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Stats Canada planning to ask gender questions in ‘pilot’ census – and answering is mandatory

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Next year, Statistics Canada is going to be asking 250,000 Canadian households some personal questions it has never asked before — and answering them honestly is mandatory.

The agency is conducting what it calls a “pilot” census next May and June to road-test questionnaires and procedures for the next full-scale census, set for 2021.

After more than a year of consultations with data users, Statistics Canada has decided to add detailed personal questions – and needs to be sure they are properly answered to ensure the test is valid.

Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada (Statistics Canada), made the 2019 pilot census mandatory, in an official notice that said a voluntary pilot would be “inconclusive.” (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

That’s why Canada’s chief statistician, Anil Arora, has invoked a little-used power in the Statistics Act to declare that the pilot census next year is a “mandatory request for information.”

Anyone who refuses to complete a mandatory census questionnaire, or “knowingly gives false or misleading information or practises any other deception,” can be fined up to $500. (In late 2017, Parliament eliminated the former penalty: up to three months in jail.)

Arora justified his decision to make the pilot census mandatory in a September notice he sent to Industry Minister Navdeep Bains. “Voluntary tests in 2019,” he told the minister, “could yield inaccurate or inconclusive findings for many of the proposed changes to questionnaire content.”

CBC News obtained the notice under the Access to Information Act.

Statistics Canada canvassed academics and other users of census data from September 2017 to February 2018 on the new questions to be added in 2021. A report on the findings is to be published in the fall of next year.

Agency spokesperson Peter Frayne declined to provide the new questions to CBC News, calling them a “work-in-progress.”

But Arora’s notice to Bains indicates they deal with sex and gender, among other topics.

“Many of the content changes proposed for 2021 affect smaller population groups (transgender, non-binary, same-sex couples; language rights-holders; ethnic groups; residents with work or student visas; Indigenous populations, etc.),” he wrote.

Veterans, religion

Frayne said the new questions will also deal with veterans, general health status, religion, skills related to digital technology, and small changes will be made to questions asked in previous census years.

Under the Statistics Act, the federal cabinet must approve the final set of questions for the 2021 census but the questions for the 2019 pilot need only be approved by the agency itself.

Statistics Canada has conducted similar pre-census tests before, but a much wider range of personal questions is slated for 2019.

The agency recently stoked controversy when news emerged that it planned to collect banking and credit information from banks on some 500,000 Canadians — part of another pilot project slated for 2019.

Arora later suspended the project while Canada’s privacy commissioner investigated, a process that office says will take months. The stalled financial data pilot was not a direct survey of Canadians, unlike a census.

A spokesperson for Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said the office has been alerted to the 2019 census pilot.

“We have had some very preliminary discussions with Statistics Canada about the 2019 census test and they have undertaken to get back to us with more information,” Corey Larocque said in an email.

Answers are collected under the authority of the Statistics Act and are kept strictly confidential.– Statistics Canada spokesman Peter Frayne

In the last year, Arora authorized three other mandatory surveys — two of them compelling businesses to provide data on mineral production and another related to global-supply chains.

On Jan. 25, 2018, the agency published its standards on definitions and usage for sex and gender, which will inform its coming census questions.

Industry Minister Navdeep Bains, the minister responsible for Statistics Canada, received the mandatory notice from Arora in September. The pilot census will contain many new personal questions. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

“Gender refers to the gender that a person internally feels … and/or the gender a person publicly expresses … in their daily life, including at work, while shopping or accessing other services, in their housing environment or in the broader community,” says the standard for gender of person.

“Sex and gender refer to two different concepts. Caution should be exercised when comparing counts for sex with those for gender. For example, female sex is not the same as female gender.”

The last census in 2016 did not give Canadians the option of responding to the sex question in a non-binary fashion: the only acceptable answers were ‘male’ and ‘female’.

Frayne said the 2019 pilot census will employ electronic and paper formats, and some households will receive personal visits. The results will be kept “strictly confidential,” he added.

Previous breaches

CBC News reported earlier this year that Statistics Canada lost hundreds of sensitive files during the 2016 census process. Incident reports obtained through the Access to Information Act detailed 20 cases of information and privacy breaches by Statistics Canada.

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper in 2010 cancelled Statistics Canada’s long-form census, scheduled for 2011, for which some households were required to provide more detailed information than in the standard census questionnaire.

Then-industry minister Tony Clement, in the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, cancelled the long-form census for 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“We do not believe it is appropriate to compel Canadians to divulge extensive private and personal information,” Tony Clement, then-industry minister, said at the time in justifying the move.

“We do not believe Canadians should be forced under threat of fines, jail, or both to divulge the answers to questions such as these: How many sick days did you take last year? Were you paid for those? What were your total payments for your primary dwelling last year? Do you have any broken floor tiles in need of repair in your bathroom?”

The Liberal government reversed the decision and reinstated the long-form census for 2016.

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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