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2018 Canadian Science Policy Conference (Nov. 7 – 9, 2018) highlights and Council of Canadian Academies: a communications job, a report, and more

This is a going to a science policy heavy posting with both a conference and the latest report from the Canadian Council of Academies (CCA).

2018 Canadian Science Policy Conference

As I noted in my March 1, 2018 posting, this is the fourth year in a row that the conference is being held in Ottawa and the theme for this 10th edition is ‘Building Bridges Between Science, Policy and Society‘.

The dates are November 7 -9, 2018 and as the opening draws closer I’m getting more ‘breathlessly enthusiastic’ announcements. Here are a few highlights from an October 23, 2018 announcement received via email,

CSPC 2018 is honoured to announce that the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, will be delivering the keynote speech of the Gala Dinner on Thursday, November 8 at 7:00 PM. Minister Duncan will also hand out the 4th Science Policy Award of Excellence to the winner of this year’s competition.

CSPC 2018 features 250 speakers, a record number, and above is the breakdown of the positions they hold, over 43% of them being at the executive level and 57% of our speakers being women.

*All information as of October 15, 2018

If you think that you will not meet any new people at CSPC and all of the registrants are the same as last year, think again!

Over 57% of  registrants are attending the conference for the FIRST TIME!

Secure your spot today!

*All information as of October 15, 2018

Here’s more from an October 31, 2018 announcement received via email,

One year after her appointment as Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer will discuss her experience with the community. Don’t miss this opportunity.

[Canadian Science Policy Centre editorials in advance of conference]

Paul Dufour
“Evidence and Science in Parliament–Looking Back at CSPC and Moving Forward”

Dr. Tom Corr
“Commercializing Innovation in Canada: Advancing in the Right Direction”

Joseph S Sparling, PhD
“Reimagining the Canadian Postdoctoral Training System”

Milton Friesen
“Conspiring Together for Good: Institutional Science and Religion”

Joseph Tafese
“Science and the Next Generation : Science and Inclusivity, Going beyond the Slogans”

Eva Greyeyes
“Opinion Editorial for CSPC, November 2018”

Monique Crichlow
Chris Loken

“Policy Considerations Towards Converged HPC-AI Platforms”

Should you be in the Ottawa area November 7 – 9, 2018, it’s still possible to register.

**Update November 6, 2018: The 2018 CSPC is Sold Out!**

Council of Canadian Academies: job and the ‘managing innovation’ report

Let’s start with the job (from the posting),

October 17, 2018

Role Title:      Director of Communications
Deadline:       November 5, 2018
Salary:            $115,000 to $165,000

About the Council of Canadian Academies
The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is a not-for-profit organization that conducts assessments of evidence on scientific topics of public interest to inform decision-making in Canada.

Role Summary
The CCA is seeking an experienced communications professional to join its senior management team as Director of Communications. Reporting to the President and CEO, the Director is responsible for developing and implementing a communications plan for the organization that promotes and highlights the CCA’s work, brand, and overall mission to a variety of potential users and stakeholders; overseeing the publication and dissemination of high-quality hard copy and online products; and providing strategic advice to the President and CCA’s Board, Committees, and Panels. In fulfilling these responsibilities, the Director of Communications is expected to work with a variety of interested groups including the media, the broad policy community, government, and non-governmental organizations.

Key Responsibilities and Accountabilities
Under the direction of the President and CEO, the Director leads a small team of communications and publishing professionals to meet the responsibilities and accountabilities outlined below.

Strategy Development and External Communications
• Develop and execute an overall strategic communications plan for the organization that promotes and highlights the CCA’s work, brand, and overall mission.
• Oversee the CCA’s presence and influence on digital and social platforms including the development and execution of a comprehensive content strategy for linking CCA’s work with the broader science and policy ecosystem with a focus on promoting and disseminating the findings of the CCA’s expert panel reports.
• Provide support, as needed for relevant government relations activities including liaising with communications counterparts, preparing briefing materials, responding to requests to share CCA information, and coordinating any appearances before Parliamentary committees or other bodies.
• Harness opportunities for advancing the uptake and use of CCA assessments, including leveraging the strengths of key partners particularly the founding Academies.

Publication and Creative Services
• Oversee the creative services, quality control, and publication of all CCA’s expert panel reports including translation, layout, quality assurance, graphic design, proofreading, and printing processes.
• Oversee the creative development and publication of all CCA’s corporate materials including the Annual Report and Corporate Plan through content development, editing, layout, translation, graphic design, proofreading, and printing processes.

Advice and Issues Management
• Provide strategic advice and support to the President’s Office, Board of Directors, Committees, and CCA staff about increasing the overall impact of CCA expert panel reports, brand awareness, outreach opportunities, and effective science communication.
• Provide support to the President by anticipating project-based or organizational issues, understanding potential implications, and suggesting strategic management solutions.
• Ensure consistent messages, style, and approaches in the delivery of all internal and external communications across the organization.

Leadership
• Mentor, train, and advise up to five communications and publishing staff on a day-to-day basis and complete annual performance reviews and planning.
• Lead the development and implementation of all CCA-wide policy and procedures relating to all aspects of communications and publishing.
• Represent the issues, needs, and ongoing requirements for the communications and publishing staff as a member of the CCA senior management team.

Knowledge Requirements
The Director of Communications requires:
• Superior knowledge of communications and public relations principles – preferably as it applies in a non-profit or academic setting;
• Extensive experience in communications planning and issues management;
• Knowledge of current research, editorial, and publication production standards and procedures including but not limited to: translation, copy-editing, layout/design, proofreading and publishing;
• Knowledge of evaluating impact of reports and assessments;
• Knowledge in developing content strategy, knowledge mobilization techniques, and creative services and design;
• Knowledge of human resource management techniques and experience managing a team;
• Experience in coordinating, organizing and implementing communications activities including those involving sensitive topics;
• Knowledge of the relationships and major players in Canada’s intramural and extramural science and public policy ecosystem, including awareness of federal science departments and Parliamentary committees, funding bodies, and related research groups;
• Knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite, Adobe Creative Suite, WordPress and other related programs;
• Knowledge of a variety of social media platforms and measurement tools.

Skills Requirements
The Director of Communications must have:
• Superior time and project management skills
• Superior writing skills
• Superior ability to think strategically regarding how best to raise the CCA’s profile and ensure impact of the CCA’s expert panel reports
• Ability to be flexible and adaptable; able to respond quickly to unanticipated demands
• Strong advisory, negotiation, and problem-solving skills
• Strong skills in risk mitigation
• Superior ability to communicate in both written and oral forms, effectively and diplomatically
• Ability to mentor, train, and provide constructive feedback to direct reports

Education and Experience
This knowledge and skillset is typically obtained through the completion of a post-secondary degree in Journalism, Communications, Public Affairs or a related field, and/or a minimum of 10
years of progressive and related experience. Experience in an organization that has addressed topics in public policy would be valuable.

Language Requirements: This position is English Essential. Fluency in French is a strong asset.

To apply to this position please send your CV and cover letter to careers@scienceadvice.ca before November 5, 2018. The cover letter should answer the following questions in 1,000 words or less:

1. How does your background and work experience make you well-suited for the position of Director of Communications at CCA?
2. What trends do you see emerging in the communications field generally, and in science and policy communications more specifically? How might CCA take advantage of these trends and developments?
3. Knowing that CCA is in the business of conducting assessments of evidence on important policy topics, how do you feel communicating this type of science differs from communicating other types of information and knowledge?

Improving Innovation Through Better Management

The Council of Canadian Academies released their ‘Improving Innovation Through Better Management‘ report on October 18, 2018..As some of my regular readers (assuming there are some) might have predicted, I have issues.

There’s a distinct disconnection between the described problem and the questions to be answered. From the ‘Improving Innovation Through Better Management‘ summary webpage,

While research is world-class and technology start-ups are thriving, few companies grow and mature in Canada. This cycle — invent and sell, invent and sell — allows other countries to capture much of the economic and social benefits of Canadian-invented products, processes, marketing methods, and business models. …

So, the problem is ‘invent and sell’. Leaving aside the questionable conclusion that other countries are reaping the benefits of Canadian innovation (I’ll get back to that shortly), what questions could you ask about how to break the ‘invent and sell, invent and sell’ cycle? Hmm, maybe we should ask, How do we break the ‘invent and sell’ cycle in Canada?

The government presented two questions to deal with the problem and no, how to break the cycle is not one of the questions. From the ‘Improving Innovation Through Better Management‘ summary webpage,

… Escaping this cycle may be aided through education and training of innovation managers who can systematically manage ideas for commercial success and motivate others to reimagine innovation in Canada.

To understand how to better support innovation management in Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) asked the CCA two critical questions: What are the key skills required to manage innovation? And, what are the leading practices for teaching these skills in business schools, other academic departments, colleges/polytechnics, and industry?

As lawyers, journalists, scientists, doctors, librarians, and anyone who’s ever received misinformation can tell you, asking the right questions can make a big difference.

As for the conclusion that other countries are reaping the benefits of Canadian innovation, is there any supporting data? We enjoy a very high standard of living and have done so for at least a couple of generations. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has a Better Life Index, which ranks well-being on these 11 dimensions (from the OECD Better Life Index entry on Wikipedia), Note: Links have been removed,

  1. Housing: housing conditions and spendings (e.g. real estate pricing)
  2. Income: household income and financial wealth
  3. Jobs: earnings, job security and unemployment
  4. Community: quality of social support network
  5. Education: education and what you get out of it
  6. Environment: quality of environment (e.g. environmental health)
  7. Governance: involvement in democracy
  8. Health
  9. Life Satisfaction: level of happiness
  10. Safety: murder and assault rates
  11. Work-life balance

In 2017, the index ranked Canada as fifth in the world while the US appears to have slipped from a previous ranking of 7th to 8th. (See these Wikipedia entries with relevant subsections for rankings:  OECD Better Life Index; Rankings, 2017 ranking and Standard of living in the United States, Measures, 3rd paragraph.)

This notion that other countries are profiting from Canadian innovation while we lag behind has been repeated so often that it’s become an article of faith and I never questioned it until someone else challenged me. This article of faith is repeated internationally and sometimes seems that every country in the world is worried that someone else will benefit from their national innovation.

Getting back to the Canadian situation, we’ve decided to approach the problem by not asking questions about our article of faith or how to break the ‘invent and sell’ cycle. Instead of questioning an assumption and producing an open-ended question, we have these questions (1) What are the key skills required to manage innovation? (2) And, what are the leading practices for teaching these skills in business schools, other academic departments, colleges/polytechnics, and industry?

in my world that first question, would be a second tier question, at best. The second question, presupposes the answer: more training in universities and colleges. I took a look at the report’s Expert Panel webpage and found it populated by five individuals who are either academics or have strong ties to academe. They did have a workshop and the list of participants does include people who run businesses, from the Improving Innovation Through Better Management‘ report (Note: Formatting has not been preserved),

Workshop Participants

Max Blouw,
Former President and Vice-Chancellor of
Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo, ON)

Richard Boudreault, FCAE,
Chairman, Sigma Energy
Storage (Montréal, QC)

Judy Fairburn, FCAE,
Past Board Chair, Alberta Innovates;
retired EVP Business Innovation & Chief Digital Officer,
Cenovus Energy Inc. (Calgary, AB)

Tom Jenkins, O.C., FCAE,
Chair of the Board, OpenText
(Waterloo, ON)

Sarah Kaplan,
Director of the Institute for Gender and the
Economy and Distinguished Professor, Rotman School of
Management, University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)

Jean-Michel Lemieux,
Senior Vice President of Engineering,
Shopify Inc. (Ottawa, ON)

Elicia Maine,
Academic Director and Professor, i2I, Beedie
School of Business, Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, BC)

Kathy Malas,
Innovation Platform Manager, CHU
Sainte Justine (Montréal, QC)

John L. Mann, FCAE,
Owner, Mann Consulting
(Blenheim, ON)

Jesse Rodgers,
CEO, Volta Labs (Halifax, NS)

Creso Sá,
Professor of Higher Education and Director of
the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International
Higher Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education,
University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)

Dhirendra Shukla,
Professor and Chair, J. Herbert Smith
Centre for Technology Management & Entrepreneurship,
Faculty of Engineering, University of New Brunswick
(Fredericton, NB)

Dan Sinai,
Senior Executive, Innovation, IBM Canada
(Toronto, ON)

Valerie Walker,
Executive Director, Business/Higher
Education Roundtable (Ottawa, ON)

J. Mark Weber,
Eyton Director, Conrad School of
Entrepreneurship & Business, University of Waterloo
(Waterloo, ON)

I am a little puzzled by the IBM executive’s presence (Dan Sinai) on this list. Wouldn’t Canadians holding onto their companies be counterproductive to IBM’s interests? As for John L. Mann, I’ve not been able to find him or his consulting company online. it’s unusual not to find any trace of an individual or company online these days.

In all there were nine individuals representing academic or government institutions in this list. The gender balance is 10 males and five females for the workshop participants and three males and two females for the expert panel. There is no representation from the North or from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, or Newfoundland.

If they’re serious about looking at how to use innovation to drive higher standards of living, why aren’t there any people from Asian countries where they have been succeeding at that very project? South Korea and China come to mind.

I’m sure there are some excellent ideas in the report, I just wish they’d taken their topic to heart and actually tried to approach innovation in Canada in an innovative fashion.

Meanwhile, Vancouver gets another technology hub, from an October 30, 2018 article by Kenneth Chan for the Daily Hive (Vancouver [Canada]), Note: Links have been removed,

Vancouver’s rapidly growing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tech sectors will greatly benefit from a new VR and AR hub created by Launch Academy.

The technology incubator has opened a VR and AR hub at its existing office at 300-128 West Hastings Street in downtown, in partnership with VR/AR Association Vancouver. Immersive tech companies have access to desk space, mentorship programs, VR/AR equipment rentals, investor relations connected to Silicon Valley [emphasis mine], advisory services, and community events and workshops.

Within the Vancouver tech industry, the immersive sector has grown from 15 companies working in VR and AR in 2015 to 220 organizations today.

Globally, the VR and AR market is expected to hit a value of $108 billion by 2021, with tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft [emphasis mine] investing billions into product development.

In the Vancouver region, the ‘invent and sell’ cycle can be traced back to the 19th century.

One more thing, as I was writing this piece I tripped across this news: “$7.7-billion pact makes Encana more American than Canadian‘ by Geoffrey Morgan. It’s in the Nov. 2, 2018 print edition of the Vancouver Sun’s front page for business. “Encana Corp., the storied Canadian company that had been slowly transitioning away from Canada and natural gas over the past few years under CEO [Chief Executive Officer] Doug Suttles, has pivoted aggressively to US shale basins. … Suttles, formerly as BP Plc. executive, moved from Calgary [Alberta, Canada] to Denver [Colorado, US], though the company said that was for personal reasons and not a precursor to relocation of Encana’s headquarters.”  Yes, that’s quite believable. By the way, Suttles has spent* most of his life in the US (Wikipedia entry).

In any event, it’s not just Canadian emerging technology companies that get sold or somehow shifted out of Canada.

So, should we break the cycle and, if so, how are we going to do it?

*’spend’ corrected to ‘spent’ on November 6, 2018.

Socially responsible AI—it’s time says University of Manchester (UK) researchers

A May 10, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily describes a report on the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ being released by the University of Manchester,

The development of new Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is often subject to bias, and the resulting systems can be discriminatory, meaning more should be done by policymakers to ensure its development is democratic and socially responsible.

This is according to Dr Barbara Ribeiro of Manchester Institute of Innovation Research at The University of Manchester, in On AI and Robotics: Developing policy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a new policy report on the role of AI and Robotics in society, being published today [May 10, 2018].

Interestingly, the US White House is hosting a summit on AI today, May 10, 2018, according to a May 8, 2018 article by Danny Crichton for TechCrunch (Note: Links have been removed),

Now, it appears the White House itself is getting involved in bringing together key American stakeholders to discuss AI and those opportunities and challenges. …

Among the confirmed guests are Facebook’s Jerome Pesenti, Amazon’s Rohit Prasad, and Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich. While the event has many tech companies present, a total of 38 companies are expected to be in attendance including United Airlines and Ford.

AI policy has been top-of-mind for many policymakers around the world. French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a comprehensive national AI strategy, as has Canada, which has put together a research fund and a set of programs to attempt to build on the success of notable local AI researchers such as University of Toronto professor George Hinton, who is a major figure in deep learning.

But it is China that has increasingly drawn the attention and concern of U.S. policymakers. The country and its venture capitalists are outlaying billions of dollars to invest in the AI industry, and it has made leading in artificial intelligence one of the nation’s top priorities through its Made in China 2025 program and other reports. …

In comparison, the United States has been remarkably uncoordinated when it comes to AI. …

That lack of engagement from policymakers has been fine — after all, the United States is the world leader in AI research. But with other nations pouring resources and talent into the space, DC policymakers are worried that the U.S. could suddenly find itself behind the frontier of research in the space, with particular repercussions for the defense industry.

Interesting contrast: do we take time to consider the implications or do we engage in a race?

While it’s becoming fashionable to dismiss dichotomous questions of this nature, the two approaches (competition and reflection) are not that compatible and it does seem to be an either/or proposition.

A May 10, 2018 University of Manchester press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme of responsibility and AI,

Dr Ribeiro adds because investment into AI will essentially be paid for by tax-payers in the long-term, policymakers need to make sure that the benefits of such technologies are fairly distributed throughout society.

She says: “Ensuring social justice in AI development is essential. AI technologies rely on big data and the use of algorithms, which influence decision-making in public life and on matters such as social welfare, public safety and urban planning.”

“In these ‘data-driven’ decision-making processes some social groups may be excluded, either because they lack access to devices necessary to participate or because the selected datasets do not consider the needs, preferences and interests of marginalised and disadvantaged people.”

On AI and Robotics: Developing policy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a comprehensive report written, developed and published by Policy@Manchester with leading experts and academics from across the University.

The publication is designed to help employers, regulators and policymakers understand the potential effects of AI in areas such as industry, healthcare, research and international policy.

However, the report doesn’t just focus on AI. It also looks at robotics, explaining the differences and similarities between the two separate areas of research and development (R&D) and the challenges policymakers face with each.

Professor Anna Scaife, Co-Director of the University’s Policy@Manchester team, explains: “Although the challenges that companies and policymakers are facing with respect to AI and robotic systems are similar in many ways, these are two entirely separate technologies – something which is often misunderstood, not just by the general public, but policymakers and employers too. This is something that has to be addressed.”

One particular area the report highlights where robotics can have a positive impact is in the world of hazardous working environments, such a nuclear decommissioning and clean-up.

Professor Barry Lennox, Professor of Applied Control and Head of the UOM Robotics Group, adds: “The transfer of robotics technology into industry, and in particular the nuclear industry, requires cultural and societal changes as well as technological advances.

“It is really important that regulators are aware of what robotic technology is and is not capable of doing today, as well as understanding what the technology might be capable of doing over the next -5 years.”

The report also highlights the importance of big data and AI in healthcare, for example in the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Lord Jim O’Neill, Honorary Professor of Economics at The University of Manchester and Chair of the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance explains: “An important example of this is the international effort to limit the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The AMR Review gave 27 specific recommendations covering 10 broad areas, which became known as the ‘10 Commandments’.

“All 10 are necessary, and none are sufficient on their own, but if there is one that I find myself increasingly believing is a permanent game-changer, it is state of the art diagnostics. We need a ‘Google for doctors’ to reduce the rate of over prescription.”

The versatile nature of AI and robotics is leading many experts to predict that the technologies will have a significant impact on a wide variety of fields in the coming years. Policy@Manchester hopes that the On AI and Robotics report will contribute to helping policymakers, industry stakeholders and regulators better understand the range of issues they will face as the technologies play ever greater roles in our everyday lives.

As far as I can tell, the report has been designed for online viewing only. There are none of the markers (imprint date, publisher, etc.) that I expect to see on a print document. There is no bibliography or list of references but there are links to outside sources throughout the document.

It’s an interesting approach to publishing a report that calls for social justice, especially since the issue of ‘trust’ is increasingly being emphasized where all AI is concerned. With regard to this report, I’m not sure I can trust it. With a print document or a PDF I have markers. I can examine the index, the bibliography, etc. and determine if this material has covered the subject area with reference to well known authorities. It’s much harder to do that with this report. As well, this ‘souped up’ document also looks like it might be easy to change something without my knowledge. With a print or PDF version, I can compare the documents but not with this one.

China is world leader in nanotechnology and in other fields too?

State of Chinese nanoscience/nanotechnology

China claims to be the world leader in the field in a white paper announced in an August 29, 2017 Springer Nature press release,

Springer Nature, the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology, China and the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) released in both Chinese and English a white paper entitled “Small Science in Big China: An overview of the state of Chinese nanoscience and technology” at NanoChina 2017, an international conference on nanoscience and technology held August 28 and 29 in Beijing. The white paper looks at the rapid growth of China’s nanoscience research into its current role as the world’s leader [emphasis mine], examines China’s strengths and challenges, and makes some suggestions for how its contribution to the field can continue to thrive.

The white paper points out that China has become a strong contributor to nanoscience research in the world, and is a powerhouse of nanotechnology R&D. Some of China’s basic research is leading the world. China’s applied nanoscience research and the industrialization of nanotechnologies have also begun to take shape. These achievements are largely due to China’s strong investment in nanoscience and technology. China’s nanoscience research is also moving from quantitative increase to quality improvement and innovation, with greater emphasis on the applications of nanotechnologies.

“China took an initial step into nanoscience research some twenty years ago, and has since grown its commitment at an unprecedented rate, as it has for scientific research as a whole. Such a growth is reflected both in research quantity and, importantly, in quality. Therefore, I regard nanoscience as a window through which to observe the development of Chinese science, and through which we could analyze how that rapid growth has happened. Further, the experience China has gained in developing nanoscience and related technologies is a valuable resource for the other countries and other fields of research to dig deep into and draw on,” said Arnout Jacobs, President, Greater China, Springer Nature.

The white paper explores at China’s research output relative to the rest of the world in terms of research paper output, research contribution contained in the Nano database, and finally patents, providing insight into China’s strengths and expertise in nano research. The white paper also presents the results of a survey of experts from the community discussing the outlook for and challenges to the future of China’s nanoscience research.

China nano research output: strong rise in quantity and quality

In 1997, around 13,000 nanoscience-related papers were published globally. By 2016, this number had risen to more than 154,000 nano-related research papers. This corresponds to a compound annual growth rate of 14% per annum, almost four times the growth in publications across all areas of research of 3.7%. Over the same period of time, the nano-related output from China grew from 820 papers in 1997 to over 52,000 papers in 2016, a compound annual growth rate of 24%.

China’s contribution to the global total has been growing steadily. In 1997, Chinese researchers co-authored just 6% of the nano-related papers contained in the Science Citation Index (SCI). By 2010, this grew to match the output of the United States. They now contribute over a third of the world’s total nanoscience output — almost twice that of the United States.

Additionally, China’s share of the most cited nanoscience papers has kept increasing year on year, with a compound annual growth rate of 22% — more than three times the global rate. It overtook the United States in 2014 and its contribution is now many times greater than that of any other country in the world, manifesting an impressive progression in both quantity and quality.

The rapid growth of nanoscience in China has been enabled by consistent and strong financial support from the Chinese government. As early as 1990, the State Science and Technology Committee, the predecessor of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), launched the Climbing Up project on nanomaterial science. During the 1990s, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) also funded nearly 1,000 small-scale projects in nanoscience. In the National Guideline on Medium- and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development (for 2006−2020) issued in early 2006 by the Chinese central government, nanoscience was identified as one of four areas of basic research and received the largest proportion of research budget out of the four areas. The brain boomerang, with more and more foreign-trained Chinese researchers returning from overseas, is another contributor to China’s rapid rise in nanoscience.

The white paper clarifies the role of Chinese institutions, including CAS, in driving China’s rise to become the world’s leader in nanoscience. Currently, CAS is the world’s largest producer of high impact nano research, contributing more than twice as many papers in the 1% most-cited nanoscience literature than its closest competitors. In addition to CAS, five other Chinese institutions are ranked among the global top 20 in terms of output of top cited 1% nanoscience papers — Tsinghua University, Fudan University, Zhejiang University, University of Science and Technology of China and Peking University.

Nano database reveals advantages and focus of China’s nano research

The Nano database (http://nano.nature.com) is a comprehensive platform that has been recently developed by Nature Research – part of Springer Nature – which contains nanoscience-related papers published in 167 peer-reviewed journals including Advanced Materials, Nano Letters, Nature, Science and more. Analysis of the Nano database of nanomaterial-containing articles published in top 30 journals during 2014–2016 shows that Chinese scientists explore a wide range of nanomaterials, the five most common of which are nanostructured materials, nanoparticles, nanosheets, nanodevices and nanoporous materials.

In terms of the research of applications, China has a clear leading edge in catalysis research, which is the most popular area of the country’s quality nanoscience papers. Chinese nano researchers also contributed significantly to nanomedicine and energy-related applications. China is relatively weaker in nanomaterials for electronics applications, compared to other research powerhouses, but robotics and lasers are emerging applications areas of nanoscience in China, and nanoscience papers addressing photonics and data storage applications also see strong growth in China. Over 80% of research from China listed in the database explicitly mentions applications of the nanostructures and nanomaterials described, notably higher than from most other leading nations such as the United States, Germany, the UK, Japan and France.

Nano also reveals the extent of China’s international collaborations in nano research. China has seen the percentage of its internationally collaborated papers increasing from 36% in 2014 to 44% in 2016. This level of international collaboration, similar to that of South Korea, is still much lower than that of the western countries, and the rate of growth is also not as fast as those in the United States, France and Germany.

The United States is China’s biggest international collaborator, contributing to 55% of China’s internationally collaborated papers on nanoscience that are included in the top 30 journals in the Nano database. Germany, Australia and Japan follow in a descending order as China’s collaborators on nano-related quality papers.

China’s patent output: topping the world, mostly applied domestically

Analysis of the Derwent Innovation Index (DII) database of Clarivate Analytics shows that China’s accumulative total number of patent applications for the past 20 years, amounting to 209,344 applications, or 45% of the global total, is more than twice as many as that of the United States, the second largest contributor to nano-related patents. China surpassed the United States and ranked the top in the world since 2008.

Five Chinese institutions, including the CAS, Zhejiang University, Tsinghua University, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd. and Tianjin University can be found among the global top 10 institutional contributors to nano-related patent applications. CAS has been at the top of the global rankings since 2008, with a total of 11,218 patent applications for the past 20 years. Interestingly, outside of China, most of the other big institutional contributors among the top 10 are commercial enterprises, while in China, research or academic institutions are leading in patent applications.

However, the number of nano-related patents China applied overseas is still very low, accounting for only 2.61% of its total patent applications for the last 20 years cumulatively, whereas the proportion in the United States is nearly 50%. In some European countries, including the UK and France, more than 70% of patent applications are filed overseas.

China has high numbers of patent applications in several popular technical areas for nanotechnology use, and is strongest in patents for polymer compositions and macromolecular compounds. In comparison, nano-related patent applications in the United States, South Korea and Japan are mainly for electronics or semiconductor devices, with the United States leading the world in the cumulative number of patents for semiconductor devices.

Outlook, opportunities and challenges

The white paper highlights that the rapid rise of China’s research output and patent applications has painted a rosy picture for the development of Chinese nanoscience, and in both the traditionally strong subjects and newly emerging areas, Chinese nanoscience shows great potential.

Several interviewed experts in the survey identify catalysis and catalytic nanomaterials as the most promising nanoscience area for China. The use of nanotechnology in the energy and medical sectors was also considered very promising.

Some of the interviewed experts commented that the industrial impact of China’s nanotechnology is limited and there is still a gap between nanoscience research and the industrialization of nanotechnologies. Therefore, they recommended that the government invest more in applied research to drive the translation of nanoscience research and find ways to encourage enterprises to invest more in R&D.

As more and more young scientists enter the field, the competition for research funding is becoming more intense. However, this increasing competition for funding was not found to concern most interviewed young scientists, rather, they emphasized that the soft environment is more important. They recommended establishing channels that allow the suggestions or creative ideas of the young to be heard. Also, some interviewed young researchers commented that they felt that the current evaluation system was geared towards past achievements or favoured overseas experience, and recommended the development of an improved talent selection mechanism to ensure a sustainable growth of China’s nanoscience.

I have taken a look at the white paper and found it to be well written. It also provides a brief but thorough history of nanotechnology/nanoscience even adding a bit of historical information that was new to me. As for the rest of the white paper, it relies on bibliometrics (number of published papers and number of citations) and number of patents filed to lay the groundwork for claiming Chinese leadership in nanotechnology. As I’ve stated many times before, these are problematic measures but as far as I can determine they are almost the only ones we have. Frankly, as a Canadian, it doesn’t much matter to me since Canada no matter how you slice or dice it is always in a lower tier relative to science leadership in major fields. It’s the Americans who might feel inclined to debate leadership with regard to nanotechnology and other major fields and I leave it to to US commentators to take up the cudgels should they be inclined. The big bonuses here are the history, the glimpse into the Chinese perspective on the field of nanotechnology/nanoscience, and the analysis of weaknesses and strengths.

Coming up fast on Google and Amazon

A November 16, 2017 article by Christina Bonnington for Slate explores the possibility that a Chinese tech giant, Baidu,  will provide Google and Amazon serious competition in their quests to dominate world markets (Note: Links have been removed,

raven_h
The company took a playful approach to the form—but it has functional reasons for the design, too. Baidu

 

One of the most interesting companies in tech right now isn’t based in Palo Alto, or San Francisco, or Seattle. Baidu, a Chinese company with headquarters in Beijing, is taking on America’s biggest and most innovative tech titans—with style.

Baidu, a titan in its own right, leapt onto the scene as a competitor to Google in the search engine space. Since then, the company, largely underappreciated here in the U.S., has focused on beefing up its artificial intelligence efforts. Former AI chief Andrew Ng, upon leaving the company in March, credited Baidu’s CEO Robin Li on being one of the first technology leaders to fully appreciate the value of deep learning. Baidu now has a 1,300 person AI group, and that investment in AI has helped the company catch up to older, more established companies like Google and Amazon—both in emerging spaces, such as autonomous vehicles, and in consumer tech, as its latest announcement shows.

On Thursday [November 16, 2017], Baidu debuted its entrants to the popular virtual assistant space: a connected speaker and two robots. Baidu aims for the speaker to compete against options such as Amazon’s Echo line, Google Home, and Apple HomePod. Inside, the $256 device will utilize Baidu’s DuerOS conversational artificial intelligence platform, which is already used in more than 100 different smart home brands’ products. DuerOS will let you use your voice to do things like ask the speaker for information, play music, or hail a cab. Called the Raven H, the speaker includes high-end audio components from Tymphany and a unique design jointly created by acquired startup Raven Tech and Swedish consumer electronics company Teenage Engineering.

While the focus is on exciting new technology products from Baidu, the subtext, such as it is, suggests US companies had best keep an eye on its Chinese competitor(s).

Dutch/Chinese partnership to produce nanoparticles at the touch of a button

Now back to China and nanotechnology leadership and the production of nanoparticles. This announcement was made in a November 17, 2017 news item on Azonano,

Delft University of Technology [Netherlands] spin-off VSPARTICLE enters the booming Chinese market with a radical technology that allows researchers to produce nanoparticles at the push of a button. VSPARTICLE’s nanoparticle generator uses atoms, the worlds’ smallest building blocks, to provide a controllable source of nanoparticles. The start-up from Delft signed a distribution agreement with Bio-Sun to make their VSP-G1 nanoparticle generator available in China.

A November 16, 2017 VSPARTICLE press release, which originated the news item,

“We are honoured to cooperate with VSPARTICLE and bring the innovative VSP-G1 nanoparticle generator into the Chinese market. The VSP-G1 will create new possibilities for researchers in catalysis, aerosol, healthcare and electronics,” says Yinghui Cai, CEO of Bio-Sun.

With an exponential growth in nanoparticle research in the last decade, China is one of the leading countries in the field of nanotechnology and its applications. Vincent Laban, CFO of VSPARTICLE, explains: “Due to its immense investments in IOT, sensors, semiconductor technology, renewable energy and healthcare applications, China will eventually become one of our biggest markets. The collaboration with Bio-Sun offers a valuable opportunity to enter the Chinese market at exactly the right time.”

NANOPARTICLES ARE THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF THE FUTURE

Increasingly, scientists are focusing on nanoparticles as a key technology in enabling the transition to a sustainable future. Nanoparticles are used to make new types of sensors and smart electronics; provide new imaging and treatment possibilities in healthcare; and reduce harmful waste in chemical processes.

CURRENT RESEARCH TOOLKIT LACKS A FAST WAY FOR MAKING SPECIFIC BUILDING BLOCKS

With the latest tools in nanotechnology, researchers are exploring the possibilities of building novel materials. This is, however, a trial-and-error method. Getting the right nanoparticles often is a slow struggle, as most production methods take a substantial amount of effort and time to develop.

VSPARTICLE’S VSP-G1 NANOPARTICLE GENERATOR

With the VSP-G1 nanoparticle generator, VSPARTICLE makes the production of nanoparticles as easy as pushing a button. . Easy and fast iterations enable researchers to fast forward their research cycle, and verify their hypotheses.

VSPARTICLE

Born out of the research labs of Delft University of Technology, with over 20 years of experience in the synthesis of aerosol, VSPARTICLE believes there is a whole new world of possibilities and materials at the nanoscale. The company was founded in 2014 and has an international sales network in Europe, Japan and China.

BIO-SUN

Bio-Sun was founded in Beijing in 2010 and is a leader in promoting nanotechnology and biotechnology instruments in China. It serves many renowned customers in life science, drug discovery and material science. Bio-Sun has four branch offices in Qingdao, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Wuhan City, and a nationwide sale network.

That’s all folks!

Canada and its Vancouver tech scene gets a boost

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been running around attending tech events both in the Vancouver area (Canada) and in Seattle these last few days (May 17 and May 18, 2017). First he attended the Microsoft CEO Summit as noted in a May 11, 2017 news release from the Prime Minister’s Office (Note: I have a few comments about this performance and the Canadian tech scene at the end of this post),

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today [May 11, 2017] announced that he will participate in the Microsoft CEO Summit in Seattle, Washington, on May 17 and 18 [2017], to promote the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, encourage investment in the Canadian technology sector, and draw global talent to Canada.

This year’s summit, under the theme “The CEO Agenda: Navigating Change,” will bring together more than 150 chief executive officers. While at the Summit, Prime Minister Trudeau will showcase Budget 2017’s Innovation and Skills Plan and demonstrate how Canada is making it easier for Canadian entrepreneurs and innovators to turn their ideas into thriving businesses.

Prime Minister Trudeau will also meet with Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

Quote

“Canada’s greatest strength is its skilled, hard-working, creative, and diverse workforce. Canada is recognized as a world leader in research and development in many areas like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and 3D programming. Our government will continue to help Canadian businesses grow and create good, well-paying middle class jobs in today’s high-tech economy.”
— Rt. Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Quick Facts

  • Canada-U.S. bilateral trade in goods and services reached approximately $882 billion in 2016.
  • Nearly 400,000 people and over $2 billion-worth of goods and services cross the Canada-U.S. border every day.
  • Canada-Washington bilateral trade was $19.8 billion in 2016. Some 223,300 jobs in the State of Washington depend on trade and investment with Canada. Canada is among Washington’s top export destinations.

Associated Link

Here’s a little more about the Microsoft meeting from a May 17, 2017 article by Alan Boyle for GeekWire.com (Note: Links have been removed),

So far, this year’s Microsoft CEO Summit has been all about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s talk today, but there’s been precious little information available about who else is attending – and Trudeau may be one of the big reasons why.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates created the annual summit back in 1997, to give global business leaders an opportunity to share their experiences and learn about new technologies that will have an impact on business in the future. The event’s attendee list is kept largely confidential, as is the substance of the discussions.

This year, Microsoft says the summit’s two themes are “trust in technology” (as in cybersecurity, international hacking, privacy and the flow of data) and “the race to space” (as in privately funded space efforts such as Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket venture).

Usually, Microsoft lists a few folks who are attending the summit on the company’s Redmond campus, just to give a sense of the event’s cachet. For example, last year’s headliners included Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson (who is now the Trump administration’s secretary of state)

This year, however, the spotlight has fallen almost exclusively on the hunky 45-year-old Trudeau, the first sitting head of government or state to address the summit. Microsoft isn’t saying anything about the other 140-plus VIPs attending the discussions. “Out of respect for the privacy of our guests, we are not providing any additional information,” a Microsoft spokesperson told GeekWire via email.

Even Trudeau’s remarks at the summit are hush-hush, although officials say he’s talking up Canada’s tech sector.  …

Laura Kane’s May 18, 2017 article for therecord.com provides a little more information about Trudeau’s May 18, 2017 activities in Washington state,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued his efforts to promote Canada’s technology sector to officials in Washington state on Thursday [May 18, 2017], meeting with Gov. Jay Inslee a day after attending the secretive Microsoft CEO Summit.

Trudeau and Inslee discussed, among other issues, the development of the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, an initiative that aims to strengthen technology industry ties between British Columbia and Washington.

The pair also spoke about trade and investment opportunities and innovation in the energy sector, said Trudeau’s office. In brief remarks before the meeting, the prime minister said Washington and Canada share a lot in common.

But protesters clad in yellow hazardous material suits that read “Keystone XL Toxic Cleanup Crew” gathered outside the hotel to criticize Trudeau’s environmental record, arguing his support of pipelines is at odds with any global warming promises he has made.

Later that afternoon, Trudeau visited Electronic Arts (a US games company with offices in the Vancouver area) for more tech talk as Stephanie Ip notes in her May 18, 2017 article for The Vancouver Sun,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Metro Vancouver Thursday [may 18, 2017] to learn from local tech and business leaders how the federal government can boost B.C.’s tech sector.

The roundtable discussion was organized by the Vancouver Economic Commission and hosted in Burnaby at Electronic Arts’ Capture Lab, where the video game company behind the popular FIFA, Madden and NHL franchises records human movement to add more realism to its digital characters. Representatives from Amazon, Launch Academy, Sony Pictures, Darkhorse 101 Pictures and Front Fundr were also there.

While the roundtable was not open to media, Trudeau met beforehand with media.

“We’re going to talk about how the government can be a better partner or better get out of your way in some cases to allow you to continue to grow, to succeed, to create great opportunities to allow innovation to advance success in Canada and to create good jobs for Canadians and draw in people from around the world and continue to lead the way in the world,” he said.

“Everything from clean tech, to bio-medical advances, to innovation in digital economy — there’s a lot of very, very exciting things going on”

Comments on the US tech sector and the supposed Canadian tech sector

I wonder at all the secrecy. As for the companies mentioned as being at the roundtable, you’ll notice a preponderance of US companies with Launch Academy and Front Fundr (which is not a tech company but a crowdfunding equity company) supplying Canadian content. As for Darkhorse 101 Pictures,  I strongly suspect (after an online search) it is part of Darkhorse Comics (as US company) which has an entertainment division.

Perhaps it didn’t seem worthwhile to mention the Canadian companies? In that case, that’s a sad reflection on how poorly we and our media support our tech sector.

In fact, it seems Trudeau’s version of the Canadian technology sector is for us to continue in our role as a branch plant remaining forever in service of the US economy or at least the US tech sector which may be experiencing some concerns with the US Trump administration and what appears to be an increasingly isolationist perspective with regard to trade and immigration. It’s a perspective that the tech sector, especially the entertainment component, can ill afford.

As for the Cascadia Innovation Corridor mentioned in the Prime Minister’s news release and in Kane’s article, I have more about that in a Feb. 28, 2017 posting about the Cascadia Data Analytics Cooperative.

I noticed he mentioned clean tech as an area of excitement. Well, we just lost a significant player not to the US this time but to the EU (European Union) or more specifically, Germany. (There’ll be more about that in an upcoming post.)

I’m glad to see that Trudeau remains interested in Canadian science and technology but perhaps he could concentrate on new ways of promoting sectoral health rather than relying on the same old thing.

Artificial intelligence and industrial applications

This is take on artificial intelligence that I haven’t encountered before. Sean Captain’s Nov. 15, 2016 article for Fast Company profiles industry giant GE (General Electric) and its foray into that world (Note: Links have been removed),

When you hear the term “artificial intelligence,” you may think of tech giants Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, or Facebook. Industrial powerhouse General Electric is now aiming to be included on that short list. It may not have a chipper digital assistant like Cortana or Alexa. It won’t sort through selfies, but it will look through X-rays. It won’t recommend movies, but it will suggest how to care for a diesel locomotive. Today, GE announced a pair of acquisitions and new services that will bring machine learning AI to the kinds of products it’s known for, including planes, trains, X-ray machines, and power plants.

The effort started in 2015 when GE announced Predix Cloud—an online platform to network and collect data from sensors on industrial machinery such as gas turbines or windmills. At the time, GE touted the benefits of using machine learning to find patterns in sensor data that could lead to energy savings or preventative maintenance before a breakdown. Predix Cloud opened up to customers in February [2016?], but GE is still building up the AI capabilities to fulfill the promise. “We were using machine learning, but I would call it in a custom way,” says Bill Ruh, GE’s chief digital officer and CEO of its GE Digital business (GE calls its division heads CEOs). “And we hadn’t gotten to a general-purpose framework in machine learning.”

Today [Nov. 15, 2016] GE revealed the purchase of two AI companies that Ruh says will get them there. Bit Stew Systems, founded in 2005, was already doing much of what Predix Cloud promises—collecting and analyzing sensor data from power utilities, oil and gas companies, aviation, and factories. (GE Ventures has funded the company.) Customers include BC Hydro, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Scottish & Southern Energy.

The second purchase, Wise.io is a less obvious purchase. Founded by astrophysics and AI experts using machine learning to study the heavens, the company reapplied the tech to streamlining a company’s customer support systems, picking up clients like Pinterest, Twilio, and TaskRabbit. GE believes the technology will transfer yet again, to managing industrial machines. “I think by the middle of next year we will have a full machine learning stack,” says Ruh.

Though young, Predix is growing fast, with 270 partner companies using the platform, according to GE, which expects revenue on software and services to grow over 25% this year, to more than $7 billion. Ruh calls Predix a “significant part” of that extra money. And he’s ready to brag, taking a jab at IBM Watson for being a “general-purpose” machine-learning provider without the deep knowledge of the industries it serves. “We have domain algorithms, on machine learning, that’ll know what a power plant is and all the depth of that, that a general-purpose machine learning will never really understand,” he says.

One especially dull-sounding new Predix service—Predictive Corrosion Management—touches on a very hot political issue: giant oil and gas pipeline projects. Over 400 people have been arrested in months of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would carry crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The issue is very complicated, but one concern of protestors is that a pipeline rupture would contaminate drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

“I think absolutely this is aimed at that problem. If you look at why pipelines spill, it’s corrosion,” says Ruh. “We believe that 10 years from now, we can detect a leak before it occurs and fix it before you see it happen.” Given how political battles over pipelines drag on, 10 years might not be so long to wait.

I recommend reading the article in its entirety if you have the time. And, for those of us in British Columbia, Canada, it was a surprise to see BC Hydro on the list of customers for one of GE’s new acquisitions. As well, that business about the pipelines hits home hard given the current debates (Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines) here. *ETA Dec. 27, 2016: This was originally edited just prior to publication to include information about the announcement by the Trudeau cabinet approving two pipelines for TransMountain  and Enbridge respectively while rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC] online news Nov. 29, 2016).  I trust this second edit will stick.*

It seems GE is splashing out in a big way. There’s a second piece on Fast Company, a Nov. 16, 2016 article by Sean Captain (again) this time featuring a chat between an engineer and a robotic power plant,

We are entering the era of talking machines—and it’s about more than just asking Amazon’s Alexa to turn down the music. General Electric has built a digital assistant into its cloud service for managing power plants, jet engines, locomotives, and the other heavy equipment it builds. Over the internet, an engineer can ask a machine—even one hundreds of miles away—how it’s doing and what it needs. …

Voice controls are built on top of GE’s Digital Twin program, which uses sensor readings from machinery to create virtual models in cyberspace. “That model is constantly getting a stream of data, both operational and environmental,” says Colin Parris, VP at GE Software Research. “So it’s adapting itself to that type of data.” The machines live virtual lives online, allowing engineers to see how efficiently each is running and if they are wearing down.

GE partnered with Microsoft on the interface, using the Bing Speech API (the same tech powering the Cortana digital assistant), with special training on key terms like “rotor.” The twin had little trouble understanding the Mandarin Chinese accent of Bo Yu, one of the researchers who built the system; nor did it stumble on Parris’s Trinidad accent. Digital Twin will also work with Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed reality goggles, allowing someone to step into a 3D image of the equipment.

I can’t help wondering if there are some jobs that were eliminated with this technology.

E-readers: musings on publishing and the word (part 2 of 3)

While the debates rage on about tablets versus e-readers and about e-ink vs LCD readers and about Kindle vs Nook and other e-reader contenders, there are other more fundamental debates taking place as per articles like E-reading: Revolution in the making or fading fad? by Annie Huang on physorg.com,

Four years ago Cambridge, Mass.-based E Ink Corporation and Taiwan’s Prime View International Co. hooked up to create an e-paper display that now supplies 90 percent of the fast growing e-reader market.

The Taiwanese involvement has led some observers to compare e-reading to the Chinese technological revolution 2,000 years ago in which newly invented paper replaced the bulky wooden blocks and bamboo slats on which Chinese characters were written.

But questions still hang over the Taiwanese-American venture, including the readiness of the marketplace to dispense with paper-based reading, in favor of relatively unfamiliar e-readers.

“It’s cockamamie to think a product like that is going to revolutionize the way most people read,” analyst Michael Norris of Rockville, Maryland research firm Simba Information Co. said in an e-mail. Americans use e-books at a rate “much, much slower than it looks.”

I don’t know that this constitutes proof that Micheal Norris is right (ETA Sept. 21, 2010, this Techdirt article Don’t Be Confused By Amazon’s Ebook Sales Claims by Mike Masnick cites research that supports Norris’ claim) but the essay E-reader revolt: I’m leaving youth culture behind by Emma Silvers certainly suggests that not all of the younger (Millenial) generation is necessarily as enamoured of e-readers and associated techno gadgets as is commonly touted,

At 26, I’m part of a generation raised on gadgets, but actual books are something I just refuse to give up

One recent story in the New York Times went so far as to claim that iPads and Kindles and Nooks are making the very act of reading better by — of course — making it social. As one user explained, “We are in a high-tech era and the sleekness and portability of the iPad erases any negative notions or stigmas associated with reading alone.” Hear that? There’s a stigma about reading alone. (How does everyone else read before bed — in pre-organized groups?) Regardless, it turns out that, for the last two decades, I’ve been Doing It Wrong. And funny enough, up until e-books came along, reading was one of the few things I felt confident I was doing exactly right.

o is my overly personal, defensive reaction to the e-reader boom nothing more than preemptive fear of the future, of change in general? I’d like to think I’m slightly more mature than that, but at its core my visceral hatred of the computer screen-as-book is at least partially composed of sadness at the thought of kids growing up differently from how I did, of the rituals associated with learning to read — and learning to love to read — ceasing to resemble yours and mine. Nine-year-olds currently exist who will recall, years from now, the first time they read “Charlotte’s Web” on their iPads, and I’m going to have to let that go. For me, there’s just still something universal about ink on paper, the dog-earing of yellowed pages, the loans to friends, the discovery of a relative’s secret universe of interests via the pile on their nightstand. And it’s not really hyperbole to say it makes me feel disconnected from humanity to imagine these rituals funneled into copy/paste functions, annotated files on a screen that could, potentially, crash.

I doubt I’m the only one, even in my supposedly tech-obsessed generation, who thinks this way.

Well, maybe Silvers is a minority but there is at least one market sector, education texts, that e-readers don’t seem to satisfy as Pasco Phronesis (David Bruggeman) in an August 12, 2010 posting notes evidence that e-readers are less efficient than regular books,

Edward Tenner (who you should be following on general principle) at The Atlantic gathers some findings that suggest e-readers are less effective than regular books from an efficiency perspective – something that matters to readers concerned with educational texts. Both in terms of reading speed and the distraction of hypertext links, e-Readers are not the best means to focus on whatever text you’re trying to read.

Those problems may be remedied with a new $46M investment in Kno, Inc. (from the Sept. 8, 2010 news item on physorg.com),

Founded in May 2009 and short for “knowledge,” Kno is developing a two-panel, touchscreen tablet computer that will allow users to read digital textbooks, take notes, access the Web and run educational applications.

“Kno is gearing up to launch the first digital device that we believe will fundamentally improve the way students learn,” said Osman Rashid, Kno’s chief executive and co-founder.

Rashid said the funding will “help us continue to deliver on our product roadmap and ultimately deliver on our vision to bring innovative digital technology to the world of education.”

Still, there’s another downside to e-readers as per this item, Reminder: You Don’t Own Your Ebooks; Amazon Locks Customer Out And Doesn’t Respond To Help Requests by Mike Masnik on Techdirt,

We’ve pointed out in the past that if you’re “buying” ebooks on devices like the Kindle or the iPad, it’s important to remember that you’re not really “buying” the books, and you don’t really own them. We’re seeing that once again with a story on Consumerist about a woman who was locked out of the ebooks on her Kindle for a month:

In fact, they can do a lot more than just lock you out of your account they can delete books that you’ve purchased as Amazon did with books such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and The Virtue of Selfishness, and some of the Harry Potter books. Apparently, these titles were illegally uploaded which is why Amazon removed them. Farhad Manjoo’s Slate essay Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four; How Amazon’s remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning’s digital future on these incidents explores the implications,

The worst thing about this story isn’t Amazon’s conduct; it’s the company’s technical capabilities. Now we know that Amazon can delete anything it wants from your electronic reader. That’s an awesome power, and Amazon’s justification in this instance is beside the point. As our media libraries get converted to 1’s and 0’s, we are at risk of losing what we take for granted today: full ownership of our book and music and movie collections.

Most of the e-books, videos, video games, and mobile apps that we buy these days day aren’t really ours. They come to us with digital strings that stretch back to a single decider—Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, or whomever else. … Now we know what the future of book banning looks like, too.

Consider the legal difference between purchasing a physical book and buying one for your Kindle. When you walk into your local Barnes & Noble to pick up a paperback of Animal Farm, the store doesn’t force you to sign a contract limiting your rights. If the Barnes & Noble later realizes that it accidentally sold you a bootlegged copy, it can’t compel you to give up the book—after all, it’s your property. The rules are completely different online. When you buy a Kindle a  book [sic], you’re implicitly agreeing to Amazon’s Kindle terms of service. The contract gives the company “the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service at any time, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such right.” In Amazon’s view, the books you buy aren’t your property—they’re part of a “service,” and Amazon maintains complete control of that service at all times. Amazon has similar terms covering downloadable movies and TV shows, as does Apple for stuff you buy from iTunes.

I certainly like owning my books and the idea that some unseen individual might decide to remove access with the click of a few keystrokes certainly gives me pause. As for whether or not people are using e-readers and their ilk, I have more about that along with my thoughts on these debates and what’s happening with ‘the word’ in part 3.

E-readers: musings on publishing and the word (part 1 of 3)

There’ve been a lot of online articles about e-readers in the last few weeks in particular as debate rages as to whether or not this technology will be viable. It got me to thinking about e-literature, e-readers, e-books, e-paper, e-ink, e-publishing, literacy and on and on. I’ve divided my musings (or attempts to distinguish some sort of pattern within all these contradictory developments) into three parts.This first part is more concerned with the technology/business end of things.

Samsung just announced that it was moving out of the e-reader business. From an article (Aug. 25 2010) by Kit Eaton in Fast Company,

Need any evidence that the dedicated e-reader is destined to become a mere niche-appeal device? Here you go: Tech giant Samsung is ditching its clever e-paper business after years of clever successes and a ton of research into what may be the future for the technology.

Back in 2009 at CES Samsung teased its good-looking Kindle-challenging e-reader, the Papyrus, which used Samsung’s own proprietary electronic ink system for the display. At CES this year it followed up with its “E6” device, with a rumored cost of $400. Samsung had been shaking the e-paper world since late in 2008 with numerous e-paper announcements, including revealing a color 14-inch flexible e-paper display as long ago as October 2008, which used carbon nanotube tech to achieve its sharp image quality.

Now it seems that revolutions in the e-reader market (namely that odd race-to-the-bottom in pricing over quality of service) combined with revolutions in the tablet PC market (which means the iPad, which can do a million more things than the Papyrus or E6 could) and pricing that neatly undercuts Samsung’s planned price points has resulted in Samsung killing its e-paper research and development.

According to Eaton, Samsung hasn’t entirely withdrawn from the e-reader business; the company will be concentrating on its LCD-based systems instead. Samsung is also releasing its own tablet, Galaxy Tab as competition to Apple’s iPad,  in mid-September 2010 (Sept. 2, 2010 news item at Financial Post website).

Dan Nosowitz also writing for Fast Company presents an opinion (Aug. 12, 2010 posting) which sheds light on why Samsung is focusing on LCD -based readers over e-ink-based readers such as Kindle and Nook,

E-ink is one of the more unusual technologies to spring up in recent years. It’s both more expensive and less versatile than LCD, a long-established product seen in everything from iPods to TVs. It’s incredibly specific, but also incredibly good at its one job: reading text.

E-ink e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook offer, in the opinion of myself and many others, the best digital book-reading experience available. …

E-ink will die mostly because it fundamentally can’t compete with tablets. That’s why announcements like today’s, in which E-Ink (it’s a company as well as that company’s main–or only?–product) claimed it will release both a color and a touchscreen version by early 2011, is so confusing. But color and interface are hardly the only obstacles e-ink has to overcome to compete with tablets: Its refresh rates make video largely impossible, it can’t cram in enough pixels to make still photos look any more crisp than a day-old McDonald’s french fry, and, most damnably, it’s still extremely expensive.

Amazon showed that the way to make e-book readers sell like blazes is to lower the price to near-impulse-item territory. Its new $140 Kindle sold out of pre-orders almost immediately, and there’s been more buzz around the next version than can be explained through hardware upgrades alone. It’s a great reader, don’t get me wrong, but its incredible sales numbers are due in large part to the price cut.

That comment about the price cut for the e-reader as being key to its current success can certainly be borne out by this article E-reader faceoff: Kindle or Nook? Here’s a comparison by Mark W. Smith on physorg.com

There’s a titanic battle brewing in the e-reader market. The Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook are leaving competitors in the dust this summer and are locked in a war that has dropped prices by more than half in just a year.

and with this article E-readers gain steam with lower prices and new models by Christine Matthias on Salon.com,

The Wall Street Journal and Tech News Daily have a few things you should consider before wading into the increasingly crowded e-book market, as well as new research that reveals folks with an e-reader tend to read a whole lot more than ever before. The Barnes and Noble Nook is trying to wrestle some market share away from the big boys, and Sharper Image just announced a new e-reader called the Literati that hopes to, maybe, nail down more male readers? It’s got a color screen, in any event.

Or you could get a library card. It’s free.

Addy Dugdale at the Fast Company site in her article, Borders Cuts E-Reader Prices as Kindle Goes to Staples, has this to say,

Borders has slashed the prices of E-Readers Kobo and Aluratek by $20, illustrating just how meh they’ve become in the tech world. The price drop is nothing new–both the Kindle and Nook, Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s market leaders, have seen their prices slashed recently, and they’re thought to be the most exciting brands in the sector. But who does the news bode worst for?

But most of all, this news proves that, as my colleague Kit Eaton pointed out a few months back, this is about as good as it gets for the e-Reader. It’s not quite dead, but it’s looking a bit peaky, like. The reason is, of course, the tablet.

There are efforts that may revive e-readers/e-books/e-paper such as this, a new development in the e-paper/e-reader market was announced in a news item on Azonano (Aug.27, 2010),

The FlexTech Alliance, focused on developing the electronic display and the flexible, printed electronics industry supply chain, today announced a contract award to Nyx Illuminated Clothing Company to develop a foldable display constructed from a panel of multiple e-paper screens.

Applications for this type of product are numerous. For consumer electronics, a foldable display can increase the size of e-reader screens without increasing the device foot-print. In military applications, maps may be read and stored more easily in the field. Medical devices can be enhanced with more accessible and convenient patient charts.

“To enable this unique technology to work, our engineers will develop circuitry to simultaneously drive six separate e-paper screens as one single display,” described John Bell, project manager for Nyx. “The screen panels will be able to be folded up into the area of a single panel or unfolded to the full six panel area on demand.”

Convenience is always important and a flexible screen that I could fold up and fits easily into a purse or a pocket offers  a big advantage over an e-book or an iPad (or other tablet device). I’d be especially interested if there’s a sizing option, e.g., being able to view in 1-screen, 2-screen, 3-screen and up to 6-screen options.

As for the debate about tablets vs e-readers such as Kindle, Nook, and their brethren, I really don’t know. E-readers apparently offer superior reading experiences but that presupposes interest in reading will be maintained. Something like Mongoliad (as described in my Sept. 7, 2010 posting), for example, would seem ideally suited to a tablet environment where the reader becomes a listener and/or a participant in the story environment.

Tomorrow: Part 2 where I look at the reading and writing experience in this digital world.