Category Archives: Vancouver

Predictive policing in Vancouver—the first jurisdiction in Canada to employ a machine learning system for property theft reduction

Predictive policing has come to Canada, specifically, Vancouver. A July 22, 2017 article by Matt Meuse for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news online describes the new policing tool,

The Vancouver Police Department is implementing a city-wide “predictive policing” system that uses machine learning to prevent break-ins by predicting where they will occur before they happen — the first of its kind in Canada.

Police chief Adam Palmer said that, after a six-month pilot project in 2016, the system is now accessible to all officers via their cruisers’ onboard computers, covering the entire city.

“Instead of officers just patrolling randomly throughout the neighbourhood, this will give them targeted areas it makes more sense to patrol in because there’s a higher likelihood of crime to occur,” Palmer said.

 

Things got off to a slow start as the system familiarized itself [during a 2016 pilot project] with the data, and floundered in the fall due to unexpected data corruption.

But Special Const. Ryan Prox said the system reduced property crime by as much as 27 per cent in areas where it was tested, compared to the previous four years.

The accuracy of the system was also tested by having it generate predictions for a given day, and then watching to see what happened that day without acting on the predictions.

Palmer said the system was getting accuracy rates between 70 and 80 per cent.

When a location is identified by the system, Palmer said officers can be deployed to patrol that location. …

“Quite often … that visible presence will deter people from committing crimes [altogether],” Palmer said.

Though similar systems are used in the United States, Palmer said the system is the first of its kind in Canada, and was developed specifically for the VPD.

While the current focus is on residential break-ins, Palmer said the system could also be tweaked for use with car theft — though likely not with violent crime, which is far less predictable.

Palmer dismissed the inevitable comparison to the 2002 Tom Cruise film Minority Report, in which people are arrested to prevent them from committing crimes in the future.

“We’re not targeting people, we’re targeting locations,” Palmer said. “There’s nothing dark here.”

If you want to get a sense of just how dismissive Chief Palmer was, there’s a July 21, 2017 press conference (run time: approx. 21 mins.) embedded with a media release of the same date. The media release offered these details,

The new model is being implemented after the VPD ran a six-month pilot study in 2016 that contributed to a substantial decrease in residential break-and-enters.

The pilot ran from April 1 to September 30, 2016. The number of residential break-and enters during the test period was compared to the monthly average over the same period for the previous four years (2012 to 2015). The highest drop in property crime – 27 per cent – was measured in June.

The new model provides data in two-hour intervals for locations where residential and commercial break-and-enters are anticipated. The information is for 100-metre and 500-metre zones. Police resources can be dispatched to that area on foot or in patrol cars, to provide a visible presence to deter thieves.

The VPD’s new predictive policing model is built on GEODASH – an advanced machine-learning technology that was implemented by the VPD in 2015. A public version of GEODASH was introduced in December 2015 and is publicly available on vpd.ca. It retroactively plots the location of crimes on a map to provide a general idea of crime trends to the public.

I wish Chief Palmer had been a bit more open to discussion about the implications of ‘predictive policing’. In the US where these systems have been employed in various jurisdictions, there’s some concern arising after an almost euphoric initial response as a Nov. 21, 2016 article by Logan Koepke for the slate.com notes (Note: Links have been removed),

When predictive policing systems began rolling out nationwide about five years ago, coverage was often uncritical and overly reliant on references to Minority Report’s precog system. The coverage made predictive policing—the computer systems that attempt to use data to forecast where crime will happen or who will be involved—seem almost magical.

Typically, though, articles glossed over Minority Report’s moral about how such systems can go awry. Even Slate wasn’t immune, running a piece in 2011 called “Time Cops” that said, when it came to these systems, “Civil libertarians can rest easy.”

This soothsaying language extended beyond just media outlets. According to former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, predictive policing is the “wave of the future.” Microsoft agrees. One vendor even markets its system as “better than a crystal ball.” More recent coverage has rightfully been more balanced, skeptical, and critical. But many still seem to miss an important point: When it comes to predictive policing, what matters most isn’t the future—it’s the past.

Some predictive policing systems incorporate information like the weather, a location’s proximity to a liquor store, or even commercial data brokerage information. But at their core, they rely either mostly or entirely on historical crime data held by the police. Typically, these are records of reported crimes—911 calls or “calls for service”—and other crimes the police detect. Software automatically looks for historical patterns in the data, and uses those patterns to make its forecasts—a process known as machine learning.

Intuitively, it makes sense that predictive policing systems would base their forecasts on historical crime data. But historical crime data has limits. Criminologists have long emphasized that crime reports—and other statistics gathered by the police—do not necessarily offer an accurate picture of crime in a community. The Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey estimates that from 2006 to 2010, 52 percent of violent crime went unreported to police, as did 60 percent of household property crime. Essentially: Historical crime data is a direct record of how law enforcement responds to particular crimes, rather than the true rate of crime. Rather than predicting actual criminal activity, then, the current systems are probably better at predicting future police enforcement.

Koepke goes on to cover other potential issues with ‘predicitive policing’ in this thoughtful piece. He also co-authored an August 2016 report, Stuck in a Pattern; Early evidence on “predictive” policing and civil rights.

There seems to be increasing attention on machine learning and bias as noted in my May 24, 2017 posting where I provide links to other FrogHeart postings on the topic and there’s this Feb. 28, 2017 posting about a new regional big data sharing project, the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative where I mention Cathy O’Neil (author of the book, Weapons of Math Destruction) and her critique in a subsection titled: Algorithms and big data.

I would like to see some oversight and some discussion in Canada about this brave new world of big data.

One final comment, it is possible to get access to the Vancouver Police Department’s data through the City of Vancouver’s Open Data Catalogue (home page).

Robots in Vancouver and in Canada (two of two)

This is the second of a two-part posting about robots in Vancouver and Canada. The first part included a definition, a brief mention a robot ethics quandary, and sexbots. This part is all about the future. (Part one is here.)

Canadian Robotics Strategy

Meetings were held Sept. 28 – 29, 2017 in, surprisingly, Vancouver. (For those who don’t know, this is surprising because most of the robotics and AI research seems to be concentrated in eastern Canada. if you don’t believe me take a look at the speaker list for Day 2 or the ‘Canadian Stakeholder’ meeting day.) From the NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) events page of the Canadian Robotics Network,

Join us as we gather robotics stakeholders from across the country to initiate the development of a national robotics strategy for Canada. Sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), this two-day event coincides with the 2017 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2017) in order to leverage the experience of international experts as we explore Canada’s need for a national robotics strategy.

Where
Vancouver, BC, Canada

When
Thursday September 28 & Friday September 29, 2017 — Save the date!

Download the full agenda and speakers’ list here.

Objectives

The purpose of this two-day event is to gather members of the robotics ecosystem from across Canada to initiate the development of a national robotics strategy that builds on our strengths and capacities in robotics, and is uniquely tailored to address Canada’s economic needs and social values.

This event has been sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and is supported in kind by the 2017 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2017) as an official Workshop of the conference.  The first of two days coincides with IROS 2017 – one of the premiere robotics conferences globally – in order to leverage the experience of international robotics experts as we explore Canada’s need for a national robotics strategy here at home.

Who should attend

Representatives from industry, research, government, startups, investment, education, policy, law, and ethics who are passionate about building a robust and world-class ecosystem for robotics in Canada.

Program Overview

Download the full agenda and speakers’ list here.

DAY ONE: IROS Workshop 

“Best practices in designing effective roadmaps for robotics innovation”

Thursday September 28, 2017 | 8:30am – 5:00pm | Vancouver Convention Centre

Morning Program:“Developing robotics innovation policy and establishing key performance indicators that are relevant to your region” Leading international experts share their experience designing robotics strategies and policy frameworks in their regions and explore international best practices. Opening Remarks by Prof. Hong Zhang, IROS 2017 Conference Chair.

Afternoon Program: “Understanding the Canadian robotics ecosystem” Canadian stakeholders from research, industry, investment, ethics and law provide a collective overview of the Canadian robotics ecosystem. Opening Remarks by Ryan Gariepy, CTO of Clearpath Robotics.

Thursday Evening Program: Sponsored by Clearpath Robotics  Workshop participants gather at a nearby restaurant to network and socialize.

Learn more about the IROS Workshop.

DAY TWO: NSERC-Sponsored Canadian Robotics Stakeholder Meeting
“Towards a national robotics strategy for Canada”

Friday September 29, 2017 | 8:30am – 5:00pm | University of British Columbia (UBC)

On the second day of the program, robotics stakeholders from across the country gather at UBC for a full day brainstorming session to identify Canada’s unique strengths and opportunities relative to the global competition, and to align on a strategic vision for robotics in Canada.

Friday Evening Program: Sponsored by NSERC Meeting participants gather at a nearby restaurant for the event’s closing dinner reception.

Learn more about the Canadian Robotics Stakeholder Meeting.

I was glad to see in the agenda that some of the international speakers represented research efforts from outside the usual Europe/US axis.

I have been in touch with one of the organizers (also mentioned in part one with regard to robot ethics), Ajung Moon (her website is here), who says that there will be a white paper available on the Canadian Robotics Network website at some point in the future. I’ll keep looking for it and, in the meantime, I wonder what the 2018 Canadian federal budget will offer robotics.

Robots and popular culture

For anyone living in Canada or the US, Westworld (television series) is probably the most recent and well known ‘robot’ drama to premiere in the last year.As for movies, I think Ex Machina from 2014 probably qualifies in that category. Interestingly, both Westworld and Ex Machina seem quite concerned with sex with Westworld adding significant doses of violence as another  concern.

I am going to focus on another robot story, the 2012 movie, Robot & Frank, which features a care robot and an older man,

Frank (played by Frank Langella), a former jewel thief, teaches a robot the skills necessary to rob some neighbours of their valuables. The ethical issue broached in the film isn’t whether or not the robot should learn the skills and assist Frank in his thieving ways although that’s touched on when Frank keeps pointing out that planning his heist requires he live more healthily. No, the problem arises afterward when the neighbour accuses Frank of the robbery and Frank removes what he believes is all the evidence. He believes he’s going successfully evade arrest until the robot notes that Frank will have to erase its memory in order to remove all of the evidence. The film ends without the robot’s fate being made explicit.

In a way, I find the ethics query (was the robot Frank’s friend or just a machine?) posed in the film more interesting than the one in Vikander’s story, an issue which does have a history. For example, care aides, nurses, and/or servants would have dealt with requests to give an alcoholic patient a drink. Wouldn’t there  already be established guidelines and practices which could be adapted for robots? Or, is this question made anew by something intrinsically different about robots?

To be clear, Vikander’s story is a good introduction and starting point for these kinds of discussions as is Moon’s ethical question. But they are starting points and I hope one day there’ll be a more extended discussion of the questions raised by Moon and noted in Vikander’s article (a two- or three-part series of articles? public discussions?).

How will humans react to robots?

Earlier there was the contention that intimate interactions with robots and sexbots would decrease empathy and the ability of human beings to interact with each other in caring ways. This sounds a bit like the argument about smartphones/cell phones and teenagers who don’t relate well to others in real life because most of their interactions are mediated through a screen, which many seem to prefer. It may be partially true but, arguably,, books too are an antisocial technology as noted in Walter J. Ong’s  influential 1982 book, ‘Orality and Literacy’,  (from the Walter J. Ong Wikipedia entry),

A major concern of Ong’s works is the impact that the shift from orality to literacy has had on culture and education. Writing is a technology like other technologies (fire, the steam engine, etc.) that, when introduced to a “primary oral culture” (which has never known writing) has extremely wide-ranging impacts in all areas of life. These include culture, economics, politics, art, and more. Furthermore, even a small amount of education in writing transforms people’s mentality from the holistic immersion of orality to interiorization and individuation. [emphases mine]

So, robotics and artificial intelligence would not be the first technologies to affect our brains and our social interactions.

There’s another area where human-robot interaction may have unintended personal consequences according to April Glaser’s Sept. 14, 2017 article on Slate.com (Note: Links have been removed),

The customer service industry is teeming with robots. From automated phone trees to touchscreens, software and machines answer customer questions, complete orders, send friendly reminders, and even handle money. For an industry that is, at its core, about human interaction, it’s increasingly being driven to a large extent by nonhuman automation.

But despite the dreams of science-fiction writers, few people enter a customer-service encounter hoping to talk to a robot. And when the robot malfunctions, as they so often do, it’s a human who is left to calm angry customers. It’s understandable that after navigating a string of automated phone menus and being put on hold for 20 minutes, a customer might take her frustration out on a customer service representative. Even if you know it’s not the customer service agent’s fault, there’s really no one else to get mad at. It’s not like a robot cares if you’re angry.

When human beings need help with something, says Madeleine Elish, an anthropologist and researcher at the Data and Society Institute who studies how humans interact with machines, they’re not only looking for the most efficient solution to a problem. They’re often looking for a kind of validation that a robot can’t give. “Usually you don’t just want the answer,” Elish explained. “You want sympathy, understanding, and to be heard”—none of which are things robots are particularly good at delivering. In a 2015 survey of over 1,300 people conducted by researchers at Boston University, over 90 percent of respondents said they start their customer service interaction hoping to speak to a real person, and 83 percent admitted that in their last customer service call they trotted through phone menus only to make their way to a human on the line at the end.

“People can get so angry that they have to go through all those automated messages,” said Brian Gnerer, a call center representative with AT&T in Bloomington, Minnesota. “They’ve been misrouted or been on hold forever or they pressed one, then two, then zero to speak to somebody, and they are not getting where they want.” And when people do finally get a human on the phone, “they just sigh and are like, ‘Thank God, finally there’s somebody I can speak to.’ ”

Even if robots don’t always make customers happy, more and more companies are making the leap to bring in machines to take over jobs that used to specifically necessitate human interaction. McDonald’s and Wendy’s both reportedly plan to add touchscreen self-ordering machines to restaurants this year. Facebook is saturated with thousands of customer service chatbots that can do anything from hail an Uber, retrieve movie times, to order flowers for loved ones. And of course, corporations prefer automated labor. As Andy Puzder, CEO of the fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s and former Trump pick for labor secretary, bluntly put it in an interview with Business Insider last year, robots are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

But those robots are backstopped by human beings. How does interacting with more automated technology affect the way we treat each other? …

“We know that people treat artificial entities like they’re alive, even when they’re aware of their inanimacy,” writes Kate Darling, a researcher at MIT who studies ethical relationships between humans and robots, in a recent paper on anthropomorphism in human-robot interaction. Sure, robots don’t have feelings and don’t feel pain (not yet, anyway). But as more robots rely on interaction that resembles human interaction, like voice assistants, the way we treat those machines will increasingly bleed into the way we treat each other.

It took me a while to realize that what Glaser is talking about are AI systems and not robots as such. (sigh) It’s so easy to conflate the concepts.

AI ethics (Toby Walsh and Suzanne Gildert)

Jack Stilgoe of the Guardian published a brief Oct. 9, 2017 introduction to his more substantive (30 mins.?) podcast interview with Dr. Toby Walsh where they discuss stupid AI amongst other topics (Note: A link has been removed),

Professor Toby Walsh has recently published a book – Android Dreams – giving a researcher’s perspective on the uncertainties and opportunities of artificial intelligence. Here, he explains to Jack Stilgoe that we should worry more about the short-term risks of stupid AI in self-driving cars and smartphones than the speculative risks of super-intelligence.

Professor Walsh discusses the effects that AI could have on our jobs, the shapes of our cities and our understandings of ourselves. As someone developing AI, he questions the hype surrounding the technology. He is scared by some drivers’ real-world experimentation with their not-quite-self-driving Teslas. And he thinks that Siri needs to start owning up to being a computer.

I found this discussion to cast a decidedly different light on the future of robotics and AI. Walsh is much more interested in discussing immediate issues like the problems posed by ‘self-driving’ cars. (Aside: Should we be calling them robot cars?)

One ethical issue Walsh raises is with data regarding accidents. He compares what’s happening with accident data from self-driving (robot) cars to how the aviation industry handles accidents. Hint: accident data involving air planes is shared. Would you like to guess who does not share their data?

Sharing and analyzing data and developing new safety techniques based on that data has made flying a remarkably safe transportation technology.. Walsh argues the same could be done for self-driving cars if companies like Tesla took the attitude that safety is in everyone’s best interests and shared their accident data in a scheme similar to the aviation industry’s.

In an Oct. 12, 2017 article by Matthew Braga for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news online another ethical issue is raised by Suzanne Gildert (a participant in the Canadian Robotics Roadmap/Strategy meetings mentioned earlier here), Note: Links have been removed,

… Suzanne Gildert, the co-founder and chief science officer of Vancouver-based robotics company Kindred. Since 2014, her company has been developing intelligent robots [emphasis mine] that can be taught by humans to perform automated tasks — for example, handling and sorting products in a warehouse.

The idea is that when one of Kindred’s robots encounters a scenario it can’t handle, a human pilot can take control. The human can see, feel and hear the same things the robot does, and the robot can learn from how the human pilot handles the problematic task.

This process, called teleoperation, is one way to fast-track learning by manually showing the robot examples of what its trainers want it to do. But it also poses a potential moral and ethical quandary that will only grow more serious as robots become more intelligent.

“That AI is also learning my values,” Gildert explained during a talk on robot ethics at the Singularity University Canada Summit in Toronto on Wednesday [Oct. 11, 2017]. “Everything — my mannerisms, my behaviours — is all going into the AI.”

At its worst, everything from algorithms used in the U.S. to sentence criminals to image-recognition software has been found to inherit the racist and sexist biases of the data on which it was trained.

But just as bad habits can be learned, good habits can be learned too. The question is, if you’re building a warehouse robot like Kindred is, is it more effective to train those robots’ algorithms to reflect the personalities and behaviours of the humans who will be working alongside it? Or do you try to blend all the data from all the humans who might eventually train Kindred robots around the world into something that reflects the best strengths of all?

I notice Gildert distinguishes her robots as “intelligent robots” and then focuses on AI and issues with bias which have already arisen with regard to algorithms (see my May 24, 2017 posting about bias in machine learning, AI, and .Note: if you’re in Vancouver on Oct. 26, 2017 and interested in algorithms and bias), there’s a talk being given by Dr. Cathy O’Neil, author the Weapons of Math Destruction, on the topic of Gender and Bias in Algorithms. It’s not free but  tickets are here.)

Final comments

There is one more aspect I want to mention. Even as someone who usually deals with nanobots, it’s easy to start discussing robots as if the humanoid ones are the only ones that exist. To recapitulate, there are humanoid robots, utilitarian robots, intelligent robots, AI, nanobots, ‘microscopic bots, and more all of which raise questions about ethics and social impacts.

However, there is one more category I want to add to this list: cyborgs. They live amongst us now. Anyone who’s had a hip or knee replacement or a pacemaker or a deep brain stimulator or other such implanted device qualifies as a cyborg. Increasingly too, prosthetics are being introduced and made part of the body. My April 24, 2017 posting features this story,

This Case Western Reserve University (CRWU) video accompanies a March 28, 2017 CRWU news release, (h/t ScienceDaily March 28, 2017 news item)

Bill Kochevar grabbed a mug of water, drew it to his lips and drank through the straw.

His motions were slow and deliberate, but then Kochevar hadn’t moved his right arm or hand for eight years.

And it took some practice to reach and grasp just by thinking about it.

Kochevar, who was paralyzed below his shoulders in a bicycling accident, is believed to be the first person with quadriplegia in the world to have arm and hand movements restored with the help of two temporarily implanted technologies. [emphasis mine]

A brain-computer interface with recording electrodes under his skull, and a functional electrical stimulation (FES) system* activating his arm and hand, reconnect his brain to paralyzed muscles.

Does a brain-computer interface have an effect on human brain and, if so, what might that be?

In any discussion (assuming there is funding for it) about ethics and social impact, we might want to invite the broadest range of people possible at an ‘earlyish’ stage (although we’re already pretty far down the ‘automation road’) stage or as Jack Stilgoe and Toby Walsh note, technological determinism holds sway.

Once again here are links for the articles and information mentioned in this double posting,

That’s it!

ETA Oct. 16, 2017: Well, I guess that wasn’t quite ‘it’. BBC’s (British Broadcasting Corporation) Magazine published a thoughtful Oct. 15, 2017 piece titled: Can we teach robots ethics?

Robots in Vancouver and in Canada (one of two)

This piece just started growing. It started with robot ethics, moved on to sexbots and news of an upcoming Canadian robotics roadmap. Then, it became a two-part posting with the robotics strategy (roadmap) moving to part two along with robots and popular culture and a further  exploration of robot and AI ethics issues..

What is a robot?

There are lots of robots, some are macroscale and others are at the micro and nanoscales (see my Sept. 22, 2017 posting for the latest nanobot). Here’s a definition from the Robot Wikipedia entry that covers all the scales. (Note: Links have been removed),

A robot is a machine—especially one programmable by a computer— capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically.[2] Robots can be guided by an external control device or the control may be embedded within. Robots may be constructed to take on human form but most robots are machines designed to perform a task with no regard to how they look.

Robots can be autonomous or semi-autonomous and range from humanoids such as Honda’s Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility (ASIMO) and TOSY’s TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot (TOPIO) to industrial robots, medical operating robots, patient assist robots, dog therapy robots, collectively programmed swarm robots, UAV drones such as General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, and even microscopic nano robots. [emphasis mine] By mimicking a lifelike appearance or automating movements, a robot may convey a sense of intelligence or thought of its own.

We may think we’ve invented robots but the idea has been around for a very long time (from the Robot Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

Many ancient mythologies, and most modern religions include artificial people, such as the mechanical servants built by the Greek god Hephaestus[18] (Vulcan to the Romans), the clay golems of Jewish legend and clay giants of Norse legend, and Galatea, the mythical statue of Pygmalion that came to life. Since circa 400 BC, myths of Crete include Talos, a man of bronze who guarded the Cretan island of Europa from pirates.

In ancient Greece, the Greek engineer Ctesibius (c. 270 BC) “applied a knowledge of pneumatics and hydraulics to produce the first organ and water clocks with moving figures.”[19][20] In the 4th century BC, the Greek mathematician Archytas of Tarentum postulated a mechanical steam-operated bird he called “The Pigeon”. Hero of Alexandria (10–70 AD), a Greek mathematician and inventor, created numerous user-configurable automated devices, and described machines powered by air pressure, steam and water.[21]

The 11th century Lokapannatti tells of how the Buddha’s relics were protected by mechanical robots (bhuta vahana yanta), from the kingdom of Roma visaya (Rome); until they were disarmed by King Ashoka. [22] [23]

In ancient China, the 3rd century text of the Lie Zi describes an account of humanoid automata, involving a much earlier encounter between Chinese emperor King Mu of Zhou and a mechanical engineer known as Yan Shi, an ‘artificer’. Yan Shi proudly presented the king with a life-size, human-shaped figure of his mechanical ‘handiwork’ made of leather, wood, and artificial organs.[14] There are also accounts of flying automata in the Han Fei Zi and other texts, which attributes the 5th century BC Mohist philosopher Mozi and his contemporary Lu Ban with the invention of artificial wooden birds (ma yuan) that could successfully fly.[17] In 1066, the Chinese inventor Su Song built a water clock in the form of a tower which featured mechanical figurines which chimed the hours.

The beginning of automata is associated with the invention of early Su Song’s astronomical clock tower featured mechanical figurines that chimed the hours.[24][25][26] His mechanism had a programmable drum machine with pegs (cams) that bumped into little levers that operated percussion instruments. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns by moving the pegs to different locations.[26]

In Renaissance Italy, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) sketched plans for a humanoid robot around 1495. Da Vinci’s notebooks, rediscovered in the 1950s, contained detailed drawings of a mechanical knight now known as Leonardo’s robot, able to sit up, wave its arms and move its head and jaw.[28] The design was probably based on anatomical research recorded in his Vitruvian Man. It is not known whether he attempted to build it.

In Japan, complex animal and human automata were built between the 17th to 19th centuries, with many described in the 18th century Karakuri zui (Illustrated Machinery, 1796). One such automaton was the karakuri ningyō, a mechanized puppet.[29] Different variations of the karakuri existed: the Butai karakuri, which were used in theatre, the Zashiki karakuri, which were small and used in homes, and the Dashi karakuri which were used in religious festivals, where the puppets were used to perform reenactments of traditional myths and legends.

The term robot was coined by a Czech writer (from the Robot Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed)

‘Robot’ was first applied as a term for artificial automata in a 1920 play R.U.R. by the Czech writer, Karel Čapek. However, Josef Čapek was named by his brother Karel as the true inventor of the term robot.[6][7] The word ‘robot’ itself was not new, having been in Slavic language as robota (forced laborer), a term which classified those peasants obligated to compulsory service under the feudal system widespread in 19th century Europe (see: Robot Patent).[37][38] Čapek’s fictional story postulated the technological creation of artificial human bodies without souls, and the old theme of the feudal robota class eloquently fit the imagination of a new class of manufactured, artificial workers.

I’m particularly fascinated by how long humans have been imagining and creating robots.

Robot ethics in Vancouver

The Westender, has run what I believe is the first article by a local (Vancouver, Canada) mainstream media outlet on the topic of robots and ethics. Tessa Vikander’s Sept. 14, 2017 article highlights two local researchers, Ajung Moon and Mark Schmidt, and a local social media company’s (Hootsuite), analytics director, Nik Pai. Vikander opens her piece with an ethical dilemma (Note: Links have been removed),

Emma is 68, in poor health and an alcoholic who has been told by her doctor to stop drinking. She lives with a care robot, which helps her with household tasks.

Unable to fix herself a drink, she asks the robot to do it for her. What should the robot do? Would the answer be different if Emma owns the robot, or if she’s borrowing it from the hospital?

This is the type of hypothetical, ethical question that Ajung Moon, director of the Open Roboethics Initiative [ORI], is trying to answer.

According to an ORI study, half of respondents said ownership should make a difference, and half said it shouldn’t. With society so torn on the question, Moon is trying to figure out how engineers should be programming this type of robot.

A Vancouver resident, Moon is dedicating her life to helping those in the decision-chair make the right choice. The question of the care robot is but one ethical dilemma in the quickly advancing world of artificial intelligence.

At the most sensationalist end of the scale, one form of AI that’s recently made headlines is the sex robot, which has a human-like appearance. A report from the Foundation for Responsible Robotics says that intimacy with sex robots could lead to greater social isolation [emphasis mine] because they desensitize people to the empathy learned through human interaction and mutually consenting relationships.

I’ll get back to the impact that robots might have on us in part two but first,

Sexbots, could they kill?

For more about sexbots in general, Alessandra Maldonado wrote an Aug. 10, 2017 article for salon.com about them (Note: A link has been removed),

Artificial intelligence has given people the ability to have conversations with machines like never before, such as speaking to Amazon’s personal assistant Alexa or asking Siri for directions on your iPhone. But now, one company has widened the scope of what it means to connect with a technological device and created a whole new breed of A.I. — specifically for sex-bots.

Abyss Creations has been in the business of making hyperrealistic dolls for 20 years, and by the end of 2017, they’ll unveil their newest product, an anatomically correct robotic sex toy. Matt McMullen, the company’s founder and CEO, explains the goal of sex robots is companionship, not only a physical partnership. “Imagine if you were completely lonely and you just wanted someone to talk to, and yes, someone to be intimate with,” he said in a video depicting the sculpting process of the dolls. “What is so wrong with that? It doesn’t hurt anybody.”

Maldonado also embedded this video into her piece,

A friend of mine described it as creepy. Specifically we were discussing why someone would want to programme ‘insecurity’ as a  desirable trait in a sexbot.

Marc Beaulieu’s concept of a desirable trait in a sexbot is one that won’t kill him according to his Sept. 25, 2017 article on Canadian Broadcasting News (CBC) online (Note: Links have been removed),

Harmony has a charming Scottish lilt, albeit a bit staccato and canny. Her eyes dart around the room, her chin dips as her eyebrows raise in coquettish fashion. Her face manages expressions that are impressively lifelike. That face comes in 31 different shapes and 5 skin tones, with or without freckles and it sticks to her cyber-skull with magnets. Just peel it off and switch it out at will. In fact, you can choose Harmony’s eye colour, body shape (in great detail) and change her hair too. Harmony, of course, is a sex bot. A very advanced one. How advanced is she? Well, if you have $12,332 CAD to put towards a talkative new home appliance, REALBOTIX says you could be having a “conversation” and relations with her come January. Happy New Year.

Caveat emptor though: one novel bonus feature you might also get with Harmony is her ability to eventually murder you in your sleep. And not because she wants to.

Dr Nick Patterson, faculty of Science Engineering and Built Technology at Deakin University in Australia is lending his voice to a slew of others warning us to slow down and be cautious as we steadily approach Westworldian levels of human verisimilitude with AI tech. Surprisingly, Patterson didn’t regurgitate the narrative we recognize from the popular sci-fi (increasingly non-fi actually) trope of a dystopian society’s futile resistance to a robocalypse. He doesn’t think Harmony will want to kill you. He thinks she’ll be hacked by a code savvy ne’er-do-well who’ll want to snuff you out instead. …

Embedded in Beaulieu’s article is another video of the same sexbot profiled earlier. Her programmer seems to have learned a thing or two (he no longer inputs any traits as you’re watching),

I guess you could get one for Christmas this year if you’re willing to wait for an early 2018 delivery and aren’t worried about hackers turning your sexbot into a killer. While the killer aspect might seem farfetched, it turns out it’s not the only sexbot/hacker issue.

Sexbots as spies

This Oct. 5, 2017 story by Karl Bode for Techdirt points out that sex toys that are ‘smart’ can easily be hacked for any reason including some mischief (Note: Links have been removed),

One “smart dildo” manufacturer was recently forced to shell out $3.75 million after it was caught collecting, err, “usage habits” of the company’s customers. According to the lawsuit, Standard Innovation’s We-Vibe vibrator collected sensitive data about customer usage, including “selected vibration settings,” the device’s battery life, and even the vibrator’s “temperature.” At no point did the company apparently think it was a good idea to clearly inform users of this data collection.

But security is also lacking elsewhere in the world of internet-connected sex toys. Alex Lomas of Pentest Partners recently took a look at the security in many internet-connected sex toys, and walked away arguably unimpressed. Using a Bluetooth “dongle” and antenna, Lomas drove around Berlin looking for openly accessible sex toys (he calls it “screwdriving,” in a riff off of wardriving). He subsequently found it’s relatively trivial to discover and hijack everything from vibrators to smart butt plugs — thanks to the way Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity works:

“The only protection you have is that BLE devices will generally only pair with one device at a time, but range is limited and if the user walks out of range of their smartphone or the phone battery dies, the adult toy will become available for others to connect to without any authentication. I should say at this point that this is purely passive reconnaissance based on the BLE advertisements the device sends out – attempting to connect to the device and actually control it without consent is not something I or you should do. But now one could drive the Hush’s motor to full speed, and as long as the attacker remains connected over BLE and not the victim, there is no way they can stop the vibrations.”

Does that make you think twice about a sexbot?

Robots and artificial intelligence

Getting back to the Vikander article (Sept. 14, 2017), Moon or Vikander or both seem to have conflated artificial intelligence with robots in this section of the article,

As for the building blocks that have thrust these questions [care robot quandary mentioned earlier] into the spotlight, Moon explains that AI in its basic form is when a machine uses data sets or an algorithm to make a decision.

“It’s essentially a piece of output that either affects your decision, or replaces a particular decision, or supports you in making a decision.” With AI, we are delegating decision-making skills or thinking to a machine, she says.

Although we’re not currently surrounded by walking, talking, independently thinking robots, the use of AI [emphasis mine] in our daily lives has become widespread.

For Vikander, the conflation may have been due to concerns about maintaining her word count and for Moon, it may have been one of convenience or a consequence of how the jargon is evolving with ‘robot’ meaning a machine specifically or, sometimes, a machine with AI or AI only.

To be precise, not all robots have AI and not all AI is found in robots. It’s a distinction that may be more important for people developing robots and/or AI but it also seems to make a difference where funding is concerned. In a March 24, 2017 posting about the 2017 Canadian federal budget I noticed this,

… The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research will receive $93.7 million [emphasis mine] to “launch a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy … (to) position Canada as a world-leading destination for companies seeking to invest in artificial intelligence and innovation.”

This brings me to a recent set of meetings held in Vancouver to devise a Canadian robotics roadmap, which suggests the robotics folks feel they need specific representation and funding.

See: part two for the rest.

Vancouver’s (Canada) Fringe Festival (Sept. 7 – 17, 2017) and science

A lot of writers feel the need to comment when art and science are brought together in various artistic/scientific works. Here’s Janet Smith in a Sept. 6, 2017 article about science at Vancouver’s 2017 Fringe Festival for the Georgia Straight,

Science and art are often seen as opposites [emphasis mine], but they seem to be intermingling like never before at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Experimental cancer treatments, zoology lectures, cryogenically frozen heads: they’re just some of the topics inspiring theatrical outings.

Smith is right and wrong. She’s right if your perspective ranges from the mid-20th century to the present day. “The Two Cultures” a 1959 lecture (and later a book) by C.P. Snow discusses a divide between two cultures: science and the humanities and he includes the arts in with the humanities. However, if you dive deeper into the past, you’ll find that humanities/arts and sciences have been more closely linked. Science sprang from ‘Natural Philosophy’ and faculties of arts and sciences are still found in universities.

Returning to the 2017 Vancouver Fringe Festival, I found some 17 shows that are science-inflected or using the mention of science as a marketing tool. Here they are:

Distractingly Sexy: Join real life scientist (and writer) Molly Mumford for an interactive, ultra-funny quite wild, pretty-durn-sexy history of how women in science have been f*S%ed over for centuries.

Thursday September 14, 2017 6:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 8:35 pm
Saturday Sept. 16, 2017 2:45 pm

Shadowlands: Cells in a petrii dish. A scientist. A ghost. A laboratory mouse. We are on a journey to see what can’t be seen. We are on a quest to find truth in the dark. …

No more showtimes

Interstellar Elder: Meet Kitt, age 96, fierce lone astronaut protecting the last of humankind. Images Ridley Scott’s ‘Aliens’ meets ‘Golden Girls’.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 5:00 pm
Friday September 16, 2017 6:40 pm
Saturday Sept. 16, 2017 12:30 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 5:15 pm

Let Me Freeze Your Head: Why leave the futture to your children when you can have it for yourself? Attend our short sales presentation to learn how you preserve your brain to live again! This one-person show takes you on a deeply personal journey into the world of human cryonic preservation.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 9:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 5:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:00 p.m

The Immaculate Big Bang: Sparked by the death of his father birth of his daughter; comedian Bill Santiago goes in search of answers and laughs at the border of science religion exploring the comic nature of the cosmic quest for understanding existence, life, and death (not necessarily in the order).

Tuesday September 12, 2017 9:30 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 10:25 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 6:30 pm

Field Zoology, 101: From the untamed wilds of the Vancouver Landfill in the loading bay behind the Burger Kin, Field Zoologist Brad GooseBerry has seen it all. In this introductory course, he shares a lifetime of “knowledge” and “experience” teaching you to thrive and survive in the harrowing world of field zoology.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 9:20 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 5:10 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 3:50 pm

Scientist Turned Comedian: “Lee, who got his PhD before realizing where his true talents lay, blends science talk (complete with PowerPoint presentations) with comedy. The hilarious result is like what would happen if you crossed your high-school chem teacher with George Carlin.”

Thursday September 14, 2017 6:40 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 5:25 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 2:45 pm

Acceleration: It’s 2012. The world’s top physicists are searching for the elusive Higgs boson particle and it’s been a year since Elise’s sister disappeared. Desperate to forget, Elise wraps herself up in the search for the Higgs. But what we’re looking for isn’t always what we find. A moving exploration of how we cope with a world that doesn’t make sense.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 10:15 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 8:30 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 2:15 pm

Two series (five shows in total) about climate change: Generation Hot Waterborne

O Sandada 150M: 150 million years later … the world stops—and out of the basic elements sand and water, comes … life. Under the sun, Sandadians build beautiful castles, sing the National Sandthem, and glorify the Sandadian flag. Meanwhile under the stars, Wateries plan their attack. On the natural/industrial stage of the grassy knoll on Granville Island, two culture try to make peace. Fantastical Apocalyptic Puppets.

Twenty Feet Away: A site-specific theatrical adventure based on the bank of Vancouver’s False Creek. Two entrepreneurs daringly attempt to bottle themselves a new life while facing difficult ethical questions.

Brothers: Bonds are tested, sides taken, and loyalty is questioned. Two brothers come to terms with progress and preservation while on a fishing trip.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 6:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:00 pm

WYSPA: A group of youth stranded on an urchin-infested island guide the audience through a magic-infused ceremony and explore their world views that have turned them into survivors. Part documentary verbatim script drive by your aged 5-16.

Citlali: A fantastic tale about water by a Mexican poet: A mythological tale about the origins of Mexico and the journey of a demigoddess on a search for water.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 8:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 8:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 8:00 pm

Go, no go: .. the story of 13 barrier-breaking pilots who in 1961 petitioned NASA {US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] to be become the first femal astronatus. And it’s about why you don’t know their names. Welcome to the space race.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 1:30 pm

Kurt Vonnegut’s the Euphio Question: A new adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1951 short story. A young physicist discovers radio waves from outer space that mage anyone withing earshot completely and utterly euphoric. The Euphio Question asks audiences what the true cost of happiness is when it comes at the mere flick of a switch.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 7:30 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:30 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 3:45 pm

Gutenberg: The Musical: In this whirlwind 90-minute musical comedy, Chris Adams and Erik Gow play over 30 characters in two-man spoof . A pair of aspiring playwrights perform a backers’ audition for this new project—a big, splashy musical about printing press inventor Johann [Johannes] Gutenberg. Too bad their musical is terrible.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 10:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 6:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 7:45 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 2:00 pm

Brain machine: Award-wining monologist Andrew Bailey (The Adversary, Phantom Signal) proudly premieres: “Brain Machine.” Generations of scientists create the web to bring “harmony and understanding” to humanity. Chaos ensues. Bailey attempts to escape technology by moving to a cabin in the woods. While there he accidentally creates a viral video Chaos ensues.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 6:15 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 8:00 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 9:45 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 6:15 pm

Admittedly the science or technology element is quite tangential is some of these shows but I think it’s interesting that there’s any mention of science in 17 (16%) of 104 shows at this year’s Fringe. If memory serves, there have been man years where no mention of any kind has been made of science or technology, let alone 1q6% of the programme.

Women in science is a thread linking a number of the shows in this year’s Fringe Festival as Janet Smith notes in her Sept. 6, 2017 article (Women get their science on at the Vancouver Fringe Festival) for the Georgia Straight.

One final comment, I’ve done my best but I was copying the information out of the programme and have likely made errors, as well, schedules can change so do check the festival website or at the Fringe Festival’s updated schedule boards on Granville Island.

London gets its first Chief Digital Officer (CDO)

A report commissioned from 2thinknow by Business Insider ranks the 25 most high-tech cities in the world (Vancouver, Canada rates as 14th on this list) is featured in an Aug. 25, 2017 news item on the Daily Hive; Vancouver,

The ranking was selected on 10 factors related to technological advancement, which included the number of patents filed per capita, startups, tech venture capitalists, ranking in other innovation datasets, and level of smartphone use.

Topping the list, which was released this month, is San Fransisco’s “Silicon Valley,” which “wins in just about every category.” New York comes in second place, followed by London [UK; emphasis mine], Los Angeles, and Seoul.

Intriguingly, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan announced a new Chief Digital Officer for the city just a few days later. From an August 29, 2017 news item by Michael Moore for Beta News,

Theo Blackwell, a former cabinet member at Camden Council, will take responsibility for helping London continue to be the technology powerhouse it has become over the past few years.

Mr Blackwell will work closely with the Mayor’s office, particularly the Smart London Board, to create a new “Smart London Plan” that looks to outline how the capital can benefit from embracing new technologies, with cybersecurity, open data and connectivity all at the forefront.

He will also look to build collaboration across London’s boroughs when it comes to public technology schemes, and encourage the digital transformation of public services.

“The new chief digital officer post is an amazing opportunity to make our capital even more open to innovation, support jobs and investment and make our public services more effective,” he said in a statement.

An August 25, 2017 Mayor of London press release, which originated the news item, provides a more detailed look at the position and the motives for creating it,

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has today (25 August [2017]) appointed Theo Blackwell as the capital’s first ever Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

As London’s first CDO, Theo will play a leading role in realising the Mayor’s ambition to make London the world’s smartest city, ensuring that the capital’s status as a global tech hub helps transform the way public services are designed and delivered, making them more accessible, efficient and responsive to the needs of Londoners. The appointment fulfils a key manifesto commitment made by the Mayor.

He joins the Mayor’s team following work at GovTech accelerator Public Group, advising start-ups on the growing market in local public services, and was previously Head of Policy & Public Affairs for the video games industry’s trade body, Ukie – where he ran a ‘Next Gen Skills’ campaign to get coding back on the curriculum.

Theo brings more than 20 years of experience in technology and digital transformation in both the public and private sector.  In his role as cabinet member for finance, technology and growth at Camden Council, Theo has established Camden as London’s leading digital borough through its use of public data – and this year they received national recognition as Digital Leaders ‘Council of the year’.

Theo also sits on the Advisory Board of Digital Leaders and is a director of Camden Town Unlimited, a Business Improvement District which pioneered new start-up incubation in ‘meanwhile’ space.

Theo will work closely with the Mayor’s Smart London Board to develop a new Smart London Plan, and will play a central role in building collaboration across London’s boroughs, and businesses, to drive the digital transformation of public services, as well as supporting the spread of innovation through common technology standards and better data-sharing.

Theo will also promote manifesto ambitions around pan-London collaboration on connectivity, digital inclusion, cyber-security and open data. He will also focus on scoping work for the London Office for Technology & Innovation that was announced by the Mayor at London Tech Week.

London already has more than 47,000 digital technology companies, employing approximately 240,000 people. It is forecast that the number of tech companies will increase by a third and a further 44,500 jobs will have been created by 2026.

The capital is also racing ahead with new technologies, using it for ticketing and contactless on the transport network, while the London Datastore is an open resource with vast amounts of data about all areas of the city, and tech start-ups have used this open data to create innovative new apps.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:

I am determined to make London the world’s leading ‘smart city’ with digital technology and data at the heart of making our capital a better place to live, work and visit. We already lead in digital technology, data science and innovation and I want us to make full use of this in transforming our public services for Londoners and the millions of visitors to our great city.

I am delighted to appoint Theo Blackwell as London’s first Chief Digital Officer, and I know he will use his experience working in the technology sector and developing public services to improve the lives of all Londoners.

Theo Blackwell said:

The new Chief Digital Officer post is an amazing opportunity to make our capital even more open to innovation, support jobs and investment and make our public services more effective. The pace of change over the next decade requires public services to develop a stronger relationship with the tech sector.  Our purpose is to fully harness London’s world-class potential to make our public services faster and more reliable at doing things we expect online, but also adaptable enough to overcome the capital’s most complex challenges.

Antony Walker, Deputy CEO of techUK, said:

techUK has long argued that London needed a Chief Digital Officer to ensure that London makes the best possible use of new digital technologies. The appointment of Theo Blackwell is good news for Londoners. The smart use of new digital technologies can improve the lives of people living in or visiting London. Theo Blackwell brings a deep understanding of both the opportunities ahead and the challenges of implementing new digital technologies to address the city’s most pressing problems. This appointment is an important step forward to London being at the forefront of tech innovation to create smart places and communities where citizens want to live, work and thrive.

Councillor Claire Kober, Chair of London Councils, said:

The appointment of London’s first Chief Digital Officer fills an important role providing needed digital leadership for London’s public services.  Theo will bring his longstanding experience working with other borough leaders, which I think is critical as we develop new approaches to developing, procuring and scaling the best digital solutions across the capital.

Robin Knowles, Founder and CEO of Digital Leaders, said:

Theo Blackwell has huge experience and is a fabulous appointment as the capital’s first Chief Digital Officer.  He will do a great job for London.

Doteveryone founder, Baroness Martha Lane Fox, said:

Digital leadership is a major challenge for the public sector, as the new Chief Digital Officer for London Theo’s track-record delivering real change in local government and his work in the tech sector brings real experience to this role.

Mike Flowers, First Chief Analytics Officer for New York City and Chief Analytics Officer at Enigma Technologies, said:

Theo is a pragmatic visionary with that rare combination of tech savvy and human focus that the task ahead of him requires. I congratulate Mayor Khan on his decision to trust him with this critical role, and I’m very happy for the residents of London whose lives will be improved by the better use of data and technology by their government. Theo gets results.

It’s always possible that there’s a mastermind involved in the timing of these announcements but sometimes they’re just a reflection of a trend. Cities have their moments just like people do and it seems like London may be on an upswing. From an August 18 (?), 2017 opinion piece by Gavin Poole (Chief Executive Officer, Here East) for ITProPortal,

Recently released data from London & Partners indicates that record levels of venture capital investment are flooding into the London tech sector, with a record £1.1 billion pounds being invested since the start of the year. Strikingly, 2017 has seen a fourfold increase in investment compared with 2013. This indicates that, despite Brexit fears, London retains its crown as Europe’s number one tech hub for global investors but we must make sure that we keep that place by protecting access to the world’s best talent.

As the tech sector continues to outperform the rest of the UK economy, London’s place in it will become all the more important. When London does well, so too does the rest of the UK. Mega-deals from challenger brands like Monzo and Improbable, and the recent opening of Europe’s newest technology innovation destination, Plexal, at Here East have helped to cement the tech sector’s future in the medium-term. Government too has recognised the strength of the sector; earlier this month the Department for Culture, Media and Sport rebranded as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. This name change, 25 years after the department’s creation, signifies how much things have developed. There is now also a Minister of State for Digital who covers everything from broadband and mobile connectivity to the creative industries. This visible commitment by the Government to put digital at the heart of its agenda should be welcomed.

There are lots of reasons for London’s tech success: start-ups and major corporates look to London for its digital and geographical connectivity, the entrepreneurialism of its tech talent and the vibrancy of its urban life. We continue to lead Europe on all of these fronts and Sadiq Khan’s #LondonIsOpen campaign has made clear that the city remains welcoming and accessible. In fact, there’s no shortage of start-ups proclaiming the great things about London. Melissa Morris, CEO and Founder, Lantum, a company that recently secured £5.3 in funding in London said “London is the world’s coolest city – it attracts some of the most interesting people from across the world… We’ve just closed a round of funding, and our plans are very much about growth”.

As for Vancouver, we don’t have any science officers or technology officers or anything of that ilk. Our current mayor, Gregor Robertson, who pledged to reduce homelessness almost 10 years ago has experienced a resounding failure with regard to that pledge but his greenest city pledge has enjoyed more success. As far as I’m aware the mayor and the current city council remain blissfully uninvolved in major initiatives to encourage science and technology efforts although there was a ‘sweetheart’ real estate deal for local technology company, Hootsuite. A Feb. 18, 2014 news item on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) website provides a written description of the deal but there is also this video,

Robertson went on to win his election despite the hint of financial misdoings in the video but there is another election* coming in 2018. The city official in the video, Penny Ballem was terminated in September 2015 *due to what seemed to be her attempts to implement policy at a pace some found disconcerting*. In the meantime, the Liberal party which made up our provincial government until recently (July 2017) was excoriated for its eagerness to accept political money and pledged to ‘change the rules’ as did the parties which were running in opposition. As far as I’m aware, there have been no changes that will impace provincial or municipal politicians in the near future.

Getting back to government initiatives that encourage science and technology efforts in Vancouver, there is the Cascadia Innovation Corridor. Calling it governmental is a bit of a stretch as it seems to be a Microsoft initiative that found favour with the governments of Washington state and the province of British Columbia; Vancouver will be one of the happy recipients. See my Feb. 28, 2017 posting and August 28, 2017 posting for more details about the proposed Corridor.

In any event, I’d like to see a science policy and at this point I don’t care if it’s a city policy or a provincial policy.

*’elections’ corrected to ‘election’ and ‘due to what seemed to be her attempts to implement policy at a pace some found disconcerting’ added for clarity on August 31, 2017.

Call for art (and possible donation) featuring amphibians for Precious Frogs Art Exhibit and fundraising effort

Thanks to the August 24, 2017 Opus Art Supplies newsletter (received via email), I got notice about this call for art (from the Opus Call for Submissions webpage),

Submission Deadline:

September 6, 2017

Date:  September 29, 2017December 15, 2017 [for Amphibian Art Exhibit at Science World in Vancouver, Canada]

Paint, draw, print, sculpt, design, photograph the province’s [British Columbia] frogs, toads and salamanders, and consider how art can combat threats to amphibian survival including habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and disease. Because this is a fundraising event, we are hoping to engage artists to donate artwork for sale at the exhibition, with proceeds towards the long-term conservation of our native amphibians. However, you can choose to exhibit only. To submit, please download the call for artists for full details and instructions.

We encourage small pieces (for example: 5×7, 6×4, 8×8, 8×10 inches or other small size you enjoy working in) or small sculptures to ensure accessibility for all artists. We realize that artists are often asked to donate artwork for charity, and we respect and value the fact that artists have been very generous in supporting the causes they believe in. We hope you will consider ours.For more information and questions, contact us: info@preciousfrog.ca

Precious Frog, the organization (the exhibition is Precious Frogs) requesting the art has more detail in its (On the spot webpage) June 12, 2017 initial call for submissions,

Are you an artist? Are you passionate about art and conservation? Are you interested in creatively exploring how to celebrate British Columbia’s amphibians through art?

This is your opportunity to submit a piece of art for a three-month long art exhibition to be launched at Science World in Vancouver on September 29, 2017.

We are very excited to announce that we are partnering with TELUS World of Science to bring you the first art exhibition in Vancouver entirely dedicated to the amphibians of the province. The Precious Frogs Art Exhibition will integrate art and conservation by showcasing a variety of visual and media art pieces combined with scientific and educational information on the challenges faced by amphibians in our province.

Elsewhere in North America, artists have already demonstrated their creativity to raise awareness about the global decline of amphibians. In North Carolina, artist Terry Thirion has initiated the Disappearing Frogs Project, in 2013.

But this is a first in Vancouver, and with the Precious Frogs art exhibition, we hope to inspire artists to be a bridge between scientists and the broader public and to promote awareness and action for the long-term conservation of all of our precious amphibians. Additional film screenings, educational events, and art workshops will be presented at Science World in the fall as part of the art exhibition.

To us, amphibians are intriguing, beautiful, complex, inspiring, unusual, and more. What do you see?

Paint, draw, print, sculpt, design, photograph the province’s  frogs, toads and salamanders, and consider how art can combat threats to amphibian survival including habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, and disease. Submit your most convincing art piece. Your work will support the Oregon Spotted Frog Recovery Team’s efforts to conserve amphibians in British Columbia.

To submit, please download the call for artists for full details and instructions. The submission deadline is September 6, 2017. For more information and questions, contact us: info@preciousfrog.ca

And mark your calendar: the opening reception for the art exhibition will be on Tuesday, October 3 from 6 to 8 pm at Science World.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are you organizing this event?

Amphibians serve an important role in ecosystems and are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment that ultimately affect us all. This volunteer-run project aims to promote awareness and raise funds for the long-term conservation of our native amphibians.

Why are you asking artists to donate artwork?

Because this is a fundraising event, we are hoping to engage artists to donate artwork for sale at the exhibition, with proceeds towards the long-term conservation of our native amphibians.  We encourage small pieces (for example: 5×7, 6×4, 8×8, 8×10 inches or other small size you enjoy working in) or small sculptures to ensure accessibility for all artists. We realize that artists are often asked to donate artwork for charity, and we respect and value the fact that artists have been very generous in supporting the causes they believe in. We hope you will consider ours.

I don’t want to donate my artwork. Can I still participate?

Yes absolutely! You can choose to have your artwork on display at the exhibition and marked “Not For Sale.” The artwork will be returned to you at the end of the exhibition, and you are then free to sell your piece as you wish. We encourage artists to consider a donation to the Precious Frogs Project on subsequent sales of amphibian-related artwork. The gesture will always be appreciated.

How much will the artwork be sold for?

Artwork will be sold at accessible, standardized prices ($20 – $50) for small works. Larger pieces will be sold at prices recommended by the artist.

Why should I participate?

We feel passionate about the conservation of amphibians, and we hope you will too. This project is part of a series of exhibits such as the Disappearing Frogs Project in the United States. If you participate in our project, you will become part of a larger context. Ultimately, this project is about opening people’s eyes on amphibian extinction, and artists have the capacity to express themselves and help change the views of people on these very important issues. Additionally, the publicity about the event and the public exposure artists will receive during the three-month long exhibition are factors that we hope artists will value, in addition to becoming active contributors to the long-term conservation of amphibians.

How do I find out more information about amphibians at risk in BC?

A good starting point is our Frog guide on our website, which lists all BC’s native amphibians — frogs, toads, and salamanders. If you would like to learn more or have specific questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at: info@preciousfrog.ca

Do you accept volunteers?

Yes! Volunteers are welcome to help us with the different dimensions of this project and the events that we are planning during the three-month exhibition. Please check out our current volunteer position posting and contact us for additional opportunities.

Text: Isabelle Groc

Here’s a sample of what’s on preciousfrog.ca’s call for submission webpage,

Artwork: Lord Byng Secondary School, Grade 10 Honours art class

I wish Precious Frog good luck with its fundraising efforts and greater exposure for any artists who participate.

Bill Nye saving science ?; a Blackout Night Sky Festival; and Eclipse: Total Alignment (science events in Vancouver Canada)

During August (2017), science in Vancouver (Canada) seems to be mostly about the night sky. The one exception is an event featuring American science communicator, Bill Nye. Here, in the order in which they occur, are the three science events mentioned in the head (scroll down to the third event [Eclipse: Total Alignment] if you are interested in Early Bird tickets, which are available until Aug. 4, 2017).

Bill Nye speaks

Billed as ‘An Evening With Bill Nye & George Stroumboulopoulos’, the event takes place at the Orpheum Theatre on Friday, August 11, 2017. Here’s more from the event page on brownpapertickets.com,

An Evening With Bill Nye & George Stroumboulopoulos
presented by Pangburn Philosophy

Friday, August 11, 2017
Doors: 7pm
Show: 8pm Sharp!

Bill Nye is one of the worlds most eminent promoters of science. He is a scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor. His mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life. He will grace the stage on August 11th at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver to exchange dialogue with one of Canada’s most beloved public figures and tv personalities. George Stroumboulopoulos is a six-time Gemini Award and Canadian Screen Award winner for best host in a talk series, George Stroumboulopoulos has interviewed a who’s who of entertainment icons, world leaders and respected thinkers. George has also taken an active role in global initiatives and is a strong advocate for social issues.Special Note:

All PREMIUM ticket purchases grant you a copy of Bill Nye’s new book “Everything All at Once” plus fast-pass access to Bill’s book signing, taking place directly after the event.

All STUDENT discounted tickets are Will Call only at the Box Office, on the evening of the event. Student & Photo ID must be shown. No exceptions.

Service Charges Disclaimer
Note that all tickets are subject to an additional $3.50 for the Facility Fee and $5.00 for the Ticketing Fee.
Friday Aug 11, 2017 8:00 PM – Friday Aug 11, 2017 11:00 PM | CA$60.00 – CA$150.00

I got a message saying ‘sales are ended’, which suggests the event is sold out but organizers usually trumpet that detail right away so I don’t know. It might be an idea to try the Buy Tickets button on this page for yourself.

For anyone unfamiliar with the event organizers, Pangburn Philosophy, there’s their home page and this video,

While I’m quite interested in science and art, singly and together, the discussion about science, religion, and/or god, discussed in the video, leaves me cold. I notice the Pangburn Philosophy organization has a series of events titled ‘Science and Reason’ and all of them feature Richard Dawkins who (as I understand it) has been very involved in the debate about science/reason and religion/god. The debate gets more attention in the UK than it has here in Canada.

Getting back to Bill Nye, there was a provocative essay about Nye, his new television programme, and the debate regarding science/reason and anti-science/alternative facts (which can also touch on religion/god). From an April 25, 2017 essay (titled: Can Bill Nye – or any other science show – really save the world?) by Heather Akin, Bruce W. Hardy, Dietram A. Scheufele, and Dominique Brossard for The Conversation.com (h/t May 1, 2017 republication on salon.com; Note: Links have been removed)

Netflix’s new talk show, “Bill Nye Saves the World,” debuted the night before people around the world joined together to demonstrate and March for Science. Many have lauded the timing and relevance of the show, featuring the famous “Science Guy” as its host, because it aims to myth-bust and debunk anti-scientific claims in an alternative-fact era.

But are more facts really the kryptonite that will rein in what some suggest is a rapidly spreading “anti-science” sentiment in the U.S.?

“With the right science and good writing,” Nye hopes, “we’ll do our best to enlighten and entertain our audience. And, perhaps we’ll change the world a little.” In an ideal world, a show like this might attract a broad and diverse audience with varying levels of science interest and background. By entertaining a wide range of viewers, the thinking goes, the show could effectively dismantle enduring beliefs that are at odds with scientific evidence. Significant parts of the public still aren’t on board with the scientific consensus on climate change and the safety of vaccines and genetically modified foods, for instance.

But what deserves to be successful isn’t always what ends up winning hearts and minds in the real world. In fact, empirical data we collected suggest that the viewership of such shows – even heavily publicized and celebrity-endorsed ones – is small and made up of people who are already highly educated, knowledgeable about science and receptive to scientific evidence.

Engaging scientific programming could still be an antidote to waning public interest in science, especially where formal science education is falling short. But it is revealing that “Cosmos” – a heavily marketed, big-budget show backed by Fox Networks and “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane – did not reach the audience who need quality science information the most. “Bill Nye Saves the World” might not either. Its streaming numbers are not yet available.

Today’s fragmented and partisan media environment fosters selective exposure and motivated reasoning – that is, viewers typically tune in to programming that confirms their existing worldview. There are few opportunities or incentives for audiences to engage with scientific evidence in the media. All of this can propagate misleading claims and deter audiences from accepting the conclusions of sound science. And adoption of misinformation and alternative facts is not a partisan problem. Policy debates questioning or ignoring scientific consensus on vaccines, climate change and GMOs have cut across different political camps.

None of this is meant to downplay the huge potential of entertainment media to reach diverse audiences beyond the proverbial choir. We know from decades of research that our mental images of science and its impact on society are shaped heavily by (sometimes stereotypical) portrayals of science and scientists in shows like “The Big Bang Theory” or “Orphan Black.”

But successful scientific entertainment programming needs to accomplish two goals: First, draw in a diverse audience well beyond those already interested in science; second, present scientific issues in a way that unites audiences around shared values rather than further polarizing by presenting science in ways that seems at odds with specific political or religious worldviews.

And social science research suggests that complex information can reach audiences via the most unlikely of places, including the satirical fake news program “The Colbert Report.” In fact, a University of Pennsylvania study showed that a series of “Colbert Report” episodes about Super PACs and 501(c)(4) groups during the 2012 presidential election did a better job educating viewers than did mainstream programming in traditional news formats.

Social science can help us learn from our mistakes and better understand how to connect with hard-to-reach audiences via new formats and outlets. None of these shows by themselves will save the world. But if done right, they each might get us closer, one empirical step at a time.

I encourage you to read the essay in its entirety and, in particular, to read the comments.

The tickets for the Aug. 11, 2017 event seem a bit expensive but as they appear to be sold out, it proves I know very little about marketing science celebrities. I guess Stroumboulopoulos’ name recognition due to his CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) experience was part of the sales strategy since he doesn’t seem to have any science background. That said, good interviewers take the time to research and often unearth questions that someone with more expertise might not think to ask. I’ve been favourably impressed the few times I’ve caught one of Stroumboulopoulos’ interviews.

Blackout: Night Sky Festival

The day after Bill Nye, on Saturday, August 12, 2017, there’s a special event at the Museum of Anthropology on the University of British Columbia grounds in Vancouver. Cecilia Lu in a July 24, 2017 posting on The Daily Hive (Vancouver edition) writes up the event,

With the Perseid meteor shower returning next month, the Museum of Anthropology is putting on a unique stargazing festival for the occasion.

On Saturday, August 12 [2017], at the peak of meteor shower viewing season, Blackout: Night Sky Festival will see the MOA transform into an all-ages arts and astronomy celebration.

The museum will remain open until midnight, as stargazers enjoy the night sky amidst Indigenous storytelling, special musical performances, and lantern making.

The Museum of Anthropology’s Blackout event page provides more information,

Saturday, August 12 [2017] | 5 pm – Midnight | All-Ages + Licensed |
Adults $10 | Youth + Students Free | Tickets available at the door

Join the event on Facebook
Explore our connection to the stars during an evening of arts and astronomy.
Inspired by the global dark sky movement, Blackout brings together storytellers, musicians, artists and astronomers to share their relationships to the skies. Join us to witness the peak of the Perseid meteor shower and explore the museum until midnight during this all-ages event.
You’ll have the chance to peer into telescopes, make your own star lantern and experience an experimental art installation that reimagines the constellations. Bring a chair or blanket and enjoy stargazing to a soundtrack of downtempo and ambient beats, punctuated by live music and throat singing.
Co-hosted with the UBC Astronomy Club, in association with Hfour and the Secret Lantern Society. Performers include Bronson Charles, Jerry DesVoignes, You’re Me, Andrew Kim the musical scientist and the Secret Lantern Society musicians.


Blackout Night Sky Festival Schedule

Indigenous Sky Stories | 5–6 pm
Join us in the Great Hall for celestial storytelling by Margaret Grenier and learn about what you’ll see in the skies that night from the UBC Astronomy Club.
Planets and Pulsations: The New Keplerian Revolution | 6–7 pm
Does Earth harbour the only life in the universe? Astrophysicist Don Kurtz examines how the Kepler Space Mission has revolutionized our view in an animated multimedia performance.
Late Night Gallery Viewing | 5 pm – midnight
Explore MOA all night long — including our brand new Gallery of Northwest Coast Masterworks.
Bar + BBQ + Music | 7 pm – midnight
Grab a bite to eat or drink from our licensed bar and enjoy the music that runs all night. Vegetarian and non-alcoholic options available.
Lantern Making Workshop | 7–9 pm
Make your own pinhole lantern inspired by constellations from around the world in this drop-in workshop hosted by the Secret Lantern Society.
Reclaiming the Night Skies | 8:30 pm – midnight
Experimental artists Hfour and the MOA’s Native Youth Program present an immersive, projected art installation that brings to life a series of new constellations, featuring soundscapes by Adham Shaikh.
Lantern Procession | 9 pm
Join the procession of freshly built lanterns and roving musicians as we make our way across the Museum Grounds and up the hill for a night of stargazing!
Stargazing + Meteor Shower | 9:30 pm – midnight
How many meteors can you find? Expand your knowledge of the night sky with the telescopes and expertise of the UBC Astronomy Club and HR MacMillan Space Centre, set to a background of live and electronic music. On view that night: Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, M13, M15, Ring Nebula, Lagoon Nebula, Dumbbell Nebula and the Perseid meteor shower.

There are two eclipses during August 2017 (Aug. 7, 2017 and Aug. 21, 2017) and I find it odd that neither are mentioned in this astronomy-focused event at the Museum of Anthropology.  The Aug. 21, 2017 astronomical event is a total eclipse of the sun.. There’s more about it on this NASA (US National Aeronautics Space Administration) eclipse website.

Curiosity Collider and the Eclipse

[downloaded from http://www.curiositycollider.org/events/]

Vancouver’s art/sci organization (they have a wordier description here). Curiosity Collider is holding an event that celebrates the upcoming eclipse. From a July 28, 2017 notice (received via email),

Join Curiosity Collider and H.R. MacMillan Centre for this one night
only event

ART & SCIENCE EXPLORE THE MOMENTARY DARKNESS
ON AUGUST 17TH [2017], FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY, CURIOSITY COLLIDER AND THE H.R.
MACMILLAN SPACE CENTRE WILL HOST ECLIPSE: TOTAL ALIGNMENT where artists
and scientists interpret the rare alignment of the sun, earth, and moon
during a total solar eclipse. The event includes a performance show in
the planetarium theatre, and interactive multi and mixed media art
installations on the main level Cosmic Courtyard. Highlights include:

* a soundtrack of the solar system created by data sonification
* a dance piece that plays with alignment, light, and shadow
* scientific narration about the of the upcoming total solar eclipse
(on August 21st) and the phases of the moon
* spectacular custom planetarium dome visuals
* meeting the artists and scientists behind one-of-a-kind interactive
and multimedia art projects

This event is 19+ only. Beer and wine available for purchase, light
snacks included.

WHEN: 6:30pm on Thursday, August 17th 2017.
WHERE: H. R. MacMillan Space Centre (1100 Chestnut Street, Vancouver, BC

COST: $25-30. Each ticket includes entrance to the Space Centre and one
planetarium show (7:30pm or 9pm). LIMITED EARLY BIRD TICKETS AVAILABLE
BEFORE AUGUST 4 [2017].

Interested in observing the partial solar eclipse in Vancouver on
Monday, August 21st [2017]? Check out the two observation events hosted by H.R.
MacMillan Space Centre [5] and UBC Department of Physics & Astronomy
[6].

You can find information about the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre’s eclipse viewing event here and the UBC Department of Physics & Astronomy’s eclipse viewing event here. Both event will have eclipse viewers for safety purposes. For instructions on how to view an eclipse safely, there’s NASA.

Curiosity Collider’s event page (it’s a scrolling page so there are other events there as well) provides details about participants,

This show is curated by Curiosity Collider’s Creative Director Char Hoyt, and developed in collaboration with the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. Participating artists and scientists:

I have not tried all of the links but at least one (Maren Lisac’s) is for a Twitter feed and it’s not particularly informative.

You can find the Eclipse event’s Facebook page here and information about tickets here.

Ian Wallace show: the frame/box within the frame/box within the frame/box (at the Rennie Gallery in Vancouver, Canada until Sept. 30, 2017)

The opening reception for the Ian Wallace exhibition (Ian Wallace: Collected Works, May 27 to Sept. 30, 2017) at the Rennie Collection was a celebration of both Ian Wallace and Bob Rennie’s donation of 197 art works to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa marking Canada’s 150th anniversary. Here’s more about the gift from a May 9, 2017 Rennie Collection notice (received via email),

In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, we are donating 197 paintings, sculptures and mixed-media pieces made by some of the most well-known and established Canadian and international artists working today to the National Gallery of Canada!

This is the largest gift of contemporary art ever received by the National Gallery, with major pieces created by internationally renowned artists, such as Colombian Doris Salcedo, as well as important Vancouver based artists Brian Jungen, Damian Moppett, Rodney Graham, Ian Wallace [emphasis mine], and Geoffrey Farmer, who is Canada’s selection for the 57th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia.

Getting back to the Ian Wallace exhibition,

“The Idea of the University” (1990)  Courtesy: Rennie Collection

The commentary that follows are my impressions of the show, your mileage may vary.

What I found most intriguing was the ‘squareness’ of it all with its prevalence of frames/boxes. For example the image above is framed with red and white (paint on plywood) at the sides and within the image, there’s the window, the calendar, the photograph, a markedly squarish electric typewriter, a box on the desk, the cabinet behind the typist, and the books on the cabinet. One image could be a coincidence but when you’re surrounded by room after room  with these framed/boxed images of more frames and boxes, well, happenstance has to be rejected.

Wallace is a photographer-artist, one of the individuals in Vancouver, Canada, who founded  photoconceptualism (I sometimes mistakenly refer to this as photorealism). As you may have guessed from my parenthesized comment, I’m not a big fan of this movement or school. However, I’ve found that enjoyment or fandom isn’t necessarily the point where contemporary art is concerned. My experience is that contemporary art is largely intellectual rather than sensual. Sculptures, paintings, textiles, etc. are more sensual by nature where many contemporary pieces begin their existence in a machinist’s shop or via a piece of equipment such as a camera or as an algorithm.

To attend an exhibition of contemporary art, explanation is needed and thankfully the Rennie provides a tour guide providing insight into the artist and their work. In Wallace’s case (kudos, by the way, to Sydney who led the tour I attended), he’s a professor of art history whose main means of expression is photography and much of his focus is on the production of art.

For me though, it was all about square edges, frames, and boxes—an obvious association given that you frame your subject (inadvertently or not) when taking a photograph. There are images and pieces that don’t fit into my ‘square’ obsession but the number in this exhibition that did is amazing and dizzying. I got to the point where I was giddy enough to think of each room as yet another box/frame and we were the subjects leading to these questions: who is seeing, who is being seen, and what is being seen?

The fourth question: how we were seeing the images came up in the context of the show, more specifically, when viewing Wallace’s ‘Poverty 1980 – 1984’ series. It’s considered one of Wallace’s earlier works and like many of his pieces is a series of images. According to Sydney, Wallace is critiquing how we view poverty. In his view, poverty and images of poverty are often glamourized and to draw attention to that he had friends dress up as bohemians from an earlier period and pose in some of Vancouver’s dicier streets and alleyways. It’s not easy to see the images as they are indistinct and washed over in one colour or another.

Before commenting on this piece, I’ve got an excerpt from the Rennie Collection’s undated [?} press release,

Rennie Museum is pleased to announce a solo exhibition featuring rarely and never–before seen historic works of renowned Vancouver artist Ian Wallace. Highlighting Wallace’s perennial exploration of social issues, the works presented will also examine the crux of his artistic process: the intersectionality between public and private, personal and universal, process and production, abstraction and representation. The exhibition runs May 27 to September 30, 2017.

Included in the exhibition will be Poverty 1980 – 1984, a multimedia installation comprising of film, painting, and photography. Initially enacted in 1980 as a 16mm film commenting on the tradition of documentary film–making, the Poverty project offers variations on a single theme. By employing friends and colleagues to act out scenes of bohemian scarcity in Vancouver, Wallace creates fictionalized simulacra—an aestheticized model of poverty derived from our collective, often over–embellished, social conscious. [emphasis mine] The film stills are then abstracted through repetition and presented amidst monochromatic colour fields, prompting viewers to review their own cognitive processes.

I think I understand what is being described in the news release and I agree that poverty can be ‘aestheticized’ or made glamourous. In fact, there’s a term for it ‘poverty porn’. I first heard the term in relation to a series of images taken by Lincoln Clarkes and his series, Heroines (from his Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

Heroines (Anvil Press) [3] is an epic photographic documentary of 400 addicted women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which won the 2003 Vancouver Book Award (in a tie with Stan Douglas), and was the subject of numerous philosophical essays (by Leigh Butler, Margot Leigh Butler, and Paul Ugor, among them). The London Observer said Clarkes’ book offered “beauty in a beastly place.” Globe and Mail called it “intimate, compelling and undeniably unsettling,” while The Toronto Star called it “incredibly powerful.”

Clarkes, who’d been a high end fashion photographer, took photographs of female addicts (hence heroin/heroine) living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an area which by then was and still is a national and international disgrace. Within the Downtown Eastside community there was a great deal of controversy over Clarke’s work hence the whispers about ‘poverty porn’.

I gather Clarkes’ initial impulse was to treat the women with respect and kindness and to try framing ‘addicts’ in the same way as he would a high fashion model rather than as one of the ‘wretched of the earth’. Unfortunately as the work evolved, it appeared to become a career stepping stone for him and any other concerns seemed to drop out of view. In the end, I couldn’t escape the impression that these women had been used again as unintentional as it may have been.

Getting back to Wallace, I see his point but I don’t understand how his hard-to-see images of fake bohemians in streets and alleyways that are unrecognizable even to a local make his point about glamourizing poverty. Presumably, Wallace’s images were taken in the Downtown Eastside, which in the 1980s was not nearly in the straits it is today. The social safety net cuts that came in the mid to later 1980s and the diminishment of the federal transfer funds to the provinces weren’t yet the stuff of nightmares for social activists.

In retrospect, Wallace’s images seem weirdly prescient, a kind of ‘fiddling while Rome burns ‘view of the future which is now our present day but, for me, they don’t exactly deglamourize poverty or give us a view of an “… over–embellished, social conscious.” In fact, there’s something a bit odd about seeing this piece in a gallery that is housed in the same building as Rennie’s real estate marketing business in a rapidly gentrifying area just a block or two away from where those ‘poverty images’ were taken. Add in the fact that the tour was made up of a relatively middle class group of people staring at poverty when the reality is block away the whole thing becomes head-spinning as these questions whirl who is seeing, who is being seen, and what is being seen?

The last piece I’m going to mention is the multi-panel “The Idea of the University” (1990). The piece brought back memories as I once worked at the University of British Columbia where Wallace took his images. It was a walk down the lane of ‘old technology’ with microfiche readers, electric typewriters, card catalogues, etc. Sydney Marshall (tour guide Sydney) has written a July 25, 2017 essay about the piece on the Rennie Collection’s website,

Without contest, my favourite artwork by Ian Wallace is The Idea of the University (1990). Installed in Rennie Museum’s monumental four-storey high exhibition space, the sprawling canvasses are almost as immense as their depicted subject: the University of British Columbia. It’s likely that I appreciate it so much because like Wallace, I also studied at U.B.C., sitting in the same lecture hall that he used to teach in. This sentimentality seems to be shared; local visitors will often stop to point out former professors, or remember old buildings that have since been demolished. The piece is an exercise in collective memory. Functioning like a time capsule, it allows viewers to reflect on developments from the past to present. This is, however, just one aspect of a multi-faceted piece. By using the competing technical modes of painting and photography to depict university spaces, Wallace challenges the notion that painting is the only valid form of artistic production within academia. Historically, art production has operated within a technical hierarchy, with painting as the most revered medium due to the artistic labour it necessitates. The 20th century’s shifting social climate ultimately sees a redistribution of this hierarchical power. In response to the increasing corporatization of the university space, anti-institutional dissent permeated universities across the North American continent – U.B.C. included. For Ian Wallace and his contemporaries, this manifested as a desire to dispute traditional designations of painting as the most inherently valuable way to produce art. With his work, Wallace recontextualizes the medium, placing it in direct conversation with its subsidiaries: photography, writing, and thinking. In doing so, he subverts the idea that a technical hierarchy needs exist at all, equating multiple forms of production across a broad spectrum of intellectual and artistic interests.


Ian Wallace
The Idea of the University I-XVI, 1990

 

Conceived for a special exhibition at the U.B.C. Fine Arts Gallery in 1990, the work features sixteen photographs of university spaces and personnel in various states of candidness, each flanked with bars of white and multicoloured monochrome. In its entirety, the work looks cinematic – as if it were a filmstrip of image stills pulled from a promotional clip. This is not to say the images are typically beautiful because, by all accounts, they’re not. The depicted spaces are not inherently exciting. Some photographs are oddly cropped, others slightly out of focus; these formal details are irrelevant to the medium’s intended purpose: its subject. Photography, as a medium, offers to art that which painting cannot. The photograph is able to capture the totality of ‘the everyday’ as it exists in a moment, bringing banality into focus and calling the viewer to engage with it further. Visible beauty no longer designates whether a work is ‘art’ or ‘not art’; instead, it is the depth of concept that provides this justification. The valorization of these images as ‘art’ is additionally supported by their proximity to monochrome painting. The white monochrome acts as grounding, a symbolic representation of the white-walled gallery space typically designating a work of art. The multicoloured inclusions operate similarly. Different on each canvas, the monochrome bars provide an aesthetic and historical reference to modernism that further situates the opposing photographs within an established artistic context. By referencing this history, Wallace is able to push the limit of acceptable artistic production, using the predetermined power of modernism to elevate the comparatively new medium of photography.

It should be noted that a key component of The Idea of the University is missing from its visual representation: Wallace’s catalogue essay. The writing has become a near immovable companion to the work, as it explains precisely why the artist has chosen to explore the subject of the university. In it, Wallace identifies the contemporary university as an abstracted space, caught between its founding principles and modern-day realities. The university is supposed to be a universalizing space, providing equal opportunity to acquire ‘truth’ and knowledge to everyone that passes through its metaphorical gates. Wallace almost immediately invalidates this idea by identifying the discrepancy between this ideal image and its actuality*. Instead of a collective organization united in the unhindered production of knowledge, the contemporary university exists as an ideology-producing institution that services a number of specific political and socioeconomic interests*. For Wallace, the same designation could be given to the discourse of art – a supposedly universal field that relies almost entirely on individual notions of taste and arbitrary economic determinations. The Idea of the University works as an evaluation of both the university and the discourse of art, but Wallace very intentionally leaves the canvasses open-ended. Instead, he presents the failures (or at least, potential failures) of these systems in his writing, using its visual counterpart as a stimulus by which the viewer can judge the validity of his propositions for themselves.


Ian Wallace
The Idea of the University I-XVI, 1990

 

Just as Wallace succeeds in neutrally depicting the university space, so too does he succeed in avoiding a singular narrative of exactly how knowledge is produced. He chooses not to privilege one form of ‘work’ over another, but does show immense regard for practice in general. Some empty and others full, most of the photographed spaces feature a single figure engaging in various forms of intellectual labour: reading, searching the web, or completing administrative tasks. All of these engagements are qualified as ‘work’ that contributes to the ultimate output of the university. This is paralleled by Wallace’s own technical expansions of artistic labour. He challenges traditional perceptions of painting and photography by combining the two, then supplementing the combination with writing. In this sense, it is neither the visual nor the written work that takes precedence, but the idea that all of these productive forms are equally valid. In essence, Wallace’s presentation of simultaneous forms of labour democratizes realms of production within art, decentralizing painting as the foundation upon which art must be based. Not only does artwork not need to be painted, it doesn’t even have to be visual. To Ian Wallace, a radical thought is as legitimate an artistic gesture as a visible brushstroke.

* Wallace, Ian. “The Idea of the University.” UBC Fine Arts Gallery, 1990. Page 23. Print.

The production of art and the production of knowledge would seem to be the dominant themes of this Ian Wallace exhibition and, I suspect, his life.

Anyone interested in seeing the show for themselves, can go here to save a space on one of the tours (for this show they are on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays). It is also possible to book separate tours for groups of eight or more here.

In scientific race US sees China coming up from rear

Sometime it seems as if scientific research is like a race with everyone competing for first place. As in most sports, there are multiple competitions for various sub-groups but only one important race. The US has held the lead position for decades although always with some anxiety. These days the anxiety is focused on China. A June 15, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily suggests that US dominance is threatened in at least one area of research—the biomedical sector,

American scientific teams still publish significantly more biomedical research discoveries than teams from any other country, a new study shows, and the U.S. still leads the world in research and development expenditures.

But American dominance is slowly shrinking, the analysis finds, as China’s skyrocketing investing on science over the last two decades begins to pay off. Chinese biomedical research teams now rank fourth in the world for total number of new discoveries published in six top-tier journals, and the country spent three-quarters what the U.S. spent on research and development during 2015.

Meanwhile, the analysis shows, scientists from the U.S. and other countries increasingly make discoveries and advancements as part of teams that involve researchers from around the world.

A June 15, 2017 Michigan Medicine University of Michigan news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, details the research team’s insights,

The last 15 years have ushered in an era of “team science” as research funding in the U.S., Great Britain and other European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, stagnated. The number of authors has also grown over time. For example, in 2000 only two percent of the research papers the new study looked include 21 or more authors — a number that increased to 12.5 percent in 2015.

The new findings, published in JCI Insight by a team of University of Michigan researchers, come at a critical time for the debate over the future of U.S. federal research funding. The study is based on a careful analysis of original research papers published in six top-tier and four mid-tier journals from 2000 to 2015, in addition to data on R&D investment from those same years.

The study builds on other work that has also warned of America’s slipping status in the world of science and medical research, and the resulting impact on the next generation of aspiring scientists.

“It’s time for U.S. policy-makers to reflect and decide whether the year-to-year uncertainty in National Institutes of Health budget and the proposed cuts are in our societal and national best interest,” says Bishr Omary, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the new data-supported opinion piece and chief scientific officer of Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center. “If we continue on the path we’re on, it will be harder to maintain our lead and, even more importantly, we could be disenchanting the next generation of bright and passionate biomedical scientists who see a limited future in pursuing a scientist or physician-investigator career.”

The analysis charts South Korea’s entry into the top 10 countries for publications, as well as China’s leap from outside the top 10 in 2000 to fourth place in 2015. They also track the major increases in support for research in South Korea and Singapore since the start of the 21st Century.

Meticulous tracking

First author of the study, U-M informationist Marisa Conte, and Omary co-led a team that looked carefully at the currency of modern science: peer-reviewed basic science and clinical research papers describing new findings, published in journals with long histories of accepting among the world’s most significant discoveries.

They reviewed every issue of six top-tier international journals (JAMA, Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, Cell, Nature and Science), and four mid-ranking journals (British Medical Journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, Journal of Cell Science, FASEB Journal), chosen to represent the clinical and basic science aspects of research.

The analysis included only papers that reported new results from basic research experiments, translational studies, clinical trials, metanalyses, and studies of disease outcomes. Author affiliations for corresponding authors and all other authors were recorded by country.

The rise in global cooperation is striking. In 2000, 25 percent of papers in the six top-tier journals were by teams that included researchers from at least two countries. In 2015, that figure was closer to 50 percent. The increasing need for multidisciplinary approaches to make major advances, coupled with the advances of Internet-based collaboration tools, likely have something to do with this, Omary says.

The authors, who also include Santiago Schnell, Ph.D. and Jing Liu, Ph.D., note that part of their group’s interest in doing the study sprang from their hypothesis that a flat NIH budget is likely to have negative consequences but they wanted to gather data to test their hypothesis.

They also observed what appears to be an increasing number of Chinese-born scientists who had trained in the U.S. going back to China after their training, where once most of them would have sought to stay in the U.S. In addition, Singapore has been able to recruit several top notch U.S. and other international scientists due to their marked increase in R&D investments.

The same trends appear to be happening in Great Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Germany and other countries the authors studied – where research investing has stayed consistent when measured as a percentage of the U.S. total over the last 15 years.

The authors note that their study is based on data up to 2015, and that in the current 2017 federal fiscal year, funding for NIH has increased thanks to bipartisan Congressional appropriations. The NIH contributes to most of the federal support for medical and basic biomedical research in the U.S. But discussion of cuts to research funding that hinders many federal agencies is in the air during the current debates for the 2018 budget. Meanwhile, the Chinese R&D spending is projected to surpass the U.S. total by 2022.

“Our analysis, albeit limited to a small number of representative journals, supports the importance of financial investment in research,” Omary says. “I would still strongly encourage any child interested in science to pursue their dream and passion, but I hope that our current and future investment in NIH and other federal research support agencies will rise above any branch of government to help our next generation reach their potential and dreams.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Globalization and changing trends of biomedical research output by Marisa L. Conte, Jing Liu, Santiago Schnell, and M. Bishr Omary. JCI Insight. 2017;2(12):e95206 doi:10.1172/jci.insight.95206 Volume 2, Issue 12 (June 15, 2017)

Copyright © 2017, American Society for Clinical Investigation

This paper is open access.

The notion of a race and looking back to see who, if anyone, is gaining on you reminded me of a local piece of sports lore, the Roger Banister-John Landy ‘Miracle Mile’. In the run up to the 1954 Commonwealth Games held in Vancouver, Canada, two runners were known to have broken the 4-minute mile limit (previously thought to have been impossible) and this meeting was considered an historic meeting. Here’s more from the miraclemile1954.com website,

On August 7, 1954 during the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, B.C., England’s Roger Bannister and Australian John Landy met for the first time in the one mile run at the newly constructed Empire Stadium.

Both men had broken the four minute barrier previously that year. Bannister was the first to break the mark with a time of 3:59.4 on May 6th in Oxford, England. Subsequently, on June 21st in Turku, Finland, John Landy became the new record holder with an official time of 3:58.

The world watched eagerly as both men approached the starting blocks. As 35,000 enthusiastic fans looked on, no one knew what would take place on that historic day.

Promoted as “The Mile of the Century”, it would later be known as the “Miracle Mile”.

With only 90 yards to go in one of the world’s most memorable races, John Landy glanced over his left shoulder to check his opponent’s position. At that instant Bannister streaked by him to victory in a Commonwealth record time of 3:58.8. Landy’s second place finish in 3:59.6 marked the first time the four minute mile had been broken by two men in the same race.

The website hosts an image of the moment memorialized in bronze when Landy looks to his left as Banister passes him on his right,

By Statue: Jack HarmanPhoto: Paul Joseph from vancouver, bc, canada – roger bannister running the four minute mileUploaded by Skeezix1000, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9801121

Getting back to science, I wonder if some day we’ll stop thinking of it as a race where, inevitably, there’s one winner and everyone else loses and find a new metaphor.