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France, Not Waiting for European Union, to Tax U.S. Tech Firms as ’19 Starts

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PARIS — With the so-called Yellow Vest movement forcing concessions that have widened the country’s budget shortfall, the French government is accelerating a plan to place hefty taxes on American technology giants that have long maneuvered to keep their bills low while reaping huge sums of money.

France has been working with other countries on a European Union-wide digital tax on companies including Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, but some members of the bloc have balked at the proposal.

Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, said last week that France would move ahead on its own if the union did not approve such a tax by March.

On Monday, he moved up that date.

“The tax will be introduced no matter what on Jan. 1, and it will be for the whole of 2019,” Mr. Le Maire said. A week ago, he urged the public to “fight with me” on the issue in an interview on French radio, during which he said, “It’s time for these companies to pay the taxes that they owe.”

Mr. Le Maire estimated the total tax bill for the companies affected at around 500 million euros, or $568 million. It will help pay for €10 billion in emergency spending announced last week by President Emmanuel Macron after waves of angry citizens took to the streets of Paris and other cities to protest growing inequality.

The tax, Mr. Le Maire said, would most likely cover not only the companies’ direct sales in France, but also revenue from online marketplaces and the resale of private data. He declined to discuss other details, including the means for introducing the tax or the rate of taxation.

The proposal being considered by the European Commission would tax digital media companies based on where in the 28-member European Union they generate revenue, rather than in the often low-tax countries, like Ireland and Luxembourg, where they have regional headquarters.

The push, which has been led by France and Germany, has been resisted by the low-tax countries and has also raised concerns that it will exacerbate Europe’s simmering trade tensions with the United States.

France’s decision to go its own way for now did not appear to derail the European Commission’s proposal.

A commission spokesman noted in a statement that “about a dozen E.U. countries already have or are considering a form of taxation of digital activities.”

Those countries include Britain, where officials recently unveiled a proposal to impose a 2 percent tax on revenue that social media platforms, search engines and online marketplaces earn there. Spain is introducing its own 3 percent tax on online advertising services, brokering services and the resale of personal data.

But, the commission spokesman noted, “the announcement by France does make it even more urgent for the E.U. to agree on a common digital services tax.”

Mr. Le Maire said he still hoped that a union-wide agreement could be reached by March.

Amazon, Apple and Twitter declined to comment. Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment, although the director general of Google France told reporters this month, “Google will pay if a tax on revenue is put in place” in France or in the European Union.

Large technology companies have long avoided paying taxes comparable to other businesses in the European countries where they operate.

Facebook, for instance, paid corporate taxes of €1.9 million in 2017 in France on stated revenue of €55.9 million. The company has more than 34 million users in the country, and much of its revenue was logged in Ireland. Apple paid around €19 million in 2017 taxes in France.

Amazon, too, does business across the union, but has benefited by having its regional headquarters in the low-tax haven of Luxembourg. The European Commission estimates that the online retailer and other companies pay an average effective tax rate of just 9.5 percent, compared with the roughly 23 percent paid by traditional businesses.

The big companies are not alone in opposing the commission’s digital tax proposal. European start-ups have said it would handicap an expanding tech sector in the region that has struggled to match the scale of markets in the United States and China.

France and Germany responded to such concerns by narrowing the proposal to include only larger technology companies, particularly advertising-focused companies like Facebook and Google. Those changes have not mollified everyone.

France’s imposition of a digital tax is one front in a wider campaign in Europe to target American technology companies amid growing concerns about their power and influence in society as well as their business practices.

Germany has enacted a law requiring Facebook and Twitter to remove flagged hate speech within 24 hours or face fines. France has passed rules allowing judges to order the removal of misinformation around elections.

Regulators at the European Commission have also targeted Google, Apple and Amazon for antitrust violations, imposing billions of euros in fines and orders to return unpaid taxes.

The French government sued Google this year for €1.12 billion in taxes it claims the company avoided paying on advertising revenue earned. A Paris court ruled that the government could not collect because Google had declared that the revenue belonged to an Irish subsidiary. The government is appealing.

The European Commission fined Google €2.4 billion last year for abusing its dominant market position, while companies like Apple, Amazon and Qualcomm have also been investigated or penalized.

Amazon reached a settlement in May over a long-running dispute with French tax authorities, who had been seeking nearly €200 million euros in back taxes, interest and penalties for the 2006 to 2010 fiscal years in relation to “the allocation of income between foreign jurisdictions.” The government did not disclose the size of the settlement.

And last year, the European Union’s commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, ordered Luxembourg to collect around 250 million euros in unpaid taxes from Amazon.

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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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