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A look back at the year Facebook’s dark side came to light





It’s been a pivotal year for tech, as more information has come to light about the dark side of the tools billions of people use on a daily basis.

And perhaps no company better epitomizes the current relationship between consumers and the world of tech than Facebook.

For the social media giant, 2018 has brought a scandal after scandal.

We’re too lax with handing over our information in return for a little convenience.– Jaigris Hodson, Royal Roads University

The company can’t seem to get through a month without yet another scandal breaking, said Philip Mai, the director of business and communications of the Social Media Lab in Ryerson’s University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.

“Facebook unwittingly allowed the Trump campaign to collect and misuse the personal data on millions of Americans,” explains Mai. “It failed to recognize the severity and impact of Russia’s disinformation campaigns, and ignored the fact that their platform was being used to stoke religious and ethnic violence in developing nations as well as extremism and white supremacy in the west.”

At the end of 2017, it was already becoming clear that social networks — designed to people connect — were causing major rifts, due to the rampant spread of fake news and propaganda.  On the precipice of another new year, those concerns are now documented beyond any reasonable doubt.

While the year’s clear stand out controversy was the Cambridge Analytica scandal, strife started almost as early as the year itself.

In January, Facebook announced changes to its newsfeed. The goal, they stated was to improve user experience and reduce the number of ads people see, but in practice it throttled the ability of small businesses and non profits to reach the people who wanted to hear from them, without paying up

Game of whack-a-mole

From then on, like an exhausting game of whack-a-mole, controversies kept popping up.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg agreed that scrutiny is healthy given the vast number of people who use the platform worldwide, but he also asked that Facebook’s motives and actions not be misrepresented. (Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE)

Critics cautioned that the social network was fuelling hate online, and offline as well, a warning sharply underscored by the use of platform by Myanmar military personal to bolster a systematic propaganda campaign that ultimately lead to forced migration and what UN officials have called genocide. 

Despite all of this, the company is still allowed to regulate itself. For Jaigris Hodson, a professor at Royal Roads University, the main concern with Facebook is that the company’s leadership “have shown that they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves.”

With over two billion users, the size of the company is unprecedented — and subsequently, the access to data and the power associated with that is as well. And that means, the repercussions are equally massive when the tool is misused.

“For elected officials, journalists and citizens, one of the main concerns, that still must be resolved by Facebook, is how will the company prevent the misuse of the platform by bad actors: from spreading disinformation to using the platform to promote hate speech and engage in online harassment,” said Anatoliy Grudz, director of Ryerson University’s Social Media Lab. 

According to Grudz, without tackling these issues heads on, Facebook will have a difficult time restoring the trust of users.

At the end of 2017, analysts were beginning to understand how social networks — designed to help people connect — were causing major rifts, due to the rampant spread of fake news and propaganda. On the precipice of 2019, those concerns are intensifying. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

So, just how much of an issue is declining trust in the platform?

According to  a Ryerson University report on social media and privacy in Canada published in June, the majority of Canadians are uncomfortable with their social media data being used by third parties.

On one hand, there are still a lot of people on the platform. The average user probably hasn’t seen much attrition in their online networks of friends. 

Indeed, a Pew Research report released this month said more than 40 per cent of U.S. Facebook users between the ages of 18 and 29 deleted the app from their phone at some point in the past year. That being said, the company’s user base has continued to grow globally.

Bigger picture?

Amid the intricacies of Facebook’s missteps, some analysts are concerned the bigger picture is being missed.  

For example, what about the ad-driven internet, the business model upon which the social media giant has been designed? What about the countless other companies keen to cash in on their collections of other people’s data? Or the companies that are actually paying Facebook to advertise, and in so doing, inflating the value of data and Facebook’s desire to amass it?

“The shaping of information that people have access to has implications for democracy, security, community, even health,” said Hodson. “We need to call into question how much we trust companies to collect our data and manage information.”

What’s more, worries Hodson, users grown complacent. We’re too lax with handing over our information in return for a little convenience. When enough information is collected, and messages are targeted in the right way, people can be manipulated.”

A new Pew Research report says that young adults in the U.S. who use Facebook are particularly likely to have deleted the app from their phone at some point in the past year. Globally, however, the company’s user base continues to grow. (Glenn Hunt/EPA-EFE)

And sure, many social media users may think they’re smarter than that, but the fact is that with enough information on users’ habits, likes, and dislikes, everyone’s psychology can be hacked.

“When we focus on Facebook, we miss the fact that all of the privacy and information scandals entered on Facebook are just the canary in the coal mine of this data economy,” Hodson said.

In response to criticism, founder Mark Zuckerberg recently posted, “I understand there is a lot of scrutiny on how we run our systems.” While he agreed that scrutiny is healthy given the vast number of people who use the platform, worldwide, he also asked that Facebook’s motives and actions not be misrepresented.

As for 2019?

As much as this has been a pivotal year for tech companies, users could be at a turning point. 

Some civil rights groups are demanding that Facebook’s executives must step down, and other organizations are pushing for a digital bill of rights to protect consumers.

Arguably, as a collective, the digital behemoth’s two-billion-plus user base yields great power to push for change.

How users might wield that power has yet to be seen. Perhaps 2019 will offer a glimpse.


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





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





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’





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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