benefit from these informed recommendations as they seek to increase yields through sustainable farming methods, in order to feed a growing global population.

Yet jobs in artificial intelligence, and the subsector of machine learning, are far and away the most difficult to fill in Georgia, according to this year’s State of the Industry/Technology in Georgia Report by the Technology Association of Georgia.

A survey conducted for TAG in November 2017 showed the difficulty of filling these job categories ranked 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being most difficult. The easiest jobs to fill are help desk, ranked 7.4; project manager, 6.7; and network administrator, 6.4.

TAG President and CEO Larry Williams looked on the bright side as he considered the broader findings contained in the annual report. Williams has been traveling the state to present the report to various groups, and was in Atlanta on July 24 to present the report in conjunction with the Clean Energy Roadshow, at Dentons law firm.

Larry Williams

Larry Williams

“The data show that we are a leader in some of the most important areas of growth, including cyber security, product development, big data and artificial intelligence,” Williams said in an email exchange Monday. “These are the three of the most important areas of growth in the world today and Georgia is at the forefront.”

Williams’ outlook is in keeping with the national shortage of AI workers – jobs here may be hard to fill, but there’s not an abundance of AI experts elsewhere in the country. According to a report by chron.com, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics observed there’s a “limited number” of PhD’s in the AI field, and the sector is expected to grow by 15 percent through 2022, compared to 11 percent for all combined IT occupations.

In addition, Atlanta and Georgia benefit from AI efforts at Georgia Tech, which coordinates AI and machine learning across schools including computer science, computational science and engineering. Professors work with undergraduates and those studying for master and doctorate degrees.

Georgia farmers could benefit from this expertise because of the unpredictable nature of weather. Moisture levels can vary even within a few rows of crops, let alone across a wider geography. Having information about various microclimates could be extremely useful in determining when to irrigate and fertilize. This situation appeared in the comments of several county extension agents in their reports to Georgia Crop Progress and Condition Report, maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

  • “Received anywhere from no rain to 3 inches of rain across the county over the past week. It has been very spotty and some places could use a nice rain.” – Cole Moon, June 18, Bleckley County.
  • “Soils are drying down fast and pivots [irrigators] are running hard to finish out corn and get fertilizer soaked into the cotton that is being spread.” – Seth McAllister, June 25, Terrell County.

As Williams travels the state to present TAG’s latest report, he focuses his remarks on the area where he was giving the speech. The summary of the report shows:

Positives

  • “Georgia continues to be a major U.S. technology center:
    artificial intelligence, robot

    Robots that can measure various aspects of crop and field conditions are being programmed scientists at Carnegie Mellon University to clip leaves or thin fruit to increase yields with help from artificial intelligence software. Credit: digitaltrends.com

    • Top 10 U.S. technology employment market
    • Growing our technology sector employment faster than the US average
    • Technology wages growing faster than key market peers and US average
    • Providing strong technology hubs in Software, Equipment and Entertainment sectors
  • “Capital invested in Georgia surged in 2017 – growing 113 percent over 2016. Georgia is now a top-6 market for VC-backed investment [venture capital]; and
  • “We continue to show signs of creating innovation momentum”

Need improvement

  • “We continue to see signs of a talent gap in GA – impressions of skill quality haven’t significantly improved year over year, positions critical to growth and operations are difficult to find, and Georgia lags in its ability to attract knowledgeable workers from other states and internationally compared to other states;
  • “More seed/early stage investment is needed to create a more vibrant entrepreneurial environment; many are looking to established GA-based companies to provide that investment; and
  • “While talent and capital are major factors, GA needs to address key issues that affect innovation development and commercialization.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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