When US closes its door to talented immigrants, start a cutting-edge AI research institute in Canada

❝ Canadian researchers have been behind some recent major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. Now, the country is betting on becoming a big player in one of the hottest fields in technology, with help from the likes of Google and RBC…

❝ Money from big tech is coming north, along with investments by domestic corporations like banking multinational RBC and auto parts giant Magna, and millions of dollars in government funding.

Toronto will soon get the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, geared to fuelling “Canada’s amazing AI momentum”…

The founders also want it to serve as a magnet and retention tool for top talent aggressively head-hunted by US firms…

Google invested C$4.5 million last November in the University of Montreal’s Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms.

Microsoft is funding a Montreal startup, Element AI. The Seattle-based company also announced it would acquire Montreal-based Maluuba and help fund AI research at the University of Montreal and McGill University.

Thomson Reuters and General Motors both recently moved AI labs to Toronto.

Earlier this month, the federal government announced C$125m for a “pan-Canadian AI strategy”…

❝ Those trying to build Canada’s AI scene admit places like Silicon Valley will always be attractive to tech talent. But they hope strategic investments like these will allow Canada to fuel the growth of domestic startups.

Canadian tech also sees the travel uncertainty created by the Trump administration in the US as making Canada more attractive to foreign talent.

Yeah, a global economy is a real shame. For folks who often can’t figure out how to find a better job in a city in the American Midwest 25 miles away from the neighborhood they grew up in. For the rest of us — no big deal.

What’s so difficult about considering moving North for a good job, a bright future? Yes, the cold is a hangup for some. Counter that with diverse demographics, tolerant social policies, a national health service that works for all – and some damned good schools.

AT&T, Verizon join UK firms pulling ads from Google, YouTube over hate-group, terrorist content

❝ The U.K. advertising backlash against Google is spreading to the United States. Mobile carriers AT&T and Verizon, Enterprise car rental and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline are among the major ad buyers acting to distance their brands from the offensive and extremist content that saturates YouTube.

Following an eruption of brand association concerns in the U.K. that prompted the Guardian newspaper, European mobile carrier O2, British Royal Mail, Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, Transport For London, the BBC, Domino’s Pizza, Hyundai Kia, McDonald’s, L’Oreal, Toyota and Volkswagen to pull ads from Google and/or YouTube specifically, a series of global brands have also jumped to pull their ads in America.


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❝ AT&T is pulling all advertisement from Google apart from paid search placement, a move that affects not only YouTube but millions of other websites that participate in Google’s ad network…

A spokesperson for Verizon said it was also pulling ads, noting that “Verizon is one of the largest advertisers in the world, and one of the most respected brands. We…blah, blah, blah.”

❝ Google declined to comment on the pulled ads, but offered a statement “we’ve begun an extensive review of our advertising policies and have made a public commitment to put in place changes that give brands more control over where their ads appear…”…

❝ The original investigation by The Times detailed why brands are concerned, noting that Google’s algorithms placed ads for Mercedes E-Class “next to an ISIL video praising jihad that has been viewed more than 115,000 times.”…

Hey. Google’s coders are at least as talented as the geeks working for the Russian GRU and the US NSA. They can come up with algorithms that search folks out by the color of their pubic hair and how many toes they wish they had. I find it unlikely or even difficult for Google to be put-off by the size of the task needed to change the situation they’ve wandered into.

No doubt profit-optimization got them there. It had better work to motivate solutions, now.

Google braces for questions while big-name firms pull advertising

❝ Google executives are bracing for a two-pronged inquisition from the advertising industry and the government over the company’s plans to stop ads being placed next to extremist material.

A slew of big-name companies, advertising firms and government departments have either pulled their adverts from Google and its YouTube video site or are considering whether to do so, with media giant Sky, telecoms group Vodafone and a trio of banks adding their names to a growing list over the weekend…

❝ The ads help fund payments to the people who post the videos, with every 1,000 clicks worth about £6. Experts estimate this could have been worth £250,000 to extremists.

❝ Leading advertising agencies have been quick to react, with French marketing firm Havas, whose clients include O2 and Royal Mail, pulling its adverts late last week. Publicis, the world’s third-largest advertising firm, said it was reviewing its relationship with Google and YouTube.

The world’s largest advertising firm WPP, via its media-buying division GroupM, has stopped short of cancelling ads but has written to major clients asking them how they wish to proceed…

❝ While Google is yet to reveal what it plans to do, it is understood that advertisers will be told that they may not be making enough use of existing tools and it will offer to provide advice on how companies can better use these.

However, Google is also expected to take a wider look at how ads are placed, including whether it has put enough checks and balances in place to avoid unfortunate juxtapositions.

Advertisers paying for primo placement certainly should be able to determine who shelters in their shadow.

Google (quietly) drops privacy policy that kept your name out of web-tracking database

❝ When Google bought the advertising network DoubleClick in 2007, Google founder Sergey Brin said that privacy would be the company’s “number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products.”

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick’s massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand – literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate…

❝ The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on your name and other information Google knows about you. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.

❝ The move is a sea change for Google and a further blow to the online ad industry’s longstanding contention that web tracking is mostly anonymous. In recent years, Facebook, offline data brokers and others have increasingly sought to combine their troves of web tracking data with people’s real names. But until this summer, Google held the line.

“The fact that DoubleClick data wasn’t being regularly connected to personally identifiable information was a really significant last stand,” said Paul Ohm, faculty director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law.

“It was a border wall between being watched everywhere and maintaining a tiny semblance of privacy,” he said. “That wall has just fallen.”…

RTFA for instructions on how to opt-out of GOOGLE’s omnivorous appetite for tracking folks. I consider their statement hogwash, PR rationales for plausible deniability. At best, a temporary solution until GOOGLE drops another one of their centipede shoes.

How much will Google influence the presidential election?

❝ Even if you don’t believe lizard people and the Illuminati secretly run our planet, the world really is filled with unseen influences. The languid music in the grocery store makes us walk slower and spend more money, and product placements in TV and movies leave us inexplicably craving things like Coca-Cola and Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos…

With the presidential election around the corner, Science asked experts in computer science, business, and law to weigh in on how companies like Google and Facebook, which function as the primary gateway to online information for millions of voters, could influence the outcome…

❝ Last summer, Science reported on something called the search engine manipulation effect. Because companies like Google have gotten so good at providing the best links first, the higher an item appears on a list of search results, the more users trust it. That’s OK if you’re looking for the best place to buy a set of kitchen utensils or back-to-school supplies, but the study’s lead author, Robert Epstein…showed that by simply putting links for one candidate above another in a rigged search, he and his co-author could influence how undecided voters choose a candidate…

The effect was largely invisible to the study participants; most had no idea they were seeing biased results. But even if they did, they thought the search engine was merely doing its job and ranking a better candidate higher than his or her opponent…

❝ By Epstein’s calculations, biased Google results could shift the vote in November by up to 2%, or about 2.6 million votes. This may not seem huge, but many presidential elections in the United States have been decided by margins narrower than that…

Is there any evidence to suggest that internet gatekeepers are taking advantage of this power?

No. But this question gets at the real crux of the problem because, for now anyway, there’s really no way to find out. Generally, regulators can’t audit Google or Facebook or any other tech giant to find out how their proprietary algorithms determine the content we see on a screen. Intellectual property laws allow these companies to keep private the specifics of search and newsfeed algorithms, making it extremely difficult to parse out any bias in content that users see.

RTFA if you want even more details to worry about. Inevitable questions about security vs privacy, federal government oversight vs individual freedom to act stupid arise. Think about it.

An encryption backdoor is a lousy idea

The recent column by veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg…executive editor at The Verge and editor at large of Re/code.

Protecting the security of the United States and of Americans abroad is no easy task, especially against terrorists. I got a lesson in this before I became a tech columnist, when I served stretches as the chief Pentagon correspondent and the National Security correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, including coverage of the intelligence agencies.

So, I’m somewhat sympathetic with the frustrations expressed over the past year or so by national security officials — especially FBI Director James Comey — over fears that encryption of digital devices and services is making it harder for their agencies to spot and stop terrorists in the digital age…

I understand their exasperation, but not their proposed solution: Forcing American companies, notably Apple and Google, to build “backdoors” into their encrypted smartphones that would allow the government access. This would be a huge change, because both companies have introduced whole-device encryption that even they can’t decrypt. It would also be a huge mistake.

Over the past year or so, Mr. Comey and his colleagues have complained that this encryption of smartphones by Apple and Google is causing a problem they call “going dark” — making it harder for them to conduct surveillance of smartphones, messaging services and more.

The problem is that, even if the FBI served the companies with a legal court-approved search warrant for particular encrypted phones, they couldn’t comply. The lawmen would have to serve the warrant on the phones’ owners, and try and force them to unlock the devices with a password, fingerprint or some other authentication method…

But now, following the horrific terror attack in Paris, the issue is showing signs of coming back to life…Add in the massacre in San Bernadino, California, and we all know what we can expect from the amalgamation of security hawks and craven politicians.

Apple CEO Tim Cook posted a statement on a special privacy section of Apple’s web site, saying, in part: “I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”

He followed that up recently. In October, he told a tech conference that “I don’t know a way to protect people without encrypting” and “you can’t have a backdoor that’s only for the good guys…”

It’s fair to note that, in addition to protecting their customers, Apple and Google get business benefits from strong and secure encryption. They gain the ability to remove themselves from delicate law enforcement actions. And they gain protection against charges overseas that buying their products will give the U.S. government access to foreign users’ data.

They also have plenty of support for their views from people with no such business interests…

For another, Mr. Comey’s complaints are overblown. Even without a backdoor, there are still many avenues that authorities can use to track terrorists…

I sincerely hope that the U.S. government, working with tech companies, can come up with some solution that helps catch terrorists and criminals who use smartphones and messaging services to disguise their plans and identities. I wish I could say what that might be. But I do know that it shouldn’t be one that weakens or destroys user-controlled smartphone encryption.

Walt Mossberg is someone I appreciate and often agree with on technology. Not so often on politics. It’s a pleasure to say he’s nailed both this time.

Alibaba just beat the US in a global tech competition

Each year, Jim Gray held a battle of the machines.

This was a battle of speed and time and energy, and it involved some of the top minds in the world of hardcore computer science. Who could build a system that could analyze the most data in 60 seconds? Who could sort 100 terabytes the quickest? Who could sort 100 terabytes — aka 100,000 gigabytes — using the least amount of electricity?

Gray — the legendary computer scientist who won the Turing Award for his work with computer databases — was lost at sea in 2007, mourned across the computer science community and beyond. But in the years since, others have continued his battle of the machines. Today, as we move so rapidly into the age of cloud computing, this competition doesn’t just pit one machine against another. It pits an army of machines against so many other armies.

In recent years, researchers at Microsoft — where Gray was working when he died — have topped several of these contests. Last year, a top prize went to a team that includes one of the top engineers at Google. Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley have also fared well. But this year, there was a new winner: Alicloud, which sorted 100 terabytes of data in a mere six-and‐a-­half minutes, abusing the previous record of 23-and-a-half minutes.

Alicloud, or Aliyun, is the cloud computing arm of Chinese tech giant Alibaba. It’s analogous to Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure or the Google Cloud Platform…Such “public cloud” services represent the future of information technology. A new report from research outfit Forrester deems the public cloud a “hyper-growth market,” predicting that this market will grow to $191 billion by 2020. Here in the States, Amazon is the king of cloud computing, with revenues of about $6 billion a year, and the two big challengers are Microsoft and Google…and Alicloud is very much on the rise in China…

RTFA for all the details. Especially if you’re a datahead geek. An enjoyable read with only a trace of the “White Man’s Burden”.

Sooner or later journalists will realize that a connected world doesn’t care a rat’s ass about who rolled out a particular style or method first. It will take editors and publishers with their usual commitment to ideology – called style – a few more decades.

Politicians and pundits? Maybe another century.