What Silicon Valley Could Use More of: Inefficiency – The New York Times

Worth reflecting upon:

Hypocrisy thrives at the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in the heart of Silicon Valley. This is where Google executives send their children to learn how to knit, write with chalk on blackboards, practice new words by playing catch with a beanbag and fractions by cutting up quesadillas and apples. There are no screens — not a single piece of interactive, multimedia, educational content. The kids don’t even take standardized tests.

While Silicon Valley’s raison d’être is making platforms, apps and algorithms to create maximum efficiency in life and work (a “friction-free” world, as Bill Gates once put it), when it comes to their own families (and developing their own businesses, too), the new masters of the universe have a different sense of what it takes to learn and innovate — it’s a slow, indirect process, meandering not running, allowing for failure and serendipity, even boredom.

Back in 1911, the English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said that “civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.” By that metric, Uber and Google and Amazon Prime have given us a whole lot of civilization. And there’s no doubt our lives are better for it. (Ordering Chinese takeout in 30 seconds on an app might not be up there with Shakespeare or the incandescent light bulb, but it’s pretty great.) This unrelenting drive for efficiency has, however, blotted out a few things we all know intuitively but seem to be forgetting.

To create a product or service that is truly efficient often involves a lot of inefficiency — more like learning to knit than pressing a button. Likewise, gadgets built with a single-minded focus on efficiency can often backfire, subverting their purpose. Algorithms designed to dish up the news and information we most prefer end up blinkering us to all but a narrow slice of political and social reality. Our smartphones untether us from the office, saving us energy on travel, but also allow our lives to be interrupted nearly 24 hours a day, chewing up any productive idle time.

This all seems fairly obvious. But, as Edward Tenner writes in “The Efficiency Paradox,” “we sometimes need to be reminded of the obvious.” Tenner has made a career worrying about unintended consequences. His 1996 book, “Why Things Bite Back,” dealt with phenomena like the overuse of antibiotics leading to resistant bacteria and the introduction of football helmets causing an increase of neck and spine injuries. In 2003, he published “Our Own Devices,” in which he turned to what he called body technologies — sandals, office chairs, computer keyboards — and how they had impaired as much as enhanced us. In short, for every three steps forward, he sees the two steps back.

With the internet now a dominant social force, Tenner is ready with his wet blanket. But he is not a cyber-pessimist or a fetishizer of the analog. He is, instead, a staunch moderate: “Silicon Valley’s mistake is not in developing efficient algorithms from which we all benefit, but in encouraging the illusion that algorithms can and should function in the absence of human skills.”

The dehumanizing effects of big data are well known and Tenner adds no groundbreaking insight here. (Books like Cathy O’Neil’s “Weapons of Math Destruction” and Evgeny Morozov’s “To Save Everything, Click Here” were more pioneering on this front.) But what Tenner brings is a new frame. Unlike critiquing the denizens of Silicon Valley for deepening social and economic inequality, destroying our brains or helping to undermine democratic norms (issues that seem to matter to us more than them), questioning efficiency is truly kicking the geeks where it hurts.


Drawing on an eclectic bunch of anecdotes and studies, Tenner makes his way through four sectors in which “intuition, skill and experience” have been effectively crushed by “big data, algorithms and efficiency”: media and culture, education, transportation and medicine.

A few of his examples:

Search algorithms have extended the ability to find scientific journal articles and books dating to the 19th century. In principle, this means scholars may encounter a broad range of research and discovery, dredge up forgotten work and possibly connect important dots. But in reality, as one sociologist found after studying citations in 35 million scientific journal articles from before and after the invention of the internet, researchers, beholden to search algorithms’ tendency to generate self-reinforcing feedback loops, are now paying more attention to fewer papers, and in general to the more recent and popular ones — actually strengthening rather than bucking prevailing trends.

GPS is great for getting from one point to another, but if you need more context for understanding your surroundings, it’s fairly useless. We’ve all had experiences in which the shortest distance, as calculated by the app, can also be the most dangerous or traffic-clogged. Compare the efficiency of GPS with the three years aspiring London cabdrivers typically spend preparing for the arduous examination they must pass in order to receive their license. They learn to build a mental map of the entire city, to navigate under any circumstance, to find shortcuts and avoid risky situations — all without any external, possibly fallible, help. Which is the more efficient, ultimately, the cabby or Google Maps?

In the early 2000s, electronic medical records and electronic prescribing appeared to solve the lethal problem of sloppy handwriting. The United States Institute of Medicine estimated in 1999 that 7,000 patients in the United States were dying annually because of errors in reading prescriptions. But the electronic record that has emerged to answer this problem, and to help insurers manage payments, is full of detailed codes and seemingly endless categories and subcategories. Doctors now have to spend an inordinate amount of time on data entry. One 2016 study found that for every hour doctors spent with patients, two hours were given over to filling out paperwork, leaving much less time to listen to patients, arguably the best way to avoid misdiagnoses.

Faced with all these “inefficiently efficient” technologies, what should we do? Tenner wants more balance. Let’s not put the brakes on the drive for efficiency. These tools are good. But they should give way a bit to human sensibility, to our own instincts and insights, which could help them work even better. “Analog experience can enhance digital efficacy,” he writes. “Digital tools can improve analog access. We don’t have to choose between the two.”

His recommendations are sensible, if hard to imagine actually coming to pass. He wants us to spend more time in the physical world, in the “terrain” of our cities or between the paragraphs of a printed book. We need to get a little lost, pursue “productive and instructive disorientation, distraction, wild-goose chases, dead ends.” He likes the idea of systematically educating high school students in the skill of online searching, so they can make the algorithms work for them rather than slavishly accepting their results. He wouldn’t mind if we returned to the days of the dial-up modem, when we waited patiently for the pixels to materialize on the screen one by one. Instant gratification has dulled our senses. He’d put us all in Waldorf schools if he could.

If this sounds like Tenner is a man impassioned, I should be clearer: This is no manifesto. There is not much blood flowing through this book, which reads more like a report issued by a concerned think tank. Maybe it’s just that preaching moderation doesn’t lend itself to writing that pulls your face to the page.

But it would be unfortunate if Tenner were dismissed as just a cranky man in his 70s who thinks we spend too much time on our phones. What he is asserting is something we all know to be true. It’s bigger than the tyranny of efficiency. What he’s really asking is that we remember that the tools we’ve invented to improve our lives are just that, tools, to be picked up and put down. We wield them.

via What Silicon Valley Could Use More of: Inefficiency – The New York Times

Douglas Todd: Amazon’s Vancouver ‘news’ lacks facts on jobs, migrants coming this way

More on the Canadian advantage in hiring talent and the mobility in the tech sector, written from a somewhat ambivalent perspective:

….The extent to which Canadian high-tech companies rely on foreign workers, international students and would-be migrants is explained in the book Trans-Pacific Mobilities: The Chinese and Canada (UBC Press), edited by the University of Calgary’s Lloyd Wong, with a key contribution by SFU’s Karl Froschauer.

Although Wong and Froschauer have never responded to my requests for interviews, they wrote in Trans-Pacific Mobilities that Metro Vancouver’s high-tech companies assertively look abroad for workers, mostly from Asia, and especially in India and China.

They do so, the sociologists write, because it means they can “spend a very small fraction of their salary budget on training and because B.C. universities produce relatively few graduates in the technology field … High-tech computer programming and computer systems analysis have been the two most common intended occupations of all skilled immigrants to Canada.”

Some international financial experts, however, are beginning to be more upfront about how one reason Canada’s high-tech sector is growing, particularly with satellite U.S. companies, is it is easier to get a visa to work in Canada than south of the border.

To put it simply, Canada’s open attitude to tech talent is the opposite of Trump’s, where the current national motto is, “Buy America. Hire America.”

Trump talks about further cracking down on the country’s coveted H-1B visas, which are used to place foreign workers in high-skilled U.S. jobs. As the BBC reports, U.S. politicians place a tight cap on H-1B visas because many do not want to see them used to replace skilled American workers with cheaper overseas counterparts.

Trudeau, on the other hand, is fast-tracking offshore high-tech workers and students. He’s brought in efforts like the Global Skills Strategy, which builds upon the 2015 “Express Entry” program; a free, online process that allows skilled workers to apply easily to immigrate.

Of the 500,000 international students in Canada in 2017, which was a 20 per cent jump from 2016, many are studying in technology fields.

One advantage in their coming to Canada is that — unlike in the U.S. where they are normally not allowed to stay in the country after they graduate — they can stay at least three years extra in Canada to work and go to the front of the queue for immigration. Another advantage of starting in Canadian high-tech is that foreign nationals who work for an American satellite company for one year can then get an inter-company transfer to the U.S.

Data is not available on how many Canadian-born or raised young people are getting jobs in the high-tech sectors in Vancouver, Toronto and across Canada. While employers routinely claim there is not enough local talent to hire, some B.C.-based business professors counter that there aren’t enough jobs for students graduating out of Canada’s high-tech programs.

In the midst of such trans-national confusion, shortage of facts and sometimes fantastical claims, there are pros and cons to the way the high-tech sector in Canada has become key to what Brock University researcher Zachary Spicer calls a globalized “brain churn.”

The world’s skilled workers, whether in Asia or North America, are not just flowing in one direction. They’re “churning,” shifting rapidly from country to country while chasing the most strategic jobs, with the restrictive U.S. generally being most sought-after, in large part because of its stronger salaries.

Raza Mirza, a high-tech worker in Vancouver who was recruited from Pakistan by a U.S. high-tech company, is not following the lead of many of his colleagues and moving to the U.S., even though he could make at least $40,000 Cdn more.

Separate from his own interests, he’s among many convinced the United States’ relatively protectionist approach to foreign labour, compared to Canada’s open policy, is definitely  boosting the high-tech sector in Canada.

“I believe the shortage of U.S. talent, and the U.S.’s unwillingness to let companies bring in more global talent, has been a huge factor in why U.S. technology companies are increasing their Canadian footprint.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Amazon’s Vancouver ‘news’ lacks facts on jobs, migrants coming this way

Women in tech gain experience but their pay gap with men gets worse – Recode

Scope for more analysis here to explain the growing disparity beyond the possible explanation of more balance between work and family:

The pay disparity between women and men is often framed as a difference in experience. But women actually miss out on pay as they gain experience, according to new data from tech job platform Hired.

Within the first two years of working in a tech job, women in the U.S. ask for and receive 98 percent of what their male counterparts make in the same job at the same company, according to the report.

Over time, that disparity grows.

On average, women with seven to 10 years of experience, for example, ask for about 90 cents on the dollar and are offered slightly more — 93 cents for every dollar a man is offered. Women with 13 to 14 years of experience ask for 94 cents for every dollar and receive just 92 cents.

There are a number of reasons for this gap beyond simply asking for less and in turn receiving less. Entry-level jobs usually have more clear-cut salary data, so men and women alike know what a specific position is worth. As job candidates advance in their careers, data on a position’s salary becomes spottier, and raises and promotions are not dealt out equally between men and women.

Exacerbating this is the fact that salary requests tend to be based on current salary. That means that if, say, a woman doesn’t receive the same promotions and raises as her male counterparts, she will ask for less than men in each subsequent position, compounding the salary disparity over time.

Additionally, as women get older, they’re also more likely to have children, which is also linked to lower salaries.

The situation is worse for women of color or those who identify as LGBTQ.

Black and Latina women in tech make 90 cents for every dollar a white man makes. That’s a marked improvement over last year but the gulf is still substantial.

Overall, the study found that, in the U.S., men are offered higher salaries than women for the same position 63 percent of the time. It also found that companies offer women 4 percent less than men for the same role, on average. This is basically the same as last year’s findings.

Salary data reflects base pay only and is drawn from a sample of 420,000 interview requests and job offers among 10,000 participating companies and about 98,000 job candidates. Demographics data is self-reported. Hired job seekers set a preferred salary, and companies have to include compensation information for every interview request.

via Women in tech gain experience but their pay gap with men gets worse – Recode

Reports urge more diversity in tech sector to bridge ‘digital divide’

Canada catches up to the Silicon Valley conversation on the lack of diversity in tech (to be fair, there has been discussion that led to these reports):

The tech and innovation sector needs to do a better job of recruiting visible minorities to boost Canada’s economic output, two forthcoming studies say.

On Wednesday, the MaRS Discovery District, a Toronto-based innovation hub, will release Talent Fuels Tech, a report that found most job seekers in the region are visible minorities and argues for the development of a sector-wide strategy to build and retain a more diverse work force.

And the Ontario Incubator Diversity Report, an independent study by non-profit advocacy group Innovate Inclusion, examined four prominent organizations with incubator and accelerator programs – including MaRS – finding leadership and mentorship teams lacked African-Canadian, Latin-Canadian and Indigenous leaders. This, the report finds, can create a “digital divide” in the province that holds members of those communities back from contributing to the innovation economy.

While the pair of studies highlight that innovation hubs tend to unfairly leave crucial demographics of Canadians behind, they also chart pathways to more equitable recruitment strategies for hiring underrepresented visible minorities.

“As much as we celebrate diversity in Canada, diversity even more so in technology often starts and stops with gender,” says Jessica Yamoah, executive director of Innovate Inclusion. “Diversity within an organization will bring you perspective and new ways of doing things. A lot of times, there’s not enough credit given to our immigrant community.”

Innovate Inclusion’s report will be published later this month. It applauds Ontario’s well-known incubators and accelerators for “rising to the challenge” of gender diversity, and invites them to take further steps to get more members of the three underrepresented minority groups into their leadership teams. Examining publicly available information about various leadership groups – including boards and executive teams – at MaRS and Ryerson University’s DMZ in Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo’s Communitech and Invest Ottawa, the report found only five people of African, Latin or Indigenous descent among the dozens of leaders. (Invest Ottawa and DMZ told The Globe and Mail that some of the report’s figures are incorrect, but applaud its intent.)

Ms. Yamoah, who is Ghanaian-Canadian, says the report is not intended to scold the organizations, but rather to set a starting point from which they can improve inclusion, which would only serve to benefit everyone involved. “As we evolve in the innovation economy, certain communities are being excluded, creating a larger digital divide,” she says. “If the numbers aren’t established as starting point, how do we measure success?”

Canada loses when underrepresented communities aren’t included in the broader conversation, she says. “That can definitely be reflected in the bottom line. Look at how the African-Caribbean community affects buying decisions in popular culture. Instead of just being musicians and artists in front of the mic, why can’t they be the executives behind the deals, and the technology that’s used?”

The report’s suggestions include that governments provide more support to incubators and accelerators that strongly demonstrate diversity in their ranks, and to earmark funds and procurement opportunities for entrepreneurs of underrepresented backgrounds. Incubators, it suggests, should design strategies to build more diverse leadership teams and better target underrepresented groups.

MaRS’s report also sought ideas to better tap into tech talent in the Greater Toronto Area – and found the answer in seeking a more diverse range of candidates. “We need to build a pipeline of talent so companies can stop going through a closed loop of referrals,” says Lekan Olawoye, one of the report’s authors and the lead executive of Studio Y, a talent development and leadership program at MaRS.

The report surveyed nearly 600 technology workers, finding that 63 per cent of job seekers were visible minorities, while 56 per cent were born outside of Canada. “Either they’re looking for work because their current environment is not conducive to them, or they are overqualified for their current role and raising their hand and saying, ‘Hey, I have more skills to provide,’ ” Mr. Olawoye says.

The report recommends developing a “sector-wide diversity-and-inclusion working group” to develop a comprehensive system of talent attraction and retention for Toronto’s tech sector. And one major key unlocking this talent, Mr. Olawoye says, is by dismantling biases ingrained in hiring. One such bias is the need for cultural fit, which the report suggests is less important than hiring talent with a mindset for growth. “The best person might not be the person you like the most that you’ll take for a beer, but it’s the person who will help your company grow,” Mr. Olawoye says.

Ryerson’s DMZ has incorporated a diversity guidebook, TechGirls Canada and TWG’s Change Together, into its membership process. “I think it comes to no surprise that the Ontario ecosystem, in terms of diversity, is lacking – there’s a lot of work to be done,” says Abdullah Snobar, its executive director. Mr. Snobar underlines the importance of incorporating the value of diversity into incubators, rather than treating it as a series of boxes to check off. “We want to see it rooted into the culture of an organization,” he says.

Spokespersons for both Communitech and MaRS said they aim to seek diverse leadership, though they seek primarily to reflect the communities around them in attaining ethnic diversity. “To be diverse, our boards and our executive should mirror our population,” says Jodi Marner, Communitech’s head of diversity and talent initiatives, who suggested that Kitchener-Waterloo region does not have a large African-Canadian or Latin-Canadian communities to hire from. “I agree we’re not mirroring our population, but we need to understand our population better, and what it’s made up of.”

Ms. Yamoah warns that suggestions playing down the need for more African, Latin and Indigenous leaders are why the report was done in the first place. “This sentiment is concerning as it would never be expressed in the context of certain sports, entertainment, or the criminal justice system where these communities are often over-indexed,” she say

via Reports urge more diversity in tech sector to bridge ‘digital divide’ – The Globe and Mail

As Trump Tightens Legal Immigration, Canada Woos Tech Firms – The New York Times

Another story on the Canadian immigration advantage:

A Flatiron district artificial intelligence start-up was recently looking to expand, adding new engineers who happened to know a niche computer language.

The people it hired hail from Morocco, Belarus, France, Georgia and Canada. But they are not working in New York. They are in Montreal, where immigration policies make it possible to get work permits within two weeks, and the Canadian tech industry is aggressively trying to woo foreign companies.

“It’s becoming less and less sexy to be going to the United States,” said Tim Delisle, 26, a founder of the start-up Datalogue, which uses artificial intelligence to prepare and synthesize data for other businesses. He added that skilled foreign workers crave the greater stability that he said immigrants have in Canada compared with the United States.

While much attention has been paid to President Trump’s policies cracking down on illegal immigration, the administration has also moved to restrict legal immigration, especially in the tech industry, which draws many workers from abroad. In April, Mr. Trump introduced an executive order, Buy American and Hire American, which included requests to reform a visa program known as H-1B as a way to benefit American workers.

The program awards 85,000 temporary visas annually to highly skilled foreign workers in what are deemed “specialty” occupations through a lottery. Between application and legal fees, the process of applying for one H-1B visa can cost a company up to $6,000, lawyers say, and can take months; it is also as uncertain as roulette, with hundreds of thousands of applicants for the spots.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security published a set of proposed rule changes that would make the visas even harder to qualify for, to ensure that only “the best and brightest” foreign workers were selected. It also hoped to eliminate a work permit for spouses of some of these visa holders.

In contrast, Canada’s immigration agency in June started the Global Skills Strategy for high-skilled workers from abroad to get a work permit in two weeks.

“That is, excuse my English, goddamn fast,” said Hubert Bolduc, the chief executive of Montreal International, a public-private partnership that recruits foreign companies to move to Canada and offers support once they arrive in Montreal. “We’ve been loving government on this because we know it’s a talent game.”

In 2017, the organization conducted eight international recruiting missions, in London, Paris, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Its directors have made several informal visits to New York, where it came this month to woo a video game company.

With the Trump administration’s immigration policies, “We’re almost saying, ‘Don’t come,’” said Sunil Hirani, the co-founder of trueEx, an electronic global interest rates exchange, also in the Flatiron neighborhood. He came to New York as a child 40 years ago from India. “How can you have a ‘Come to New York City’ program if the people of New York City are going to get kicked out? How do you sell that?”

Last year, trueEx’s chief executive and president, Karen O’Connor, was looking at options to expand the company’s computer engineer group. A consortium related to Montreal International invited her to Canada for a visit that made her feel like a foreign dignitary, she said. There was the elegant lunch, the precisely coordinated meetings with potential business partners and a visit to the Montreal Stock Exchange.

Ms. O’Connor said the 50-person company could save more than $1 million in wages if it hired engineers based in Montreal. In part, that was because the cost of living was far less compared with New York and because the company could qualify for certain tax benefits.

But after Mr. Trump was elected, trueEx hesitated, to gauge the climate; now, it is again considering expanding north of the border in 2018, Ms. O’Connor said, in part because it got a spot site visit from the Department of Homeland Security this summer to verify employment records for its H-1B visa holders. They were in order, but the company’s executives found the process nerve-racking.


Datalogue’s founders, Tim Delisle, left, and Bryan Russett, in their Montreal office. “It’s becoming less and less sexy to be going to the United States,” Mr. Delisle said. CreditRenaud Philippe for The New York Times

“My advice to other companies would be: Hold on for dear life, but explore other options,” Mr. Hirani said.

But John Miano, a lawyer who represents American workers who say that they have lost jobs unfairly to low-skilled H-1B visa holders, thought it was “posturing” for companies to say they are moving north of the border to find the best talent. “The problem is, you got to go to Canada,” Mr. Miano said. “The reality is, the place to do business is still the United States.”

Datalogue’s expansion to Montreal, Mr. Delisle’s hometown, evolved swiftly. He and a partner founded Datalogue in 2016 at Cornell Tech in Manhattan and were lucky when a tech mogul, Charles E. Phillips Jr., the chief executive of Infor, gave him two desks on the fifth floor of Infor’s elegantly restored Flatiron headquarters.

By spring 2017, Datalogue had grown to five employees and had raised $1.5 million in seed funding. But to bring in more engineers would have cost thousands of dollars in visa fees, Mr. Delisle said, and even then, the process would not be guaranteed. Canada has a burgeoning artificial intelligence sector, and the company opened its Montreal office in April in the trendy Mile End neighborhood; it raised another $1.5 million in seed funding by November.

Still, Mr. Delisle said that his company has better access to customers in New York, and for that reason he has kept seven employees there for sales and marketing.

While tech is still thriving in New York, where it is the fastest-growing industry in the city, losing offices or whole companies to Canada could be a concern, said Kevin Ryan, an entrepreneur who had founded a half-dozen start-ups. The multiplier effect of the start-up world is a powerful one.

“When someone decides not to come here to join a start-up, and they go to Toronto, some of them may break off and start a new company across the street,” he said. “The wider impact will be felt, literally, for decades.”

Mr. Delisle agreed. “I’m not necessarily scared for New York; there’s phenomenal programs there,” he said. “I am more scared for the broader policies being applied right now.”

According to the Partnership for New York City, a business advocacy group, immigration has always been central to the economy of New York. Forty-eight percent of the city’s small-business owners are immigrants, and 45 percent of the work force in the city is foreign-born.

“The No. 1 priority of business today is where they can get the talent they need from the global talent pool,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, the chief executive of the group. “There’s not much a locality can do to incentivize, but we can try to keep the global pipeline open.”

Stimulating the city economy was the impetus for New York City’s Economic Development Corporation to create a program called International Innovators Initiative, or IN2NYC. The idea was to provide H-1B visas that were exempt from the government-imposed cap because entrepreneurs would work in partnership with city universities.

The program was announced in the spring of 2016 and received 144 applications in the first round. The second round, coming on the heels of the Trump administration’s travel ban, attracted half that number. The program received only 41 this fall.

Perhaps even more telling is the small number of foreign entrepreneurs who received visas: six. The IN2NYC program had envisioned at least 25 working at once, but the process, officials say, has been delayed by government challenges to the visas.

One company that was initially rejected has appealed — and set up shop in Canada while it is waiting for a decision.

via As Trump Tightens Legal Immigration, Canada Woos Tech Firms – The New York Times

Diversity must be the driver of artificial intelligence: Kriti Sharma

Agree. Those creating the algorithms and related technology need to be both more diverse and more mindful of the assumptions baked into their analysis and work:

The question over what to do about biases and inequalities in the technology industry is not a new one. The number of women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields has always been disproportionately less than men. What may be more perplexing is, why is it getting worse?

It’s 2017, and yet according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in a review of more than 380 studies from academic journals, corporations, and government sources, there is a major employment gap for women in computing and engineering.

North America, as home to leading centres of innovation and technology, is one of the worst offenders. A report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found “the high-tech industry employed far fewer African-Americans, Hispanics, and women, relative to Caucasians, Asian-Americans, and men.”

However, as an executive working on the front line of technology, focusing specifically on artificial intelligence (AI), I’m one of many hoping to turn the tables.

This issue isn’t only confined to new product innovation. It’s also apparent in other aspects of the technology ecosystem – including venture capital. As The Globe highlighted, Ontario-based MaRS Data Catalyst published research on women’s participation in venture capital and found that “only 12.5 per cent of investment roles at VC firms were held by women. It could find just eight women who were partners in those firms, compared with 93 male partners.”

The Canadian government, for its part, is trying to address this issue head on and at all levels. Two years ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned on, and then fulfilled, the promise of having a cabinet with an equal ratio of women to men – a first in Canada’s history. When asked about the outcome from this decision at the recent Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, he said, “It has led to a better level of decision-making than we could ever have imagined.”

Despite this push, disparities in developed countries like Canada are still apparent where “women earn 11 per cent less than men in comparable positions within a year of completing a PhD in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics, according to an analysis of 1,200 U.S. grads.”

AI is the creation of intelligent machines that think and learn like humans. Every time Google predicts your search, when you use Alexa or Siri, or your iPhone predicts your next word in a text message – that’s AI in action.

Many in the industry, myself included, strongly believe that AI should reflect the diversity of its users, and are working to minimize biases found in AI solutions. This should drive more impartial human interactions with technology (and with each other) to combat things like bias in the workplace.

The democratization of technology we are experiencing with AI is great. It’s helping to reduce time-to-market, it’s deepening the talent pool, and it’s helping businesses of all size cost-effectively gain access to the most modern of technology. The challenge is there are a few large organizations currently developing the AI fundamentals that all businesses can use. Considering this, we must take a step back and ensure the work happening is ethical.

AI is like a great big mirror. It reflects what it sees. And currently, the groups designing AI are not as diverse as we need them to be. While AI has the potential to bring services to everyone that are currently only available to some, we need to make sure we’re moving ahead in a way that reflects our purpose – to achieve diversity and equality. AI can be greatly influenced by human-designed choices, so we must be aware of the humans behind the technology curating it.

At a point when AI is poised to revolutionize our lives, the tech community has a responsibility to develop AI that is accountable and fit for purpose. For this reason, Sage created Five Core Principles to developing AI for business.

At the end of the day, AI’s biggest problem is a social one – not a technology one. But through diversity in its creation, AI will enable better-informed conversations between businesses and their customers.

If we can train humans to treat software better, hopefully, this will drive humans to treat humans better.

via Diversity must be the driver of artificial intelligence – The Globe and Mail

Technology will make today’s government obsolete and that’s good

Sunil Johal of the Mowat Centre on the challenges to government with the coming IT/AI/Automation transformation.

With the government’s poor record in recent large scale IT projects (e.g., Shared Services Canada, Phoenix pay system), hard to be optimistic:

A 2016 study by Deloitte and Oxford University found that up to 850,000 jobs in the United Kingdom’s public sector could be lost as a result of automation by 2030, in administrative roles as well as jobs for teachers and police officers.

Merely applying these same projections to the Canadian public sector would mean over 500,000 jobs at risk out of 3.6 million public sector roles. But collective agreements could impede any attempts to pivot away from employees performing routine administrative tasks and towards workers with digital skills.

If the economy at large continues to wring efficiencies out of human labour and substitute technological approaches where possible, it becomes hard to imagine the public sector trundling along as it always has.

Quite simply, the public sector will need to develop a more efficient workforce and adopt more agile structures and strategies in order to maintain relevance in a digital world.

So, what’s the right path forward? While it’s promising to see governments and other public sector organizations move forward with digital service agendas, we can’t expect them to simply overlay digital solutions onto existing processes and reap the real benefits of technology.

Blockchain, AI, virtual government

The public sector, ranging from the core civil service to health care to education, must fundamentally transform how it operates.

Do we need countless contribution agreements, contracts and reimbursements to be physically vetted by clerks in multiple offices when blockchain technology could instantly verify all of those same transactions?

Do policy units need 30 advisers to prepare advice for government ministers, or can much of their work be done automatically with a select few adding high-value insights? Can we employ telepresence to reach students in remote communities with high-quality teachers? Will medical diagnostics be transformed by neural networks that can more accurately detect cancers and other diseases?

Countries like Estonia, widely regarded as the most advanced digital society in the world, demonstrate that it’s possible to rethink government as a digital platform.

Whether and how quickly Canada’s public sector can leverage technological advancements to radically increase the efficiency and effectiveness of programs and services will be perhaps its greatest challenge in the years to come.

Delays and missteps will only continue to put the public service further behind mainstream business and consumer trends, and risk a continued decline in relevance for our public institutions.

via Technology will make today’s government obsolete and that’s good

Automation Could Displace 800 Million Workers Worldwide By 2030, Study Says : All Tech Considered : NPR

Impact on labour force needs and immigration levels needs to be considered (most advocates for immigration increases are silent on the issue):

A coming wave of job automation could force between 400 million and 800 million people worldwide out of a job in the next 13 years, according to a new study.

A report released this week from the research arm of the consulting firm McKinsey & Company forecasts scenarios in which 3 percent to 14 percent of workers around the world — in 75 million to 375 million jobs — will have to acquire new skills and switch occupations by 2030.

“There are few precedents” to the challenge of retraining hundreds of millions of workers in the middle of their careers, the report’s authors say.

The impact will vary between countries, depending on their wealth and types of jobs that currently exist in each. In 60 percent of jobs worldwide, “at least one-third of the constituent activities could be automated,” McKinsey says, which would mean a big change in what people do day-to-day.

McKinsey looked at 46 countries and more than 800 different jobs in its research.

In the year 2030 in countries with “advanced economies,” a greater proportion of workers will need to learn new skills than in developing economies, researchers say. As many as a third of workers in the U.S. and Germany could need to learn new skills. For Japan, the number is almost 50 percent of the workforce, while in China it’s 12 percent.

Jobs that pay “relatively lower wages” and aren’t as predictable are less likely to face full automation, because businesses don’t have as much incentive to spend on the technology. This applies to jobs like gardening, plumbing and child care, according to the authors.

Occupations that pay more but involve managing people and social interactions face less risk of automation due to the inherent difficulty in programming machines to do those types of tasks.

In the short term, automation and new technology could mean “significant” displacement of workers, the report says. But the authors argue that in the long term as technology has changed, “it creates a multitude of new jobs, more than offsetting” the number of those lost.

They note, however, those new jobs don’t always pay as much as the old ones.

A rising middle class in countries like China and India, and with it more consumption, will have a big impact on the direction of economies. “As incomes rise, consumers spend more on all categories,” the report says. “But their spending patterns also shift, creating more jobs in areas such as consumer durables, leisure activities, financial and telecommunication services, housing, health care, and education.”

Many countries are getting older as well — Japan is a notable example. And McKinsey researchers expect aging populations to need more medical care — more doctors, nurses, home health workers and aides — while demand goes down for children’s teachers and doctors.

Tech jobs will be needed as technology advances, like “computer scientists, engineers and IT administrators,” who could see job growth as companies spend more in this area, the report says.

Jobs gained “could more than offset the jobs lost to automation,” the researchers say. But, they say, “it will require businesses and governments to seize opportunities to boost job creation and for labor markets to function well.”

The McKinsey researchers recommend “an initiative on the scale of the Marshall Plan involving sustained investment, new training models, programs to ease worker transitions, income support and collaboration between the public and private sectors” to help economies and employment grow in the future.

via Automation Could Displace 800 Million Workers Worldwide By 2030, Study Says : All Tech Considered : NPR

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s new rule: ‘We do the right thing. Period.’

Not a bad list. The test will be in implementation (e.g., Google’s earlier commitment to “do no evil”):

For those interested, here’s the whole list of new rules:

Uber’s Cultural Norms

We build globally, we live locally. We harness the power and scale of our global operations to deeply connect with the cities, communities, drivers and riders that we serve, every day.

We are customer obsessed. We work tirelessly to earn our customers’ trust and business by solving their problems, maximizing their earnings or lowering their costs. We surprise and delight them. We make short-term sacrifices for a lifetime of loyalty.

We celebrate differences. We stand apart from the average. We ensure people of diverse backgrounds feel welcome. We encourage different opinions and approaches to be heard, and then we come together and build.

We do the right thing. Period.

We act like owners. We seek out problems and we solve them. We help each other and those who matter to us.

We persevere. We believe in the power of grit. We don’t seek the easy path. We look for the toughest challenges and we push. Our collective resilience is our secret weapon.

We value ideas over hierarchy. We believe that the best ideas can come from anywhere, both inside and outside our company. Our job is to seek out those ideas, to shape and improve them through candid debate, and to take them from concept to action.

We make big bold bets. Sometimes we fail, but failure makes us smarter. We get back up, we make the next bet, and we GO!

via Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s new rule: ‘We do the right thing. Period.’ – Recode

Square and Pinterest’s newly released employment data reveals a lack of diversity in top ranks – Recode

More tech industry numbers:

Square, a rising payments company, had only one person of color — an Asian man — in its 11-member executive ranks as of last year, according to newly available data.

Founded and run by Jack Dorsey, the company has a market value of $12.5 billion and had a total net revenue of $1.7 billion last year.

At another end of Silicon Valley, four of the eight executives at social media company Pinterest were people of color — two Asian males and a man and woman each of two or more races.

23andMe, a DNA testing company, was the only firm of approximately 20 top tech companies that have recently released such data that had an executive lineup near gender parity. Eight of its 17 top employees were women. Even so, only one of the 17 was a minority.

The lack of diversity among the upper ranks of these companies is consistent with other tech companies, and highlights the ongoing issue within Silicon Valley of bringing in leadership that isn’t white and male.

This new data comes from an ongoing project by the nonprofit Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. The project aims to create transparency about gender and race among Silicon Valley companies

The study shows for the first time the diversity stats for seven Bay Area tech companies: Square, Pinterest, 23andMe, Clover Health, MobileIron, Nvidia and View.

Using the data collected by Reveal, Recode looked at the top ranks of tech companies that have made their government diversity data public. We analyzed the racial and gender composition of executives or senior level managers, defined as people who “direct and formulate policies, set strategy and provide the overall direction,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Note: The Reveal data and analysis doesn’t include the Seattle-based Amazon, but we’ve added it in. We left out Clover Health from our analysis due to a possible mistake in their data.)

The data from these companies reflect the lack of racial and gender diversity elsewhere in Silicon Valley.

Twitter, for example, had no blacks or Latinos among its 47 executives. Of Amazon’s 105 executives in 2016, just one was Latino and none were black.

Facebook’s 496 executives were some of the most diverse, with 7 percent, or 35 people from underrepresented minorities, specifically executives who are not white or Asian.

Companies with more than 100 employees are required by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to fill out an annual survey that identifies the race and gender of their employees in 10 different employment categories, from laborers to chief executives.

Source: Square and Pinterest’s newly released employment data reveals a lack of diversity in top ranks – Recode