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The 2018 Good Tech Awards

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To Joy Buolamwini, Timnit Gebru and Anima Anandkumar, for calling out A.I. bias.

Artificial intelligence will be one of the most important areas of computer science in the coming years. It’s also one of the least diverse. Just 12 percent of A.I. researchers are women, and the number of black and Latino executives in the field is vanishingly small. Three leading A.I. researchers are trying to change that.

Ms. Buolamwini, a researcher at the M.I.T. Media Lab, is the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, an organization trying to fight what it calls the “coded gaze” of biased algorithms. This year, she and Ms. Gebru — a Google researcher and co-founder of a group called Black in A.I. — released a study that showed that three leading facial recognition algorithms were substantially worse at classifying darker faces than lighter faces, and worse at classifying women’s faces than men’s faces. The study set off alarm bells at leading tech companies, and was widely cited as evidence of the need for more diversity in the field.

Separately, Ms. Anandkumar, Nvidia’s director of machine learning research and a professor at Caltech, saw that the name of the A.I. field’s marquee annual event — the Neural Information Processing Systems conference, or NIPS — had been used as fodder for sexist jokes. So she started a #ProtestNIPS campaign to change the name, and drew up a petition that gathered more than 2,000 signatures. Eventually, the conference’s board relented, and the event is now abbreviated as “NeurIPS.” It was a small gesture of inclusion that could go a long way toward making women feel more welcome in the field for years to come.

To Promise, Uptrust and Clear My Record, for helping solve our prison problem.

Ending mass incarceration has long been seen as a political challenge. But these three companies are trying to show that technology can help.

Promise is an app built to keep people out of jail. Aimed at pretrial defendants who cannot afford to post cash bail, it creates customized care plans for each user, sends them reminders of court dates and other critical appointments and allows courts to monitor their progress. The company, which participated in the YCombinator start-up program, recently raised $3 million from investors including Jay-Z’s Roc Nation fund and First Round Capital.

Another start-up, Uptrust, offers a similar text message-based system that sends personalized appointment reminders to low-income clients, and can connect them to services that make getting to court easier, such as rides or child care. The service is already up and running in a handful of states, including Baltimore County, Md., and Palm Beach County, Fla.

Code for America, a nonprofit organization modeled after Teach for America, built Clear My Record, a tool that helps people with old criminal convictions get them reduced or expunged, which makes it easier for them to find housing and get jobs. This year, the team formed a partnership with George Gascón, the San Francisco district attorney, to work on a new program that automates the process of expunging marijuana-related convictions under the state’s legalization laws. The group aims to remove 250,000 convictions by the end of 2019.

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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