Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Refreshing admission by Minister Miller (he consistently one of the few ministers who is more candid with respect to government weaknesses and failures). And yes, the task force is more communications than substance as the main issues involve Service Canada and IRCC, which did not need a task force to address. (Airport issues are more complex given the different players involved):

The delays plaguing Canada’s airports, passport services and immigration processes “should never have happened in the first place,” the federal minister charged with co-leading Ottawa’s task force on slashing wait times admitted Monday.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, providing an update on the government’s efforts to tackle pandemic-induced delays across a swath of operations and services, said that despite some improvements, officials were still working to prevent such issues from occurring again.

“I do want to say that nobody should be congratulating themselves for having done their jobs. We are by no stretch of the imagination out of the woods yet. The focus will continue to be on Canadians and the results they expect and deserve from this or any other government,” Miller said at a joint news conference with other ministers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a committee involving 13 cabinet members in late June to get started on reducing wait times at major airports and clear out backlogs that led to sluggish processing times for passport and immigration applications.

As COVID-19 restrictions eased, air passengers passing through Canadian travel hubs have contended with hours-long delays in security screening lines, delayed or cancelled flights, hiccups with the ArriveCAN app and the chaos of lost baggage.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Monday that between January and August, the number of air travellers jumped by more than 250 per cent just as the travel industry faced staffing shortages.

He pointed to the hiring of more than 1,800 new screening officers and weekly meetings with airlines, airports and travel-related government departments as evidence that delays were improving. According to the federal government, between Aug. 18 and Aug. 21, 85 per cent of passengers were screened within 15 minutes. The number of aircraft held at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport also dropped to 47 by the third week of August, down from 370 in May.

Monette Pasher, the interim president of the Canadian Airports Council, said there has been “marked progress” in reducing wait times and cancellations in the past few weeks.

But she told the Star in a statement that other measures, like modernizing screening procedures and reopening Nexus assessment centres amid a backlog of applications for the trusted traveller program, would improve the situation more.

The staffing increases don’t change the fact that airport screeners are “worn out,” said Catherine Cosgrove, the director of communications and public affairs for Teamsters Canada, which represents over 1,000 screeners across the country.

“We can expect to continue seeing difficulties in hiring and retaining screeners and delays throughout the fall,” she told the Star, adding that there still aren’t enough trainers to get new hires working at full capacity.

Addressing frustrations experienced by Canadians trying to renew or apply for passports, Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould acknowledged “the recent demand for passports far exceeded the government’s expectations.”

That was despite unions representing federal workers warning the government in 2021 that passport requests would rise, without the necessary staffing to take on the increased load.

Gould said Ottawa has boosted the number of staff handling the country’s passport program and that workers have implemented a “triage system” to better process applications. Passport services have also been expanded in a number of offices and Service Canada centres.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser also discussed application backlogs within his department, which have left international students and others hoping to immigrate to Canada in limbo.

“Though we have a welcoming nature towards newcomers, our immigration system has faced unprecedented challenges and obstacles that have become larger and have compounded on one another over the past few years,” Fraser said.

He said that owing in part to staffing changes, his department had returned to a “pre-pandemic service standard” in some areas and was on track to reaching its permanent residency and study permit goals.

“We could have sat here and blamed others. We could have blamed airlines, we could blame this, that and the other. But we realized quite quickly that a lot of responsibility did lie on our shoulders,” Miller told reporters.

“To some extent, we were slow in responding to a number of unprecedented … things that Canadians expect to see from their governments.”

Indeed, ministers said Monday that Ottawa has been “scrambling” to contend with a series of challenges outside its control, from the havoc the pandemic wrought on Canada’s travel sector to continuous humanitarian crises that hampered which immigration applications were prioritized.

“We’ve thrown bodies at the problem, which is not the most effective way of doing things. It’s important because it got people their passports in time so they could finally travel after sitting in their houses for two years,” Miller said. “That is not the most effective way … of doing things.”

Source: Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Immigration Minister says his department has shifted focus to international student visas as many await last-minute approval

Yet the latest example of management weaknesses at IRCC as it appears to lurch from one program backlog to another. The risk is, of course, that the shift in resources to address student visas will adversely impact other programs, leading to future negative headlines:

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says his department has shifted its focus toward tackling backlogs in student visa applications, as many students who have been accepted to attend Canadian universities and colleges this semester wait nervously for their immigration approvals.

The minister made the comments Monday as part of the first news conference by the task force to improve government services. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the team of cabinet ministers in June when the federal government was facing heavy public criticism for failing to provide basic services, such as timely passport delivery or efficient traveller processing at Canadian airports.

Mr. Fraser said his department recently shifted its focus away from work permits to tackle the demand for student visas.

“We had been focusing over the course of the summer on processing as many work permits as possible to help address the labour shortage. We’ve made a pivot, and through the month of August, we expect that we’re going to process a little more than 104,000 additional study permits,” he said. “There has been an absolute explosion in demand when it comes to Canada’s International Student Program in recent years.”

The student visa delays recently prompted a complaint from the Indian High Commission in Ottawa. India is the largest source country for international postsecondary students.

In addition to Mr. Fraser’s update, Monday’s news conference included assurances from Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould that passport wait times had improved and an update from Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who said delays and cancelled flights have been dramatically reduced.

Opposition MPs said the task force is little more than a public relations exercise. They also say some of the improvements in areas such as passports and travel delays can be attributed to the fact that the summer travel season is coming to an end.

As for the Immigration Minister’s comments about student visas, Conservative and NDP MPs said this is part of a continuing pattern of shifting focus from one crisis to another, which they say ultimately creates bigger problems for the system as a whole.

Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan said the students awaiting visas are expecting to start classes shortly.

“There are many students that are still left in limbo in this immigration backlog,” he said. As for the task force, he said many of the members are the same ministers who are ultimately responsible for the service issues.

“This task force really hasn’t shown or done anything yet,” he said.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan said Canada’s immigration system, including student visa applications, is in a state of chaos. She said operating in a constant state of “crisis management mode” is not sustainable.

Ms. Kwan said there should be independent reviews of the key departments to determine why services are failing.

“The task force was established as a political cover-up,” she said.

International students from outside Canada pay tuition that is often more than two or three times higher than those paid by domestic students.

Naman Gupta, a 22-year-old student in New Delhi, India, was planning to attend York University this fall to pursue a postgraduate certificate.

His study permit has not come through and he said unless something changes in a matter of days, he’ll defer coming to Canada until the start of the January term. However the $17,000 in tuition he paid won’t be returned in the meantime, he said.

“It’s going to be tough. All my plans are held up,” Mr. Gupta said. “I’m pretty stressed.”

He said he expected the visa processing would have been expedited to ensure that students could arrive in time for the start of their courses.

“I would’ve appreciated if they could apply more compassion to the situation,” Mr. Gupta said. “The response is slow.”

Pallavi Dang, who lives in New Delhi, applied for her study permit in March. She’s disappointed that more than five months later she still hasn’t heard whether she will be approved. Department guidelines said respondents can normally expect an answer in eight weeks, and that current average processing times are about 12 weeks.

She said she had made plans to hand over her business while she was away, but now she’ll need to change course.

“All that planning is on hold,” Ms. Dang said. “I’m not able to take another step.”

Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, an umbrella group that lobbies on behalf of nearly 100 Canadian universities, said Canada trails countries such as Britain and Australia in visa processing.

He said there has to be more federal government investment in IT capacity to speed up processing.

“I think that’s really the solution,” Mr. Davidson said. “There’s all-party support for international students, there’s a good policy climate, but it’s the operational reality that needs to improve.”

Source: Immigration Minister says his department has shifted focus to international student visas as many await last-minute approval

Harris: The future of malicious artificial intelligence applications is here

More on some of the more fundamental risks of AI:

The year is 2016. Under close scrutiny by CCTV cameras, 400 contractors are working around the clock in a Russian state-owned facility. Many are experts in American culture, tasked with writing posts and memes on Western social media to influence the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. The multimillion dollar operation would reach 120 million people through Facebook alone. 

Six years later, the impact of this Russian info op is still being felt. The techniques it pioneered continue to be used against democracies around the world, as Russia’s “troll factory” — the Russian internet Research Agency — continues to fuel online radicalization and extremism. Thanks in no small part to their efforts, our world has become hyper-polar, increasingly divided into parallel realities by cherry-picked facts, falsehoods, and conspiracy theories.

But if making sense of reality seems like a challenge today, it will be all but impossible tomorrow. For the past two years, a quiet revolution has been brewing in AI — and despite some positive consequences, it’s also poised to hand authoritarian regimes unprecedented new ways to spread misinformation across the globe at an almost inconceivable scale.

In 2020, AI researchers created a text generation system called GPT-3. GPT-3 can produce text that’s indistinguishable from human writing — including viral articles, tweets, and other social media posts. GPT-3 was one of the most significant breakthroughs in the history of AI: it offered a simple recipe that AI researchers could follow to radically accelerate AI progress, and build much more capable, humanlike systems. 

But it also opened a Pandora’s box of malicious AI applications. 

Text-generating AIs — or “language models” — can now be used to massively augment online influence campaigns. They can craft complex and compelling arguments, and be leveraged to create automated bot armies and convincing fake news articles. 

This isn’t a distant future concern: it’s happening already. As early as 2020, Chinese efforts to interfere with Taiwan’s national election involved “the instant distribution of artificial-intelligence-generated fake news to social media platforms.”

But the 2020 AI breakthrough is now being harnessed for more than just text. New image-generation systems, able to create photorealistic pictures based on any text prompt, have become reality this year for the first time. As AI-generated content becomes better and cheaper, the posts, pictures, and videos we consume in our social media feeds will increasingly reflect the massively amplified interests of tech-savvy actors.

And malicious applications of AI go far beyond social media manipulation. Language models can already write better phishing emails than humans, and have code-writing capabilities that outperform human competitive programmers. AI that can write code can also write malware, and many AI researchers see language models as harbingers of an era of self-mutating AI-powered malicious software that could blindside the world. Other recent breakthroughs have significant implications for weaponized drone control and even bioweapon design.

Needed: a coherent plan

Policy and governance usually follow crises, rather than anticipate them. And that makes sense: the future is uncertain, and most imagined risks fail to materialize. We can’t invest resources in solving every hypothetical problem.

But exceptions have always been made for problems which, if left unaddressed, could have catastrophic effects. Nuclear technology, biotechnology, and climate change are all examples. Risk from advanced AI represents another such challenge. Like biological and nuclear risk, it calls for a co-ordinated, whole-of-government response.

Public safety agencies should establish AI observatories that produce unclassified reporting on publicly available information about AI capabilities and risks, and begin studying how to frame AI through a counterproliferation lens

Given the pivotal role played by semiconductors and advanced processors in the development of what are effectively new AI weapons, we should be tightening export control measures for hardware or resources that feed into the semiconductor supply chains of countries like China and Russia. 

Our defence and security agencies could follow the lead of the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence, whose Defence AI Strategy involves tracking and mitigating extreme and catastrophic risks from advanced AI.

AI has entered an era of remarkable, rapidly accelerating capabilities. Navigating the transition to a world with advanced AI will require that we take seriously possibilities that would have seemed like science fiction until very recently. We’ve got a lot to rethink, and now is the time to get started.

Source: The future of malicious artificial intelligence applications is here

Diane Francis: Provinces need more say over immigration

Immigration is shared federal-provincial jurisdiction. So legitimate to support provincial calls for increases in the Provincial Nominee Program, less legitimate to request a Quebec deal (which, in any case, only applies to the economic class).
But Francis can’t resist the cheap shot on the current government, despite the government having dramatically increased immigration levels and largely maintained the proportion of economic immigrants at close to 60 percent of the total and thus her assertion that immigration “has been skewed toward family reunification and other politically motivated goals, not toward helping this country meet its economic goals” is false.
That being said, her praise of Ontario Minister McNaughton’s measures to improve credential recognition is well warranted:
In Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Canada, politics outweigh good policies, especially when it comes to immigration. For instance, Trudeau has ratcheted immigration goals up to 400,000 a year, but hasn’t made a dent in terms of overcoming Canada’s skilled labour shortages.
Nearly 37 per cent of all businesses say they’re facing a shortage of skilled workers. This is because our immigration system has been skewed toward family reunification and other politically motivated goals, not toward helping this country meet its economic goals.

Source: Diane Francis: Provinces need more say over immigration

Trudel: Intelligence artificielle discriminatoire

Somewhat shallow analysis, as the only area that IRCC is using AI is with respect to visitor visas, not international students or other categories (unless that has changed). So Trudel’s argumentation may be based on a false understanding.

While concerns regarding AI are legitimate and need to be addressed, bias and noise are common to human decision making.

And differences in outcomes don’t necessarily reflect bias and discrimination but these differences do signal potential issues:

Les étudiants francophones internationaux subissent un traitement qui a toutes les allures de la discrimination systémique. Les Africains, surtout francophones, encaissent un nombre disproportionné de refus de permis de séjourner au Canada pour fins d’études. On met en cause des systèmes d’intelligence artificielle (IA) utilisés par les autorités fédérales en matière d’immigration pour expliquer ces biais systémiques.

Le député Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe rappelait ce mois-ci que « les universités francophones arrivent […] en tête du nombre de demandes d’études refusées. Ce ne sont pas les universités elles-mêmes qui les refusent, mais bien le gouvernement fédéral. Par exemple, les demandes d’étudiants internationaux ont été refusées à 79 % à l’Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières et à 58 % à l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi. Pour ce qui est de l’Université McGill, […] on parle de 9 % ».

En février, le vice-recteur de l’Université d’Ottawa, Sanni Yaya, relevait qu’« au cours des dernières années, de nombreuses demandes de permis, traitées par Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada, ont été refusées pour des motifs souvent incompréhensibles et ont demandé des délais anormalement longs. » Il s’agit pourtant d’étudiants qui ont des bourses garanties par leur établissement et un bon dossier. Le vice-recteur se demande à juste titre s’il n’y a pas là un préjugé implicite de la part de l’agent responsable de leur évaluation, convaincu de leur intention de ne pas quitter le Canada une fois que sera expiré leur permis d’études.

En somme, il existe un faisceau d’indices donnant à conclure que les outils informatiques d’aide à la décision utilisés par les autorités fédérales amplifient la discrimination systémique à l’encontre des étudiants francophones originaires d’Afrique.

Outils faussés

Ce cafouillage doit nous interpeller à propos des préjugés amplifiés par les outils d’IA. Tout le monde est concerné, car ces technologies font partie intégrante de la vie quotidienne. Les téléphones dotés de dispositifs de reconnaissance faciale ou les assistants domestiques ou même les aspirateurs « intelligents », sans parler des dispositifs embarqués dans plusieurs véhicules, carburent à l’IA.

La professeure Karine Gentelet et l’étudiante Lily-Cannelle Mathieu expliquent, dans un article diffusé sur le site de l’Observatoire international sur les impacts sociétaux de l’IA et du numérique, que les technologies d’IA, bien que souvent présentées comme étant neutres, sont marquées par l’environnement social duquel elles sont issues. Elles tendent à reproduire et même à amplifier les préjugés et les apports de pouvoir inéquitables.

Les chercheuses rappellent que plusieurs études ont montré que, si elles ne sont pas adéquatement encadrées, ces technologies excluent des populations racisées, ou bien les surreprésentent au sein de catégories sociales considérées comme « problématiques » ou encore, fonctionnent inadéquatement lorsqu’elles sont appliquées à des individus racisés. Elles peuvent accentuer les tendances discriminatoires dans divers processus décisionnels, comme la surveillance policière, des diagnostics médicaux, des décisions de justice, des processus d’embauche ou d’admission scolaire, ou même le calcul des taux hypothécaires.

Une loi nécessaire

En juin dernier, le ministre fédéral de l’Innovation, des Sciences et de l’Industrie a présenté le projet de loi C-27 afin d’encadrer l’usage des technologies d’intelligence artificielle. Le projet de loi entend imposer des obligations de transparence et de reddition de comptes aux entreprises qui font un usage important des technologies d’IA.

Le projet propose d’interdire certaines conduites relativement aux systèmes d’IA qui peuvent causer un préjudice sérieux aux individus. Il comporte des dispositions afin de responsabiliser les entreprises qui tirent parti de ces technologies. La loi garantirait une gouvernance et un contrôle appropriés des systèmes d’IA afin de prévenir les dommages physiques ou psychologiques ou les pertes économiques infligés aux individus.

On veut aussi prévenir les résultats faussés qui établissent une distinction négative non justifiée sur un ou plusieurs des motifs de discrimination interdits par les législations sur les droits de la personne. Les utilisateurs des technologies d’IA seraient tenus à des obligations d’évaluation et d’atténuation des risques inhérents à leurs systèmes. Le projet de loi entend mettre en place des obligations de transparence pour les systèmes ayant un potentiel de conséquences importantes sur les personnes. Ceux qui rendent disponibles des systèmes d’IA seraient obligés de publier des explications claires sur leurs conditions de fonctionnement de même que sur les décisions, recommandations ou prédictions qu’ils font.

Le traitement discriminatoire que subissent plusieurs étudiants originaires de pays africains francophones illustre les biais systémiques qui doivent être repérés, analysés et supprimés. C’est un rappel que le déploiement de technologies d’IA s’accompagne d’importants risques de reconduire les tendances problématiques des processus de décision. Pour faire face à de tels risques, il faut des législations imposant aussi bien aux entreprises qu’aux autorités publiques de fortes exigences de transparence et de reddition de comptes. Il faut surtout se défaire du mythe de la prétendue « neutralité » de ces outils techniques.

Source: Intelligence artificielle discriminatoire

Roose: We Need to Talk About How Good A.I. Is Getting

Of note. World is going to become more complex, and the potential for AI in many fields will continue to grow, with these tools and programs being increasing able to replace, at least in part, professionals including government workers:

For the past few days, I’ve been playing around with DALL-E 2, an app developed by the San Francisco company OpenAI that turns text descriptions into hyper-realistic images.

OpenAI invited me to test DALL-E 2 (the name is a play on Pixar’s WALL-E and the artist Salvador Dalí) during its beta period, and I quickly got obsessed. I spent hours thinking up weird, funny and abstract prompts to feed the A.I. — “a 3-D rendering of a suburban home shaped like a croissant,” “an 1850s daguerreotype portrait of Kermit the Frog,” “a charcoal sketch of two penguins drinking wine in a Parisian bistro.” Within seconds, DALL-E 2 would spit out a handful of images depicting my request — often with jaw-dropping realism.

Here, for example, is one of the images DALL-E 2 produced when I typed in “black-and-white vintage photograph of a 1920s mobster taking a selfie.” And how it rendered my request for a high-quality photograph of “a sailboat knitted out of blue yarn.”

DALL-E 2 can also go more abstract. The illustration at the top of this article, for example, is what it generated when I asked for a rendering of “infinite joy.” (I liked this one so much I’m going to have it printed and framed for my wall.)

What’s impressive about DALL-E 2 isn’t just the art it generates. It’s how it generates art. These aren’t composites made out of existing internet images — they’re wholly new creations made through a complex A.I. process known as “diffusion,” which starts with a random series of pixels and refines it repeatedly until it matches a given text description. And it’s improving quickly — DALL-E 2’s images are four times as detailed as the images generated by the original DALL-E, which was introduced only last year.

DALL-E 2 got a lot of attention when it was announced this year, and rightfully so. It’s an impressive piece of technology with big implications for anyone who makes a living working with images — illustrators, graphic designers, photographers and so on. It also raises important questions about what all of this A.I.-generated art will be used for, and whether we need to worry about a surge in synthetic propaganda, hyper-realistic deepfakes or even nonconsensual pornography.

But art is not the only area where artificial intelligence has been making major strides.

Over the past 10 years — a period some A.I. researchers have begun referring to as a “golden decade” — there’s been a wave of progress in many areas of A.I. research, fueled by the rise of techniques like deep learning and the advent of specialized hardware for running huge, computationally intensive A.I. models.

Some of that progress has been slow and steady — bigger models with more data and processing power behind them yielding slightly better results.

But other times, it feels more like the flick of a switch — impossible acts of magic suddenly becoming possible.

Just five years ago, for example, the biggest story in the A.I. world was AlphaGo, a deep learning model built by Google’s DeepMind that could beat the best humans in the world at the board game Go. Training an A.I. to win Go tournaments was a fun party trick, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of progress most people care about.

But last year, DeepMind’s AlphaFold — an A.I. system descended from the Go-playing one — did something truly profound. Using a deep neural network trained to predict the three-dimensional structures of proteins from their one-dimensional amino acid sequences, it essentially solved what’s known as the “protein-folding problem,” which had vexed molecular biologists for decades.

This summer, DeepMind announced that AlphaFold had made predictions for nearly all of the 200 million proteins known to exist — producing a treasure trove of data that will help medical researchers develop new drugs and vaccines for years to come. Last year, the journal Science recognized AlphaFold’s importance, naming it the biggest scientific breakthrough of the year.

Or look at what’s happening with A.I.-generated text.

Only a few years ago, A.I. chatbots struggled even with rudimentary conversations — to say nothing of more difficult language-based tasks.

But now, large language models like OpenAI’s GPT-3 are being used to write screenplayscompose marketing emails and develop video games. (I even used GPT-3 to write a book review for this paper last year — and, had I not clued in my editors beforehand, I doubt they would have suspected anything.)

A.I. is writing code, too — more than a million people have signed up to use GitHub’s Copilot, a tool released last year that helps programmers work faster by automatically finishing their code snippets.

Then there’s Google’s LaMDA, an A.I. model that made headlines a couple of months ago when Blake Lemoine, a senior Google engineer, was fired after claiming that it had become sentient.

Google disputed Mr. Lemoine’s claims, and lots of A.I. researchers have quibbled with his conclusions. But take out the sentience part, and a weaker version of his argument — that LaMDA and other state-of-the-art language models are becoming eerily good at having humanlike text conversations — would not have raised nearly as many eyebrows.

In fact, many experts will tell you that A.I. is getting better at lots of things these days — even in areas, such as language and reasoning, where it once seemed that humans had the upper hand.

“It feels like we’re going from spring to summer,” said Jack Clark, a co-chair of Stanford University’s annual A.I. Index Report. “In spring, you have these vague suggestions of progress, and little green shoots everywhere. Now, everything’s in bloom.”

In the past, A.I. progress was mostly obvious only to insiders who kept up with the latest research papers and conference presentations. But recently, Mr. Clark said, even laypeople can sense the difference.

“You used to look at A.I.-generated language and say, ‘Wow, it kind of wrote a sentence,’” Mr. Clark said. “And now you’re looking at stuff that’s A.I.-generated and saying, ‘This is really funny, I’m enjoying reading this,’ or ‘I had no idea this was even generated by A.I.’”

There is still plenty of bad, broken A.I. out there, from racist chatbots to faulty automated driving systems that result in crashes and injury. And even when A.I. improves quickly, it often takes a while to filter down into products and services that people actually use. An A.I. breakthrough at Google or OpenAI today doesn’t mean that your Roomba will be able to write novels tomorrow.

But the best A.I. systems are now so capable — and improving at such fast rates — that the conversation in Silicon Valley is starting to shift. Fewer experts are confidently predicting that we have years or even decades to prepare for a wave of world-changing A.I.; many now believe that major changes are right around the corner, for better or worse.

Ajeya Cotra, a senior analyst with Open Philanthropy who studies A.I. risk, estimated two years ago that there was a 15 percent chance of “transformational A.I.” — which she and others have defined as A.I. that is good enough to usher in large-scale economic and societal changes, such as eliminating most white-collar knowledge jobs — emerging by 2036.

But in a recent post, Ms. Cotra raised that to a 35 percent chance, citing the rapid improvement of systems like GPT-3.

“A.I. systems can go from adorable and useless toys to very powerful products in a surprisingly short period of time,” Ms. Cotra told me. “People should take more seriously that A.I. could change things soon, and that could be really scary.”

There are, to be fair, plenty of skeptics who say claims of A.I. progress are overblown. They’ll tell you that A.I. is still nowhere close to becoming sentient, or replacing humans in a wide variety of jobs. They’ll say that models like GPT-3 and LaMDA are just glorified parrots, blindly regurgitating their training data, and that we’re still decades away from creating true A.G.I. — artificial general intelligence — that is capable of “thinking” for itself.

There are also tech optimists who believe that A.I. progress is accelerating, and who want it to accelerate faster. Speeding A.I.’s rate of improvement, they believe, will give us new tools to cure diseases, colonize space and avert ecological disaster.

I’m not asking you to take a side in this debate. All I’m saying is: You should be paying closer attention to the real, tangible developments that are fueling it.

After all, A.I. that works doesn’t stay in a lab. It gets built into the social media apps we use every day, in the form of Facebook feed-ranking algorithms, YouTube recommendations and TikTok “For You” pages. It makes its way into weapons used by the military and software used by children in their classrooms. Banks use A.I. to determine who’s eligible for loans, and police departments use it to investigate crimes.

Even if the skeptics are right, and A.I. doesn’t achieve human-level sentience for many years, it’s easy to see how systems like GPT-3, LaMDA and DALL-E 2 could become a powerful force in society. In a few years, the vast majority of the photos, videos and text we encounter on the internet could be A.I.-generated. Our online interactions could become stranger and more fraught, as we struggle to figure out which of our conversational partners are human and which are convincing bots. And tech-savvy propagandists could use the technology to churn out targeted misinformation on a vast scale, distorting the political process in ways we won’t see coming.

It’s a cliché, in the A.I. world, to say things like “we need to have a societal conversation about A.I. risk.” There are already plenty of Davos panels, TED talks, think tanks and A.I. ethics committees out there, sketching out contingency plans for a dystopian future.

What’s missing is a shared, value-neutral way of talking about what today’s A.I. systems are actually capable of doing, and what specific risks and opportunities those capabilities present.

I think three things could help here.

First, regulators and politicians need to get up to speed.

Because of how new many of these A.I. systems are, few public officials have any firsthand experience with tools like GPT-3 or DALL-E 2, nor do they grasp how quickly progress is happening at the A.I. frontier.

We’ve seen a few efforts to close the gap — Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence recently held a three-day “A.I. boot camp” for congressional staff members, for example — but we need more politicians and regulators to take an interest in the technology. (And I don’t mean that they need to start stoking fears of an A.I. apocalypse, Andrew Yang-style. Even reading a book like Brian Christian’s “The Alignment Problem” or understanding a few basic details about how a model like GPT-3 works would represent enormous progress.)

Otherwise, we could end up with a repeat of what happened with social media companies after the 2016 election — a collision of Silicon Valley power and Washington ignorance, which resulted in nothing but gridlock and testy hearings.

Second, big tech companies investing billions in A.I. development — the Googles, Metas and OpenAIs of the world — need to do a better job of explaining what they’re working on, without sugarcoating or soft-pedaling the risks. Right now, many of the biggest A.I. models are developed behind closed doors, using private data sets and tested only by internal teams. When information about them is made public, it’s often either watered down by corporate P.R. or buried in inscrutable scientific papers.

Downplaying A.I. risks to avoid backlash may be a smart short-term strategy, but tech companies won’t survive long term if they’re seen as having a hidden A.I. agenda that’s at odds with the public interest. And if these companies won’t open up voluntarily, A.I. engineers should go around their bosses and talk directly to policymakers and journalists themselves.

Third, the news media needs to do a better job of explaining A.I. progress to nonexperts. Too often, journalists — and I admit I’ve been a guilty party here — rely on outdated sci-fi shorthand to translate what’s happening in A.I. to a general audience. We sometimes compare large language models to Skynet and HAL 9000, and flatten promising machine learning breakthroughs to panicky “The robots are coming!” headlines that we think will resonate with readers. Occasionally, we betray our ignorance by illustrating articles about software-based A.I. models with photos of hardware-based factory robots — an error that is as inexplicable as slapping a photo of a BMW on a story about bicycles.

In a broad sense, most people think about A.I. narrowly as it relates to us — Will it take my job? Is it better or worse than me at Skill X or Task Y? — rather than trying to understand all of the ways A.I. is evolving, and what that might mean for our future.

I’ll do my part, by writing about A.I. in all its complexity and weirdness without resorting to hyperbole or Hollywood tropes. But we all need to start adjusting our mental models to make space for the new, incredible machines in our midst.

Source: We Need to Talk About How Good A.I. Is Getting

Burton: Ottawa has continued its mysterious deference to China. What happened to the promised ‘reset’?

Valid questions regarding another policy and delivery failure:

As we mark the six-month anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraineand on world order, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the creation of a special team in Canada to counter the Kremlin’s raging disinformation campaign.

There is a real need to address this threat to the concept of truth, which is the basis of democracy and human rights. But why limit the team’s mandate to the lies of just one offender? This essentially tells China that Ottawa will not be responding to the more richly funded propaganda scheme being run out of Chinese embassies and consulates across Canada. 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping touts this initiative as one of the Chinese Communist Party’s “magic weapons” of domestic and global manipulation. It has been used to sabotage World Health Organization research into the origins of COVID-19; suppress truth surrounding genocide against Uyghurs; and dissuade influential Canadians from promoting measures that threaten Beijing’s espionage efforts, including Canada’s security and technology partnerships with our allies. 

The propaganda campaign, which includes conspiracy theories promulgated by pro-Beijing Chinese language media in Canada, threatens our democracy. It already cost Canadian MPs of Chinese heritage their seats in the last election, and because we do nothing about it, we can expect more in the next election. The Chinese-language media’s hate-mongering includes accusations of pervasive racism against everybody in Canada with Chinese ancestry. Readers of China’s WeChat and other platforms are implored to respond by identifying with the Motherland and becoming loyal to the Chinese Communist Party.

The disinformation campaign also maligns Canadian citizens of Chinese origin — like Xiao Jianhua, Huseyin Celil and 300,000 or so Canadians resident in Hong Kong — as “Chinese-Canadian passport holders,” implying some lesser Canadian citizenship than European-Canadian passport holders who are simply Canadians, with no hyphenated modifiers. 

Ottawa’s refusal to confront this harassment of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong and Chinese democracy activists in Canada is shameful. In 2020, then foreign minister François-Philippe Champagne promised to take action, but nothing happened. Last year Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, said Canada was “actively considering” a registry of foreign agents (similar to U.S. and Australian measures) to counter China’s malign activities in Canada. But this was evidently a hollow promise to appease Canadians’ resentment over China’s subversive operations here.

Canada seems incapable of doing anything about China, due to the incompatibility of the Ottawa doctrine that we must maintain close relations with Beijing regardless of public opinion. When China’s ambassador in Ottawa threatened Canada about crossing a “red line” on Taiwan, warning officials to draw lessons from the past (read: hostage diplomacy) if our MPs set foot in Taiwan, our prime minister didn’t even condemn the remarks, but simply urged MPs to reflect on the “consequences” of such a visit.

The government seems in similar paralysis over naming a new ambassador to China, a position that has been unfilled throughout 2022. Whoever is appointed will inherit the dark shadow of our last two ambassadors — John McCallum and Dominic Barton — who have personal business connections in China and were perceived as promoting Beijing’s interests over Canada’s. When it comes to Chinese diplomacy, Canadians increasingly assume that conflict of interest will prevail over Canada’s national interests and moral integrity. 

Last June, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced the formation of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Advisory Committee. After five years of promising a China policy reset, informed sources say the government’s China policy supporters on this committee are debating how to exclude any mention of China whatsoever in our Indo-Pacific policy declaration. 

As this theatre of the absurd drags on, Canada’s lack of a principled China policy is debasing any confidence the U.S. and other allies have in Ottawa’s competence.

Sadly, based on the performance so far, there is no sign of any meaningful China “reset” coming out of Ottawa before the next federal election.

Source: Ottawa has continued its mysterious deference to China. What happened to the promised ‘reset’?

Immigration law change leaves some newcomers struggling to prove that their marriages are genuine

Some good data on overall numbers as well as the explaining the impact of the change made under the Conservative government requiring both conditions “nongenuine marriage “and” entered into for immigration purposes” to be met to only one condition, changing the “and” to “or:”

Deeparani Harishkumar Dhaliwal says she ends up emotionally and financially drained every time she travels to India to visit her husband and their young son.

Sometimes she stays for two months, other times for as long as six. But she ends up having to find a new job and a new apartment each time she returns alone to Canada.

Due to her frequent trips and moves, Dhaliwal, 37, has very few belongings. The Mississauga woman has been making these journeys for a decade, since she went back to India for an arranged marriage in 2011.

It’s not her preferred lifestyle, she says. But her spousal sponsorship to let her husband join her in Canada has been refused four times on the ground that it’s not a genuine marriage.

Her appeals to a tribunal have been denied, most recently in June, and so have her appeals of those appeal decisions.

“I cannot give up. I need a good future for my child. I need a good future for my family that they can’t have in India,” said Dhaliwal, who took their Canadian-born son Sehajveer to the care of her in-laws and husband in India, due to her lack of child-care options here, when he was two months old. She only recently brought him back to Canada at age eight.

Family reunification has long been considered an important reason to let spouses come to Canada. However, some newcomers such as Dhaliwal face years of bureaucracy, culturally loaded questions about marriage and a subjective evaluation process, with their families’ future at stake.

“Bringing a child into this world is not a small thing. This is not for immigration purposes.”

Between 2016 and 2021, there were 410,546 Canadians who applied to sponsor their foreign spouses for permanent residence, including spouses already in Canada and those still abroad. Over the same period, 368,332 were approved and 27,826 were refused, a refusal rate of seven per cent. (Delays in processing account for the mathematical discrepancy.)

The top grounds for refusals were: the relationship was deemed not genuine; the spouse was inadmissible for different reasons; or the couple failed to meet cohabitation requirements, produce required documents or answer questions truthfully.

As of mid-August, the federal immigration department still has 62,772 pending spousal sponsorship applications in process, including 2,487 cases where applicants have been refused before.

“The Government of Canada recognizes that the majority of relationships are genuine and that most applications are made in good faith,” says immigration department spokesperson Rémi Larivière. “To protect the integrity of our immigration system, officers must do their due diligence to determine whether a marriage is genuine.”

Couples are often interviewed to have their credibility assessed by immigration officials, and failed applicants can appeal to the Immigration and Refugee Board, where an independent adjudicator reviews the decisions. Between 2016 and 2021, the tribunal heard 7,702 spousal sponsorship appeals.

Included in those were Dhaliwal’s efforts to sponsor her husband, Amandeep Singh Dhaliwal, 33, to Canada.

In 2010, Dhaliwal came as a permanent resident with her then-husband but the two separated the following year, she told immigration officials, due to his alleged abusive behaviour. Shortly after the separation (they’re now divorced), she met her current husband and sponsored him in 2012.

The first sponsorship was refused because her divorce in India wasn’t recognized under Canadian law so the new marriage was considered invalid.

“A person must prove that their relationship is genuine and was not entered into primarily for the purpose of acquiring any status or privilege,” said Larivière.

“She reapplied three times after that. Each time, the officer was not satisfied that the marriage was not entered into for the purpose of acquiring any status or privilege under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.”

Dhaliwal said she has been financially supporting her husband, who runs a small family farm. To pay for all the legal fees and trips, she said she has sold the gold necklace, bangle and earrings that her late mother bequeathed to her.

With her son by her side now, she is now studying to become a personal support worker while working as a security guard at Toronto’s Pearson airport. She still likes to hope that her husband could join them in Canada soon and they could buy a house and build a home here.

“We are standing by each other for a lifetime no matter what the conditions are, no matter what the (sponsorship) results are,” said Dhaliwal, who had a miscarriage earlier this year that she attributed to the stress from her legal battle.

“We have to stay in Canada because this is the only country where I can support my family and raise my child for a better future.”

The couple said it’s awfully hard to stay apart whenever Dhaliwal had to return to the cruel reality of being alone in Canada whenever she left India, where people make fun of them and taunt them about their marriage.

“Whenever we see relatives, people ask the same question. You guys have a kid together and it’s been so many years, and you still don’t have visa. It’s hard to answer people and explain to them our bond,” Amandeep Singh Dhaliwal, 33, said from India.

“In my life, my wife is God’s blessing. I am very hard working but due to limited opportunity in India, I couldn’t help her financially and most of burden of family is on her.”

While Dhaliwal made the mistake of not getting her divorce in India notarized before her first sponsorship, the second application, filed in 2014, was rejected due to doubts about the genuineness of the marriage.

The appeal tribunal concurred with the concerns raised by immigration officials, citing:

  • The couple’s compatibility in terms of age, education, marital and religious backgrounds (She is Hindu, 37, divorced and university educated; he is Sikh, 34, a high-school dropout, and it’s his first marriage);
  • The difficulty both spouses had in detailing their first conversation and the attraction they shared that led to their quick marriage a month after they met;
  • Inconsistency in their evidence with regards to their wedding, honeymoon and intimacy; and
  • Concerns that Dhaliwal’s first marriage was also a marriage of convenience.

Immigration consultant Sol Gombinsky, who is advising the couple, says spousal applicants are judged through the Canadian lens and that applicants are often stumped by the questions raised by immigration officers at interviews.

One question posed to the couple at their immigration interview was about their first sexual encounter after the marriage.

“It has always bothered me that they ask somebody abroad questions (from) thousands of miles away, with a different culture, different religion, and they ask questions that in many cultures are difficult to answer,” said Gombinsky, who worked 30 years with the immigration department, including a stint as an appeals officer.

“When something starts off bad and you get off on the wrong foot, it’s very difficult to correct it.”

In refusing the first appeal, the appeal tribunal said a variety of factors are taken into account in assessing if a relationship is genuine: the intent of the marriage; length of the relationship; amount of time spent together; conduct at the time of meeting, engagement and wedding; knowledge of each other’s relationship history; level of continuing contact and communication; financial support; sharing of child care responsibility; and knowledge about each other’s extended families and lives.

“The preponderance of the evidence support a finding that the marriage was entered into primarily for the applicant’s immigration to Canada, and is not genuine,” a tribunal concluded in 2016 in this case.

Seasoned immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman says what makes it hard to reverse a refusal in a case such as Dhaliwal’s is an amendment of the law by the former federal Conservative government.

The old regulation let officials refuse a spousal application if it was a nongenuine marriage “and” it was entered into for immigration purposes.

“But now you can refuse a sponsorship because it was entered into for immigration purposes or it’s not genuine,” explained Waldman, who represented Dhaliwal and her husband at their latest appeal this year.

“Since the change … if the case is refused at the beginning, then it’s really difficult to overcome, because that’s a finding that was made based upon what happened at the time they were married. Changes that occur afterwards don’t affect that part of the (initial) decision.”

As a result, many genuine couples have also been trapped if they fail to present their cases properly the first time, Waldman said.

Dhaliwal’s third and fourth sponsorship applications were refused in 2017 and 2021, on the same grounds. In the subsequent appeals, the appeal tribunal ruled that the same issue had been decided previously, and dismissed the requests.

Despite a DNA test result confirming the paternity of Dhaliwal’s child, the second appeal panel noted 22 specific problems with the couple’s evidence at the 2016 hearing and determined that none of the new evidence addressed those findings.

“While the new evidence might be relevant vis-à-vis whether the marriage is now genuine, it was not directly probative of whether the marriage had been entered into primarily for immigration purposes,” cited the latest appeal decision released in June.

In that decision, the tribunal recognized there’s a child of the marriage and the child continues to be jointly raised by the couple, which addressed some of the concerns previously raised.

“However, it is clearly not probative of them all,” said the tribunal.

Citing case law, the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) tribunal said the existence of a child of the marriage will favour a finding of genuineness, but it is not proof in itself.

“In this appeal, it has already been held that, despite the existence of a child, the Appellant did not establish that this is a genuine marriage or that it was not entered into primarily for immigration purposes,” said the Immigration Appeal Division.

“If it is a fraudulent immigration marriage — and the Appellant has failed to establish otherwise before the IAD and visa officers — I cannot say that the child’s best interests favour holding another IAD hearing on the matter,” wrote adjudicator Benjamin R. Dolin in his June 23, 2022 decision.

While it’s not impossible to have a child in order to facilitate immigration through a spousal sponsorship, Waldman said he has never come across such a case in his more than four decades of legal practice.

“I’ve seen quite a few other cases like this. It’s really a tragic situation because families are being separated unnecessarily. Children are growing up with only one parent and people are not able to be with their spouses,” he said.

“For a lot of people, it’s not going to be possible to go back to their country. It’s not an option for a lot of people either because the financial situation in the country is extremely difficult.”

Source: Immigration law change leaves some newcomers struggling to prove that their marriages are genuine

Channel crossings to the UK top 25,000 so far this year

By way of comparison, about 20,000 irregular arrivals at Roxham Road between January and July 2022 (virtually all), compared to close to 2 million at the US Southwest land border:

More than 25,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year, government figures show.

A total of 915 people were detected on Saturday in 19 small boats, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said, taking the provisional total for the year to 25,146.

There have been 8,747 crossings in August so far, including 3,733 in the past week, analysis shows.

The highest daily total on record came last Monday, 22 August, with 1,295 people crossing in 27 boats.

It has been more than four months since the home secretary, Priti Patel, unveiled plans to send refugees to Rwanda to try to deter people from crossing the Channel. Since then, 19,878 people have arrived in the UK after making the journey.

Source: Channel crossings to the UK top 25,000 so far this year

Chinese Canadian seniors left behind as many Chinese-language newspapers stop printing

Of interest:

As the world came to a standstill two years ago, they sat unread on dusty newsstands in empty restaurants and grocery stores.

Chinese-language newspapers, vital to the community, became largely inaccessible during the pandemic as people were restricted from visiting the places where they were distributed.

It’s part of why Canada’s largest Chinese-language daily newspaper, Sing Tao Daily, has stopped printing across the country. After 44 years of circulating in Canada, its last publication date is on Saturday.

“The Chinese newspaper is really, really important to a lot of my members, seniors,” said Liza Chan, executive director of the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens’ Association. “It’s a big hit to Calgary.”

It’s a trend throughout Canada’s Chinese media landscape.

In Calgary, a number of other Chinese-language newspapers stopped printing due to impacts from the pandemic, leaving just one locally-printed newspaper to inform the Chinese community — especially seniors who don’t typically get their news online.

Pandemic changed readership patterns 

Originating in Hong Kong, Sing Tao Daily was  distributed throughout Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver. The daily newspaper stopped circulating in Calgary in 2016, but its weekly publications — Canadian City Post and Sing Tao Cosmopolitan — are also ending their physical editions on Saturday.

While some Sing Tao readership returned after restrictions were lifted, Wong says it didn’t bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, which were already declining.

“We are noticing the change of the public in consuming their daily information and news,” said Wong. “We think that it is the right timing to change and move on to a new phase.”

It’s the same situation for Trend Media, formerly known as Trend Weekly. It used to be a free weekly magazine before it stopped printing and transitioned completely to an online platform in August.

“With the pandemic, more people in some ways are relying on information online right now. So less and less people are really paying much attention to the printed copies,” said publisher Danny Chan.

Chan says the high costs of printing were also a major factor, especially with a reduction in readers. He says all of the publication’s income would go to printing.

“I think the newspaper printing business is going all the way downhill right now because we can hardly make enough money to cover the printing costs,” he said.

He was also seeing a decrease in willing advertisers — the publication’s main revenue source. Most advertisers target readers under the age of 50 and now spend their money on online promotions, says Chan.

“Most of the readers of the paper publication are elderly. They don’t have that kind of spending power.”

Both Trend Media and Sing Tao will continue to publish e-books online. 

Other local newspapers in Calgary, such as Oriental Weekly, mention on their websites that they stopped printing indefinitely during the pandemic.

Chinese seniors left behind

As much of the world shifted online during the pandemic, Wong says seniors have become more technologically savvy and can learn how to find the news online.

But Liza Chan says that isn’t the case with the seniors she works with at the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens’ Association.

“There’s still a lot of seniors [who are] not able to access a computer or don’t have the ability to do it,” she said.

She says routine is important for seniors, and reading the Chinese newspaper each week is a big part of their routines — namely, Sing Tao’s weekly publications and Trend Weekly. But now, those are no longer an option.

A couple of other international newspapers are still distributed in Calgary, including Vision Times and Epoch Times, but there’s now only one locally printed Chinese newspaper in Calgary that seniors can rely on.

It’s limiting for seniors, says Chan, because that one option is in higher demand.

“When you have three different kinds, you can still get one maybe out of the three. But now you might not get any,” she said.

Last locally printed Chinese newspaper

The Canadian Chinese Times was the first local Chinese-language newspaper created in Calgary, back in 1981. Now, it’s the last one standing.

“It’s sad, actually,” said Jake Louie, publisher of the Canadian Chinese Times. “We don’t mind competition at all because that will give readers and the community more choices.”

“Now, we’re the only one left. So it’s kind of a feeling of loneliness, you know, in a way.”

The weekly newspaper, published on Thursdays, is targeted toward Chinese seniors and new immigrants who want to learn about the Canadian way of life and stay informed about what’s going on in Calgary.

About 12,000 copies are printed each week and distributed to more than 60 locations throughout the city. As the last Chinese newspaper standing, Louie says demand has soared.

“Our paper is going like hotcakes,” said Louie.

He says they once considered shifting to an online-only platform due to soaring printing costs and a decrease in advertisements. But when they asked readers their thoughts, the feedback was almost unanimous.

“‘No, I don’t know how to go online and I don’t have a computer. We really need physical printing papers so that we can get the information there.'”

Tony Wong, president of the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre, says Chinese newspapers play an important role in the community’s daily lives.

Reading the newspaper with his family every Thursday and Friday has become a ritual, he says. Not only does it help him stay informed about events in the community, but his wife searches advertisements for the best promotions and sales to share with her sisters.

That didn’t change during the pandemic. Instead, in the early days, his wife would make sure he wore gloves to pick up the newspaper. She would also spray his hands and the paper with disinfectant.

“I just pray that the Canadian Chinese Times will remain in print for many years to come. Otherwise, a lot of our lives will be in jeopardy,” he said.

Chan says she hopes the Canadian Chinese Times will consider printing more copies as demand increases so no Chinese Calgarians lose touch with the community.

Source: Chinese Canadian seniors left behind as many Chinese-language newspapers stop printing