Tag Archives: University of British Columbia

9 am on (Friday) Oct. 21, 2016 University of British Columbia professors take on a zombie apocalypse

Thanks to an Oct. 19, 2016 University of British Columbia (UBC) news release (received via email) for this information about a talk on the zombie apocalypse. This is in the form of a Q&A (question and answer) interview,

Hordes of flesh-eating zombies haven’t yet made the leap from the horror-movie screen to downtown city streets, but that hasn’t stopped two professors from the UBC school of population and public health from sharing tips on how to handle an invasion of the living dead.

Assistant professor Jennifer Gardy and professor David Patrick are taking part in a free public talk on October 21 to discuss how public health workers would diagnose, model and respond to a zombie virus. The talk is part of the school of population and public health’s Grand Round series and will feature faculty, students and guest speakers from UBC and the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Do zombies really exist and how likely is a zombie apocalypse?

JG: Absolutely! They’re just not the humanoid ones we recognize from movies. There are loads of zombie parasites out there in other species. While preparing for the rise of the undead is a little over the top, new diseases are emerging all the time, and thinking about how we’d prep for a zombie apocalypse is a great way of getting us thinking about more realistic disease scenarios, like a viral pandemic.

DP: In comparison, zombie behaviour is pretty unique, so we suspect that most emergency doctors would begin to ask questions. The difference with a zombie epidemic is the uncontrolled and aggressive behaviour of the zombie – that certainly increases the chances of transmission. This behaviour is reminiscent of animal and even human behaviour associated with rabies.  The number of people that could be infected with a zombie virus would be highly dependent on the efficiency of transmission. Rabies is transmitted by a bite, but it’s not so efficient that it results in a giant epidemic in people.

How can the average citizen prepare for, and escape, a zombie attack?  

DP:  The first part of preparation is common to earthquakes and other disasters: make sure you have a survival kit. The more portable it is, like a loaded knapsack, the better.

In every other epidemic we’ve seen, infected people are not all running around exhibiting behaviour that would threaten others. So a zombie epidemic would raise a whole bunch of new ethical issues around our duty to the sick, the healthy, and the role of civil society in protecting itself. Movies aside, the medical imperative is clearly to get to the root of the problem, interrupt transmission, heal the sick, if possible, and protect the healthy. But we’d sure need to pay attention to building security!

How would we respond to an outbreak of the zombie virus?

JG: We use mathematical modelling techniques to understand how quickly a pathogen might spread – these same models are used in zombie movies when they’re showing the projected spread of the outbreak.

Remember that in any outbreak, rumours and misinformation will abound. Listen to public-health officials and heed their advice – you can trust that we’ll share everything we know with you.

Should you try and help an infected relative or friend?  

DP: As long as this can be done while minimizing risk to yourself, it’s worth a try. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, for example, could have been even worse. But people were able to put aside fear, employ rational measures for infection control, and care for the sick.

The ethical argument for sedating a zombie is pretty straightforward.  As a physician I would sure want to know if I could protect others by isolating and, if necessary, sedating the zombie before I entertained vigilante solutions. “Any idiot can pump a shotgun” but a real healthcare worker is going to do what he or she can to preserve life.

What should you do if you get bitten by a zombie?

DP: Contribute to a natural history study or volunteer for a clinical trial.

(Logistics are just after this bit.) I’m glad to see UBC has hopped on board the ‘zombie’ craze. Interestingly, Canada’s House of Commons got there first in 2013, not to mention the US Public Health Service which had a zombie preparedness plan prior to any declarations in the House,

For anyone who wants to attend the UBC event, here are the logistics (from the event page),

When: Friday, October 21, 2016 9:00 AM – 10:00 am


Description:    Just in time for Hallowe’en, join School of Population and Public Health [SPPH] faculty and BC Centre for Disease Control researchers for October Grand Rounds, where they’ll walk you through how to diagnose, model, and control a plague of the undead, as well as show you the non-fiction zombies that exist today.

Join us for the real public health science behind the zombie epidemic, live or online via www.youtube.com/user/UBCSPPH1

Friday 21st October, 9am to 10am at Michael Smith Laboratories Room 102

Please direct any queries to spph.communications@spph.ubc.ca


The State of Science and Technology (S&T) and Industrial Research and Development (IR&D) in Canada

Earlier this year I featured (in a July 1, 2016 posting) the announcement of a third assessment of science and technology in Canada by the Council of Canadian Academies. At the time I speculated as to the size of the ‘expert panel’ making the assessment as they had rolled a second assessment (Industrial Research and Development) into this one on the state of science and technology. I now have my answer thanks to an Oct. 17, 2016 Council of Canadian Academies news release announcing the chairperson (received via email; Note: Links have been removed and emphases added for greater readability),

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is pleased to announce Dr. Max Blouw, President and Vice-Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, as Chair of the newly appointed Expert Panel on the State of Science and Technology (S&T) and Industrial Research and Development (IR&D) in Canada.

“Dr. Blouw is a widely respected leader with a strong background in research and academia,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA. “I am delighted he has agreed to serve as Chair for an assessment that will contribute to the current policy discussion in Canada.”

As Chair of the Expert Panel, Dr. Blouw will work with the multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral Expert Panel to address the following assessment question, referred to the CCA by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED):

What is the current state of science and technology and industrial research and development in Canada?

Dr. Blouw will lead the CCA Expert Panel to assess the available evidence and deliver its final report by late 2017. Members of the panel include experts from different fields of academic research, R&D, innovation, and research administration. The depth of the Panel’s experience and expertise, paired with the CCA’s rigorous assessment methodology, will ensure the most authoritative, credible, and independent response to the question.

“I am very pleased to accept the position of Chair for this assessment and I consider myself privileged to be working with such an eminent group of experts,” said Dr. Blouw. “The CCA’s previous reports on S&T and IR&D provided crucial insights into Canada’s strengths and weaknesses in these areas. I look forward to contributing to this important set of reports with new evidence and trends.”

Dr. Blouw was Vice-President Research, Associate Vice-President Research, and Professor of Biology, at the University of Northern British Columbia, before joining Wilfrid Laurier as President. Dr. Blouw served two terms as the chair of the university advisory group to Industry Canada and was a member of the adjudication panel for the Ontario Premier’s Discovery Awards, which recognize the province’s finest senior researchers. He recently chaired the International Review Committee of the NSERC Discovery Grants Program.

For a complete list of Expert Panel members, their biographies, and details on the assessment, please visit the assessment page. The CCA’s Member Academies – the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences – are a key source of membership for expert panels. Many experts are also Fellows of the Academies.

The Expert Panel on the State of S&T and IR&D
Max Blouw, (Chair) President and Vice-Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University
Luis Barreto, President, Dr. Luis Barreto & Associates and Special Advisor, NEOMED-LABS
Catherine Beaudry, Professor, Department of Mathematical and Industrial Engineering, Polytechnique Montréal
Donald Brooks, FCAHS, Professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Chemistry, University of British Columbia
Madeleine Jean, General Manager, Prompt
Philip Jessop, FRSC, Professor, Inorganic Chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, Queen’s University; Technical Director, GreenCentre Canada
Claude Lajeunesse, FCAE, Corporate Director and Interim Chair of the Board of Directors, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
Steve Liang, Associate Professor, Geomatics Engineering, University of Calgary; Director, GeoSensorWeb Laboratory; CEO, SensorUp Inc.
Robert Luke, Vice-President, Research and Innovation, OCAD University
Douglas Peers, Professor, Dean of Arts, Department of History, University of Waterloo
John M. Thompson, O.C., FCAE, Retired Executive Vice-Chairman, IBM Corporation
Anne Whitelaw, Associate Dean Research, Faculty of Fine Arts and Associate Professor, Department of Art History, Concordia University
David A. Wolfe, Professor, Political Science and Co-Director, Innovation Policy Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto

You can find more information about the expert panel here and about this assessment and its predecesors here.

A few observations, given the size of the task this panel is lean. As well, there are three women in a group of 13 (less than 25% representation) in 2016? It’s Ontario and Québec-dominant; only BC and Alberta rate a representative on the panel. I hope they will find ways to better balance this panel and communicate that ‘balanced story’ to the rest of us. On the plus side, the panel has representatives from the humanities, arts, and industry in addition to the expected representatives from the sciences.

Innovation and two Canadian universities

I have two news bits and both concern the Canadian universities, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the University of Toronto (UofT).

Creative Destruction Lab – West

First, the Creative Destruction Lab, a technology commercialization effort based at UofT’s Rotman School of Management, is opening an office in the west according to a Sept. 28, 2016 UBC media release (received via email; Note: Links have been removed; this is a long media release which interestingly does not mention Joseph Schumpeter the man who developed the economic theory which he called: creative destruction),

The UBC Sauder School of Business is launching the Western Canadian version of the Creative Destruction Lab, a successful seed-stage program based at UofT’s Rotman School of Management, to help high-technology ventures driven by university research maximize their commercial impact and benefit to society.

“Creative Destruction Lab – West will provide a much-needed support system to ensure innovations formulated on British Columbia campuses can access the funding they need to scale up and grow in-province,” said Robert Helsley, Dean of the UBC Sauder School of Business. “The success our partners at Rotman have had in helping commercialize the scientific breakthroughs of Canadian talent is remarkable and is exactly what we plan to replicate at UBC Sauder.”

Between 2012 and 2016, companies from CDL’s first four years generated over $800 million in equity value. It has supported a long line of emerging startups, including computer-human interface company Thalmic Labs, which announced nearly USD $120 million in funding on September 19, one of the largest Series B financings in Canadian history.

Focusing on massively scalable high-tech startups, CDL-West will provide coaching from world-leading entrepreneurs, support from dedicated business and science faculty, and access to venture capital. While some of the ventures will originate at UBC, CDL-West will also serve the entire province and extended western region by welcoming ventures from other universities. The program will closely align with existing entrepreneurship programs across UBC, including, e@UBC and HATCH, and actively work with the BC Tech Association [also known as the BC Technology Industry Association] and other partners to offer a critical next step in the venture creation process.

“We created a model for tech venture creation that keeps startups focused on their essential business challenges and dedicated to solving them with world-class support,” said CDL Founder Ajay Agrawal, a professor at the Rotman School of Management and UBC PhD alumnus.

“By partnering with UBC Sauder, we will magnify the impact of CDL by drawing in ventures from one of the country’s other leading research universities and B.C.’s burgeoning startup scene to further build the country’s tech sector and the opportunities for job creation it provides,” said CDL Director, Rachel Harris.

CDL uses a goal-setting model to push ventures along a path toward success. Over nine months, a collective of leading entrepreneurs with experience building and scaling technology companies – called the G7 – sets targets for ventures to hit every eight weeks, with the goal of maximizing their equity-value. Along the way ventures turn to business and technology experts for strategic guidance on how to reach goals, and draw on dedicated UBC Sauder students who apply state-of the-art business skills to help companies decide which market to enter first and how.

Ventures that fail to achieve milestones – approximately 50 per cent in past cohorts – are cut from the process. Those that reach their objectives and graduate from the program attract investment from the G7, as well as other leading venture-capital firms.

Currently being assembled, the CDL-West G7 will be comprised of entrepreneurial luminaries, including Jeff Mallett, the founding President, COO and Director of Yahoo! Inc. from 1995-2002 – a company he led to $4 billion in revenues and grew from a startup to a publicly traded company whose value reached $135 billion. He is now Managing Director of Iconica Partners and Managing Partner of Mallett Sports & Entertainment, with ventures including the San Francisco Giants, AT&T Park and Mission Rock Development, Comcast Bay Area Sports Network, the San Jose Giants, Major League Soccer, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and a variety of other sports and online ventures.

Already bearing fruit, the Creative Destruction Lab partnership will see several UBC ventures accepted into a Machine Learning Specialist Track run by Rotman’s CDL this fall. This track is designed to create a support network for enterprises focused on artificial intelligence, a research strength at UofT and Canada more generally, which has traditionally migrated to the United States for funding and commercialization. In its second year, CDL-West will launch its own specialist track in an area of strength at UBC that will draw eastern ventures west.

“This new partnership creates the kind of high impact innovation network the Government of Canada wants to encourage,” said Brandon Lee, Canada’s Consul General in San Francisco, who works to connect Canadian innovation to customers and growth capital opportunities in Silicon Valley. “By collaborating across our universities to enhance our capacity to turn the scientific discoveries into businesses in Canada, we can further advance our nation’s global competitiveness in the knowledge-based industries.”

The Creative Destruction Lab is guided by an Advisory Board, co-chaired by Vancouver-based Haig Farris, a pioneer of the Canadian venture capitalist industry, and Bill Graham, Chancellor of Trinity College at UofT and former Canadian cabinet minister.

“By partnering with Rotman, UBC Sauder will be able to scale up its support for high-tech ventures extremely quickly and with tremendous impact,” said Paul Cubbon, Leader of CDL-West and a faculty member at UBC Sauder. “CDL-West will act as a turbo booster for ventures with great ideas, but which lack the strategic roadmap and funding to make them a reality.”

CDL-West launched its competitive application process for the first round of ventures that will begin in January 2017. Interested ventures are encouraged to submit applications via the CDL website at: www.creativedestructionlab.com


UBC Technology ventures represented at media availability

Awake Labs is a wearable technology startup whose products measure and track anxiety in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder to better understand behaviour. Their first device, Reveal, monitors a wearer’s heart-rate, body temperature and sweat levels using high-tech sensors to provide insight into care and promote long term independence.

Acuva Technologies is a Vancouver-based clean technology venture focused on commercializing breakthrough UltraViolet Light Emitting Diode technology for water purification systems. Initially focused on point of use systems for boats, RVs and off grid homes in North American market, where they already have early sales, the company’s goal is to enable water purification in households in developing countries by 2018 and deploy large scale systems by 2021.

Other members of the CDL-West G7 include:

Boris Wertz: One of the top tech early-stage investors in North America and the founding partner of Version One, Wertz is also a board partner with Andreessen Horowitz. Before becoming an investor, Wertz was the Chief Operating Officer of AbeBooks.com, which sold to Amazon in 2008. He was responsible for marketing, business development, product, customer service and international operations. His deep operational experience helps him guide other entrepreneurs to start, build and scale companies.

Lisa Shields: Founder of Hyperwallet Systems Inc., Shields guided Hyperwallet from a technology startup to the leading international payments processor for business to consumer mass payouts. Prior to founding Hyperwallet, Lisa managed payments acceptance and risk management technology teams for high-volume online merchants. She was the founding director of the Wireless Innovation Society of British Columbia and is driven by the social and economic imperatives that shape global payment technologies.

Jeff Booth: Co-founder, President and CEO of Build Direct, a rapidly growing online supplier of home improvement products. Through custom and proprietary web analytics and forecasting tools, BuildDirect is reinventing and redefining how consumers can receive the best prices. BuildDirect has 12 warehouse locations across North America and is headquartered in Vancouver, BC. In 2015, Booth was awarded the BC Technology ‘Person of the Year’ Award by the BC Technology Industry Association.


CDL-west will provide a transformational experience for MBA and senior undergraduate students at UBC Sauder who will act as venture advisors. Replacing traditional classes, students learn by doing during the process of rapid equity-value creation.

Supporting venture development at UBC:

CDL-west will work closely with venture creation programs across UBC to complete the continuum of support aimed at maximizing venture value and investment. It will draw in ventures that are being or have been supported and developed in programs that span campus, including:

University Industry Liaison Office which works to enable research and innovation partnerships with industry, entrepreneurs, government and non-profit organizations.

e@UBC which provides a combination of mentorship, education, venture creation, and seed funding to support UBC students, alumni, faculty and staff.

HATCH, a UBC technology incubator which leverages the expertise of the UBC Sauder School of Business and entrepreneurship@UBC and a seasoned team of domain-specific experts to provide real-world, hands-on guidance in moving from innovative concept to successful venture.

Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub, a program base at the UBC Sauder Centre for Social Innovation & Impact Investing focused on developing ventures with the goal of creating positive social and environmental impact.

About the Creative Destruction Lab in Toronto:

The Creative Destruction Lab leverages the Rotman School’s leading faculty and industry network as well as its location in the heart of Canada’s business capital to accelerate massively scalable, technology-based ventures that have the potential to transform our social, industrial, and economic landscape. The Lab has had a material impact on many nascent startups, including Deep Genomics, Greenlid, Atomwise, Bridgit, Kepler Communications, Nymi, NVBots, OTI Lumionics, PUSH, Thalmic Labs, Vertical.ai, Revlo, Validere, Growsumo, and VoteCompass, among others. For more information, visit www.creativedestructionlab.com

About the UBC Sauder School of Business

The UBC Sauder School of Business is committed to developing transformational and responsible business leaders for British Columbia and the world. Located in Vancouver, Canada’s gateway to the Pacific Rim, the school is distinguished for its long history of partnership and engagement in Asia, the excellence of its graduates, and the impact of its research which ranks in the top 20 globally. For more information, visit www.sauder.ubc.ca

About the Rotman School of Management

The Rotman School of Management is located in the heart of Canada’s commercial and cultural capital and is part of the University of Toronto, one of the world’s top 20 research universities. The Rotman School fosters a new way to think that enables graduates to tackle today’s global business and societal challenges. For more information, visit www.rotman.utoronto.ca.

It’s good to see a couple of successful (according to the news release) local entrepreneurs on the board although I’m somewhat puzzled by Mallett’s presence since, if memory serves, Yahoo! was not doing that well when he left in 2002. The company was an early success but utterly dwarfed by Google at some point in the early 2000s and these days, its stock (both financial and social) has continued to drift downwards. As for Mallett’s current successes, there is no mention of them.

Reuters Top 100 of the world’s most innovative universities

After reading or skimming through the CDL-West news you might think that the University of Toronto ranked higher than UBC on the Reuters list of the world’s most innovative universities. Before breaking the news about the Canadian rankings, here’s more about the list from a Sept, 28, 2016 Reuters news release (receive via email),

Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University top the second annual Reuters Top 100 ranking of the world’s most innovative universities. The Reuters Top 100 ranking aims to identify the institutions doing the most to advance science, invent new technologies and help drive the global economy. Unlike other rankings that often rely entirely or in part on subjective surveys, the ranking uses proprietary data and analysis tools from the Intellectual Property & Science division of Thomson Reuters to examine a series of patent and research-related metrics, and get to the essence of what it means to be truly innovative.

In the fast-changing world of science and technology, if you’re not innovating, you’re falling behind. That’s one of the key findings of this year’s Reuters 100. The 2016 results show that big breakthroughs – even just one highly influential paper or patent – can drive a university way up the list, but when that discovery fades into the past, so does its ranking. Consistency is key, with truly innovative institutions putting out groundbreaking work year after year.

Stanford held fast to its first place ranking by consistently producing new patents and papers that influence researchers elsewhere in academia and in private industry. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (ranked #2) were behind some of the most important innovations of the past century, including the development of digital computers and the completion of the Human Genome Project. Harvard University (ranked #3), is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, and has produced 47 Nobel laureates over the course of its 380-year history.

Some universities saw significant movement up the list, including, most notably, the University of Chicago, which jumped from #71 last year to #47 in 2016. Other list-climbers include the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology (#73 to #44) and South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University (#66 to #46).

The United States continues to dominate the list, with 46 universities in the top 100; Japan is once again the second best performing country, with nine universities. France and South Korea are tied in third, each with eight. Germany has seven ranked universities; the United Kingdom has five; Switzerland, Belgium and Israel have three; Denmark, China and Canada have two; and the Netherlands and Singapore each have one.

You can find the rankings here (scroll down about 75% of the way) and for the impatient, the University of British Columbia ranked 50th and the University of Toronto 57th.

The biggest surprise for me was that China, like Canada, had two universities on the list. I imagine that will change as China continues its quest for science and innovation dominance. Given how they tout their innovation prowess, I had one other surprise, the University of Waterloo’s absence.

How might artificial intelligence affect urban life in 2030? A study

Peering into the future is always a chancy business as anyone who’s seen those film shorts from the 1950’s and 60’s which speculate exuberantly as to what the future will bring knows.

A sober approach (appropriate to our times) has been taken in a study about the impact that artificial intelligence might have by 2030. From a Sept. 1, 2016 Stanford University news release (also on EurekAlert) by Tom Abate (Note: Links have been removed),

A panel of academic and industrial thinkers has looked ahead to 2030 to forecast how advances in artificial intelligence (AI) might affect life in a typical North American city – in areas as diverse as transportation, health care and education ­– and to spur discussion about how to ensure the safe, fair and beneficial development of these rapidly emerging technologies.

Titled “Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030,” this year-long investigation is the first product of the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100), an ongoing project hosted by Stanford to inform societal deliberation and provide guidance on the ethical development of smart software, sensors and machines.

“We believe specialized AI applications will become both increasingly common and more useful by 2030, improving our economy and quality of life,” said Peter Stone, a computer scientist at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the 17-member panel of international experts. “But this technology will also create profound challenges, affecting jobs and incomes and other issues that we should begin addressing now to ensure that the benefits of AI are broadly shared.”

The new report traces its roots to a 2009 study that brought AI scientists together in a process of introspection that became ongoing in 2014, when Eric and Mary Horvitz created the AI100 endowment through Stanford. AI100 formed a standing committee of scientists and charged this body with commissioning periodic reports on different aspects of AI over the ensuing century.

“This process will be a marathon, not a sprint, but today we’ve made a good start,” said Russ Altman, a professor of bioengineering and the Stanford faculty director of AI100. “Stanford is excited to host this process of introspection. This work makes practical contribution to the public debate on the roles and implications of artificial intelligence.”

The AI100 standing committee first met in 2015, led by chairwoman and Harvard computer scientist Barbara Grosz. It sought to convene a panel of scientists with diverse professional and personal backgrounds and enlist their expertise to assess the technological, economic and policy implications of potential AI applications in a societally relevant setting.

“AI technologies can be reliable and broadly beneficial,” Grosz said. “Being transparent about their design and deployment challenges will build trust and avert unjustified fear and suspicion.”

The report investigates eight domains of human activity in which AI technologies are beginning to affect urban life in ways that will become increasingly pervasive and profound by 2030.

The 28,000-word report includes a glossary to help nontechnical readers understand how AI applications such as computer vision might help screen tissue samples for cancers or how natural language processing will allow computerized systems to grasp not simply the literal definitions, but the connotations and intent, behind words.

The report is broken into eight sections focusing on applications of AI. Five examine application arenas such as transportation where there is already buzz about self-driving cars. Three other sections treat technological impacts, like the section on employment and workplace trends which touches on the likelihood of rapid changes in jobs and incomes.

“It is not too soon for social debate on how the fruits of an AI-dominated economy should be shared,” the researchers write in the report, noting also the need for public discourse.

“Currently in the United States, at least sixteen separate agencies govern sectors of the economy related to AI technologies,” the researchers write, highlighting issues raised by AI applications: “Who is responsible when a self-driven car crashes or an intelligent medical device fails? How can AI applications be prevented from [being used for] racial discrimination or financial cheating?”

The eight sections discuss:

Transportation: Autonomous cars, trucks and, possibly, aerial delivery vehicles may alter how we commute, work and shop and create new patterns of life and leisure in cities.

Home/service robots: Like the robotic vacuum cleaners already in some homes, specialized robots will clean and provide security in live/work spaces that will be equipped with sensors and remote controls.

Health care: Devices to monitor personal health and robot-assisted surgery are hints of things to come if AI is developed in ways that gain the trust of doctors, nurses, patients and regulators.

Education: Interactive tutoring systems already help students learn languages, math and other skills. More is possible if technologies like natural language processing platforms develop to augment instruction by humans.

Entertainment: The conjunction of content creation tools, social networks and AI will lead to new ways to gather, organize and deliver media in engaging, personalized and interactive ways.

Low-resource communities: Investments in uplifting technologies like predictive models to prevent lead poisoning or improve food distributions could spread AI benefits to the underserved.

Public safety and security: Cameras, drones and software to analyze crime patterns should use AI in ways that reduce human bias and enhance safety without loss of liberty or dignity.

Employment and workplace: Work should start now on how to help people adapt as the economy undergoes rapid changes as many existing jobs are lost and new ones are created.

“Until now, most of what is known about AI comes from science fiction books and movies,” Stone said. “This study provides a realistic foundation to discuss how AI technologies are likely to affect society.”

Grosz said she hopes the AI 100 report “initiates a century-long conversation about ways AI-enhanced technologies might be shaped to improve life and societies.”

You can find the A100 website here, and the group’s first paper: “Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030” here. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read the report but I hope to do so soon.

The AI100 website’s About page offered a surprise,

This effort, called the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, or AI100, is the brainchild of computer scientist and Stanford alumnus Eric Horvitz who, among other credits, is a former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

In that capacity Horvitz convened a conference in 2009 at which top researchers considered advances in artificial intelligence and its influences on people and society, a discussion that illuminated the need for continuing study of AI’s long-term implications.

Now, together with Russ Altman, a professor of bioengineering and computer science at Stanford, Horvitz has formed a committee that will select a panel to begin a series of periodic studies on how AI will affect automation, national security, psychology, ethics, law, privacy, democracy and other issues.

“Artificial intelligence is one of the most profound undertakings in science, and one that will affect every aspect of human life,” said Stanford President John Hennessy, who helped initiate the project. “Given’s Stanford’s pioneering role in AI and our interdisciplinary mindset, we feel obliged and qualified to host a conversation about how artificial intelligence will affect our children and our children’s children.”

Five leading academicians with diverse interests will join Horvitz and Altman in launching this effort. They are:

  • Barbara Grosz, the Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences at HarvardUniversity and an expert on multi-agent collaborative systems;
  • Deirdre K. Mulligan, a lawyer and a professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, who collaborates with technologists to advance privacy and other democratic values through technical design and policy;

    This effort, called the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, or AI100, is the brainchild of computer scientist and Stanford alumnus Eric Horvitz who, among other credits, is a former president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

    In that capacity Horvitz convened a conference in 2009 at which top researchers considered advances in artificial intelligence and its influences on people and society, a discussion that illuminated the need for continuing study of AI’s long-term implications.

    Now, together with Russ Altman, a professor of bioengineering and computer science at Stanford, Horvitz has formed a committee that will select a panel to begin a series of periodic studies on how AI will affect automation, national security, psychology, ethics, law, privacy, democracy and other issues.

    “Artificial intelligence is one of the most profound undertakings in science, and one that will affect every aspect of human life,” said Stanford President John Hennessy, who helped initiate the project. “Given’s Stanford’s pioneering role in AI and our interdisciplinary mindset, we feel obliged and qualified to host a conversation about how artificial intelligence will affect our children and our children’s children.”

    Five leading academicians with diverse interests will join Horvitz and Altman in launching this effort. They are:

    • Barbara Grosz, the Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences at HarvardUniversity and an expert on multi-agent collaborative systems;
    • Deirdre K. Mulligan, a lawyer and a professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, who collaborates with technologists to advance privacy and other democratic values through technical design and policy;
    • Yoav Shoham, a professor of computer science at Stanford, who seeks to incorporate common sense into AI;
    • Tom Mitchell, the E. Fredkin University Professor and chair of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University, whose studies include how computers might learn to read the Web;
    • and Alan Mackworth, a professor of computer science at the University of British Columbia [emphases mine] and the Canada Research Chair in Artificial Intelligence, who built the world’s first soccer-playing robot.

    I wasn’t expecting to see a Canadian listed as a member of the AI100 standing committee and then I got another surprise (from the AI100 People webpage),

    Study Panels

    Study Panels are planned to convene every 5 years to examine some aspect of AI and its influences on society and the world. The first study panel was convened in late 2015 to study the likely impacts of AI on urban life by the year 2030, with a focus on typical North American cities.

    2015 Study Panel Members

    • Peter Stone, UT Austin, Chair
    • Rodney Brooks, Rethink Robotics
    • Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT
    • Ryan Calo, University of Washington
    • Oren Etzioni, Allen Institute for AI
    • Greg Hager, Johns Hopkins University
    • Julia Hirschberg, Columbia University
    • Shivaram Kalyanakrishnan, IIT Bombay
    • Ece Kamar, Microsoft
    • Sarit Kraus, Bar Ilan University
    • Kevin Leyton-Brown, [emphasis mine] UBC [University of British Columbia]
    • David Parkes, Harvard
    • Bill Press, UT Austin
    • AnnaLee (Anno) Saxenian, Berkeley
    • Julie Shah, MIT
    • Milind Tambe, USC
    • Astro Teller, Google[X]
  • [emphases mine] and the Canada Research Chair in Artificial Intelligence, who built the world’s first soccer-playing robot.

I wasn’t expecting to see a Canadian listed as a member of the AI100 standing committee and then I got another surprise (from the AI100 People webpage),

Study Panels

Study Panels are planned to convene every 5 years to examine some aspect of AI and its influences on society and the world. The first study panel was convened in late 2015 to study the likely impacts of AI on urban life by the year 2030, with a focus on typical North American cities.

2015 Study Panel Members

  • Peter Stone, UT Austin, Chair
  • Rodney Brooks, Rethink Robotics
  • Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT
  • Ryan Calo, University of Washington
  • Oren Etzioni, Allen Institute for AI
  • Greg Hager, Johns Hopkins University
  • Julia Hirschberg, Columbia University
  • Shivaram Kalyanakrishnan, IIT Bombay
  • Ece Kamar, Microsoft
  • Sarit Kraus, Bar Ilan University
  • Kevin Leyton-Brown, [emphasis mine] UBC [University of British Columbia]
  • David Parkes, Harvard
  • Bill Press, UT Austin
  • AnnaLee (Anno) Saxenian, Berkeley
  • Julie Shah, MIT
  • Milind Tambe, USC
  • Astro Teller, Google[X]

I see they have representation from Israel, India, and the private sector as well. Refreshingly, there’s more than one woman on the standing committee and in this first study group. It’s good to see these efforts at inclusiveness and I’m particularly delighted with the inclusion of an organization from Asia. All too often inclusiveness means Europe, especially the UK. So, it’s good (and I think important) to see a different range of representation.

As for the content of report, should anyone have opinions about it, please do let me know your thoughts in the blog comments.

Café Scientifique (Vancouver, Canada) August 30, 2016 talk: Titans of the Ice Age—Rise of the Megafauna

For the second time in a row, Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique is at Yagger’s Downtown (433 W. Pender), which is hosting the upcoming August 2016 Café Scientifique talk. From the August 24, 2016 notice received via email,

Our next café will happen on Tuesday August 30th, 7:30pm in the back room at Yagger’s Downtown (433 W Pender). Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Greg Bole, from the Department of Zoology at UBC. The title of his talk is:

Titans of the Ice Age—Rise of the Megafauna

The talk will introduce people to some of the biggest members of the Pleistocene megafauna and discuss their evolutionary radiation, including why they were so big, as well as their extinction and possible de-extinction!

This holds the distinction of being the most succinct description of a Café Scientifique talk that I’ve seen.

You can find out a tiny bit more about Greg Bole here and more about Yagger’s Downtown here.

Beating tactical experts in combat simulation—AI with the processing power of a Raspberry Pi

It looks like one day combat may come down to who has the best artificial intelligence (AI) if a June 27, 2016 University of Cincinnati news release (also on EurekAlert) by M. B. Reilly is to be believed (Note: Links have been removed),

Artificial intelligence (AI) developed by a University of Cincinnati doctoral graduate was recently assessed by subject-matter expert and retired United States Air Force Colonel Gene Lee — who holds extensive aerial combat experience as an instructor and Air Battle Manager with considerable fighter aircraft expertise — in a high-fidelity air combat simulator.

The artificial intelligence, dubbed ALPHA, was the victor in that simulated scenario, and according to Lee, is “the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible AI I’ve seen to date.”

Details on ALPHA – a significant breakthrough in the application of what’s called genetic-fuzzy systems are published in the most-recent issue of the Journal of Defense Management, as this application is specifically designed for use with Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) in simulated air-combat missions for research purposes.

The tools used to create ALPHA as well as the ALPHA project have been developed by Psibernetix, Inc., recently founded by UC College of Engineering and Applied Science 2015 doctoral graduate Nick Ernest, now president and CEO of the firm; as well as David Carroll, programming lead, Psibernetix, Inc.; with supporting technologies and research from Gene Lee; Kelly Cohen, UC aerospace professor; Tim Arnett, UC aerospace doctoral student; and Air Force Research Laboratory sponsors.

The news release goes on to provide a overview of ALPHA’s air combat fighting and strategy skills,

ALPHA is currently viewed as a research tool for manned and unmanned teaming in a simulation environment. In its earliest iterations, ALPHA consistently outperformed a baseline computer program previously used by the Air Force Research Lab for research.  In other words, it defeated other AI opponents.

In fact, it was only after early iterations of ALPHA bested other computer program opponents that Lee then took to manual controls against a more mature version of ALPHA last October. Not only was Lee not able to score a kill against ALPHA after repeated attempts, he was shot out of the air every time during protracted engagements in the simulator.

Since that first human vs. ALPHA encounter in the simulator, this AI has repeatedly bested other experts as well, and is even able to win out against these human experts when its (the ALPHA-controlled) aircraft are deliberately handicapped in terms of speed, turning, missile capability and sensors.

Lee, who has been flying in simulators against AI opponents since the early 1980s, said of that first encounter against ALPHA, “I was surprised at how aware and reactive it was. It seemed to be aware of my intentions and reacting instantly to my changes in flight and my missile deployment. It knew how to defeat the shot I was taking. It moved instantly between defensive and offensive actions as needed.”

He added that with most AIs, “an experienced pilot can beat up on it (the AI) if you know what you’re doing. Sure, you might have gotten shot down once in a while by an AI program when you, as a pilot, were trying something new, but, until now, an AI opponent simply could not keep up with anything like the real pressure and pace of combat-like scenarios.”

But, now, it’s been Lee, who has trained with thousands of U.S. Air Force pilots, flown in several fighter aircraft and graduated from the U.S. Fighter Weapons School (the equivalent of earning an advanced degree in air combat tactics and strategy), as well as other pilots who have been feeling pressured by ALPHA.

And, anymore [sic], when Lee flies against ALPHA in hours-long sessions that mimic real missions, “I go home feeling washed out. I’m tired, drained and mentally exhausted. This may be artificial intelligence, but it represents a real challenge.”

New goals have been set for ALPHA according to the news release,

Explained Ernest, “ALPHA is already a deadly opponent to face in these simulated environments. The goal is to continue developing ALPHA, to push and extend its capabilities, and perform additional testing against other trained pilots. Fidelity also needs to be increased, which will come in the form of even more realistic aerodynamic and sensor models. ALPHA is fully able to accommodate these additions, and we at Psibernetix look forward to continuing development.”

In the long term, teaming artificial intelligence with U.S. air capabilities will represent a revolutionary leap. Air combat as it is performed today by human pilots is a highly dynamic application of aerospace physics, skill, art, and intuition to maneuver a fighter aircraft and missiles against adversaries, all moving at very high speeds. After all, today’s fighters close in on each other at speeds in excess of 1,500 miles per hour while flying at altitudes above 40,000 feet. Microseconds matter, and the cost for a mistake is very high.

Eventually, ALPHA aims to lessen the likelihood of mistakes since its operations already occur significantly faster than do those of other language-based consumer product programming. In fact, ALPHA can take in the entirety of sensor data, organize it, create a complete mapping of a combat scenario and make or change combat decisions for a flight of four fighter aircraft in less than a millisecond. Basically, the AI is so fast that it could consider and coordinate the best tactical plan and precise responses, within a dynamic environment, over 250 times faster than ALPHA’s human opponents could blink.

So it’s likely that future air combat, requiring reaction times that surpass human capabilities, will integrate AI wingmen – Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) – capable of performing air combat and teamed with manned aircraft wherein an onboard battle management system would be able to process situational awareness, determine reactions, select tactics, manage weapons use and more. So, AI like ALPHA could simultaneously evade dozens of hostile missiles, take accurate shots at multiple targets, coordinate actions of squad mates, and record and learn from observations of enemy tactics and capabilities.

UC’s Cohen added, “ALPHA would be an extremely easy AI to cooperate with and have as a teammate. ALPHA could continuously determine the optimal ways to perform tasks commanded by its manned wingman, as well as provide tactical and situational advice to the rest of its flight.”

Happily, insight is provided into the technical aspects (from the news release),

It would normally be expected that an artificial intelligence with the learning and performance capabilities of ALPHA, applicable to incredibly complex problems, would require a super computer in order to operate.

However, ALPHA and its algorithms require no more than the computing power available in a low-budget PC in order to run in real time and quickly react and respond to uncertainty and random events or scenarios.

According to a lead engineer for autonomy at AFRL, “ALPHA shows incredible potential, with a combination of high performance and low computational cost that is a critical enabling capability for complex coordinated operations by teams of unmanned aircraft.”

Ernest began working with UC engineering faculty member Cohen to resolve that computing-power challenge about three years ago while a doctoral student. (Ernest also earned his UC undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics in 2011 and his UC master’s, also in aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics, in 2012.)

They tackled the problem using language-based control (vs. numeric based) and using what’s called a “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” (GFT) system, a subtype of what’s known as fuzzy logic algorithms.

States UC’s Cohen, “Genetic fuzzy systems have been shown to have high performance, and a problem with four or five inputs can be solved handily. However, boost that to a hundred inputs, and no computing system on planet Earth could currently solve the processing challenge involved – unless that challenge and all those inputs are broken down into a cascade of sub decisions.”

That’s where the Genetic Fuzzy Tree system and Cohen and Ernest’s years’ worth of work come in.

According to Ernest, “The easiest way I can describe the Genetic Fuzzy Tree system is that it’s more like how humans approach problems.  Take for example a football receiver evaluating how to adjust what he does based upon the cornerback covering him. The receiver doesn’t think to himself: ‘During this season, this cornerback covering me has had three interceptions, 12 average return yards after interceptions, two forced fumbles, a 4.35 second 40-yard dash, 73 tackles, 14 assisted tackles, only one pass interference, and five passes defended, is 28 years old, and it’s currently 12 minutes into the third quarter, and he has seen exactly 8 minutes and 25.3 seconds of playtime.’”

That receiver – rather than standing still on the line of scrimmage before the play trying to remember all of the different specific statistics and what they mean individually and combined to how he should change his performance – would just consider the cornerback as ‘really good.’

The cornerback’s historic capability wouldn’t be the only variable. Specifically, his relative height and relative speed should likely be considered as well. So, the receiver’s control decision might be as fast and simple as: ‘This cornerback is really good, a lot taller than me, but I am faster.’

At the very basic level, that’s the concept involved in terms of the distributed computing power that’s the foundation of a Genetic Fuzzy Tree system wherein, otherwise, scenarios/decision making would require too high a number of rules if done by a single controller.

Added Ernest, “Only considering the relevant variables for each sub-decision is key for us to complete complex tasks as humans. So, it makes sense to have the AI do the same thing.”

In this case, the programming involved breaking up the complex challenges and problems represented in aerial fighter deployment into many sub-decisions, thereby significantly reducing the required “space” or burden for good solutions. The branches or sub divisions of this decision-making tree consists of high-level tactics, firing, evasion and defensiveness.

That’s the “tree” part of the term “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” system.

Programming that’s language based, genetic and generational

Most AI programming uses numeric-based control and provides very precise parameters for operations. In other words, there’s not a lot of leeway for any improvement or contextual decision making on the part of the programming.

The AI algorithms that Ernest and his team ultimately developed are language based, with if/then scenarios and rules able to encompass hundreds to thousands of variables. This language-based control or fuzzy logic, while much less about complex mathematics, can be verified and validated.

Another benefit of this linguistic control is the ease in which expert knowledge can be imparted to the system. For instance, Lee worked with Psibernetix to provide tactical and maneuverability advice which was directly plugged in to ALPHA. (That “plugging in” occurs via inputs into a fuzzy logic controller. Those inputs consist of defined terms, e.g., close vs. far in distance to a target; if/then rules related to the terms; and inputs of other rules or specifications.)

Finally, the ALPHA programming is generational. It can be improved from one generation to the next, from one version to the next. In fact, the current version of ALPHA is only that – the current version. Subsequent versions are expected to perform significantly better.

Again, from UC’s Cohen, “In a lot of ways, it’s no different than when air combat began in W.W. I. At first, there were a whole bunch of pilots. Those who survived to the end of the war were the aces. Only in this case, we’re talking about code.”

To reach its current performance level, ALPHA’s training has occurred on a $500 consumer-grade PC. This training process started with numerous and random versions of ALPHA. These automatically generated versions of ALPHA proved themselves against a manually tuned version of ALPHA. The successful strings of code are then “bred” with each other, favoring the stronger, or highest performance versions. In other words, only the best-performing code is used in subsequent generations. Eventually, one version of ALPHA rises to the top in terms of performance, and that’s the one that is utilized.

This is the “genetic” part of the “Genetic Fuzzy Tree” system.

Said Cohen, “All of these aspects are combined, the tree cascade, the language-based programming and the generations. In terms of emulating human reasoning, I feel this is to unmanned aerial vehicles what the IBM/Deep Blue vs. Kasparov was to chess.”

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

Genetic Fuzzy based Artificial Intelligence for Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle Control in Simulated Air Combat Missions by Nicholas Ernest, David Carroll, Corey Schumacher, Matthew Clark, Kelly Cohen, and Gene Lee. J Def Manag [Journal of Defense Management]  6:144. doi:10.4172/2167-0374.1000144 Published: March 22, 2016

This is an open access paper.


The University of Cincinnati’s president, Santa Ono, recently accepted a job as president of the University of British Columbia (UBC), which is located in the region where I live. Nassif Ghoussoub, professor of mathematics at UBC, writes about Ono and his new appointment in a June 13, 2016 posting on his blog (Note: A link has been removed),

By the time you read this, UBC communications will already have issued the mandatory press release [the official announcement was made June 13, 2016] describing Santa Ono’s numerous qualifications for the job, including that he is a Canuck in the US, born in Vancouver, McGill PhD, a highly accomplished medical researcher, who is the President of the University of Cincinnati.

So, I shall focus here on what UBC communications may not be enclined [sic] to tell you, yet may be quite consequential for UBC’s future direction. After all, life experiences, gender, race, class, and character are what shape leadership.

President Ono seems to have had battles with mental illness, and have been courageous enough to deal with it and to publicly disclose it –as recently as May 24 [2016]– so as to destigmatize struggles that many people go through. It is interesting to note the two events that led the president to have suicidal thoughts: …

The post is well worth reading if you have any interest in Ono, UBC, and/or insight into some of the struggles even some of the most accomplished academics can encounter.

Canada and its review of fundamental science

Big thanks to David Bruggeman’s June 14, 2016 post (on his Pasco Phronesis blog) for news of Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, which was launched on June 13, 2016 (Note: Links have been removed),

The panel’s mandate focuses on support for fundamental research, research facilities, and platform technologies.  This will include the three granting councils as well as other research organisations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation. But it does not preclude the panel from considering and providing advice and recommendations on research matters outside of the mandate.  The plan is to make the panel’s work and recommendations readily accessible to the public, either online or through any report or reports the panel produces.  The panel’s recommendations to Minister Duncan are non-binding. …

As Ivan Semeniuk notes at The Globe and Mail [Canadian ‘national’ newspaper], the recent Nurse Review in the U.K., which led to the notable changes underway in the organization of that country’s research councils, seems comparable to this effort.  But I think it worth noting the differences in the research systems of the two countries, and the different political pressures in play.  It is not at all obvious to this writer that the Canadian review would necessarily lead to similar recommendations for a streamlining and reorganization of the Canadian research councils.

Longtime observers of the Canadian science funding scene may recall an earlier review held under the auspices of the Steven Harper Conservative government known as the ‘Review of Federal Support to R&D’. In fact it was focused on streamlining government funding for innovation and commercialization of science. The result was the 2011 report, ‘Innovation Canada: A Call to Action’, known popularly as the ‘Jenkins report’ after the panel chair, Tom Jenkins. (More about the report and responses to it can be found in my Oct. 21, 2011 post).

It’s nice to see that fundamental science is being given its turn for attention.

A June 13, 2016 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada news release provides more detail about the review and the panel guiding the review,

The Government of Canada understands the role of science in maintaining a thriving, clean economy and in providing the evidence for sound policy decisions. To deliver on this role however, federal programs that support Canada’s research efforts must be aligned in such a way as to ensure they are strategic, effective and focused on meeting the needs of scientists first.

That is why the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, today launched an independent review of federal funding for fundamental science. The review will assess the program machinery that is currently in place to support science and scientists in Canada. The scope of the review includes the three granting councils [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council {SSHRC}, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council {NSERC}, Canadian Institutes of Health Research {CIHR}] along with certain federally funded organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation [CFI].

The review will be led by an independent panel of distinguished research leaders and innovators including Dr. David Naylor, former president of the University of Toronto and chair of the panel. Other panelists include:

  • Dr. Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor, University of California, Berkeley
  • Dr. Martha Crago, Vice-President, Research, Dalhousie University
  • Mike Lazaridis, co-founder, Quantum Valley Investments
  • Dr. Claudia Malacrida, Associate Vice-President, Research, University of Lethbridge
  • Dr. Art McDonald, former director of the Sudbury Neutrino Laboratory, Nobel Laureate
  • Dr. Martha Piper, interim president, University of British Columbia
  • Dr. Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist, Quebec
  • Dr. Anne Wilson, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Successful Societies Fellow and professor of psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University

The panel will spend the next six months seeking input from the research community and Canadians on how to optimize support for fundamental science in Canada. The panel will also survey international best practices for funding science and examine whether emerging researchers face barriers that prevent them from achieving career goals. It will look at what must be done to address these barriers and what more can be done to encourage Canada’s scientists to take on bold new research challenges. In addition to collecting input from the research community, the panel will also invite Canadians to participate in the review [emphasis mine] through an online consultation.

Ivan Semeniuk in his June 13, 2016 article for The Globe and Mail provides some interesting commentary about the possible outcomes of this review,

Depending on how its recommendations are taken on board, the panel could trigger anything from minor tweaks to a major rebuild of Ottawa’s science-funding apparatus, which this year is expected to funnel more than $3-billion to Canadian researchers and their labs.

Asked what she most wanted the panel to address, Ms. Duncan cited, as an example, the plight of younger researchers who, in many cases, must wait until they are in their 40s to get federal support.

Another is the risk of losing the benefits of previous investments when funding rules become restrictive, such as a 14-year limit on how long the government can support one of its existing networks of centres of excellence, or the dependence of research projects that are in the national interest on funding streams that require support from provincial governments or private sources.

The current system for proposing and reviewing research grants has been criticized as cumbersome and fraught with biases that mean the best science is not always supported.

In a paper published on Friday in the research journal PLOS One, Trent University biologist Dennis Murray and colleagues combed through 13,526 grant proposals to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council between 2011 and 2014 and found significant evidence that researchers at smaller universities have consistently lower success rates.

Dr. Murray advocates for a more quantitative and impartial system of review to keep such biases at bay.

“There are too many opportunities for human impressions — conscious or unconscious — to make their way into the current evaluation process,” Dr. Murray said.

More broadly, researchers say the time is right for a look at a system that has grown convoluted and less suited to a world in which science is increasingly cross-disciplinary, and international research collaborations are more important.

If you have time, I encourage you to take a look at Semeniuk’s entire article as for the paper he mentions, here’s a link to and a citation for it,

Bias in Research Grant Evaluation Has Dire Consequences for Small Universities by Dennis L. Murray, Douglas Morris, Claude Lavoie, Peter R. Leavitt, Hugh MacIsaac,  Michael E. J. Masson, & Marc-Andre Villard. PLOS http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155876  Published: June 3, 2016

This paper is open access.

Getting back to the review and more specifically, the panel, it’s good to see that four of the nine participants are women but other than that there doesn’t seem to be much diversity, i.e.,the majority (five) spring from the Ontario/Québec nexus of power and all the Canadians are from the southern part of country. Back to diversity, there is one business man, Mike Laziridis known primarily as the founder of Research in Motion (RIM or more popularly as the Blackberry company) making the panel not a wholly ivory tower affair. Still, I hope one day these panels will have members from the Canadian North and international members who come from somewhere other than the US, Great Britain, and/or if they’re having a particularly wild day, Germany. Here are some candidate countries for other places to look for panel members: Japan, Israel, China, South Korea, and India. Other possibilities include one of the South American countries, African countries, and/or the Middle Eastern countries.

Take the continent of Africa for example, where many countries seem to have successfully tackled one of the issues as we face. Specifically, the problem of encouraging young researchers. James Wilsdon notes some success in his April 9, 2016 post about Africa and science advice for the Guardian science blogs (Note: Links have been removed),

… some of the brightest talents and most exciting advances in African science were on display at the Next Einstein Forum. This landmark meeting, initiated by the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and held in Senegal, brought together almost 1000 researchers, entrepreneurs, businesses and policymakers from across Africa to celebrate and support the continent’s most promising early-career researchers.

A new cadre of fifteen Next Einstein Fellows and fifty-four ambassadors was announced, and the forum ended with an upbeat declaration of commitment to Africa’s role in world-leading, locally-relevant science. …

… UNESCO’s latest global audit of science, published at the end of 2015, concludes that African science is firmly on the rise. The number of journal articles published on the continent rose by sixty per cent from 2008 to 2014. Research investment rose from $12.9 billion in 2007 to $19.9 billion (US dollars) in 2013. Over the same period, R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP nudged upwards from 0.36 per cent to 0.45 per cent, and the population of active researchers expanded from 150,000 to 190,000.

If you have the time, do read Wilsdon’s piece which covers some of the more difficult aspects facing the science communities in Africa and more.

In any event, it’s a bit late to bemoan the panel’s makeup but hopefully the government will take note for the future as I’m planning to include some of my critique in my comments to the panel in answer to their request for public comments.

You can find out more about Canada’s Fundamental Science Review here and you can easily participate here and/or go here to subscribe for updates.

Two May 31, 2016 talks (Why nuclear power is necessary and DNA is not destiny) in Vancouver, Canada

Both the upcoming science talks in Vancouver are scheduled for May 31, 2016. Isn’t that always the way?

Why nuclear power is necessary

This talk is being held by ARPICO (Society of Italian Researchers & Professionals in Western Canada). From the ARPICO event page,

Why Nuclear Power is Necessary


Patrick Walden graduated with a B.Sc. in Physics from UBC and a Ph.D in Particle Physics from Caltech. His Post Doctoral research was done at the Stanford University Linear Accelerator (SLAC), and since 1974 he has been at TRIUMF here in Vancouver. Patrick has been active in the fields of pion photo-production, meson spectroscopy, the dynamics of pion production from nuclei, and nuclear astrophysics.


Nuclear power is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions-free energy in the world. It supplies approximately 5% of the world’s total energy demand. Presently, human activity is on the brink of initiating a global greenhouse climate catastrophe unless we can limit our greenhouse gas emissions.

In this talk, Dr. Patrick Walden will examine the concerns about nuclear power and the reasons why, contrary to public perception, nuclear power is one of the safest, most economical, plentiful, and greenest sources of energy available.


  • May 31, 2016 – 7:00pm
  • Roundhouse Community Centre – Room B – (181 Roundhouse Mews, Vancouver BC V6Z2W3)
  • Underground pay parking is available, access off Drake St. south of Pacific Blvd.
    Admission by donation. Q&A and complimentary refreshments follow. Registration is highly recommended as seating is limited. RSVP at info@arpico.ca or at EventBrite by May 28th, 2016.

A map for the location can be found here.

There is a Skytrain station nearbyYaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station

DNA is not destiny

This month’s Café Scientifique talk is being held in downtown Vancouver at Yaggers (433 W. Pender St.). Details of the talk are (from the May 13, 2016 email announcement,

… Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Steven Heine, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at UBC [University of British Columbia]. The title of his talk is:

DNA is Not Destiny: How Essences Distort how we Think about Genes

People the world over are essentialist thinkers – they are attracted to the idea that hidden essences make things as they are. And because genetic concepts remind people of essences, they tend to think of genes in ways similar to essences. That is, people tend to think about genetic causes as immutable, deterministic, homogenous, discrete, and natural.  Dr. Heine will discuss how our essentialist biases lead people to think differently about sex, race, crime, eugenics, and disease whenever these are described in genetic terms. Moreover, Dr. Heine will discuss how our essentialistic biases make people vulnerable to the sensationalist hype that has emerged with the genomic revolution and access to direct-to-consumer genotyping services.


Tuesday May 31st, 7:30pm at Yagger’s Downtown (433 W Pender).

I have found a little more information about Dr. Steven Heine and his work (from his University of British Columbia webpage),

Our lab is currently working on three distinct research programs, which we refer to as Cultural Psychology, Meaning Maintenance, and Genetic Essentialism.

Our third research program on genetic esssentialism considers how people understand essences and genetic foundations for human behavior. We propose that encounters with genetic explanations for human outcomes prompts people to think of those outcomes in essentiialized ways, by viewing those outcomes as more deterministic, immutable, and fatalistic. For example, we find that women are more vulnerable to stereotype threat when they hear of genetic reasons for why men outperform women in math than when they hear of environmental reasons for this difference. We also find that men are more tolerant of sex crimes when they learn of genetic basis for sexual motivations than when they hear of social-constructivist accounts. We are conducting several studies to explore the ways that people respond to genetic accounts for human conditions.

Have fun whichever one you choose to attend.

Café Scientifique (Vancouver, Canada) April 26, 2016 talk about why food security is contentious and TEDx East Van has some science speakers for April 23, 2016

Café Scientifique

It seems Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique has found a new venue after having to cancel last month’s (March 2016) talk when their previous venue, The Railway Club, abruptly closed its doors after some 80 years. The Big Rock Urban Brewery (310 West Fourth Avenue, just east of Cambie St.) is hosting the next Café Scientifique talk, from the April 6, 2016 notice received via email,

Our next café will happen on Tuesday April 26th, 7:30pm at Big Rock Urban Brewery. Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Navin Ramankutty, a Professor of Global Food Security and Sustainability at UBC [University of British Columbia]. The title of his talk is:

A Framework for Understanding Why Food Security Discussions are Contentious

There is a contentious debate regarding the best approach to achieving food security in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner. Some advocate for new technological systems, such as genetic modification or vertical farming, while others argue for organic agricuture or local food systems. Still others argue that agriculture does not need a revolution and that we simply need to improve current farming practices. Even the overall objectives are unclear, with some arguing that we need to double food production by 2050 while others suggest that we already have enough food on this planet to feed 10 billion. In this talk, I will use an assessment framework to explore the available evidence supporting or opposing the various claims about the most sustainable way to farm on our planet. The broad assessment offers some insights on why we argue about food security.

You can find out more about Dr. Ramankutty here,

Navin Ramankutty is Professor in Global Food Security and Sustainability, Liu Institute for Global Issues and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) at the University of British Columbia Vancouver campus. His research addresses the overarching question of how to improve food security for 9-10 billion people while reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.  To address this challenge, he develops global data sets of agricultural land use practices, conducts global analysis of the environmental outcomes of agriculture (using statistical analysis and agroecosystem models), and identifies solutions and leverage points.

There is more about Raminkutty on his UBC Liu Institute profile page,

Navin Ramankutty is Professor in Global Food Security and Sustainability, Liu Institute for Global Issues and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) at the University of British Columbia Vancouver campus. His research addresses the overarching question of how to improve food security for 9-10 billion people while reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.  To address this challenge, he develops global data sets of agricultural land use practices, conducts global analysis of the environmental outcomes of agriculture (using statistical analysis and agroecosystem models), and identifies solutions and leverage points.

TEDxEastVan 2016

This event is taking place Sunday, April 23, 2016 at the York Theatre from 9 am to 4:30 pm with an after party at the Big Rock Urban Brewery. For science types, two speakers are of particular interest, assuming they will be talking about science and not their personal life journeys From the TEDxEastVan 2016 Speakers page,

Dr. Sam Wadsworth

Sam is a scientist, inventor, and entrepreneur. He completed his Ph.D. in respiratory cell biology in the UK before relocating to Vancouver in 2007 to work as an academic researcher at St. Paul’s Hospital. In 2013, Sam co-founded a biotechnology company that uses a unique bioprinting technology that has the potential to revolutionise how we treat disease and the ageing process. He sees a future where human tissues can be provided on demand, where donor organs are built, not harvested, and where drugs are tested on bioprinted artificial tissues, not animals.

Dominic Walliman

Dominic Walliman is a physicist, and award-winning science writer. He received his PhD in quantum device physics from the University of Birmingham and currently works at D-Wave Systems Inc., a quantum computing company in Vancouver. Dominic grew up reading science books and remembers vividly the excitement of discovering the mind-boggling explanations that science gives us about the Universe. If he can pass on this wonder and enjoyment to the next generation, he will consider it a job well done.

There are 12 speakers in total and they are hoping for 250 audience members. The TEDxEastVan 2016 ticket page notes this,

TEDxEastVan is a day-long event that brings together creators, catalysts, designers, and thinkers to share their ideas on the TEDx stage. A day of listening that invites thought, discussion, and play — the TEDx talks are interspersed with activities, performances, and food worth eating. Our theme this year is “MOVE.”

TEDxEastVan is dedicated to discovering great ideas and sharing them with the rest of the world. Acting as a hub of energy and inspiration, the TEDxEastVan stage will bring unique thinkers together in a platform for sharing wisdom and experiences. It is a chance to welcome interesting people into the community and to showcase and celebrate the dynamic ideas which exist in East Vancouver.


  • Morning coffee/tea and light snack at the York Theatre during registration
  • SESSION ONE Talks and Performances inside the York Theatre
  • Lunchtime meal and drink at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre
  • Lunchtime activities at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre
  • SESSION TWO Talks and Performances inside the York Theatre
  • Afternoon break with coffee/tea and light snack at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre
  • SESSION THREE Talks and Performances inside the York Theatre

Your ticket will also include a free ticket to the Taste of East Van TEDxEastVan exclusive AFTER-PARTY at Big Rock Urban Brewery ( 310 W 4th Ave.). Ticket includes beer tastings from 13 East Van breweries that have partnered with the event, live musical and dance performances and plenty of snacks! Keep the conversation going with a chance to mingle directly with speakers, brewers, partners and the conference organizers.

We’re so looking forward to meeting you all! 🙂

ALL TICKET SALES END APRIL 15, 2016 AT 11:30PM PST.  << Updated

Tickets are $67.88 (student) and $83.40, respectively. I imagine taxes will be added.

Hopefully one or other of these events will appeal.