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Trump’s Huawei threat a risk to Canadian and global tech in 2019: Don Pittis

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Reports that U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to up the stakes in his battle with Chinese tech giant Huawei in 2019 seem at first glance the kind of Trumpian sniping the world has grown to expect.

But if it is true, as Reuters reported this past week, that Trump may sign an executive order prohibiting U.S. firms from buying Huawei technology, the issue goes far beyond Huawei and 5G wireless networks to one that could transform the global tech industry. And not for the better.

The reason is that Huawei — and Chinese chip maker ZTE, which the U.S. president also threatened to ban — are not unique. Instead, they are merely a couple of examples of Chinese technology that is not just catching up to the best in the world, but beginning to exceed it.

China, tech superstar

For Canadian technology businesses trying to see their way forward, facing a global tech leader that is in conflict with the U.S. is an unfamiliar experience.

Despite the Soviet Union’s space race victory with its 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, humanity’s first artificial satellite, the collapse of the Soviet communist empire nearly 30 years ago revealed a creaking technological relic.

Canadian technology experts say China is something entirely different and people who try to make the comparison with Eastern Europe, where the Trabant was the communist answer to the BMW, have it all wrong.

Some analysts say the poor quality of the Trabant and the time it took to order one were significant factors in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. But China’s rise as a tech industry powerhouse is a different story. (Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

Pretty well everyone now knows that China is a developing technological competitor. But there are growing indications that, barring some political or economic cataclysm in China, or a sudden technological golden age here in North America, China is on its way to becoming not just a technological powerhouse, but the technological powerhouse. It is becoming the global tech superstar.

And at some point Canada is going to have to make some crucial decisions on how it will cope with that change. And it may find its interests do not coincide with those of the United States.

“On Chinese technological prowess, they are now graduating twice as many graduates as the United States from university, but they’re graduating five times as many STEM graduates,” says Gordon Houlden, director of the University of Alberta’s China Institute. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, the kind of graduates who make a real difference in the race for world-beating know-how.

Leapfrogging the world

In many ways, the explosive developments in Chinese science and technology have no equivalent since pre-war Germany leapfrogged the world in many areas of science and industrial production.

Over the past month, the arrest in Canada of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, at the request of U.S. prosecutors, has helped focus attention on that company.

An exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up at the National Museum of China in Beijing shows off the country’s space technology. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

While the charges against Meng have nothing to do with 5G — she’s accused of misleading financial institutions about her, and Huawei’s, relationship with a company that did business with Iran — the case has spotlighted Huawei’s state-of-the-art contributions to communications technology.

There has been much debate over whether Huawei’s involvement in 5G, or even the sale of its phones in the world market, represent a Trojan horse for the Chinese government, giving the country’s security forces backdoor access to our deepest secrets.

Not just telecom 

But that focus on 5G may be misleading. For one thing, 5G is not a single gizmo. It is more accurately a kind of marketing title for the fifth generation of mobile phone technology. As such, it represents a host of technological subsets, mostly software, some of which are being developed in Canada, says R&D specialist Rick Clayton, a partner with the Ottawa-based consultancy Doyletech.

Clayton says Huawei is just one company operating in an industrial cluster in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata North, where Canadian engineers, some of whom used to be at Nortel Networks before its collapse, work on new software components.

“There’s a fair bit of implicit and explicit sharing between the companies,” he says, which is part of what makes an industrial cluster strong.

And this by no means applies just to the smartphone sector.

One way of sharing is to license intellectual property that someone else has already invented, says Mark Henderson, former owner and editor of the specialist newsletter Research Money.

“They can get it immediately as opposed to working it out of their lab over a period of months or years,” he says.

That international sharing of technology between companies saves money and speeds up progress. The financial damage of cutting off access to intellectual property invented in China, especially as its technology pulls ahead, is hard to calculate.

Chinese open source

Another common way of sharing is called open source software, something that’s been around for years and famously includes the operating system Linux, where employees from many different companies work to build and improve chunks of programming components that are widely used in the systems of those and other companies.

An increasing number of those open source projects are being invented and co-ordinated by Chinese software developers, and that trend is only likely to grow as China increases its number of STEM graduates.

Another potential mistake compounded by the focus on Huawei is thinking that China’s growing technological skills are isolated in just a few areas, such as telecom.

While the experts interviewed for this piece say the U.S. still has an overall technological lead in many sectors, China is not just catching up, it is pulling ahead.

According to the MIT Technology Review, China has become the one to beat in space technology, while its southern city of Shenzhen is racing to outdo California’s Silicon Valley as “a global hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and manufacturing.”

Currently, most global products include the best innovations from around the world. U.S. firms use Chinese-invented technology and vice versa. 

A Huawei executive has said the company will do absolutely anything, including opening its code to detailed inspection, to prove that it is not a threat. Whether a ban is worthwhile can only be determined by the best and most independent security experts. And banning Huawei to eliminate a purported backdoor does not guarantee U.S. systems will be secure from international hackers who have used other methods of entry.

If instead the security concerns are actually part of a political attempt by Trump to weaken China’s technological advantages, the world may be on the verge of a watershed that could hurt everyone. The risk is there could be a new technological cold war that divides the world, forcing countries to choose between two increasingly incompatible technical — and political — systems.

As Gordon ​Houlden of the China Institute says, besides the business cost and difficulty of untangling two sets of competing technology, economic interdependence helps prevent wars. He says as an outward-looking trading nation, Canada should do everything it can to try to prevent such a technological fissure and the resulting political divide that will inevitably hurt both the U.S. and China.

Ultimately, says Houlden, if push comes to shove, Canada must stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S., its longtime ally and security guarantor. 

But avoiding a technological split into “we” and “they” is not just in the interests of Canada, but those of the global technology industry both inside and outside the American sphere. 

And if that doesn’t matter to you, consider this. If we gang up with the U.S. against China’s increasingly sophisticated knowledge industry, maybe sometime soon we will no longer be able to get our hands on the coolest tech.

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

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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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