Archive | Tech & Gadgets

Google firm poised to partner on Toronto high-tech neighbourhood

Posted on 13 October 2017 by admin

Landing a Google company to build a ‘smart’ neighhbourhood would boost city’s push to become centre of innovation.

Sidewalk Labs, a sister company of tech giant Google, is the preferred partner to build a high-tech “smart” neighbourhood on Toronto’s east downtown waterfront, the Star has learned.

The board of Waterfront Toronto, the federal-provincial-city agency overseeing the so-called Quayside project, is expected to vote at an Oct. 20 meeting whether to confirm the agency’s staff recommendation arising from a rigorous competitive bid process launched in May.

If confirmed by Waterfront Toronto’s board, the choice of a firm owned by Google holding company Alphabet Inc. would be a big high-tech feather in the cap of the city currently chasing the second headquarters of Amazon and other innovation opportunities.

Quayside is envisioned by the agency as a testbed for cutting-edge technology as well as a bustling, functioning neighbourhood, with homes, offices, retail and cultural space, near Queens Quay E. and Parliament St.

“This is very big news for more good jobs on our waterfront,” said Councillor Paula Fletcher. “Expediting plans for waterfront transit will be critical for its success.”

A source familiar with the outcome of Waterfront Toronto’s request-for-proposal told the Star on Wednesday that Sidewalk Labs is Waterfront Toronto’s “preferred proponent” to help build the “precedent-setting waterfront community.”

Waterfront Toronto, Google and Mayor John Tory’s office all refused comment Wednesday, citing confidentiality and the integrity of the bid process.

Sidewalk Labs is Alphabet’s urban innovation unit, with a stated goal of “reimagining cities from the Internet up.”

Dan Doctoroff, the company’s chief executive and co-founder, told a conference in New York City last May that his company was “looking into developing a large-scale district” to act as its smart city test bed.

The community would be universally connected by broadband and could have, Doctoroff said, prefab modular housing, sensors to constantly monitor building performance, and robotic delivery services to cut residential storage space, website The Architects’ Newspaper reported in May.

Improving transportation would be a focus, possibly with self-driving cars and design to encourage biking and walking, he told the conference. World-leading environmental sustainability could include thermal exchange systems to capture wasted building heat, and smart sensors to limit energy use.

Waterfront Toronto says the 4.9-hectare (12-acre) site will be “a testbed for emerging technologies, materials and processes that will address these challenges and advance solutions that can be replicated in cities worldwide.”

The agency said the winning bidder must propose plans to foster sustainability, resiliency and urban innovation; complete communities with a range of housing types for families of all sizes and income levels; economic development and prosperity driving innovation that will be rolled out to the rest of the world; and partnership and investment ensuring a solid financial foundation that secures revenue and manages financial risk.

Development of the three publicly owned blocks at the east end of Queens Quay will eventually include redesign and reconstruction of the intersection of Queens Quay and Parliament Street.

Toronto tech leaders at a Smart Cities event in Toronto last May said the city is on the cusp of a tech boom, noting talk of Google interest in the city and Uber’s decision to make Toronto a hub for driverless car research.

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Canada’s science champions receive top honours from the Government of Canada

Posted on 18 May 2017 by admin

Award winners celebrated for their work to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers

OTTAWA, May 15, 2017 /CNW/ – One scientist uses pinned and preserved insects from Canada and the tropics, along with live ones such as walking sticks, to help explain physics to more than 9,000 students over the years. A team of researchers uses promotional programs in engineering and coding to encourage girls in grades seven and up to pursue careers in these fields. Their common cause: to make science matter to new generations of students who will become the engineers, architects, teachers and researchers of tomorrow.

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, presented two awards today to Canadians who have made it their life mission to take science out of the classroom and place it in the hands of the young people they teach.

Dr. Jeremy McNeil, a biology professor at Western University, received a $10,000 award through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Individual Award for Science Promotion. Dr. Neil regularly uses certain insects, such as monarch butterflies, to explain the principles of physics to his students.

The Ontario Network of Women in Engineering (ONWiE) received the $25,000 Group Award for Science Promotion for its efforts to encourage the participation of young women in engineering. One of its programs, Go CODE Girl, provides girls in grades seven to 11 across Ontario the opportunity to learn about coding and software development.

NSERC’s Awards for Science Promotion give Canada’s science community the opportunity to recognize, support and encourage outstanding science ambassadors, and to inspire young people to pursue a life in sciences, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM). The skills young scientists acquire along the way, such as asking bold questions or using their imaginations to solve complex problems, help them to make a real difference in their communities and put them on a path to find their dream job one day. Their ideas, discoveries and inventions also help create new opportunities that support a strong economy and a growing middle class.

Quick Facts

•          NSERC Awards for Science Promotion have recognized eight individuals and eight groups since it was established in 2009.

•          For the past 40 years, Dr. Jeremy McNeil has been presenting about insects, particularly the migration of monarch butterflies. He presents to children at English and French primary and secondary schools in Canada, as well as at other locations in North America, China, Europe and Australia, reaching more than 9,000 students over the years.

•          ONWiE has engaged over 17,000 girls and their parents, encouraging them to study science and engineering through a variety of hands-on activities, such as a workshop where the girls learned to build a robotic arm that transferred sand from one cup to another.

•          These awards were presented as part of Science Odyssey – a 10-day celebration of discovery and innovation from May 12 to 21. It brings together hundreds of events across the country to celebrate science and create awareness of Canadian achievements in science and technology.

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Facebook to hire 3,000 more people to review videos, posts of crime and suicide

Posted on 14 May 2017 by admin

Videos and posts that glorify violence are against Facebook’s rules, but Facebook has been criticized for being slow in responding to a rise of such content.

 NEW YORK—Facebook plans to hire 3,000 more people to review videos and other posts after getting criticized for not responding quickly enough to murders shown on its service.

The hires over the next year will be on top of the 4,500 people Facebook already has to identify crime and other questionable content for removal. CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote Wednesday that the company is “working to make these videos easier to report so we can take the right action sooner — whether that’s responding quickly when someone needs help or taking a post down.”

Videos and posts that glorify violence are against Facebook’s rules, but Facebook has been criticized for being slow in responding to such content, including videos of a murder in Cleveland and the killing of a baby in Thailand that was live-streamed. The Thailand video was up for 24 hours before it was removed.

In most cases, content is reviewed and possibly removed only if users complain. News reports and posts that condemn violence are allowed. This makes for a tricky balancing act for the company. Facebook does not want to act as a censor, as videos of violence, such as those documenting police brutality or the horrors of war, can serve an important purpose.

Live stream challenges

Policing live video streams is especially difficult, as viewers don’t know what will happen. This rawness is part of their appeal.

While the negative videos make headlines, they are just a tiny fraction of what users post every day. The good? Families documenting a toddler’s first steps for faraway relatives, journalists documenting news events, musicians performing for their fans and people raising money for charities.

“We don’t want to get rid of the positive aspects and benefits of live streaming,” said Benjamin Burroughs, professor of emerging media at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

Burroughs said that Facebook clearly knew live streams would help the company make money, as they keep users on Facebook longer, making advertisers happy. If Facebook hadn’t also considered the possibility that live streams of crime or violence would inevitably appear alongside the positive stuff, “they weren’t doing a good enough job researching implications for societal harm,” Burroughs said.

Funhouse mirror?

With a quarter of the world’s population on it, Facebook can serve as a mirror for humanity, amplifying both the good and the bad — the local fundraiser for a needy family and the murder-suicide in a faraway corner of the planet. But lately, it has gotten outsized attention for its role in the latter, whether that means allowing the spread of false news and government propaganda or videos of horrific crimes.

Videos livestreaming murder or depicting kidnapping and torture have made international headlines even when the crimes themselves wouldn’t have, simply because they were on Facebook, visible to people who wouldn’t have seen them otherwise.

As the company introduces even more new features, it will continue to have to grapple with the reality that they will not always be used for positive, or even mundane things. From his interviews and Facebook posts, it appears that Zuckerberg is aware of this, even if he is not always as quick to respond as some would hope.

“It’s heartbreaking, and I’ve been reflecting on how we can do better for our community,” Zuckerberg wrote on Wednesday about the recent videos.

It’s a learning curve for Facebook. In November, for example, Zuckerberg called the idea that false news on Facebook influenced the U.S. election “crazy.” A month later, the company introduced a slew of initiatives aimed at combating false news and supporting journalism. And just last week, it acknowledged that governments or others are using its social network to influence political sentiment in ways that could affect national elections.

What to do

Zuckerberg said Facebook workers review “millions of reports” every week. In addition to removing videos of crime or getting help for someone who might hurt themselves, he said the reviewers will “also help us get better at removing things we don’t allow on Facebook like hate speech and child exploitation.”

Wednesday’s announcement is a clear sign that Facebook continues to need human reviewers to monitor content, even as it tries to outsource some of the work to software due in part to its sheer size and the volume of stuff people post.

It’s not all up to Facebook, though. Burroughs said users themselves need to decide how close they want to be to violence — do they want to look at the videos that are posted, and even circulate them, for example. And news organizations should themselves decide whether each Facebook live-streamed murder is a story.

“We have to be careful that it doesn’t become a kind of voyeurism,” he said.

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Scottish tech firms ‘optimistic’ for future

Posted on 01 April 2017 by admin

Scotland’s digital technology industry enjoyed “sustained growth” in 2016 and is optimistic for the future, a survey has found.

Researchers said seven out of 10 companies had reported an increase in sales some by more than 50%. The Scottish Technology Industry Survey also found that 82% of businesses were predicting sales to increase in 2017.

Predicted employment growth is also on the up, with 78% of firms expecting to employ more people this year. This compares to 66% of firms that were expecting to hire more staff in 2016. The digital technologies trade body, ScotlandIS, produced the annual survey. Brexit concerns Polly Purvis, chief executive of ScotlandIS, said: “The results of this year’s survey show the confidence and resilience of the digital technologies industry which is continuing to grow and maintain its optimistic outlook despite uncertainties in the political environment.

“This is great news not just for our sector, but also for the economy as a whole. The digital technologies industry generates over £5bn in GVA [gross value added] for Scotland every year and is becoming more and more important in our increasingly digital world.”

But ScotlandIS said a “skills shortage” remained an issue for many firms. For the first time since 2013, demand for experienced staff outstripped that for graduates. Ms Purvis added: “Our survey shows that more companies are looking to Scotland to recruit new employees.

This is likely to be a sign of Brexit-related concerns and the decreasing attractiveness of the UK for international talent.”

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How Has Technology Changed The Way We Trust?

Posted on 15 February 2017 by admin

Rachel Botsman has spent over a decade thinking about the “sharing economy.” As an an author and a visiting academic at the University of Oxford, Saïd Business School, who researches how technology is transforming trust, she’s an authority on the subject. She’s also one of Fast Company‘s Most Creative People. She is currently writing a book, due out next fall, about the new decentralized economies and how that has changed trust.

I recently chatted with her about what this means for the future of leadership. What follows is a transcript of our conversation. It has been edited for space and clarity.

Can you talk a bit about your current project and its background?

In 2009, I wrote What’s Mine Is Yours about the so-called sharing economy. And there were really two aspects that always interested me about it. One was how you can take these idle assets and unlock their value through technology, and then the second was trust. This notion that technology could breed familiarity and enable strangers to trust one another was fascinating, and the start of something much bigger.

I started to research things like the blockchain and our relationship to artificial intelligence, and all these other technologies that transformed how we trust people, ideas, things, companies. I felt that there was a paradigm shift happening.

At the same time, it’s hard to ignore the headlines that trust is really imploding. So whether it’s banks, the media, government, churches . . . this institutional trust that is really important to society is disintegrating at an alarming rate. And so how do we trust people enough to get in a car with a total stranger and yet we don’t trust a banking executive? So that’s essentially what the book unpacks.

And what I’ve discovered through writing the book is that these systems aren’t better—they still bump against human error and greed and market forces. It is very hard to have a decentralized system because you always end up with a center or a monopoly of power. What I find really frightening is this denial—and this is a leadership question—first of all [to accept] that trust is changing. And then the lack of organizations completely rethinking how you build trust, what you do with trust when it’s destroyed, whether the basic principles are really changing.

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Where are the best jobs of 2017? Look to technology

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

Glassdoor released its annual ranking Monday of this year’s 50 “best jobs” in the United States. Once again, perhaps unsurprisingly, tech-related positions rose to the top.

Four of the top five jobs, in fact, were for tech workers, with “data scientist” defending its spot at the top of the list. The ranking – which is based on median base salary, job satisfaction rating, and the number of positions available on Glassdoor – reflects a broader trend in a changing US labor market. As an increasing number of industries, even outside the traditional tech sector, seek to grapple with rapid technological innovation, demand for tech professionals has skyrocketed.

“This report reinforces that the best jobs are highly-skilled and are staying ahead of the growing trend toward workplace automation,” Glassdoor’s chief economist, Andrew Chamberlain, told Business Insider. Keeping one step ahead of the machines, as workplaces grow increasingly automated, requires a few notably human qualifications: a sense of creativity, discernment, and adaptability.

“Those are aspects of work that are extremely difficult to automate, and having them allows workers to team up with technology to become more productive, rather than simply being replaced by it,” Dr. Chamberlain added.

Data scientists earn a median base salary of $110,000 per year and report a job satisfaction rating of 4.4 out of 5, according to Glassdoor’s report. The job rose to No. 1 last year, up from No. 9 in 2015.

DevOps Engineer – a job that entails both software development (“Dev”) and informational technology operations (“Ops”) – came in second, followed by data engineer in third.

Fourteen of the 50 jobs that made the list require some sort of STEM-related skills(in science, technology, engineering, and/or math), as USA Today reported.

Glassdoor’s ranking comes as newly inaugurated President Trump launches his administration with an emphasis on job creation, with a special emphasis on manufacturing – having inherited a US economy showing signs of progress along a long road to recovery.

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Technology can’t replace the human touch

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Everywhere you turn these days, there’s talk of automation replacing people. Technology is surely advancing at a rapid rate, and in today’s click-driven media environment, sensationalism sells, but just because tech can replace a human worker doesn’t m e a n we’re always going to want that. In some instances, even when tech can do an adequate job, we still want to deal with a person.

While a machine can perform a given task, often more efficiently than we can, what it lacks is the artistry in the activity, that uniquely human ability to cater to the needs of the individual. The protocol may suggest one approach, but a person who is good at their job understands when to adjust and the subtleties that are required.

The Obama administration’s recent report on the possible economic impact of artificial intelligence and automation looked at the issue at least partly through a policy prism. “Whether AI leads to unemployment and increases in inequality over the long run depends not only on the technology itself but also on the institutions and policies that are in place” the report stated. It went on to peg the percentage of jobs affected by automation over the next 10-20 years somewhere between 9 and 47 percent, a broad range that suggests the true impact won’t be known for some time.

Many people involved in the startup ecosystem believe that we will always push tech to its fullest extent simply because we can, but not everyone agrees that’s a desirable approach. The New York Times reported on a McKinsey study last week, that found that, while automation is growing, it may not be at the pace we have been led to believe. “How automation affects employment will not be decided simply by what is technically feasible, which is what technologists tend to focus on,” McKinsey’s James Manyika told the Times.

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Apple’s Newly Patented Edge-to-Edge Display Technology Literally Has Holes in It

Posted on 11 January 2017 by admin

Apple  on  Wednesday morning  was  granted  the patent  for  a  rather  odd,  but nonetheless  innovative, new display  technology  —  one that would, in essence, allow the  company  to  design  and build  an  iPhone  featuring  a truly borderless, edge-to-edge display, covering the entirety of  the  device’s  front-facing surface area.

Apple’s patent filed with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, titled “electronic devices  having  displays  with openings,”  describes  the broader concept of “a display that  may  occupy  the  entire front-face” (of an iPhone, in this instance). This type of design would be achievable, in part, thanks to the underlying “holey”  technology  covered under Cupertino’s new patent.

Speaking  in  the  most basic,  technological  terms possible, Apple’s  forthcoming, OLED-equipped iPhone could boast a display featuring a multitude of little “microscopic pores” — tiny holes in the screen, if you will, “behind which electronic components — such as a camera, a speaker, or a microphone — are mounted,”  according  to Business Insider.

In other words, Apple, by employing  its  freshly patented  technology, would be able  to create an  iPhone featuring  a  truly  edge-less display  —  a  strategically porous  panel,  underneath which all the device’s external components — the camera, earpiece, and even home button, for example — could be mounted, so as to provide unrestricted access  to  those components  even  through the display glass and underlying,  touch-sensitive  basal layers.

This  technology, having been patented by Apple, adds plenty of  fuel  to  the  fire of previous rumors suggesting that  the  curved OLED  display  destined  for  the  company’s  upcoming  iPhone  8 flagship  will  represent  the first device to feature a “truly edgeless” display. Of course, if such ultimately turns out to be the case, the move could also signify a broader shift in Apple’s design language, altogether — as the company appears  determined  and ready  to deliver several devices  featuring  minimalist displays in 2017. Although, those rumored devices likely won’t feature this advanced, porous display technology.

In  any  case, whether  or not we’ll  see  this  debut  on Apple’s upcoming 10th anniversary  iPhone 8  remains to be seen. However, according to a myriad of accounts that have  surfaced  thus  far, the iPhone 8’s internals will be sandwiched between two all-glass, front and back panels, with a steel or aluminum alloy frame holding it all together.

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In 2017 cars are at the frontier of technology

Posted on 05 January 2017 by admin

The thing that keeps me coming back to cars is how they creep into most every aspect of our lives. The obvious reason is that we spend a good portion of our time inside of them. An overwhelming 91 percent of Americans use their personal vehicles to get to work, the average American spends 55 minutes behind the wheel a day, and Americans make 1.1 billion trips everyday, according to the US Department of Transportation.

Car companies have been right in our face for a long time, but now tech companies are getting involved. The biggest shift in the perception of the automobile in America, is that in 2016 cars became part of the tech industry’s mission.

Only a year ago, if you read the comments on our car reviews, it seemed like Verge readers were divided in two camps — those who thirsted for car coverage and those who thought car companies— excluding a rare bird like Tesla — had no place among our focus on gadgetry, big ideas about security and data, and the promise of progress. It felt like the auto industry had crashed CES as the uncouth guest flashing around marketing dollars.

But 2016 was the year of surprising realignments, in virtually every aspect of society, and suddenly it became hard to find a tech company purveyor that didn’t express an interest in some aspect of autonomous car technology or wasn’t in talks with a major automaker. Car culture, which up until recently was infused with 20th century nostalgia, has piqued the imagination as transportation concepts are called into question. Artificial intelligence, LIDAR, and data security are now part of everyday car speak.

As we head into 2017 and CES abuzz with car news, we can make predictions about what’s ahead, but in reality none of us has a clear idea of what comes next. And that’s where I struggle to make forecasts. In my wildest vision, I imagine an autonomous trucking service will quietly set up shop in a remote western state to make weekly deliveries, a car company will launch a subscriber service as experiment, or a US city that will announce plans for a self-driving only zone. I imagine rideables that have wicked new designs, Uber flying to a pickup destination near you, or a new electric car company going belly up. I imagine a coalition of government and industry players that push some more practical version of hyperloop plans forward. I imagine a company, in a gutsy move, taking the steering wheel out of its car to brag about reaching level 5 autonomy in public testing, in the same way car company engineers used to street race in the 1960s, after dark when no one was watching.

But in 2017, I could also see progress hampered. A major car company could spiral into bankruptcy if its business model for manufacturing or overseas sales is challenged by political forces. I could see engineering and technician shortages increase, as not enough Americans pursue training in their fields and the diversity in the auto industry’s highest ranks continue to be abysmal. If the government dials back on emissions standards, car companies may abandon plans to make efficient cars. I could see a patchwork of self-driving laws causing heated legislative battles when the next fatal accident happens.

These are uncertain times in the world, and in a time of such flux, the automotive industry is subject to the unpredictability that looms large. Technology we have learned, can catch us by surprise, create logical solutions, but in 2016 we were reminded that it can also let us down. And so can humans.

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Why Do Facebook And Google Show Us What They Show Us?

Posted on 29 December 2016 by admin

What we have here are two seemingly disparate stories involving two of the most dominant content distributors on the planet.

In one, our friend Mathew Ingram discusses Mark Zuckerberg’s video initiative, which, he says, undercuts the Faceborg supremo’s insistence that he’s not running a media company. In a subsequent post, he highlights Faceborg’s ostensible commitment to fighting fake news.

It’s not hard to see why Zuckerberg resisted the characterization as long and as hard as he did. We’ve talked about that previously ourselves. And as Ingram points out:

Facebook likes things that are neat and tidy, like algorithms — not things that are all muddy and gray and complicated, like defining what constitutes fake news.

Well, we’ve all seen how effective the algorithms are at distinguishing genuine, authentic content from bullshit. And we’ve already talked about how those algorithms are shaped by your ultimate goal: do you want engagement, or do you want veracity? Do you want to be clicky, or do you want to be authentic? Can’t always have both.

And which one you prioritize is going to determine what floats to the top of your menu.

There’s no great insight in observing that this is going to get a lot messier before it gets any neater. The accusations of bias, censorship, lack of transparency, and hidden agendas are going to be deafening, and they’re going to be coming from all sides. The language is going to be heated and ugly. If there’s any small comfort to be drawn from this, and it’s a big “if,” it’ll be in Facebook’s acceptance of responsibility for the content it serves up.

(In any event, it might all be academic anyway. As our friend Jonathan Albright argues, fake news is soon to become the least of our problems.)

Secondly, Ra disturbing piece in the Guardian by Carole Cadwalladr. When she tried a Google search involving the Holocaust, the first thing that happened was that the search bar auto-completed her query to read “did the Holocaust happen?”

And there, at the top of the list, was a link to Stormfront, a neo-Nazi white supremacist website and an article entitled “Top 10 reasons why the Holocaust didn’t happen”.

She then recounts Google’s insistence that it would not rewrite its search algorithm* or remove the results, despite its declaration that it did not endorse those views. Eventually Cadwalladr did an end run around the organic search results by buying a paid Google ad that bumped Wikipedia’s entry about the Holocaust to the top of the page. For now, at least.

The rest of the piece examines how and why such a self-evidently repugnant outcome becomes possible. Not so much about why Google won’t edit the results, but why Stormfront would rank so highly — and, unsurprisingly: it comes down to money:

” … empirically speaking, people tend to treat Google like an authority. So this is an appalling shirking of responsibility. It’s about money. It always is. The commercial imperative trumps all other aims at the company, including moral ones.”

Why this content and not that?

So, a few revealing insights about what motivates two of the most powerful content platforms on the planet. These entities control what we see, what we read, what we’re exposed to, and what we consume. These entities control the vast majority of the information available to us. If they don’t want to show it to us, chances are we’re not going to see it.

What lessons do we draw from this? Once again: the importance of critical thinking. Why is Facebook serving up this story and burying that one? Why is Google ranking this at the top of its search results, and not that? What are we not seeing here? Why is our attention being directed to this thing at this time? There’s no need to go full-bore conspiracy theory here — just a healthy skepticism and willingness to do the work.

*In the spirit of disclosure, there are times when one doesn’t necessarily want Google to rewrite its algorithms.

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