Category Archives: business

Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more

I received (via email) a July 21, 2022 news release about the launch of a quantum science initiative in Vancouver (BTW, I have more about the Canadian quantum scene later in this post),

World’s top physicists unite to tackle one of Science’s greatest
mysteries


Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Society leads international quest to
discover Theory of Quantum Gravity

Vancouver, B.C. (July 21, 2022): More than two dozen of the world’s
top physicists, including three Nobel Prize winners, will gather in
Vancouver this August for a Quantum Gravity Conference that will host
the launch a Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Institute (QGI) and a
new global research collaboration that could significantly advance our
understanding of physics and gravity and profoundly change the world as
we know it.

For roughly 100 years, the world’s understanding of physics has been
based on Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GR), which
explored the theory of space, time and gravity, and quantum mechanics
(QM), which focuses on the behaviour of matter and light on the atomic
and subatomic scale. GR has given us a deep understanding of the cosmos,
leading to space travel and technology like atomic clocks, which govern
global GPS systems. QM is responsible for most of the equipment that
runs our world today, including the electronics, lasers, computers, cell
phones, plastics, and other technologies that support modern
transportation, communications, medicine, agriculture, energy systems
and more.

While each theory has led to countless scientific breakthroughs, in many
cases, they are incompatible and seemingly contradictory. Discovering a
unifying connection between these two fundamental theories, the elusive
Theory of Quantum Gravity, could provide the world with a deeper
understanding of time, gravity and matter and how to potentially control
them. It could also lead to new technologies that would affect most
aspects of daily life, including how we communicate, grow food, deliver
health care, transport people and goods, and produce energy.

“Discovering the Theory of Quantum Gravity could lead to the
possibility of time travel, new quantum devices, or even massive new
energy resources that produce clean energy and help us address climate
change,” said Philip Stamp, Professor, Department of Physics and
Astronomy, University of British Columbia, and Visiting Associate in
Theoretical Astrophysics at Caltech [California Institute of Technology]. “The potential long-term ramifications of this discovery are so incredible that life on earth 100
years from now could look as miraculous to us now as today’s
technology would have seemed to people living 100 years ago.”

The new Quantum Gravity Institute and the conference were founded by the
Quantum Gravity Society, which was created in 2022 by a group of
Canadian technology, business and community leaders, and leading
physicists. Among its goals are to advance the science of physics and
facilitate research on the Theory of Quantum Gravity through initiatives
such as the conference and assembling the world’s leading archive of
scientific papers and lectures associated with the attempts to reconcile
these two theories over the past century.

Attending the Quantum Gravity Conference in Vancouver (August 15-19 [2022])
will be two dozen of the world’s top physicists, including Nobel
Laureates Kip Thorne, Jim Peebles and Sir Roger Penrose, as well as
physicists Baron Martin Rees, Markus Aspelmeyer, Viatcheslav Mukhanov
and Paul Steinhardt. On Wednesday, August 17, the conference will be
open to the public, providing them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
to attend keynote addresses from the world’s pre-eminent physicists.
… A noon-hour discussion on the importance of the
research will be delivered by Kip Thorne, the former Feynman Professor
of physics at Caltech. Thorne is well known for his popular books, and
for developing the original idea for the 2014 film “Interstellar.” He
was also crucial to the development of the book “Contact” by Carl Sagan,
which was also made into a motion picture.

“We look forward to welcoming many of the world’s brightest minds to
Vancouver for our first Quantum Gravity Conference,” said Frank
Giustra, CEO Fiore Group and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society. “One
of the goals of our Society will be to establish Vancouver as a
supportive home base for research and facilitate the scientific
collaboration that will be required to unlock this mystery that has
eluded some of the world’s most brilliant physicists for so long.”

“The format is key,” explains Terry Hui, UC Berkley Physics alumnus
and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society [and CEO of Concord Pacific].
“Like the Solvay Conference nearly 100 years ago, the Quantum Gravity
Conference will bring top scientists together in salon-style gatherings. The
relaxed evening format following the conference will reduce barriers and
allow these great minds to freely exchange ideas. I hope this will help accelerate
the solution of this hundred-year bottleneck between theories relatively
soon.”

“As amazing as our journey of scientific discovery has been over the
past century, we still have so much to learn about how the universe
works on a macro, atomic and subatomic level,” added Paul Lee,
Managing Partner, Vanedge Capital, and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity
Society. “New experiments and observations capable of advancing work
on this scientific challenge are becoming increasingly possible in
today’s physics labs and using new astronomical tools. The Quantum
Gravity Society looks forward to leveraging that growing technical
capacity with joint theory and experimental work that harnesses the
collective expertise of the world’s great physicists.”

About Quantum Gravity Society

Quantum Gravity Society was founded in Vancouver, Canada in 2020 by a
group of Canadian business, technology and community leaders, and
leading international physicists. The Society’s founding members
include Frank Giustra (Fiore Group), Terry Hui (Concord Pacific), Paul
Lee and Moe Kermani (Vanedge Capital) and Markus Frind (Frind Estate
Winery), along with renowned physicists Abhay Ashtekar, Sir Roger
Penrose, Philip Stamp, Bill Unruh and Birgitta Whaley. For more
information, visit Quantum Gravity Society.

About the Quantum Gravity Conference (Vancouver 2022)


The inaugural Quantum Gravity Conference (August 15-19 [2022]) is presented by
Quantum Gravity Society, Fiore Group, Vanedge Capital, Concord Pacific,
The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver and Frind Estate Winery. For conference
information, visit conference.quantumgravityinstitute.ca. To
register to attend the conference, visit Eventbrite.com.

The front page on the Quantum Gravity Society website is identical to the front page for the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment conference website. It’s probable that will change with time.

This seems to be an in-person event only.

The site for the conference is in an exceptionally pretty location in Coal Harbour and it’s close to Stanley Park (a major tourist attraction),

The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver
1601 Bayshore Drive
Vancouver, BC V6G 2V4
View map

Assuming that most of my readers will be interested in the ‘public’ day, here’s more from the Wednesday, August 17, 2022 registration page on Eventbrite,

Tickets:

  • Corporate Table of 8 all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $1,100
  • Ticket per person all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $129
  • Ticket per person all day access (no VIP luncheon): $59
  • Student / Academia Ticket – all day access (no VIP luncheon): $30

Date:

Wednesday, August 17, 2022 @ 9:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. (PT)

Schedule:

  • Registration Opens: 8:00 a.m.
  • Morning Program: 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • VIP Lunch: 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • Afternoon Program: 2:30 p.m. – 4:20 p.m.
  • Public Discussion / Debate: 4:20 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.

Program:

9:00 a.m. Session 1: Beginning of the Universe

  • Viatcheslav Mukhanov – Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist, University of Munich
  • Paul Steinhardt – Theoretical Physicist, Princeton University

Session 2: History of the Universe

  • Jim Peebles, 2019 Nobel Laureate, Princeton University
  • Baron Martin Rees – Cosmologist and Astrophysicist, University of Cambridge
  • Sir Roger Penrose, 2020 Nobel Laureate, University of Oxford (via zoom)

12:30 p.m. VIP Lunch Session: Quantum Gravity — Why Should We Care?

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

2:30 p.m. Session 3: What do Experiments Say?

  • Markus Aspelmeyer – Experimental Physicist, Quantum Optics and Optomechanics Leader, University of Vienna
  • Sir Roger Penrose – 2020 Nobel Laureate (via zoom)

Session 4: Time Travel

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

Event Partners

  • Quantum Gravity Society
  • Westin Bayshore
  • Fiore Group
  • Concord Pacific
  • VanEdge Capital
  • Frind Estate Winery

Marketing Partners

  • BC Business Council
  • Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

Please note that Sir Roger Penrose will be present via Zoom but all the others will be there in the room with you.

Given that Kip Thorne won his 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish) for work on gravitational waves, it’s surprising there’s no mention of this in the publicity for a conference on quantum gravity. Finding gravitational waves in 2016 was a very big deal (see Josh Fischman’s and Steve Mirsky’s February 11, 2016 interview with Kip Thorne for Scientific American).

Some thoughts on this conference and the Canadian quantum scene

This conference has a fascinating collection of players. Even I recognized some of the names, e.g., Penrose, Rees, Thorne.

The academics were to be expected and every presenter is an academic, often with their own Wikipedia page. Weirdly, there’s no one from the Perimeter Institute Institute for Theoretical Physics or TRIUMF (a national physics laboratory and centre for particle acceleration) or from anywhere else in Canada, which may be due to their academic specialty rather than an attempt to freeze out Canadian physicists. In any event, the conference academics are largely from the US (a lot of them from CalTech and Stanford) and from the UK.

The business people are a bit of a surprise. The BC Business Council and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade? Frank Giustra who first made his money with gold mines, then with Lionsgate Entertainment, and who continues to make a great deal of money with his equity investment company, Fiore Group? Terry Hui, Chief Executive Office of Concord Pacific, a real estate development company? VanEdge Capital, an early stage venture capital fund? A winery? Missing from this list is D-Wave Systems, Canada’s quantum calling card and local company. While their area of expertise is quantum computing, I’d still expect to see them present as sponsors.

The academics? These people are not cheap dates (flights, speaker’s fees, a room at the Bayshore, meals). This is a very expensive conference and $129 for lunch and a daypass is likely a heavily subsidized ticket.

Another surprise? No government money/sponsorship. I don’t recall seeing another academic conference held in Canada without any government participation.

Canadian quantum scene

A National Quantum Strategy was first announced in the 2021 Canadian federal budget and reannounced in the 2022 federal budget (see my April 19, 2022 posting for a few more budget details).. Or, you may find this National Quantum Strategy Consultations: What We Heard Report more informative. There’s also a webpage for general information about the National Quantum Strategy.

As evidence of action, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced new grant programmes made possible by the National Quantum Strategy in a March 15, 2022 news release,

Quantum science and innovation are giving rise to promising advances in communications, computing, materials, sensing, health care, navigation and other key areas. The Government of Canada is committed to helping shape the future of quantum technology by supporting Canada’s quantum sector and establishing leadership in this emerging and transformative domain.

Today [March 15, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is announcing an investment of $137.9 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants and Alliance grants. These grants are an important next step in advancing the National Quantum Strategy and will reinforce Canada’s research strengths in quantum science while also helping to develop a talent pipeline to support the growth of a strong quantum community.

Quick facts

Budget 2021 committed $360 million to build the foundation for a National Quantum Strategy, enabling the Government of Canada to build on previous investments in the sector to advance the emerging field of quantum technologies. The quantum sector is key to fuelling Canada’s economy, long-term resilience and growth, especially as technologies mature and more sectors harness quantum capabilities.

Development of quantum technologies offers job opportunities in research and science, software and hardware engineering and development, manufacturing, technical support, sales and marketing, business operations and other fields.

The Government of Canada also invested more than $1 billion in quantum research and science from 2009 to 2020—mainly through competitive granting agency programs, including Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada programs and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund—to help establish Canada as a global leader in quantum science.

In addition, the government has invested in bringing new quantum technologies to market, including investments through Canada’s regional development agencies, the Strategic Innovation Fund and the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Bank of Canada, cryptocurrency, and quantum computing

My July 25, 2022 posting features a special project, Note: All emphases are mine,

… (from an April 14, 2022 HKA Marketing Communications news release on EurekAlert),

Multiverse Computing, a global leader in quantum computing solutions for the financial industry and beyond with offices in Toronto and Spain, today announced it has completed a proof-of-concept project with the Bank of Canada through which the parties used quantum computing to simulate the adoption of cryptocurrency as a method of payment by non-financial firms.

“We are proud to be a trusted partner of the first G7 central bank to explore modelling of complex networks and cryptocurrencies through the use of quantum computing,” said Sam Mugel, CTO [Chief Technical Officer] at Multiverse Computing. “The results of the simulation are very intriguing and insightful as stakeholders consider further research in the domain. Thanks to the algorithm we developed together with our partners at the Bank of Canada, we have been able to model a complex system reliably and accurately given the current state of quantum computing capabilities.”

Multiverse Computing conducted its innovative work related to applying quantum computing for modelling complex economic interactions in a research project with the Bank of Canada. The project explored quantum computing technology as a way to simulate complex economic behaviour that is otherwise very difficult to simulate using traditional computational techniques.

By implementing this solution using D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, the simulation was able to tackle financial networks as large as 8-10 players, with up to 2^90 possible network configurations. Note that classical computing approaches cannot solve large networks of practical relevance as a 15-player network requires as many resources as there are atoms in the universe.

Quantum Technologies and the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

In a May 26, 2022 blog posting the CCA announced its Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies (they will be issuing a Quantum Technologies report),

The emergence of quantum technologies will impact all sectors of the Canadian economy, presenting significant opportunities but also risks. At the request of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine the impacts, opportunities, and challenges quantum technologies present for Canadian industry, governments, and Canadians. Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information and Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“Quantum technologies have the potential to transform computing, sensing, communications, healthcare, navigation and many other areas,” said Dr. Laflamme. “But a close examination of the risks and vulnerabilities of these technologies is critical, and I look forward to undertaking this crucial work with the panel.”

As Chair, Dr. Laflamme will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in quantum technologies, economics, innovation, ethics, and legal and regulatory frameworks. The Panel will answer the following question:

In light of current trends affecting the evolution of quantum technologies, what impacts, opportunities and challenges do these present for Canadian industry, governments and Canadians more broadly?

The Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies:

Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC (Chair), Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information; the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis John von Neumann Chair in Quantum Information; Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Waterloo

Sally Daub, Founder and Managing Partner, Pool Global Partners

Shohini Ghose, Professor, Physics and Computer Science, Wilfrid Laurier University; NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering

Paul Gulyas, Senior Innovation Executive, IBM Canada

Mark W. Johnson, Senior Vice-President, Quantum Technologies and Systems Products, D-Wave Systems

Elham Kashefi, Professor of Quantum Computing, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh; Directeur de recherche au CNRS, LIP6 Sorbonne Université

Mauritz Kop, Fellow and Visiting Scholar, Stanford Law School, Stanford University

Dominic Martin, Professor, Département d’organisation et de ressources humaines, École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal

Darius Ornston, Associate Professor, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto

Barry Sanders, FRSC, Director, Institute for Quantum Science and Technology, University of Calgary

Eric Santor, Advisor to the Governor, Bank of Canada

Christian Sarra-Bournet, Quantum Strategy Director and Executive Director, Institut quantique, Université de Sherbrooke

Stephanie Simmons, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Nanoelectronics, and CIFAR Quantum Information Science Fellow, Department of Physics, Simon Fraser University

Jacqueline Walsh, Instructor; Director, initio Technology & Innovation Law Clinic, Dalhousie University

You’ll note that both the Bank of Canada and D-Wave Systems are represented on this expert panel.

The CCA Quantum Technologies report (in progress) page can be found here.

Does it mean anything?

Since I only skim the top layer of information (disparagingly described as ‘high level’ by the technology types I used to work with), all I can say is there’s a remarkable level of interest from various groups who are self-organizing. (The interest is international as well. I found the International Society for Quantum Gravity [ISQG], which had its first meeting in 2021.)

I don’t know what the purpose is other than it seems the Canadian focus seems to be on money. The board of trade and business council have no interest in primary research and the federal government’s national quantum strategy is part of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada’s mandate. You’ll notice ‘science’ is sandwiched between ‘innovation’, which is often code for business, and economic development.

The Bank of Canada’s monetary interests are quite obvious.

The Perimeter Institute mentioned earlier was founded by Mike Lazaridis (from his Wikipedia entry) Note: Links have been removed,

… a Canadian businessman [emphasis mine], investor in quantum computing technologies, and founder of BlackBerry, which created and manufactured the BlackBerry wireless handheld device. With an estimated net worth of US$800 million (as of June 2011), Lazaridis was ranked by Forbes as the 17th wealthiest Canadian and 651st in the world.[4]

In 2000, Lazaridis founded and donated more than $170 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.[11][12] He and his wife Ophelia founded and donated more than $100 million to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in 2002.[8]

That Institute for Quantum Computing? There’s an interesting connection. Raymond Laflamme, the chair for the CCA expert panel, was its director for a number of years and he’s closely affiliated with the Perimeter Institute. (I’m not suggesting anything nefarious or dodgy. It’s a small community in Canada and relationships tend to be tightly interlaced.) I’m surprised he’s not part of the quantum mechanics and gravity conference but that could have something to do with scheduling.

One last interesting bit about Laflamme, from his Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed)

As Stephen Hawking’s PhD student, he first became famous for convincing Hawking that time does not reverse in a contracting universe, along with Don Page. Hawking told the story of how this happened in his famous book A Brief History of Time in the chapter The Arrow of Time.[3] Later on Laflamme made a name for himself in quantum computing and quantum information theory, which is what he is famous for today.

Getting back to the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment, the public day looks pretty interesting and when is the next time you’ll have a chance to hobnob with all those Nobel Laureates?

Bank of Canada and Multiverse Computing model complex networks & cryptocurrencies with quantum computing

Given all the concern over rising inflation (McGill University press room, February 23, 2022 “Experts: Canadian inflation hits a new three-decade high” and Bank of Canada rates (Pete Evans in an April 13, 2022 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s online news), this news release was a little unexpected both for timing (one week after the 2022 Canadian federal budget was delivered) and content (from an April 14, 2022 HKA Marketing Communications news release on EurekAlert),

Multiverse Computing, a global leader in quantum computing solutions for the financial industry and beyond with offices in Toronto and Spain, today announced it has completed a proof-of-concept project with the Bank of Canada through which the parties used quantum computing to simulate the adoption of cryptocurrency as a method of payment by non-financial firms.

“We are proud to be a trusted partner of the first G7 central bank to explore modelling of complex networks and cryptocurrencies through the use of quantum computing,” said Sam Mugel, CTO [Chief Technical Officer] at Multiverse Computing. “The results of the simulation are very intriguing and insightful as stakeholders consider further research in the domain. Thanks to the algorithm we developed together with our partners at the Bank of Canada, we have been able to model a complex system reliably and accurately given the current state of quantum computing capabilities.”

Companies may adopt various forms of payments. So, it’s important to develop a deep understanding of interactions that can take place in payments networks.

Multiverse Computing conducted its innovative work related to applying quantum computing for modelling complex economic interactions in a research project with the Bank of Canada. The project explored quantum computing technology as a way to simulate complex economic behaviour that is otherwise very difficult to simulate using traditional computational techniques.

By implementing this solution using D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, the simulation was able to tackle financial networks as large as 8-10 players, with up to 2^90 possible network configurations. Note that classical computing approaches cannot solve large networks of practical relevance as a 15-player network requires as many resources as there are atoms in the universe.

“We wanted to test the power of quantum computing on a research case that is hard to solve using classical computing techniques,” said Maryam Haghighi, Director, Data Science at the Bank of Canada. “This collaboration helped us learn more about how quantum computing can provide new insights into economic problems by carrying out complex simulations on quantum hardware.”

Motivated by the empirical observations about the cooperative nature of adoption of cryptocurrency payments, this theoretical study found that for some industries, these digital assets would share the payments market with traditional bank transfers and cash-like instruments. The market share for each would depend on how the financial institutions respond to the cryptocurrency adoptions, and on the economic costs associated with such trades.

The quantum simulations helped generate examples that illustrate how similar firms may end up adopting different levels of cryptocurrency use.

About Multiverse Computing

Multiverse Computing is a leading quantum software company that applies quantum and quantum-inspired solutions to tackle complex problems in finance to deliver value today and enable a more resilient and prosperous economy. The company’s expertise in quantum control and computational methods as well as finance means it can secure maximum results from current quantum devices. Its flagship product, Singularity, allows financial professionals to leverage quantum computing with common software tools.  The company is targeting additional verticals as well, including mobility, energy, the life sciences and industry 4.0.

Contacts:

Multiverse Computing
www.multiversecomputing.com
contact@multiversecomputing.com
+346 60 94 11 54

I wish there was a little more information about the contents of the report (although it is nice to know they have one).

D-Wave Systems, for those who don’t know, is a Vancouver-area company that supplies hardware (here’s more from their Wikipedia entry), Note: Links have been removed,

D-Wave Systems Inc. is a Canadian quantum computing company, based in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. D-Wave was the world’s first company to sell computers to exploit quantum effects in their operation.[2] D-Wave’s early customers include Lockheed Martin, University of Southern California, Google/NASA and Los Alamos National Lab.

The company has to this point specialized in quantum annealing. This is a specific type of quantum computing best used to solve the kind of problem (analyzing a multi-player situation) that the Bank of Canada was trying to solve.

I checked out ‘Multiverse’ in Toronto and they claim this, “World leaders in quantum computing for the financial industry,” on their homepage.

As for the company that produced the news release, HKA Marketing Communications, based in Southern California, they claim this “Specialists in Quantum Tech PR: #1 agency in this space” on their homepage.

I checked out the Bank of Canada website and didn’t find anything about this project.

Art appraised by algorithm

Artificial intelligence has been introduced to art appraisals and auctions by way of an academic research project. A January 27, 2022 University of Luxembourg press release (also on EurekAlert but published February 2, 2022) announces the research, Note: Links have been removed,

Does artificial intelligence have a place in such a fickle and quirky environment as the secondary art market? Can an algorithm learn to predict the value assigned to an artwork at auction?

These questions, among others, were analysed by a group of researchers including Roman Kräussl, professor at the Department of Finance at the University of Luxembourg and co-authors Mathieu Aubry (École des Ponts ParisTech), Gustavo Manso (Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley), and Christophe Spaenjers (HEC Paris). The resulting paper, Biased Auctioneers, has been accepted for publication in the top-ranked Journal of Finance.

Training a neural network to appraise art 

In this study, which combines fields of finance and computer science, researchers used machine learning and artificial intelligence to create a neural network algorithm that mimics the work of human appraisers by generating price predictions for art at auction. This algorithm relies on data using both visual and non-visual characteristics of artwork. The authors of this study unleashed their algorithm on a vast set of art sales data capturing 1.2 million painting auctions from 2008 to 2014, training the neural network with both an image of the artwork, and information such as the artist, the medium and the auction house where the work was sold. Once trained to this dataset, the authors asked the neural network to predict the auction house pre-sale estimates, ‘buy-in’ price (the minimum price at which the work will be sold), as well as the final auction price for art sales in the year 2015. It became then possible to compare the algorithm’s estimate with the real-word data, and determine whether the relative level of the machine-generated price predictions predicts relative price outcomes.

The path towards a more efficient market?

Not too surprisingly, the human experts’ predications [sic] were more accurate than the algorithm, whose prediction, in turn, was more accurate than the standard linear hedonic model which researchers used to benchmark the study. Reasons for the discrepancy between human and machine include, as the authors argue, mainly access to a larger amount of information about the individual works of art including provenance, condition and historical context. Although interesting, the authors’ goal was not to pit human against machine on this specific task. On the contrary, the authors aimed at discovering the usefulness and potential applications of machine-based valuations. For example, using such an algorithm, it may be possible to determine whether an auctioneer’s pre-sale valuations are too pessimistic or too optimistic, effectively predicting the prediction errors of the auctioneers. Ultimately, this information could be used to correct for these kinds of man-made market inefficiencies.

Beyond the auction block

The implications of this methodology and the applied computational power, however, is not limited to the art world. Other markets trading in ‘real’ assets, which rely heavily on human appraisers, namely the real estate market, can benefit from the research. While AI is not likely to replace humans just yet, machine-learning technology as demonstrated by the researchers may become an important tool for investors and intermediaries, who wish to gain access to as much information, as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

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

Biased Auctioneers by Mathieu Aubry, Roman Kräussl, Gustavo Manso, and Christophe Spaenjers. Journal of Finance, Forthcoming [print issue], Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3347175 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3347175 Published online: January 6, 2022

This paper appears to be open access online and was last revised on January 13, 2022.

Hydrogen In Motion (H2M), its solid state hydrogen storage nanomaterial, and running for Vancouver (Canada) City Council?

Vancouver city politics don’t usually feature here. but this June 13 ,2022 article by Kenneth Chan for the Daily Hive suggests that might be changing,

Colleen Hardwick’s TEAM for a Livable Vancouver party has officially nominated six candidates to fill Vancouver city councillor seats in the upcoming civic election.

….

Grace Quan is a co-founder and the head of Hydrogen In Motion, which specializes in developing a nanomaterial to store hydrogen [emphasis mine]. She previously worked for the Canadian International Development Agency and in the Foreign Service and served as a senior advisor to the CFO of the Treasury Board of Canada.

There’s not a lot of detail in the description which is reasonable considering five other candidates were being announced.

Since this blog is focused on nanotechnology and other emerging technologies, the word ‘nanomaterial’ popped out. Its use in the candidate’s description is close to meaningless, similar to saying that your storage container is made from a material. In this case, the material (presumably) is exploiting advantages found at the nanoscale. As for Quan, the work experience cited highlights experience working in government agencies but doesn’t include any technology development.

My main interest is the technology followed by the business aspects. As for why Quan is running for political office and how she will find the time; I can only offer speculation.

Hydrogen in Motion’s storage technology

Obviously the place to look is the Hydrogen in Motion (H2M) website. Descriptions of their technology are vague (from the company’s Hydrogen page),

Hydrogen In Motion solution is leading a breakthrough in solid state hydrogen storage nanomaterial. H2M hydrogen storage redefines the use of hydrogen fuel technologies and simplifying its logistical applications. Our technology offers hydrogen energy solution that has positive economic and environmental impact and provides an infinite source of constant energy with no emissions, low cost commitment and versatility with compact storage. Our technology solution has resolved the constraints currently burdening the hydrogen economy, making it the most viable solution for commercialization of future clean energy.

Which nanomaterial(s) are they using? Carbon nanotubes, graphene, gold nanoparticles, borophene, perovskite, fullerenes, etc.? The company’s Products page offers a little more information and some diagrams,

H2M fuel cell technology is well-adapted for a wide range of applications, from nomadic to stationary, enabling for easy transition to emission free systems. As the H2M nanomaterial is conformable, H2M hydrogen storage containers can be shaped to meet the application requirements; from extending flight duration for drones to grid scale renewable energy storage for solar, wind, and wave. H2M is the most effective Hydrogen storage ever designed.

There are no product names nor pictures of products other than this, which is in the banner,

[downloaded from https://www.hydrogeninmotion.com/products/]

No names, no branding, no product specifications.

Unusually for a startup, neither member of the executive team seems to have been the scientist who developed or is developing the nanomaterial for this technology. Also unusual, there’s not a scientific advisory board. Grace Quan has credentials as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and holds a Master of Business Administration (MB). Plus there’s this from the About Us page,

Grace has over 25 years of experience spanning a wealth of sectors including government – Federal Government of Canada, the Provincial Government (Minister’s Office) of Alberta; Academia – University of British Columbia, and Management of a Flying School; Not-for-Profit / Research Funding Agency – Genome British Columbia; and private sector with various management positions. Grace is well positioned to lead H2M in navigating the complicated world of Federal and Provincial politics and program funding requirements. At the same time Grace’s skills and expertise in the private sector will be invaluable in providing strategic direction in the marketing, finance, human resource, and production domains.

The other member of the executive team, Mark Cannon, the chief technical officer, has a Master of Science and a Bachelor of Mathematics. Plus there’s this from the About Us page,

Mark has over thirty years of experience commercializing academic developments, covering such diverse fields as: real time vision analysis, electromagnetic measurement and simulation, Computer Aided Design of printed circuit boards and microchips, custom integrated semiconductor chips for encryption, optical fibre signal measurement and recovery, and building energy management systems. He has worked at major research and development companies such as Systemhouse, Bell-Northern Research (later absorbed by Nortel), and Cadence Design Systems. Mark is very familiar with technology startups, the exigencies of entrepreneurship, and the business cycle of introducing new products into the market having cofounded two successful start-ups: Unicad Inc. (bought by Cooper & Chyan Technologies) and Viewnyx Corporation. He has also held key roles in two other start-ups, Chrysalis ITS and Optovation Inc.

His experience seems almost entirely focused on electronics and optics. It’s not clear to me how this experience is transferable to hydrogen storage and nanomaterials. (As well, his TechCrunch profile lists him as having founded one company rather than the three listed in his company’s profile.)

The company’s R&D page offers an overview of the process, the skills needed to conduct the research, and some quite interesting details about hydrogen storage but no scientific papers,

Conceive/Improve Theoretical Modelling

The theoretical team uses physical chemical theory starting at the quantum level using density functional theory (DFT) to model material composed of the elements that provide a structure and attract hydrogen. Once the theoretical material has been tested on that scale, further models are built using Molecular dynamics, thermodynamic modeling and finally computational fluid dynamic modeling. The team continuously provide support by modeling the different stages of synthesis to determine the optimal parameters required to achieve the correct synthesis.

Material Synthesis

The synthesis team uses a variety of chemical and physical state alteration techniques to synthesize the desired material. Series of experiments are devised to build the desired material usually one stage at a time. Usually a series of experiments are planned to determine key synthesis parameters that effect the material. Once a base material is completed, a series of experiments is devised and repeated to bring it to the next stage.

Characterization

Test Hydrogen Absorption & Desorption

Ultimately, the material’s performance is based on the results from the H2MS hydrogen measurement system. Once a material has been successfully synthesized and validated using the H2MS, multiple measurements are made at different temperatures for multiple cycles. This validates the robustness, operating range, and re-usability of the hydrogen storage material. For our first material [emphasis mine], a scale up plan is being developed. Moving from laboratory scale to manufacturing scale [emphasis mine] introduces several challenges in the synthesis of material. This includes equipment selection, fluid and thermal dynamic effects at a larger scale, reaction kinetics, chemical equilibrium and of course, cost.

At what stage is this company?

The business

There are a couple of promising business developments. First, there’s a September 1, 2021 Hydrogen in Motion news release (Note: Links have been removed),

Loop Energy (TSX: LPEN), a developer and manufacturer of hydrogen fuel cell-based solutions, and Hydrogen In Motion (H2M), a leading provider of solid state hydrogen storage, announce their plans to collaborate on converting  a Southern Railway of BC owned and operated diesel electric switcher locomotive to hydrogen electric.

The two British Columbia-based companies will use locally developed technology, including Loop Energy’s 50kw eFlow™ fuel cell system and a low pressure solid state hydrogen storage tank developed by H2M. The project signifies the first instance of Loop supplying its products for use in a rail transport application.

“This is an exciting phase for the hydrogen fuel cell industry as this proves that it is technically and economically feasible to convert diesel-powered switcher locomotives to hydrogen fuel cell-based power systems,” said Grace Quan, CEO of Hydrogen-in-Motion. “The introduction of a hydrogen infrastructure into railyards reduces air contaminants and greenhouse gases and brings clean technologies, job growth and innovation to local communities.”

A few months before, a July 30, 2021 Hydrogen in Motion news release announced an international deal,

Hydrogen In Motion (H2M) announced a collaboration with H2e Power [h2e Power Systems] out of Pune, India for a project to assess, design, install and demonstrate a hydrogen fuel cell 3-Wheeler using H2e PEM Fuel Cell integrated with Hydrogen In Motion’s innovative solid state hydrogen storage technology onboard. This Indo-Canadian collaboration leverages the zero emission and hydrogen strategies released in India and Canada. Hydrogen In Motion is receiving advisory services and up to $600,000 in funding support for this project through the Canadian International Innovation Program (CIIP). CIIP is a funding program offered by Global Affairs Canada [emphasis mine] and is delivered in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP). Respectively in India, H2e’s contributions towards this collaboration are supported by the Department of Science & Technology (DST) in collaboration with Global Innovation and Technology Alliance (GITA).

About This Project – This project will install a hydrogen fuel cell range extender using H2M low pressure hydrogen storage tanks on an electric powered three-wheeled auto rickshaw. Project goal is to significantly extend operational range and provide auxiliary power for home use when not in service.

The lack of scientific papers about the company’s technology is a little concerning. It’s not unheard of but combined with not identifying the scientist/inventor who developed the technology or identifying the source for the technology (in Canada, it’s almost always a university), or giving details about the technology or giving product details or noting that their products are being beta tested (?) in two countries India and Canada, or information about funding (where do they get their money?), or having a scientific advisory board, raises questions. The answer may be simple. They don’t place much value on keeping their website up to date as they are busy.

I did find some company details on the Companies of Canada.com website,

Hydrogen In Motion Inc. (H2M) is a company from Vancouver BC Canada. The company has corporate status: Active.

This business was incorporated 8 years ago on 8th January 2014

Hydrogen In Motion Inc. (H2M) is governed under the Canada Business Corporations Act – 2014-01-08. It a company of type: Non-distributing corporation with 50 or fewer shareholders.

The date of the company’s last Annual Meeting is 2021-01-01. The status of its annual filings are: 2021 -Filed, 2020 -Filed, 2019 -Filed.

Kona Equity offers an analysis (from the second quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020),

Hydrogen In Motion

Founded in 2014

Strengths

There are no known strengths for Hydrogen In Motion

Weaknesses

Hydrogen In Motion has a very small market share in their industry

Revenue generated per employee is less than the industry average

Revenue growth is less than the industry average

The number of employees is not growing as fast as the industry average

Variance of revenue growth is more than the industry average

7 employees

Employee growth rate from first known quarter to current -69.6%

I’d love to see a more recent analysis taking into account the 2021 business deals.

It’s impossible to tell when this job was posted but it provides some interesting insight, All the emphases are mine,

We are looking for an accomplished Chemical Process Engineer to lead our nanomaterial and carbon-rich material production, development and scale-up efforts. The holder of this position will be responsible for leading a team of engineers and technicians in the designing, developing and optimizing of process unit operations to provide high quality nanomaterials at various scales ranging from Research and Development to Commercial Manufacturing with good manufacturing practices (cGMP). The successful candidate is expected to independently strategize, analyze, design and control product scale-up to meet volume and quality demands.

Finally, there’s a chemical engineer or two. Plus, according to the company’s LinkedIn profile, there’s a theoretical physicist, Andrey Tokarev. Two locations are listed for Hydrogen in Motion, the Cordova St. office and something at 12388 88 Ave, Surrey. The company size is listed at 11 to 50 employees.

Grace Quan is good at getting government support for her company as this February 2019 story on the Government of Canada website shows,

Mark Cannon, Hydrogen in Motion CTO, Quak Foo Lee, chemical engineer, Angus Hui, co-op student, Dr. Pei Pei, research associate, Grace Quan, CEO, Sahida Kureshi PhD Candidate, and Dr. Andrey Tokerav, theoretical physicist. [downloaded from https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/stories-histoires/2019/CPTPP-hydrogen.aspx?lang=eng]

Canada in Asia-Pacific

Trade diversification | February 2019

Grace Quan’s goal is to deliver hydrogen around the world to help the environment and address climate change.

Quan is the CEO of Vancouver-based Hydrogen in Motion, a clean-tech company leading the way in hydrogen storage.

The number one problem with hydrogen is how to store it, which is why Quan founded Hydrogen in Motion. She set out to find a way to get hydrogen to people around the world.

Quan’s company has figured out how to do this. By using a material that soaks up hydrogen like a sponge, more of it can be stored at a lower pressure and at lower cost.

In the future, clean energy, including hydrogen, should become the method of choice to power anything that requires gas or electricity. For example, vehicles, snow blowers and drones could be powered by hydrogen in the future. Hydrogen is an infinite source of clean energy that can lessen the environmental impact from other sources of energy.

Thanks to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Quan says she can explore new markets in the Asia-Pacific region for hydrogen export.

Japan is a new market that Quan’s company will explore as a result of the CPTPP. There’s a lot of opportunity there, with Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics, which are expected to be powered by hydrogen.

Quan recently returned from a trade mission to India [emphasis mine], where local trade commissioners helped her set up a meeting with a major auto maker.

In 2020, Hydrogen in Motion was a ‘success story‘ for Canada’s Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) Tax Incentive Program (Note: A link has been removed),

H2M was selected for the free in-person First-time claimant advisory service when filing its first scientific research and experimental development (SR&ED) claim. Since then, the SR&ED tax incentives have had a significant impact on the company’s work. The company is not only thankful for the program’s funding, but also to the SR&ED staff for their hard work and assistance, especially during the pandemic.

The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Grace Quan, had the following comments:

“In the context of COVID-19 shutdowns and general business disruption, the SR&ED tax incentives have become a critical source of funds as other sources were put on hold due to the pandemic and the financial uncertainty of the times. I wish to express my extreme gratitude for the consideration, efforts and support, as well as thanks, to the Canadian government, the SR&ED Program and its staff for their compassionate and empathetic treatment of individuals and businesses. The staff was friendly, professional, prompt and went above and beyond to help a small business like Hydrogen In Motion. They were a pleasure to work with and were extremely effective in problem resolution and facilitating processing of our SR&ED refund to provide much needed cash flow during these difficult times.”

As you might expect from someone running for political office, Quan is good at promoting herself. From her Advisory Board profile page for the Vancouver Economic Commission,

As President & CEO of Hydrogen In Motion Inc. (H2M), Grace brings fiduciary accountability and strategic vision to the table with her CPA/CMA [certified management accountant] and MBA credentials. Grace has a vast range of financial and managerial experience in private and public sectors from managing a Flying School, to working in a Provincial Minister’s office, to helping to manage the $250 billion dollar budget for the Treasury Board Secretariat of the Government of Canada. 

In 2018 Grace Quan, CEO was recognized by BC Business magazine as one of the 50 Most Influential Women In STEM. [emphasis mine]

July 28, 2021 it was announced that Quan became a member of the World Hydrogen Advisory Board of the Sustainable Energy Council (UK).

Speculating about a political candidate

Grace Quan’s electoral run seems like odd timing. If your company just signed two deals less than a year ago during what seems to be an upswing in its business affairs then running for office (an almost full time job in itself) as a city councillor (a full time job, should you be elected) is an unexpected move from someone with no experience in public office.

Another surprising thing? The British Columbia Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE) announced a new consortium according to a Techcouver.com June 9, 2022 news item (about four days before the announcement of Quan’s political candidacy on the Daily Hive),

The British Columbia Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE) is partnering with businesses and government organizations to drive B.C.’s low-carbon hydrogen economy forward, with the launch of the B.C. Hydrogen Changemakers Consortium (BCHCC).

The partnership was announced at last night’s official Consortium launch event hosted by CICE and attended by leading B.C. hydrogen players, investors, and government officials. The Consortium launch is part of CICE’s previously announced Hydrogen Blueprint Investment, which will lay a foundation for the establishment of a hydrogen hub in Metro Vancouver, co-locating hydrogen supply and demand.

The group is expected to grow as projects and collaborations increase. To date, the Consortium members include: Ballard Power Systems, Capilano Maritime Design Ltd., Climate Action Secretariat, Fort Capital, FortisBC, Geazone Eco-Courier, Hydra Energy, HTEC, Innovative Clean Energy Fund, InBC Investment Corp., Modo, Parkland Refining, Powertech Labs, and TransLink.

Hydrogen in Motion doesn’t seem to be one of the inaugural members, which may mean nothing or may hint at why Quan is running for office.

Three possibilities

Perhaps the company is not doing so well? There’s a very high failure rate with technology companies. The ‘valley of death’ is the description for taking a development from the lab and turning it into a business (which is almost always highly dependent on government funding). Assuming the company manages to get something to market and finds customers, the next stage, growing the company from a few million in revenues to 10s and 100s of millions of dollars is equally fraught.

Keeping the company afloat for eight years is a big accomplishment especially when you factor in COVID-19 which has had a devastating impact on businesses large and small.

Alternatively, the company is being acquired (or would that be absorbed?) by a larger company. Entrepreneurs in British Columbia have a long history of growing their tech companies with the goal of being acquired and getting a large payout. Quan’s co-founder certainly has experience with growing a company and then selling it to a larger company.

Finally, the company is doing just fine but Quan is bored and needs a new challenge (which may be the case in the other two scenarios as well). if you look at her candidate profile page, you’ll see she has a range of interests.

Note: I am not offering an opinion on Quan’s suitability for political office. This is neither an endorsement nor an ‘anti-endorsement’.

Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) Appoints Expert Panel on International Science and Technology Partnerships

Now the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has announced its expert panel for the “International Science and Technology Partnership Opportunities” project, I offer my usual guess analysis of the connections between the members of the panle.

This project first was mentioned in my March 2, 2022 posting, scroll down to the “Council of Canadian Academies launches four projects” subhead. One comment before launching into the expert panel, the word innovation, which you’ll see in the announcement, is almost always code for commercialization, business and/or entrepreneurship.

A May 9, 2022 CCA news release (received via email) announced the members of expert panel,

CCA Appoints Expert Panel on International Science and Technology Partnerships

May 9, 2022 – Ottawa, ON

Canada has numerous opportunities to pursue beneficial international partnerships focused on science, technology, and innovation (STI), but finite resources to support them. At the request of Global Affairs Canada, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine best practices and identify key elements of a rigorous, data-enabled approach to selecting international STI partnership opportunities. Monica Gattinger, Director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa, will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“International STI partnerships can be crucial to advancing Canada’s interests, from economic growth to public health, sustainability, and security,” said Dr. Gattinger. “I look forward to leading this important assessment and working with panel members to develop clear, comprehensive and coherent approaches for evaluating partnership opportunities.”

As Chair, Dr. Gattinger will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in science diplomacy, global security, economics and trade, international research collaboration, and program evaluation. The Panel will answer the following question:

In a post-COVID world, how can Canadian public, private and academic organizations evaluate and prioritize STI partnership opportunities with foreign countries to achieve key national objectives, using indicators supported by objective data where possible?

“I’m delighted that an expert of Dr. Gattinger’s experience and knowledge has agreed to chair this panel,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA. “I look forward to the report’s findings for informing the use of international partnerships in science, technology, and innovation.”

More information can be found here.

The Expert Panel on International Science and Technology Partnerships:

Monica Gattinger (Chair), Director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa

David Audretsch, Distinguished Professor; Ameritech Chair of Economic Development; Director, Institute for Development Strategies, Indiana University

Stewart Beck, Distinguished Fellow, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada

Paul Arthur Berkman, Faculty Associate, Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School, and Associate Director, Science Diplomacy Centre, Harvard-MIT Public Disputes Program, Harvard University; Associated Fellow, United Nations Institute for Training and Research

Karen Croteau, Partner, Goss Gilroy

Paul Dufour, Principal, PaulicyWorks

Meredith Lilly, Associate Professor, Simon Reisman Chair in International Economic Policy, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University [located in Ottawa]

David Perry, President, Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Peggy Van de Plassche, Managing Partner, Roar Growth

Caroline S. Wagner, Professor, John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University

Jennifer M. Welsh, Professor; Canada 150 Research Chair in Global Governance and Security; Director, Centre for International Peace and Security Studies, McGill University

Given the discussion of pronouns and identification, I note that the panel of 11 experts includes six names commonly associated with women and five names commonly associated with men, which suggests some of the gender imbalance (male/female) I’ve noticed in the past is not present in the makeup of this panel.

There are three ‘international’ members and all are from the US. Based on past panels, international members tend to be from the US or the UK or, occasionally, from Australia or Europe.

Geographically, we have extraordinarily high representation (Monica Gattinger, David Perry, Meredith Lilly, Paul Dufour, and Karen Croteau) from people who are linked to Ottawa, Ontario, either educated or working at the University of Ottawa or Carleton University. (Thank goodness; it’s not as if the nation’s capital dominates almost every discussion about Canada. Ottawa, represent!)

As usual, there is no Canadian representing the North. This seems a bit odd given the very high international interest in the Arctic regions.

Ottawa connections

Here are some of the links (that I’ve been able to find) to Ottawa,

Monica Gattinger (from her Institute of Governance profile page),

Dr. Gattinger is an award-winning researcher and highly sought-after speaker, adviser and media commentator in the energy and arts/cultural [emphasis mine] policy sectors….

Gattinger is Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, … She holds a Ph.D. in public policy from Carleton University. [emphases mine]

You’ll note David Perry is president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Meredith Lilly is currently at Carleton University.

Perry is a professor at the University of Calgary where the Canadian Global Affairs Institute is headquartered (and it has offices in Ottawa). Here’s more from Perry’s institute profile page,

… He received his PhD in political science from Carleton University [emphasis mine] where his dissertation examined the link between defence budgeting and defence procurement. He is an adjunct professor at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary and a research fellow of the Centre for the Study of Security and Development at Dalhousie University. …

Paul Dufour also has an Ottawa connection, from his 2017 CCA profile page,

Paul Dufour is a Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy in the University of Ottawa [emphasis mine] and science policy Principal with PaulicyWorks in Gatineau, Québec. He is on the Board of Directors of the graduate student led Science Policy Exchange based in Montréal [emphasis mine], and is [a] member of the Investment Committee for Grand Challenges Canada.

Paul Dufour has been senior advisor in science policy with several Canadian agencies and organizations over the course of the past 30 years. Among these: Senior Program Specialist with the International Development Research Centre, and interim Executive Director at the former Office of the National Science Advisor to the Canadian Government advising on international S&T matters and broad questions of R&D policy directions for the country.

Born in Montréal, Mr. Dufour was educated at McGill University [emphasis mine], the Université de Montréal, and Concordia University in the history of science and science policy, …

Role: Steering Committee Member

Report: Science Policy: Considerations for Subnational Governments (April 2017)

Finally, there’s Karen Croteau a partner at Goss Gilroy. Here’s more from her LinkedIn profile page,

A seasoned management consultant professional and Credentialed Evaluator with more than 18 years experience in a variety of areas including: program evaluation, performance measurement, organizational/ resource review, benefit/cost analysis, reviews of regulatory management programs, organizational benchmarking, business case development, business process improvement, risk management, change management and project/ program management.

Experience

Partner

Goss Gilroy Inc

Jul 2019 – Present 2 years 11 months

Ottawa, Ontario [emphasis mine]

Education

Carleton University [emphasis mine]

Carleton University [emphasis mine]
Master’s Diploma Public Policy and Program Evaluation

The east coast

I think of Toronto, Ottawa, and Montréal as a kind of East Coast triangle.

Interestingly, Jennifer M. Welsh is at McGill University in Montréal where Paul Dufour was educated.

Representing the third point, Toronto, is Peggy Van de Plassche (judging by her accent in her YouTube videos, she’s from France), from her LinkedIn profile page,

I am a financial services and technology expert, corporate director, business advisor, investor, entrepreneur, and public speaker, fluent in French and English.

Prior to starting Roar Growth, I led innovation for CIBC [Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce], allocated several billions of capital to technology projects on behalf of CGI and BMO [Bank of Montreal], managed a European family office, and started 2 Fintechs.

Education

Harvard Business School [emphasis mine]

Executive Education – Investment

IÉSEG School of Management [France]

Master of Science (MSc) – Business Administration and Management, General

IÉSEG School of Management

Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) – Accounting and Finance

I didn’t find any connections to the Ottawa or Montréal panel members but I was mildly interested to see that one of the US members Paul Arthur Berkman is from Harvard University. Otherwise, Van de Plassche stands mostly alone.

The last of my geographical comments

David Perry manages to connect Alberta via his adjunct professorship at the University of Calgary, Ottawa (as noted previously) and Nova Scotia via his fellowship at Dalhousie University.

In addition to Montréal and the ever important Québec connection, Jennifer M. Welsh could be said to connect another prairie province while adding a little more international flair to this panel (from her McGill University profile page,

Professor Jennifer M. Welsh is the Canada 150 Research Chair in Global Governance and Security at McGill University (Montreal, Canada). She was previously Professor and Chair in International Relations at the European University Institute (Florence, Italy) [emphasis mine] and Professor in International Relations at the University of Oxford, [emphasis mine] where she co-founded the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict. From 2013-2016, she served as the Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, on the Responsibility to Protect.

… She has a BA from the University of Saskatchewan (Canada),[emphasis mine] and a Masters and Doctorate from the University of Oxford (where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar).

Stewart Beck seems to be located in Vancouver, Canada which gives the panel one West Coast connection, here’s more from his LinkedIn profile page,

As a diplomat, a trade commissioner, and a policy expert, I’ve spent the last 40 years as one of the foremost advocates of Canada’s interests in the U.S. and Asia. From 2014 to 2021 (August), I was the President and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada [APF] [emphasis mine], Canada’s leading research institution on Asia. Under my leadership, the organization added stakeholder value through applied research and as a principal convener on Asia topics, a builder of enviable networks of public and private sector stakeholders, and a leader of conversations on crucial regional issues. Before joining APF Canada, I led a distinguished 30+ year career with Canada’s diplomatic corps. With postings in the U.S. and Asia, culminating with an assignment as Canada’s High Commissioner to India (Ambassador) [emphasis mine], I gained the knowledge and experience to be one of Canada’s recognized experts on Asia and innovation policy. Along the way, I also served in many senior foreign policy and trade positions, including as Canada’s most senior trade and investment development official, Consul General to Shanghai [emphasis mine]and Consul General to San Francisco. Today, Asia is vitally critical to Canada’s economic security, both financially and technologically. Applying my understanding and navigating the challenging geopolitical, economic, and trade environment is the value I bring to strategic conversations on the region. An established network of senior private and public sector officials in Canada and Asia complements the experience I’ve gained over the many years living and working in Asia.

He completed undergraduate and graduate degrees at Queen’s University in Ontario and, given his career in diplomacy, I expect there are many Ottawa connections.

David Audretsch and Caroline S. Wagner of Indiana University and Ohio State University, respectively, are a little unusual. Most of the time, US members are from the East Coast or the West Coast not from one of the Midwest states.

One last comment about Paul Arthur Berkman, his profile page on the Harvard University website reveals unexpected polar connections,

Fulbright Arctic Chair [emphasis mine] 2021-2022, United States Department of State and Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Paul Arthur Berkman is science diplomat, polar explorer and global thought leader applying international, interdisciplinary and inclusive processes with informed decisionmaking to balance national interests and common interests for the benefit of all on Earth across generations. Paul wintered in Antarctica [emphasis mine] when he was twenty-two, SCUBA diving throughout the year under the ice, and then taught a course on science into policy as a Visiting Professor at the University of California Los Angeles the following year, visiting all seven continents before the age of thirty.

Hidden diversity

While the panel is somewhat Ottawa-centric with a strong bias towards the US and Europe, there are some encouraging signs.

Beck’s experience in Asia and Berkman’s in the polar regions is good to see. Dufour has written the Canada chapter in two (2015 and 2021) UNESCO Science Reports and offers an excellent overview of the Canadian situation within a global context in the 2021 edition (I haven’t had the time to view the 2015 report).

Economist Audretsch and FinTech entrepreneur Van de Plassche, offer academic and practical perspectives for ‘innovation’ while Perry and Welsh both offer badly needed (Canada has been especially poor in this area; see below) security perspectives.

The rest of the panel offers what you’d expect, extensive science policy experience. I hope Gattinger’s experience with arts/cultural policy will enhance this project.

This CCA project comes at a time when Canada is looking at establishing closer links to the European Union’s science programmes as per my May 11, 2022 posting: Canada’s exploratory talks about joining the European Union’s science funding programme (Horizon Europe).

This project also comes at about the same time the Canadian federal government announced in its 2022 federal budget (covered in my April 19, 2022 posting, scroll down about 25% of the way; you’ll recognize the subhead) a new Canadian investment and Innovation Agency.

Notes on security

Canada has stumbled more than once in this area.The current war waged by Russia in Ukraine offers one of the latest examples of how state actors can wage damage not just in the obvious physical sense but also with cyberattacks. The US suffered a notable attack in May 2021 which forced the shutdown of a major gas pipeline (May 9, 2021 NBC news report).

As for Canada, there is a July 9, 2014 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news report about a cyberattack on the National Research Council (NRC),

A “highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor” recently managed to hack into the computer systems at Canada’s National Research Council, according to Canada’s chief information officer, Corinne Charette.

For its part, the NRC says in a statement released Tuesday morning that it is now attempting to rebuild its computer infrastructure and this could take as much a year.

The NRC works with private businesses to advance and develop technological innovations through science and research.

This is not the first time the Canadian government has fallen victim to a cyberattack that seems to have originated in China — but it is the first time the Canadian government has unequivocally blamed China for the attack.

In September 2021 an announcement was made about a new security alliance where Canada was not included (from my September 17, 2021 posting),

Wednesday, September 15, 2021 an announcement of a new alliance in the Indo-Pacific region, the Three Eyes (Australia, UK, and US or AUKUS) was made.

Interestingly all three are part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance comprised of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and US. Hmmm … Canada and New Zealand both border the Pacific and last I heard, the UK is still in Europe.

I mention other security breaches such as the Cameron Ortis situation and the Winnipeg-based National Microbiology Lab (NML), the only level 4 lab in Canada in the September 17, 2021 posting under the ‘What is public safety?’ subheading.

It seems like there might be some federal movement on the issues assuming funding for “Securing Canada’s Research from Foreign Threats” in the 2022 federal budget actually appears. It’s in my April 19, 2022 posting about 45% of the way down under the subheading Research security.

I wish the panel good luck.

Canada’s science and its 2022 federal budget (+ the online April 21, 2022 symposium: Decoding Budget 2022 for Science and Innovation)

Here’s my more or less annual commentary on the newly announced federal budget. This year the 2022/23 Canadian federal budget was presented by Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Finance, on April 7, 2022.

Sadly the budgets never include a section devoted to science and technology, which makes finding the information a hunting exercise.

I found most of my quarry in the 2022 budget’s Chapter 2: A Strong, Growing, and Resilient Economy (Note: I’m picking and choosing items that interest me),

Key Ongoing Actions

  • $8 billion to transform and decarbonize industry and invest in clean technologies and batteries;
  • $4 billion for the Canada Digital Adoption Program, which launched in March 2022 to help businesses move online, boost their e-commerce presence, and digitalize their businesses;
  • $1.2 billion to support life sciences and bio-manufacturing in Canada, including investments in clinical trials, bio-medical research, and research infrastructure;
  • $1 billion to the Strategic Innovation Fund to support life sciences and bio-manufacturing firms in Canada and develop more resilient supply chains. This builds on investments made throughout the pandemic with manufacturers of vaccines and therapeutics like Sanofi, Medicago, and Moderna;
  • $1 billion for the Universal Broadband Fund (UBF), bringing the total available through the UBF to $2.75 billion, to improve high-speed Internet access and support economic development in rural and remote areas of Canada;
  • $1.2 billion to launch the National Quantum Strategy, Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy, and the next phase of Canada’s Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy to capitalize on emerging technologies of the future [Please see: the ‘I am confused’ subhead for more about the ‘launches’];
  • Helping small and medium-sized businesses to invest in new technologies and capital projects by allowing for the immediate expensing of up to $1.5 million of eligible investments beginning in 2021;

While there are proposed investments in digital adoption and the Universal Broadband Fund, there’s no mention of 5G but perhaps that’s too granular (or specific) for a national budget. I wonder if we’re catching up yet? There have been concerns about our failure to keep pace with telecommunications developments and infrastructure internationally.

Moving on from ‘Key Ongoing Actions’, there are these propositions from Chapter 2: A Strong, Growing, and Resilient Economy (Note: I have not offset the material from the budget in a ‘quote’ form as I want to retain the formatting.),

Creating a Canadian Innovation and Investment Agency

Canadians are a talented, creative, and inventive people. Our country has never been short on good ideas.

But to grow our economy, invention is not enough. Canadians and Canadian companies need to take their new ideas and new technologies and turn them into new products, services, and growing businesses.

However, Canada currently ranks last in the G7 in R&D spending by businesses. This trend has to change. [Note: We’ve been lagging from at least 10 or more years and we keep talking about catching up.]

Solving Canada’s main innovation challenges—a low rate of private business investment in research, development, and the uptake of new technologies—is key to growing our economy and creating good jobs.

A market-oriented innovation and investment agency—one with private sector leadership and expertise—has helped countries like Finland and Israel transform themselves into global innovation leaders. {Note: The 2021 budget also name checked Israel.]

The Israel Innovation Authority has spurred the growth of R&D-intensive sectors, like the information and communications technology and autonomous vehicle sectors. The Finnish TEKES [Tekes – The Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation] helped transform low-technology sectors like forestry and mining into high technology, prosperous, and globally competitive industries.

In Canada, a new innovation and investment agency will proactively work with new and established Canadian industries and businesses to help them make the investments they need to innovate, grow, create jobs, and be competitive in the changing global economy.

Budget 2022 announces the government’s intention to create an operationally independent federal innovation and investment agency, and proposes $1 billion over five years, starting in 2022-23, to support its initial operations. Final details on the agency’s operating budget are to be determined following further consultation later this year.

Review of Tax Support to R&D and Intellectual Property

The Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program provides tax incentives to encourage Canadian businesses of all sizes and in all sectors to conduct R&D. The SR&ED program has been a cornerstone of Canada’s innovation strategy. The government intends to undertake a review of the program, first to ensure that it is effective in encouraging R&D that benefits Canada, and second to explore opportunities to modernize and simplify it. Specifically, the review will examine whether changes to eligibility criteria would be warranted to ensure adequacy of support and improve overall program efficiency. 

As part of this review, the government will also consider whether the tax system can play a role in encouraging the development and retention of intellectual property stemming from R&D conducted in Canada. In particular, the government will consider, and seek views on, the suitability of adopting a patent box regime [emphasis mine] in order to meet these objectives.

I am confused

Let’s start with the 2022 budget’s $1.2 billion to launch the National Quantum Strategy, Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy, and the next phase of Canada’s Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. Here’s what I had in my May 4, 2021 posting about the 2021 budget,

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $360 million over seven years, starting in 2021-22, to launch a National Quantum Strategy [emphasis mine]. The strategy will amplify Canada’s significant strength in quantum research; grow our quantum-ready technologies, companies, and talent; and solidify Canada’s global leadership in this area. This funding will also establish a secretariat at the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to coordinate this work.
  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $400 million over six years, starting in 2021-22, in support of a Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy [emphasis mine]. This funding would provide $136.7 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, for mission-driven programming delivered by Genome Canada to kick-start the new Strategy and complement the government’s existing genomics research and innovation programming.
  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide up to $443.8 million over ten years, starting in 2021-22, in support of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy [emphasis mine], …

How many times can you ‘launch’ a strategy?

A patent box regime

So the government is “… encouraging the development and retention of intellectual property stemming from R&D conducted in Canada” and is examining a “patent box regime” with an eye as to how that will help achieve those ends. Interesting!

Here’s how the patent box is described on Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

A patent box is a special very low corporate tax regime used by several countries to incentivise research and development by taxing patent revenues differently from other commercial revenues.[1] It is also known as intellectual property box regime, innovation box or IP box. Patent boxes have also been used as base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) tools, to avoid corporate taxes.

Even if they can find a way to “incentivize” R&D, the government has a problem keeping research in the country (see my September 17, 2021 posting (about the Council of Academies CCA’s ‘Public Safety in the Digital Age’ project) and scroll down about 50% of the way to find this,

There appears to be at least one other major security breach; that involving Canada’s only level four laboratory, the Winnipeg-based National Microbiology Lab (NML). (See a June 10, 2021 article by Karen Pauls for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news online for more details.)

As far as I’m aware, Ortis [very senior civilian RCMP intelligence official Cameron Ortis] is still being held with a trial date scheduled for September 2022 (see Catherine Tunney’s April 9, 2021 article for CBC news online) and, to date, there have been no charges laid in the Winnipeg lab case.

The “security breach” involved sending information and sample viruses to another country, without proper documentation or approvals.

While I delved into a particular aspect of public safety in my posting, the CCA’s ‘Public Safety in the Digital Age’ project was very loosely defined and no mention was made of intellectual property. (You can check the “Exactly how did the question get framed?” subheading in the September 17, 2021 posting.)

Research security

While it might be described as ‘shutting the barn door after the horse got out’, there is provision in the 2022 budget for security vis-à-vis our research, from Chapter 2: A Strong, Growing, and Resilient Economy,

Securing Canada’s Research from Foreign Threats

Canadian research and intellectual property can be an attractive target for foreign intelligence agencies looking to advance their own economic, military, or strategic interests. The National Security Guidelines for Research Partnerships, developed in collaboration with the Government of Canada– Universities Working Group in July 2021, help to protect federally funded research.

  • To implement these guidelines fully, Budget 2022 proposes to provide $159.6 million, starting in 2022-23, and $33.4 million ongoing, as follows:
    • $125 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, and $25 million ongoing, for the Research Support Fund to build capacity within post- secondary institutions to identify, assess, and mitigate potential risks to research security; and
    • $34.6 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, and $8.4 million ongoing, to enhance Canada’s ability to protect our research, and to establish a Research Security Centre that will provide advice and guidance directly to research institutions.

Mining

There’s a reason I’m mentioning the mining industry, from Chapter 2: A Strong, Growing, and Resilient Economy,

Canada’s Critical Minerals and Clean Industrial Strategies

Critical minerals are central to major global industries like clean technology, health care, aerospace, and computing. They are used in phones, computers, and in our cars. [emphases mine] They are already essential to the global economy and will continue to be in even greater demand in the years to come.

Canada has an abundance of a number of valuable critical minerals, but we need to make significant investments to make the most of these resources.

In Budget 2022, the federal government intends to make significant investments that would focus on priority critical mineral deposits, while working closely with affected Indigenous groups and through established regulatory processes. These investments will contribute to the development of a domestic zero-emissions vehicle value chain, including batteries, permanent magnets, and other electric vehicle components. They will also secure Canada’s place in important supply chains with our allies and implement a just and sustainable Critical Minerals Strategy.

In total, Budget 2022 proposes to provide up to $3.8 billion in support over eight years, on a cash basis, starting in 2022-23, to implement Canada’s first Critical Minerals Strategy. This will create thousands of good jobs, grow our economy, and make Canada a vital part of the growing global critical minerals industry.

I don’t recall seeing mining being singled out before and I’m glad to see it now.

A 2022 federal budget commentary from University Affairs

Hannah Liddle’s April 8, 2022 article for University Affairs is focused largely on the budget’s impact on scientific research and she picked up on a few things I missed,

Budget 2022 largely focuses on housing affordability, clean growth and defence, with few targeted investments in scientific research.

The government tabled $1 billion over five years for an innovation and investment agency, designed to boost private sector investments in research and development, and to correct the slow uptake of new technologies across Canadian industries. The new agency represents a “huge evolution” in federal thinking about innovation, according to Higher Education Strategy Associates. The company noted in a budget commentary that Ottawa has shifted to solving the problem of low spending on research and development by working with the private sector, rather than funding universities as an alternative. The budget also indicated that the innovation and investment agency will support the defence sector and boost defence manufacturing, but the promised Canada Advanced Research Projects Agency – which was to be modelled after the famed American DARPA program – was conspicuously missing from the budget. [emphases mine]

However, the superclusters were mentioned and have been rebranded [emphasis mine] and given a funding boost. The five networks are now called “global innovation clusters,” [emphasis mine] and will receive $750 million over six years, which is half of what they had reportedly asked for. Many universities and research institutions are members of the five clusters, which are meant to bring together government, academia, and industry to create new companies, jobs, intellectual property, and boost economic growth.

Other notable innovation-related investments include the launch of a critical minerals strategy, which will give the country’s mining sector $3.8 billion over eight years. The strategy will support the development of a domestic zero-emission vehicle value chain, including for batteries (which are produced using critical minerals). The National Research Council will receive funding through the strategy, shared with Natural Resources Canada, to support new technologies and bolster supply chains of critical minerals such as lithium and cobalt. The government has also targeted investments in the semiconductor industry ($45 million over four years), the CAN Health Network ($40 million over four years), and the Canadian High Arctic Research Station ($14.5 million over five years).

Canada’s higher education institutions did notch a win with a major investment in agriculture research. The government will provide $100 million over six years to support postsecondary research in developing new agricultural technologies and crop varieties, which could push forward net-zero emissions agriculture.

The Canada Excellence Research Chairs program received $38.3 million in funding over four years beginning in 2023-24, with the government stating this could create 12 to 25 new chair positions.

To support Canadian cybersecurity, which is a key priority under the government’s $8 billion defence umbrella, the budget gives $17.7 million over five years and $5.5 million thereafter until 2031-32 for a “unique research chair program to fund academics to conduct research on cutting-edge technologies” relevant to the Communications Security Establishment – the national cryptologic agency. The inaugural chairs will split their time between peer-reviewed and classified research.

The federal granting councils will be given $40.9 million over five years beginning in 2022-23, and $9.7 million ongoing, to support Black “student researchers,” who are among the underrepresented groups in the awarding of scholarships, grants and fellowships. Additionally, the federal government will give $1.5 million to the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, housed at York University, to address systemic barriers and racial inequalities in the Canadian education system and to improve outcomes for Black students.

A pretty comprehensive listing of all the science-related funding in the 2022 budget can be found in an April 7, 2022 posting on the Evidence for Democracy (E4D) blog,

2022 budget symposium

Here’s more about the symposium from the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), from the Decoding Budget 2022 event page,

Decoding Budget 2022 for Science and Innovation

The CSPC Budget Symposium will be held on Thursday April 21 [2022] at 12:00 pm (EST), and feature numerous speakers from across the country and across different sectors, in two sessions and one keynote presentation by Dave Watters titled: “Decoding Budget 2022 for Science and Innovation”.

Don’t miss this session and all insightful discussions of the Federal Budget 2022.

Register Here

You can see the 2022 symposium poster below,

By the way, David Watters gave the keynote address for the 2021 symposium too. Seeing his name twice now aroused my curiosity. Here’s a little more about David Watters (from a 2013 bio on the Council of Canadian Academies website), Note: He is still president,

David Watters is President of the Global Advantage Consulting Group, a strategic management consulting firm that provides advice to corporate, association, and government clients in Canada and abroad.

Mr. Watters worked for over 30 years in the federal public service in a variety of departments, including Energy Mines and Resources, Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Industry Canada (as Assistant Deputy Minister), Treasury Board Secretariat (in charge of Crown corporations and privatization issues), the Canadian Coast Guard (as its Commissioner) and Finance Canada (as Assistant Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Corporate Finance). He then moved to the Public Policy Forum where he worked on projects dealing with the innovation agenda, particularly in areas such as innovation policy, health reform, transportation, and the telecommunications and information technology sectors. He also developed reports on the impact of the Enron scandal and other corporate and public sector governance problems for Canadian regulators.

Since starting the Global Advantage Consulting Group in 2002, Mr. Watters has assisted a variety of public and private clients. His areas of specialization and talent are in creating visual models for policy development and decision making, and business models for managing research and technology networks. He has also been an adjunct professor at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, teaching International Negotiation.

Mr. Watters holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Queen’s University as well as a Law degree in corporate, commercial and tax law from the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University.

So, an economist, lawyer, and government bureaucrat is going to analyze the budget with regard to science and R&D? If I had to guess, I’d say he’s going to focus in ‘innovation’ which I’m decoding as a synonym for ‘business/commercialization’.

Getting back to the budget, it’s pretty medium where science is concerned with more than one -re-announcement’. As the pundits have noted, the focus is on deficit reduction and propping up the economy.

ETA April 20, 2022: There’s been a keynote speaker change, from an April 20, 2022 CSPC announcement (received via email),

… keynote presentation by Omer Kaya, CEO of Global Advantage Consulting Group. Unfortunately, due to unexpected circumstances, Dave Watters will not be presenting at this session as expected before.

Going blind when your neural implant company flirts with bankruptcy (long read)

This story got me to thinking about what happens when any kind of implant company (pacemaker, deep brain stimulator, etc.) goes bankrupt or is acquired by another company with a different business model.

As I worked on this piece, more issues were raised and the scope expanded to include prosthetics along with implants while the focus narrowed to neuro as in, neural implants and neuroprosthetics. At the same time, I found salient examples for this posting in other medical advances such as gene editing.

In sum, all references to implants and prosthetics are to neural devices and some issues are illustrated with salient examples from other medical advances (specifically, gene editing).

Definitions (for those who find them useful)

The US Food and Drug Administration defines implants and prosthetics,

Medical implants are devices or tissues that are placed inside or on the surface of the body. Many implants are prosthetics, intended to replace missing body parts. Other implants deliver medication, monitor body functions, or provide support to organs and tissues.

As for what constitutes a neural implant/neuroprosthetic, there’s this from Emily Waltz’s January 20, 2020 article (How Do Neural Implants Work? Neural implants are used for deep brain stimulation, vagus nerve stimulation, and mind-controlled prostheses) for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Spectrum magazine,

A neural implant, then, is a device—typically an electrode of some kind—that’s inserted into the body, comes into contact with tissues that contain neurons, and interacts with those neurons in some way.

Now, let’s start with the recent near bankruptcy of a retinal implant company.

The company goes bust (more or less)

From a February 25, 2022 Science Friday (a National Public Radio program) posting/audio file, Note: Links have been removed,

Barbara Campbell was walking through a New York City subway station during rush hour when her world abruptly went dark. For four years, Campbell had been using a high-tech implant in her left eye that gave her a crude kind of bionic vision, partially compensating for the genetic disease that had rendered her completely blind in her 30s. “I remember exactly where I was: I was switching from the 6 train to the F train,” Campbell tells IEEE Spectrum. “I was about to go down the stairs, and all of a sudden I heard a little ‘beep, beep, beep’ sound.’”

It wasn’t her phone battery running out. It was her Argus II retinal implant system powering down. The patches of light and dark that she’d been able to see with the implant’s help vanished.

Terry Byland is the only person to have received this kind of implant in both eyes. He got the first-generation Argus I implant, made by the company Second Sight Medical Products, in his right eye in 2004, and the subsequent Argus II implant in his left 11 years later. He helped the company test the technology, spoke to the press movingly about his experiences, and even met Stevie Wonder at a conference. “[I] went from being just a person that was doing the testing to being a spokesman,” he remembers.

Yet in 2020, Byland had to find out secondhand that the company had abandoned the technology and was on the verge of going bankrupt. While his two-implant system is still working, he doesn’t know how long that will be the case. “As long as nothing goes wrong, I’m fine,” he says. “But if something does go wrong with it, well, I’m screwed. Because there’s no way of getting it fixed.”

Science Friday and the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] Spectrum magazine collaborated to produce this story. You’ll find the audio files and the transcript of interviews with the authors and one of the implant patients in this February 25, 2022 Science Friday (a National Public Radio program) posting.

Here’s more from the February 15, 2022 IEEE Spectrum article by Eliza Strickland and Mark Harris,

Ross Doerr, another Second Sight patient, doesn’t mince words: “It is fantastic technology and a lousy company,” he says. He received an implant in one eye in 2019 and remembers seeing the shining lights of Christmas trees that holiday season. He was thrilled to learn in early 2020 that he was eligible for software upgrades that could further improve his vision. Yet in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, he heard troubling rumors about the company and called his Second Sight vision-rehab therapist. “She said, ‘Well, funny you should call. We all just got laid off,’ ” he remembers. She said, ‘By the way, you’re not getting your upgrades.’ ”

These three patients, and more than 350 other blind people around the world with Second Sight’s implants in their eyes, find themselves in a world in which the technology that transformed their lives is just another obsolete gadget. One technical hiccup, one broken wire, and they lose their artificial vision, possibly forever. To add injury to insult: A defunct Argus system in the eye could cause medical complications or interfere with procedures such as MRI scans, and it could be painful or expensive to remove.

The writers included some information about what happened to the business, from the February 15, 2022 IEEE Spectrum article, Note: Links have been removed,

After Second Sight discontinued its retinal implant in 2019 and nearly went out of business in 2020, a public offering in June 2021 raised US $57.5 million at $5 per share. The company promised to focus on its ongoing clinical trial of a brain implant, called Orion, that also provides artificial vision. But its stock price plunged to around $1.50, and in February 2022, just before this article was published, the company announced a proposed merger with an early-stage biopharmaceutical company called Nano Precision Medical (NPM). None of Second Sight’s executives will be on the leadership team of the new company, which will focus on developing NPM’s novel implant for drug delivery.The company’s current leadership declined to be interviewed for this article but did provide an emailed statement prior to the merger announcement. It said, in part: “We are a recognized global leader in neuromodulation devices for blindness and are committed to developing new technologies to treat the broadest population of sight-impaired individuals.”

It’s unclear what Second Sight’s proposed merger means for Argus patients. The day after the merger was announced, Adam Mendelsohn, CEO of Nano Precision Medical, told Spectrum that he doesn’t yet know what contractual obligations the combined company will have to Argus and Orion patients. But, he says, NPM will try to do what’s “right from an ethical perspective.” The past, he added in an email, is “simply not relevant to the new future.”

There may be some alternatives, from the February 15, 2022 IEEE Spectrum article (Note: Links have been removed),

Second Sight may have given up on its retinal implant, but other companies still see a need—and a market—for bionic vision without brain surgery. Paris-based Pixium Vision is conducting European and U.S. feasibility trials to see if its Prima system can help patients with age-related macular degeneration, a much more common condition than retinitis pigmentosa.

Daniel Palanker, a professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University who licensed his technology to Pixium, says the Prima implant is smaller, simpler, and cheaper than the Argus II. But he argues that Prima’s superior image resolution has the potential to make Pixium Vision a success. “If you provide excellent vision, there will be lots of patients,” he tells Spectrum. “If you provide crappy vision, there will be very few.”

Some clinicians involved in the Argus II work are trying to salvage what they can from the technology. Gislin Dagnelie, an associate professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has set up a network of clinicians who are still working with Argus II patients. The researchers are experimenting with a thermal camera to help users see faces, a stereo camera to filter out the background, and AI-powered object recognition. These upgrades are unlikely to result in commercial hardware today but could help future vision prostheses.

The writers have carefully balanced this piece so it is not an outright condemnation of the companies (Second Sight and Nano Precision), from the February 15, 2022 IEEE Spectrum article,

Failure is an inevitable part of innovation. The Argus II was an innovative technology, and progress made by Second Sight may pave the way for other companies that are developing bionic vision systems. But for people considering such an implant in the future, the cautionary tale of Argus patients left in the lurch may make a tough decision even tougher. Should they take a chance on a novel technology? If they do get an implant and find that it helps them navigate the world, should they allow themselves to depend upon it?

Abandoning the Argus II technology—and the people who use it—might have made short-term financial sense for Second Sight, but it’s a decision that could come back to bite the merged company if it does decide to commercialize a brain implant, believes Doerr.

For anyone curious about retinal implant technology (specifically the Argus II), I have a description in a June 30, 2015 posting.

Speculations and hopes for neuroprosthetics

The field of neuroprosthetics is very active. Dr Arthur Saniotis and Prof Maciej Henneberg have written an article where they speculate about the possibilities of a neuroprosthetic that may one day merge with neurons in a February 21, 2022 Nanowerk Spotlight article,

For over a generation several types of medical neuroprosthetics have been developed, which have improved the lives of thousands of individuals. For instance, cochlear implants have restored functional hearing in individuals with severe hearing impairment.

Further advances in motor neuroprosthetics are attempting to restore motor functions in tetraplegic, limb loss and brain stem stroke paralysis subjects.

Currently, scientists are working on various kinds of brain/machine interfaces [BMI] in order to restore movement and partial sensory function. One such device is the ‘Ipsihand’ that enables movement of a paralyzed hand. The device works by detecting the recipient’s intention in the form of electrical signals, thereby triggering hand movement.

Another recent development is the 12 month BMI gait neurohabilitation program that uses a visual-tactile feedback system in combination with a physical exoskeleton and EEG operated AI actuators while walking. This program has been tried on eight patients with reported improvements in lower limb movement and somatic sensation.

Surgically placed electrode implants have also reduced tremor symptoms in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Although neuroprosthetics have provided various benefits they do have their problems. Firstly, electrode implants to the brain are prone to degradation, necessitating new implants after a few years. Secondly, as in any kind of surgery, implanted electrodes can cause post-operative infection and glial scarring. Furthermore, one study showed that the neurobiological efficacy of an implant is dependent on the rate of speed of its insertion.

But what if humans designed a neuroprosthetic, which could bypass the medical glitches of invasive neuroprosthetics? However, instead of connecting devices to neural networks, this neuroprosthetic would directly merge with neurons – a novel step. Such a neuroprosthetic could radically optimize treatments for neurodegenerative disorders and brain injuries, and possibly cognitive enhancement [emphasis mine].

A team of three international scientists has recently designed a nanobased neuroprosthetic, which was published in Frontiers in Neuroscience (“Integration of Nanobots Into Neural Circuits As a Future Therapy for Treating Neurodegenerative Disorders“). [open access paper published in 2018]

An interesting feature of their nanobot neuroprosthetic is that it has been inspired from nature by way of endomyccorhizae – a type of plant/fungus symbiosis, which is over four hundred million years old. During endomyccorhizae, fungi use numerous threadlike projections called mycelium that penetrate plant roots, forming colossal underground networks with nearby root systems. During this process fungi take up vital nutrients while protecting plant roots from infections – a win-win relationship. Consequently, the nano-neuroprosthetic has been named ‘endomyccorhizae ligand interface’, or ‘ELI’ for short.

The Spotlight article goes on to describe how these nanobots might function. As for the possibility of cognitive enhancement, I wonder if that might come to be described as a form of ‘artificial intelligence’.

(Dr Arthur Saniotis and Prof Maciej Henneberg are both from the Department of Anthropology, Ludwik Hirszfeld Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy, Polish Academy of Sciences; and Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Research Unit, Adelaide Medical School, University of Adelaide. Abdul-Rahman Sawalma who’s listed as an author on the 2018 paper is from the Palestinian Neuroscience Initiative, Al-Quds University, Beit Hanina, Palestine.)

Saniotis and Henneberg’s Spotlight article presents an optimistic view of neuroprosthetics. It seems telling that they cite cochlear implants as a success story when it is viewed by many as ethically fraught (see the Cochlear implant Wikipedia entry; scroll down to ‘Criticism and controversy’).

Ethics and your implants

This is from an April 6, 2015 article by Luc Henry on technologist.eu,

Technologist: What are the potential consequences of accepting the “augmented human” in society?

Gregor Wolbring: There are many that we might not even envision now. But let me focus on failure and obsolescence [emphasis mine], two issues that are rarely discussed. What happens when the mechanisms fails in the middle of an action? Failure has hazardous consequences, but obsolescence has psychological ones. …. The constant surgical inter­vention needed to update the hardware may not be feasible. A person might feel obsolete if she cohabits with others using a newer version.

T. Are researchers working on prosthetics sometimes disconnected from reality?

G. W. Students engaged in the development of prosthetics have to learn how to think in societal terms and develop a broader perspective. Our education system provides them with a fascination for clever solutions to technological challenges but not with tools aiming at understanding the consequences, such as whether their product might increase or decrease social justice.

Wolbring is a professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine (profile page) who writes on social issues to do with human enhancement/ augmentation. As well,

Some of his areas of engagement are: ability studies including governance of ability expectations, disability studies, governance of emerging and existing sciences and technologies (e.g. nanoscale science and technology, molecular manufacturing, aging, longevity and immortality, cognitive sciences, neuromorphic engineering, genetics, synthetic biology, robotics, artificial intelligence, automatization, brain machine interfaces, sensors), impact of science and technology on marginalized populations, especially people with disabilities he governance of bodily enhancement, sustainability issues, EcoHealth, resilience, ethics issues, health policy issues, human rights and sport.

He also maintains his own website here.

Not just startups

I’d classify Second Sight as a tech startup company and they have a high rate of failure, which may not have been clear to the patients who had the implants. Clinical trials can present problems too as this excerpt from my September 17, 2020 posting notes,

This October 31, 2017 article by Emily Underwood for Science was revelatory,

“In 2003, neurologist Helen Mayberg of Emory University in Atlanta began to test a bold, experimental treatment for people with severe depression, which involved implanting metal electrodes deep in the brain in a region called area 25 [emphases mine]. The initial data were promising; eventually, they convinced a device company, St. Jude Medical in Saint Paul, to sponsor a 200-person clinical trial dubbed BROADEN.

This month [October 2017], however, Lancet Psychiatry reported the first published data on the trial’s failure. The study stopped recruiting participants in 2012, after a 6-month study in 90 people failed to show statistically significant improvements between those receiving active stimulation and a control group, in which the device was implanted but switched off.

… a tricky dilemma for companies and research teams involved in deep brain stimulation (DBS) research: If trial participants want to keep their implants [emphases mine], who will take responsibility—and pay—for their ongoing care? And participants in last week’s meeting said it underscores the need for the growing corps of DBS researchers to think long-term about their planned studies.”

Symbiosis can be another consequence, as mentioned in my September 17, 2020 posting,

From a July 24, 2019 article by Liam Drew for Nature Outlook: The brain,

“It becomes part of you,” Patient 6 said, describing the technology that enabled her, after 45 years of severe epilepsy, to halt her disabling seizures. Electrodes had been implanted on the surface of her brain that would send a signal to a hand-held device when they detected signs of impending epileptic activity. On hearing a warning from the device, Patient 6 knew to take a dose of medication to halt the coming seizure.

“You grow gradually into it and get used to it, so it then becomes a part of every day,” she told Frederic Gilbert, an ethicist who studies brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia. “It became me,” she said. [emphasis mine]

Symbiosis is a term, borrowed from ecology, that means an intimate co-existence of two species for mutual advantage. As technologists work towards directly connecting the human brain to computers, it is increasingly being used to describe humans’ potential relationship with artificial intelligence. [emphasis mine]

It’s complicated

For a lot of people these devices are or could be life-changing. At the same time, there are a number of different issues related to implants/prosthetics; the following is not an exhaustive list. As Wolbring notes, issues that we can’t begin to imagine now are likely to emerge as these medical advances become more ubiquitous.

Ability/disability?

Assistive technologies are almost always portrayed as helpful. For example, a cochlear implant gives people without hearing the ability to hear. The assumption is that this is always a good thing—unless you’re a deaf person who wants to define the problem a little differently. Who gets to decide what is good and ‘normal’ and what is desirable?

While the cochlear implant is the most extreme example I can think of, there are variations of these questions throughout the ‘disability’ communities.

Also, as Wolbring notes in his interview with the Technologist.eu, the education system tends to favour technological solutions which don’t take social issues into account. Wolbring cites social justice issues when he mentions failure and obsolescence.

Technical failures and obsolescence

The story, excerpted earlier in this posting, opened with a striking example of a technical failure at an awkward moment; a blind woman depending on her retinal implant loses all sight as she maneuvers through a subway station in New York City.

Aside from being an awful way to find out the company supplying and supporting your implant is in serious financial trouble and can’t offer assistance or repair, the failure offers a preview of what could happen as implants and prosthetics become more commonly used.

Keeping up/fomo (fear of missing out)/obsolescence

It used to be called ‘keeping up with the Joneses, it’s the practice of comparing yourself and your worldly goods to someone else(‘s) and then trying to equal what they have or do better. Usually, people want to have more and better than the mythical Joneses.

These days, the phenomenon (which has been expanded to include social networking) is better known as ‘fomo’ or fear of missing out (see the Fear of missing out Wikipedia entry).

Whatever you want to call it, humanity’s competitive nature can be seen where technology is concerned. When I worked in technology companies, I noticed that hardware and software were sometimes purchased for features that were effectively useless to us. But, not upgrading to a newer version was unthinkable.

Call it fomo or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, it’s a powerful force and when people (and even companies) miss out or can’t keep up, it can lead to a sense of inferiority in the same way that having an obsolete implant or prosthetic could.

Social consequences

Could there be a neural implant/neuroprosthetic divide? There is already a digital divide (from its Wikipedia entry),

The digital divide is a gap between those who have access to new technology and those who do not … people without access to the Internet and other ICTs [information and communication technologies] are at a socio-economic disadvantage because they are unable or less able to find and apply for jobs, shop and sell online, participate democratically, or research and learn.

After reading Wolbring’s comments, it’s not hard to imagine a neural implant/neuroprosthetic divide with its attendant psychological and social consequences.

What kind of human am I?

There are other issues as noted in my September 17, 2020 posting. I’ve already mentioned ‘patient 6’, the woman who developed a symbiotic relationship with her brain/computer interface. This is how the relationship ended,

… He [Frederic Gilbert, ethicist] is now preparing a follow-up report on Patient 6. The company that implanted the device in her brain to help free her from seizures went bankrupt. The device had to be removed.

… Patient 6 cried as she told Gilbert about losing the device. … “I lost myself,” she said.

“It was more than a device,” Gilbert says. “The company owned the existence of this new person.”

Above human

The possibility that implants will not merely restore or endow someone with ‘standard’ sight or hearing or motion or … but will augment or improve on nature was broached in this May 2, 2013 posting, More than human—a bionic ear that extends hearing beyond the usual frequencies and is one of many in the ‘Human Enhancement’ category on this blog.

More recently, Hugh Herr, an Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), leader of the Biomechatronics research group at MIT’s Media Lab, a double amputee, and prosthetic enthusiast, starred in the recent (February 23, 2022) broadcast of ‘Augmented‘ on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) science programme, Nova.

I found ‘Augmented’ a little offputting as it gave every indication of being an advertisement for Herr’s work in the form of a hero’s journey. I was not able to watch more than 10 mins. This preview gives you a pretty good idea of what it was like although the part in ‘Augmented, where he says he’d like to be a cyborg hasn’t been included,

At a guess, there were a few talking heads (taking up from 10%-20% of the running time) who provided some cautionary words to counterbalance the enthusiasm in the rest of the programme. It’s a standard approach designed to give the impression that both sides of a question are being recognized. The cautionary material is usually inserted past the 1/2 way mark while leaving several minutes at the end for returning to the more optimistic material.

In a February 2, 2010 posting I have excerpts from an article featuring quotes from Herr that I still find startling,

Written by Paul Hochman for Fast Company, Bionic Legs, iLimbs, and Other Super-Human Prostheses [ETA March 23, 2022: an updated version of the article is now on Genius.com] delves further into the world where people may be willing to trade a healthy limb for a prosthetic. From the article,

There are many advantages to having your leg amputated.

Pedicure costs drop 50% overnight. A pair of socks lasts twice as long. But Hugh Herr, the director of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab, goes a step further. “It’s actually unfair,” Herr says about amputees’ advantages over the able-bodied. “As tech advancements in prosthetics come along, amputees can exploit those improvements. They can get upgrades. A person with a natural body can’t.”

Herr is not the only one who favours prosthetics (also from the Hochman article),

This influx of R&D cash, combined with breakthroughs in materials science and processor speed, has had a striking visual and social result: an emblem of hurt and loss has become a paradigm of the sleek, modern, and powerful. Which is why Michael Bailey, a 24-year-old student in Duluth, Georgia, is looking forward to the day when he can amputate the last two fingers on his left hand.

“I don’t think I would have said this if it had never happened,” says Bailey, referring to the accident that tore off his pinkie, ring, and middle fingers. “But I told Touch Bionics I’d cut the rest of my hand off if I could make all five of my fingers robotic.”

But Bailey is most surprised by his own reaction. “When I’m wearing it, I do feel different: I feel stronger. As weird as that sounds, having a piece of machinery incorporated into your body, as a part of you, well, it makes you feel above human.[emphasis mine] It’s a very powerful thing.”

My September 17, 2020 posting touches on more ethical and social issues including some of those surrounding consumer neurotechnologies or brain-computer interfaces (BCI). Unfortunately, I don’t have space for these issues here.

As for Paul Hochman’s article, Bionic Legs, iLimbs, and Other Super-Human Prostheses, now on Genius.com, it has been updated.

Money makes the world go around

Money and business practices have been indirectly referenced (for the most part) up to now in this posting. The February 15, 2022 IEEE Spectrum article and Hochman’s article, Bionic Legs, iLimbs, and Other Super-Human Prostheses, cover two aspects of the money angle.

In the IEEE Spectrum article, a tech start-up company, Second Sight, ran into financial trouble and is acquired by a company that has no plans to develop Second Sight’s core technology. The people implanted with the Argus II technology have been stranded as were ‘patient 6’ and others participating in the clinical trial described in the July 24, 2019 article by Liam Drew for Nature Outlook: The brain mentioned earlier in this posting.

I don’t know anything about the business bankruptcy mentioned in the Drew article but one of the business problems described in the IEEE Spectrum article suggests that Second Sight was founded before answering a basic question, “What is the market size for this product?”

On 18 July 2019, Second Sight sent Argus patients a letter saying it would be phasing out the retinal implant technology to clear the way for the development of its next-generation brain implant for blindness, Orion, which had begun a clinical trial with six patients the previous year. …

“The leadership at the time didn’t believe they could make [the Argus retinal implant] part of the business profitable,” Greenberg [Robert Greenberg, Second Sight co-founder] says. “I understood the decision, because I think the size of the market turned out to be smaller than we had thought.”

….

The question of whether a medical procedure or medicine can be profitable (or should the question be sufficiently profitable?) was referenced in my April 26, 2019 posting in the context of gene editing and personalized medicine

Edward Abrahams, president of the Personalized Medicine Coalition (US-based), advocates for personalized medicine while noting in passing, market forces as represented by Goldman Sachs in his May 23, 2018 piece for statnews.com (Note: A link has been removed),

Goldman Sachs, for example, issued a report titled “The Genome Revolution.” It argues that while “genome medicine” offers “tremendous value for patients and society,” curing patients may not be “a sustainable business model.” [emphasis mine] The analysis underlines that the health system is not set up to reap the benefits of new scientific discoveries and technologies. Just as we are on the precipice of an era in which gene therapies, gene-editing, and immunotherapies promise to address the root causes of disease, Goldman Sachs says that these therapies have a “very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies.”

The ‘Glybera’ story in my July 4, 2019 posting (scroll down about 40% of the way) highlights the issue with “recurring revenue versus chronic therapies,”

Kelly Crowe in a November 17, 2018 article for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news writes about Glybera,

It is one of this country’s great scientific achievements.

“The first drug ever approved that can fix a faulty gene.

It’s called Glybera, and it can treat a painful and potentially deadly genetic disorder with a single dose — a genuine made-in-Canada medical breakthrough.

But most Canadians have never heard of it.

Here’s my summary (from the July 4, 2019 posting),

It cost $1M for a single treatment and that single treatment is good for at least 10 years.

Pharmaceutical companies make their money from repeated use of their medicaments and Glybera required only one treatment so the company priced it according to how much they would have gotten for repeated use, $100,000 per year over a 10 year period. The company was not able to persuade governments and/or individuals to pay the cost

In the end, 31 people got the treatment, most of them received it for free through clinical trials.

For rich people only?

Megan Devlin’s March 8, 2022 article for the Daily Hive announces a major research investment into medical research (Note: A link has been removed),

Vancouver [Canada] billionaire Chip Wilson revealed Tuesday [March 8, 2022] that he has a rare genetic condition that causes his muscles to waste away, and announced he’s spending $100 million on research to find a cure.

His condition is called facio-scapulo-humeral muscular dystrophy, or FSHD for short. It progresses rapidly in some people and more slowly in others, but is characterized by progressive muscle weakness starting the the face, the neck, shoulders, and later the lower body.

“I’m out for survival of my own life,” Wilson said.

“I also have the resources to do something about this which affects so many people in the world.”

Wilson hopes the $100 million will produce a cure or muscle-regenerating treatment by 2027.

“This could be one of the biggest discoveries of all time, for humankind,” Wilson said. “Most people lose muscle, they fall, and they die. If we can keep muscle as we age this can be a longevity drug like we’ve never seen before.”

According to rarediseases.org, FSHD affects between four and 10 people out of every 100,000 [emphasis mine], Right now, therapies are limited to exercise and pain management. There is no way to stall or reverse the disease’s course.

Wilson is best known for founding athleisure clothing company Lululemon. He also owns the most expensive home in British Columbia, a $73 million mansion in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood.

Let’s see what the numbers add up to,

4 – 10 people out of 100,000

40 – 100 people out of 1M

1200 – 3,000 people out of 30M (let’s say this is Canada’s population)\

12,000 – 30,000 people out of 300M (let’s say this is the US’s population)

42,000 – 105,000 out of 1.115B (let’s say this is China’s population)

The rough total comes to 55,200 to 138,000 people between three countries with a combined population total of 1.445B. Given how business currently operates, it seems unlikely that any company will want to offer Wilson’s hoped for medical therapy although he and possibly others may benefit from a clinical trial.

Should profit or wealth be considerations?

The stories about the patients with the implants and the patients who need Glybera are heartbreaking and point to a question not often asked when medical therapies and medications are developed. Is the profit model the best choice and, if so, how much profit?

I have no answer to that question but I wish it was asked by medical researchers and policy makers.

As for wealthy people dictating the direction for medical research, I don’t have answers there either. I hope the research will yield applications and/or valuable information for more than Wilson’s disease.

It’s his money after all

Wilson calls his new venture, SolveFSHD. It doesn’t seem to be affiliated with any university or biomedical science organization and it’s not clear how the money will be awarded (no programmes, no application procedure, no panel of experts). There are three people on the team, Eva R. Chin, scientist and executive director, Chip Wilson, SolveFSHD founder/funder, and FSHD patient, and Neil Camarta, engineer, executive (fossil fuels and clean energy), and FSHD patient. There’s also a Twitter feed (presumably for the latest updates): https://twitter.com/SOLVEFSHD.

Perhaps unrelated but intriguing is news about a proposed new building in Kenneth Chan’s March 31, 2022 article for the Daily Hive,

Low Tide Properties, the real estate arm of Lululemon founder Chip Wilson [emphasis mine], has submitted a new development permit application to build a 148-ft-tall, eight-storey, mixed-use commercial building in the False Creek Flats of Vancouver.

The proposal, designed by local architectural firm Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, calls for 236,000 sq ft of total floor area, including 105,000 sq ft of general office space, 102,000 sq ft of laboratory space [emphasis mine], and 5,000 sq ft of ground-level retail space. An outdoor amenity space for building workers will be provided on the rooftop.

[next door] The 2001-built, five-storey building at 1618 Station Street immediately to the west of the development site is also owned by Low Tide Properties [emphasis mine]. The Ferguson, the name of the existing building, contains about 79,000 sq ft of total floor area, including 47,000 sq ft of laboratory space and 32,000 sq ft of general office space. Biotechnology company Stemcell technologies [STEMCELL] Technologies] is the anchor tenant [emphasis mine].

I wonder if this proposed new building will house SolveFSHD and perhaps other FSHD-focused enterprises. The proximity of STEMCELL Technologies could be quite convenient. In any event, $100M will buy a lot (pun intended).

The end

Issues I’ve described here in the context of neural implants/neuroprosthetics and cutting edge medical advances are standard problems not specific to these technologies/treatments:

  • What happens when the technology fails (hopefully not at a critical moment)?
  • What happens when your supplier goes out of business or discontinues the products you purchase from them?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Who can afford the treatment/product? Will it only be for rich people?
  • Will this technology/procedure/etc. exacerbate or create new social tensions between social classes, cultural groups, religious groups, races, etc.?

Of course, having your neural implant fail suddenly in the middle of a New York City subway station seems a substantively different experience than having your car break down on the road.

There are, of course, there are the issues we can’t yet envision (as Wolbring notes) and there are issues such as symbiotic relationships with our implants and/or feeling that you are “above human.” Whether symbiosis and ‘implant/prosthetic superiority’ will affect more than a small number of people or become major issues is still to be determined.

There’s a lot to be optimistic about where new medical research and advances are concerned but I would like to see more thoughtful coverage in the media (e.g., news programmes and documentaries like ‘Augmented’) and more thoughtful comments from medical researchers.

Of course, the biggest issue I’ve raised here is about the current business models for health care products where profit is valued over people’s health and well-being. it’s a big question and I don’t see any definitive answers but the question put me in mind of this quote (from a September 22, 2020 obituary for US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irene Monroe for Curve),

Ginsburg’s advocacy for justice was unwavering and showed it, especially with each oral dissent. In another oral dissent, Ginsburg quoted a familiar Martin Luther King Jr. line, adding her coda:” ‘The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’” but only “if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.” …

Martin Luther King Jr. popularized and paraphrased the quote (from a January 18, 2018 article by Mychal Denzel Smith for Huffington Post),

His use of the quote is best understood by considering his source material. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is King’s clever paraphrasing of a portion of a sermon delivered in 1853 by the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker. Born in Lexington, Massachusetts, in 1810, Parker studied at Harvard Divinity School and eventually became an influential transcendentalist and minister in the Unitarian church. In that sermon, Parker said: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

I choose to keep faith that people will get the healthcare products they need and that all of us need to keep working at making access more fair.

The Storywrangler, tool exploring billions of social media messages, could predict political & financial turmoil

Being able to analyze Twitter messages (tweets) in real-time is amazing given what I wrote in this January 16, 2013 posting titled: “Researching tweets (the Twitter kind)” about the US Library of Congress and its attempts to access tweets for scholars,”

At least one of the reasons no one has received access to the tweets is that a single search of the archived (2006- 2010) tweets alone would take 24 hours, [emphases mine] …

So, bravo to the researchers at the University of Vermont (UVM). A July 16, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily makes the announcement,

For thousands of years, people looked into the night sky with their naked eyes — and told stories about the few visible stars. Then we invented telescopes. In 1840, the philosopher Thomas Carlyle claimed that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men.” Then we started posting on Twitter.

Now scientists have invented an instrument to peer deeply into the billions and billions of posts made on Twitter since 2008 — and have begun to uncover the vast galaxy of stories that they contain.

Caption: UVM scientists have invented a new tool: the Storywrangler. It visualizes the use of billions of words, hashtags and emoji posted on Twitter. In this example from the tool’s online viewer, three global events from 2020 are highlighted: the death of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani; the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; and the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The new research was published in the journal Science Advances. Credit: UVM

A July 15, 2021 UVM news release (also on EurekAlert but published on July 16, 2021) by Joshua Brown, which originated the news item, provides more detail abut the work,

“We call it the Storywrangler,” says Thayer Alshaabi, a doctoral student at the University of Vermont who co-led the new research. “It’s like a telescope to look — in real time — at all this data that people share on social media. We hope people will use it themselves, in the same way you might look up at the stars and ask your own questions.”

The new tool can give an unprecedented, minute-by-minute view of popularity, from rising political movements to box office flops; from the staggering success of K-pop to signals of emerging new diseases.

The story of the Storywrangler — a curation and analysis of over 150 billion tweets–and some of its key findings were published on July 16 [2021] in the journal Science Advances.

EXPRESSIONS OF THE MANY

The team of eight scientists who invented Storywrangler — from the University of Vermont, Charles River Analytics, and MassMutual Data Science [emphasis mine]– gather about ten percent of all the tweets made every day, around the globe. For each day, they break these tweets into single bits, as well as pairs and triplets, generating frequencies from more than a trillion words, hashtags, handles, symbols and emoji, like “Super Bowl,” “Black Lives Matter,” “gravitational waves,” “#metoo,” “coronavirus,” and “keto diet.”

“This is the first visualization tool that allows you to look at one-, two-, and three-word phrases, across 150 different languages [emphasis mine], from the inception of Twitter to the present,” says Jane Adams, a co-author on the new study who recently finished a three-year position as a data-visualization artist-in-residence at UVM’s Complex Systems Center.

The online tool, powered by UVM’s supercomputer at the Vermont Advanced Computing Core, provides a powerful lens for viewing and analyzing the rise and fall of words, ideas, and stories each day among people around the world. “It’s important because it shows major discourses as they’re happening,” Adams says. “It’s quantifying collective attention.” Though Twitter does not represent the whole of humanity, it is used by a very large and diverse group of people, which means that it “encodes popularity and spreading,” the scientists write, giving a novel view of discourse not just of famous people, like political figures and celebrities, but also the daily “expressions of the many,” the team notes.

In one striking test of the vast dataset on the Storywrangler, the team showed that it could be used to potentially predict political and financial turmoil. They examined the percent change in the use of the words “rebellion” and “crackdown” in various regions of the world. They found that the rise and fall of these terms was significantly associated with change in a well-established index of geopolitical risk for those same places.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

The global story now being written on social media brings billions of voices — commenting and sharing, complaining and attacking — and, in all cases, recording — about world wars, weird cats, political movements, new music, what’s for dinner, deadly diseases, favorite soccer stars, religious hopes and dirty jokes.

“The Storywrangler gives us a data-driven way to index what regular people are talking about in everyday conversations, not just what reporters or authors have chosen; it’s not just the educated or the wealthy or cultural elites,” says applied mathematician Chris Danforth, a professor at the University of Vermont who co-led the creation of the StoryWrangler with his colleague Peter Dodds. Together, they run UVM’s Computational Story Lab.

“This is part of the evolution of science,” says Dodds, an expert on complex systems and professor in UVM’s Department of Computer Science. “This tool can enable new approaches in journalism, powerful ways to look at natural language processing, and the development of computational history.”

How much a few powerful people shape the course of events has been debated for centuries. But, certainly, if we knew what every peasant, soldier, shopkeeper, nurse, and teenager was saying during the French Revolution, we’d have a richly different set of stories about the rise and reign of Napoleon. “Here’s the deep question,” says Dodds, “what happened? Like, what actually happened?”

GLOBAL SENSOR

The UVM team, with support from the National Science Foundation [emphasis mine], is using Twitter to demonstrate how chatter on distributed social media can act as a kind of global sensor system — of what happened, how people reacted, and what might come next. But other social media streams, from Reddit to 4chan to Weibo, could, in theory, also be used to feed Storywrangler or similar devices: tracing the reaction to major news events and natural disasters; following the fame and fate of political leaders and sports stars; and opening a view of casual conversation that can provide insights into dynamics ranging from racism to employment, emerging health threats to new memes.

In the new Science Advances study, the team presents a sample from the Storywrangler’s online viewer, with three global events highlighted: the death of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani; the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; and the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The Storywrangler dataset records a sudden spike of tweets and retweets using the term “Soleimani” on January 3, 2020, when the United States assassinated the general; the strong rise of “coronavirus” and the virus emoji over the spring of 2020 as the disease spread; and a burst of use of the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” on and after May 25, 2020, the day George Floyd was murdered.

“There’s a hashtag that’s being invented while I’m talking right now,” says UVM’s Chris Danforth. “We didn’t know to look for that yesterday, but it will show up in the data and become part of the story.”

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

Storywrangler: A massive exploratorium for sociolinguistic, cultural, socioeconomic, and and political timelines using Twitter by Thayer Alshaabi, Jane L. Adams, Michael V. Arnold, Joshua R. Minot, David R. Dewhurst, Andrew J. Reagan, Christopher M. Danforth and Peter Sheridan Dodds. Science Advances 16 Jul 2021: Vol. 7, no. 29, eabe6534DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe6534 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe6534

This paper is open access.

A couple of comments

I’m glad to see they are looking at phrases in many different languages. Although I do experience some hesitation when I consider the two companies involved in this research with the University of Vermont.

Charles River Analytics and MassMutual Data Science would not have been my first guess for corporate involvement but on re-examining the subhead and noting this: “potentially predict political and financial turmoil”, they make perfect sense. Charles River Analytics provides “Solutions to serve the warfighter …”, i.e., soldiers/the military, and MassMutual is an insurance company with a dedicated ‘data science space’ (from the MassMutual Explore Careers Data Science webpage),

What are some key projects that the Data Science team works on?

Data science works with stakeholders throughout the enterprise to automate or support decision making when outcomes are unknown. We help determine the prospective clients that MassMutual should market to, the risk associated with life insurance applicants, and which bonds MassMutual should invest in. [emphases mine]

Of course. The military and financial services. Delightfully, this research is at least partially (mostly?) funded on the public dime, the US National Science Foundation.

General Fusion moves headquarters to Vancouver Airport (sort of)

Nuclear energy is not usually of much interest to me but there is a Canadian company doing some interesting work in that area. So, before getting to the news about the company’s move, here’s a general description of fusion energy and how General Fusion (the company) is approaching the clean energy problem, from a June 18, 2021 posting by Bob McDonald on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Quirks and Quarks blog (Note: Links have been removed),

Vancouver-based fusion energy company General Fusion has entered an agreement with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority to build a nuclear fusion demonstration plant to be operational in 2025. It will take a unique approach to generating clean energy.   

There is an industry joke that fusion energy has been 20 years away for 50 years. The quest to produce clean energy by duplicating the processes happening at the centre of the sun has been a difficult and expensive challenge.

It has yet to be accomplished on anything like a commercial scale. That is partly because on Earth the fusion process involves handling materials at extreme pressures and temperatures many times hotter than the surface of the sun.

The nuclear technology that has provided electricity for decades around the world relies on fission, which splits heavy atoms such as uranium into lighter elements, releasing energy. However, this produces hazardous and durable radioactive waste that must be stored, and more catastrophically has led to major accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Fusion is the opposite of fission. Lighter elements such as hydrogen are heated and compressed to fuse into heavier ones. This releases energy, but with a much smaller legacy of radioactive waste, and no risk of meltdown.

The world’s largest fusion reactor experiment, ITER (Latin for “the way”) [International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor] is currently under construction in southern France. It’s a massive international collaboration developing on fusion technology that’s been been explored since it was invented in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. It involves a doughnut-shaped metallic chamber called a tokamak that is surrounded by incredibly powerful superconducting magnets. 

An electrically charged gas, or plasma, will be injected into the chamber where the magnets hold it, compressed and suspended, so it does not touch the walls and burn through them. The plasma will be heated to the unbelievable temperature of 150 million C, when fusion begins to take place.

And therein lies the problem. So far, experimental fusion reactors have required more energy to heat the plasma to start the fusion reaction than can be harvested from the reaction itself. Size is part of the problem. Demonstration reactors are small and meant to test equipment and materials, not produce power. ITER is supposed to be large enough to produce 10 times as much power as is required to heat up its plasma.

And that’s the holy grail of fusion: to produce enough power that the nuclear fusion reaction can become self-sustaining.

General Fusion takes a completely different approach by using mechanical pressure to contain and heat the plasma, rather than gigantic electromagnets. A series of powerful pistons surround a container of liquid metal with the hydrogen plasma in the centre. The pistons mechanically squeeze the liquid on all sides at once, heating the fuel by compression the way fuel in a diesel engine is compressed and heated in a cylinder until it ignites. 

Exciting, eh? If you have time, you may want to read McDonald’s June 18, 2021 posting for a few more details about General Fusion’s technology and for some embedded images.

At one point I was under the impression that General Fusion was involved with ITER but that seems to have been a misunderstanding on my part.

I first wrote about General Fusion in a December 2, 2011 posting titled: Burnaby-based company (Canada) challenges fossil fuel consumption with nuclear fusion. (For those unfamiliar with the Vancouver area, there’s the city of Vancouver and there’s Vancouver Metro, which includes the city of Vancouver and others in the region. Burnaby is part of Metro Vancouver; General Fusion is moving to Sea Island (near Vancouver Airport), in Richmond, which is also in Metro Vancouver.) Kenneth Chan’s October 20, 2021 article for the Daily Hive gives more detail about General Fusion’s new facilities (Note: A link has been removed),

The new facility will span two buildings at 6020 and 6082 Russ Baker Way, near YVR’s [Vancouver Airport] South Terminal. This includes a larger building previously used for aircraft engine maintenance and repair.

The relocation process could start before the end of 2021, allowing the company to more than quadruple its workforce over the coming years. Currently, it employs about 140 people.

The Sea Island [in Richmond] facility will house its corporate offices, primary fusion technology development division, and many of its engineering laboratories. This new facility provides General Fusion with the ability to build a new demonstration prototype to support the commercialization of its magnetized target fusion technology.

The company’s research and development into practical fusion technology as a zero-carbon power solution to address the world’s growing energy needs, while fighting climate change, is supported by the federal governments of Canada, US, and UK.

General Fusion is backed by dozens of large global private investors, including Bezos Expeditions, which is the personal investment entity for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. It has raised a total of about USD$200 million in financing to date.

“British Columbia is at the centre of a thriving, world-class technology innovation ecosystem, just the right place for us to continue investing in our growing workforce and the future of our company,” said Christofer Mowry, CEO of General Fusion, in a statement.

Earlier this year, YVR also indicated it is considering allowing commercial and industrial developments on several hundred acres of under-utilized parcels of land next to the north and south runways, for uses that complement airport activities. This would also provide the airport with a new source of revenue, after major financial losses from the years-long impact of COVID-19.

You can find General Fusion here and you can find ITER here.

Walrus from Space project (citizen science)

Image:: Norwegian Atlantic Walrus. Photo: Tor Lund / WWF [Downloaded from: https://eminetra.co.uk/climate-change-the-walrus-from-space-project-is-calling-on-the-general-public-to-help-search-for-animals-on-satellite-imagery-climate-news/755984/]

Yesterday (October 14, 2021), the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) announced their Walrus from Space project in a press release,

WWF and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are seeking the public’s help to search for walrus in thousands of satellite images taken from space, with the aim of learning more about how walrus will be impacted by the climate crisis. It’s hoped half a million people worldwide will join the new ‘Walrus from Space’ research project, a census of Atlantic walrus and walrus from the Laptev Sea, using satellite images provided by space and intelligence company Maxar Technologies’ DigitalGlobe.

Walrus are facing the reality of the climate crisis: their Arctic home is warming almost three times faster than the rest of the world and roughly 13% of summer sea ice is disappearing per decade.

From the comfort of their own homes, aspiring conservationists around the world can study the satellite pictures online, spot areas where walrus haul out onto land, and then count them. The data collected in this census of Atlantic and Laptev walrus will give scientists a clearer picture of how each population is doing—without disturbing the animals. The data will also help inform management decisions aimed at conservation efforts for the species.

Walrus use sea ice for resting and to give birth to their young. As sea ice diminishes, more walrus are forced to seek refuge on land, congregating for the chance to rest. Overcrowded beaches can have fatal consequences; walrus are easily frightened, and when spooked they stampede towards the water, trampling one another in their panic. Resting on land (as opposed to sea ice) may also force walrus to swim further and expand more energy to reach their food—food which in turn is being negatively impacted by the warming and acidification of the ocean.

In addition walrus can also be disturbed by shipping traffic and industrial development as the loss of sea ice makes the Arctic more accessible. Walrus are almost certainly going to be impacted by the climate crisis, which could result in significant population declines.

Rod Downie, chief polar adviser at WWF, said:

“Walrus are an iconic species of great cultural significance to the people of the Arctic, but climate change is melting their icy home. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of the climate and nature emergency, but this project enables individuals to take action to understand a species threatened by the climate crisis, and to help to safeguard their future. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay there; the climate crisis is a global problem, bigger than any person, species or region. Ahead of hosting this year’s global climate summit, the UK must raise its ambition and keep all of its climate promises—for the sake of the walrus, and the world.”

Previous population estimates are based upon the best data and knowledge available, but there are challenges associated with working with marine mammals in such a vast, remote and largely inaccessible place. This project will build upon the knowledge of Indigenous communities, using satellite technology to provide an up-to-date count of Atlantic and Laptev walrus populations.

Hannah Cubaynes, wildlife from space research associate at British Antarctic Survey, said:

“Assessing walrus populations by traditional methods is very difficult as they live in extremely remote areas, spend much of their time on the sea ice and move around a lot, Satellite images can solve this problem as they can survey huge tracts of coastline to assess where walrus are and help us count the ones that we find. “However, doing that for all the Atlantic and Laptev walrus will take huge amounts of imagery, too much for a single scientist or small team, so we need help from thousands of citizen scientists to help us learn more about this iconic animal.”

Earlier this year Cub Scouts from across the UK became walrus spotters to test the platform ahead of its public release. The Scouts have been a partner of WWF since the early 1970s, and over 57 million scouts globally are engaged in environmental projects.

Cub Scout Imogen Scullard, age 9, said:

“I love learning about the planet and how it works. We need to protect it from climate change. We are helping the planet by doing the walrus count with space satellites, which is really cool. It was a hard thing to do but we stuck at it”

The ‘Walrus From Space’ project, which is supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, as well as RBC Tech For Nature and WWF supporters, aims to recruit more than 500,000 citizen scientists over the next five years. Over the course of the project counting methods will be continually refined and improved as data is gathered.

Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said:

“We’re delighted that players’ support is bringing this fantastic project to life. We encourage everyone to get involved in finding walrus so they can play a part in helping us better understand the effects of climate change on this species and their ecosystem. “Players of People’s Postcode Lottery are supporting this project as part of our Postcode Climate Challenge initiative, which is providing 12 charities with an additional £24 million for projects tackling climate change this year.”

Aspiring conservationists can help protect the species by going to wwf.org.uk/walrusfromspace where they can register to participate, and then be guided through a training module before joining the walrus census.

Download our FAQ

The WWF has released a charming video invitation”Become A Walrus Detective,” (Note: It may be a little over the top for some),

The WWF has a Learn about Walrus from Space webpage, which features the video above and includes a registration button.

Is the United Kingdom an Arctic nation?

No. They are not. (You can check here on the Arctic Countries webpage of The Arctic Institute website.)

Nonetheless and leaving aside that the Arctic and the Antarctic are literally polar opposites, I gather that the British Government in the form of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), is quite interested in the Arctic, viz.: the Walrus from Space project.

If you keep digging you’ll find a chain of UK government agencies, from the BAS About page (at the bottom), Note: Links have been removed,,

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

NERC is part of UK Research and Innovation

Keep digging (from the UK Research and Innovation entry on Wikipedia), Note: Links have been removed,

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is a non-departmental public body of the Government of the United Kingdom that directs research and innovation funding, funded through the science budget of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy [emphases mine].

Interesting, non?

There doesn’t have to be a sinister connection between a government agency devoted to supporting business and industry and a climate change project. If we are to grapple with climate change in a significant way, we will need cooperation from many groups and coutnries (some of which may have been adversaries in the past).

Of course, the problem with the business community is that efforts aimed at the public good are often publicity stunts.

For anyone curious about the businesses mentioned in the press release, Maxar Technologies can be found here, Maxar’s DigitalGlobe here, and RBC (Royal of Bank of Canada) Tech for Nature here.

BTW, I love that walrus picture at the beginning of this posting.