Mims: The AI Boom That Could Make Google and Microsoft Even More Powerful

Good long read. Hard to be optimistic about how the technology will be used. And the regulators will likely be more than a few steps behind corporations:

Seeing the new artificial intelligence-powered chatbots touted in dueling announcements this past week by Microsoft and Googledrives home two major takeaways. First, the feeling of “wow, this definitely could change everything.” And second, the realization that for chat-based search and related AI technologies to have an impact, we’re going to have to put a lot of faith in them and the companies they come from.

When AI is delivering answers, and not just information for us to base decisions on, we’re going to have to trust it much more deeply than we have before. This new generation of chat-based search engines are better described as “answer engines” that can, in a sense, “show their work” by giving links to the webpages they deliver and summarize. But for an answer engine to have real utility, we’re going to have to trust it enough, most of the time, that we accept those answers at face value.

The same will be true of tools that help generate text, spreadsheets, code, images and anything else we create on our devices—some version of which both Microsoft MSFT -0.20%decrease; red down pointing triangle and Google have promised to offer within their existing productivity services, Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace. 

These technologies, and chat-based search, are all based on the latest generation of “generative” AI, capable of creating verbal and visual content and not just processing it the way more established AI has done. And the added trust it will require is one of several ways in which this new generative AI technology is poised to shift even more power into the hands of the biggest tech companies

Generative AI in all its forms will insinuate technology more deeply into the way we live and work than it already is—not just answering our questions but writing our memos and speeches or even producing poetry and art. And because of the financial, intellectual and computational resources needed to develop and run the technology are so enormous, the companies that control these AI systems will be the largest, richest companies.

OpenAI, the creator of the ChatGPT chatbot and DALL-E 2 image generator AIs that have fueled much of the current hype, seemed like an exception to that: a relatively small startup that has driven major AI innovation. But it has leapt into the arms of Microsoft, which has made successive rounds of investment, in part because of the need to pay for the computing power needed to make its systems work. 

The greater concentration of power is all the more important because this technology is both incredibly powerful and inherently flawed: it has a tendency to confidently deliver incorrect information. This means that step one in making this technology mainstream is building it, and step two is minimizing the variety and number of mistakes it inevitably makes.

Trust in AI, in other words, will become the new moat that big technology companies will fight to defend. Lose the user’s trust often enough, and they might abandon your product. For example: In November, Meta made available to the public an AI chat-based search engine for scientific knowledge called Galactica. Perhaps it was in part the engine’s target audience—scientists—but the incorrect answers it sometimes offered inspired such withering criticism that Meta shut down public access to it after just three days, said Meta chief AI scientist Yann LeCun in a recent talk.

Galactica was “the output of a research project versus something intended for commercial use,” says a Meta spokeswoman. In a public statement, Joelle Pineau, managing director of fundamental AI research at Meta, wrote that “given the propensity of large language models such as Galactica to generate text that may appear authentic, but is inaccurate, and because it has moved beyond the research community, we chose to remove the demo from public availability.”

On the other hand, proving your AI more trustworthy could be a competitive advantage more powerful than being the biggest, best or fastest repository of answers. This seems to be Google’s bet, as the company has emphasized in recent announcements and a presentation on Wednesday that as it tests and rolls out its own chat-based and generative AI systems, it will strive for “Responsible AI,” as outlined in 2019 in its “AI Principles.”

My colleague Joanna Stern this past week provided a helpful description of what it’s like to use Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Edge web browser with ChatGPT incorporated. You can join a list to test the service—and Google says it will make its chatbot, named Bard, available at some point in the coming months.

But in the meantime, to see just why trust in these kinds of search engines is so tricky, you can visit other chat-based search engines that already exist. There’s You.com, which will answer your questions via a chatbot, or Andisearch.com, which will summarize any article it returns when you search for a topic on it.

Even these smaller services feel a little like magic. If you ask You.com’s chat module a question like “Please list the best chat AI-based search engines,” it can, under the right circumstances, give you a coherent and succinct answer that includes all the best-known startups in this space. But it can also, depending on small changes in how you phrase that question, add complete nonsense to its answer. 

In my experimentation, You.com would, more often than not, give a reasonably accurate answer, but then add to it the name of a search engine that doesn’t exist at all. Googling the made-up search engine names it threw in revealed that You.com seemed to be misconstruing the names of humans quoted in articles as the names of search engines.

Andi doesn’t return search results in a chat format, precisely because making sure that those answers are accurate is still so difficult, says Chief Executive Angela Hoover. “It’s been super exciting to see these big players validating that conversational search is the future, but nailing factual accuracy is hard to do,” she adds. As a result, for now, Andi offers search results in a conventional format, but offers to use AI to summarize any page it returns.

Andi currently has a team of fewer than 10 people, and has raised $2.5 million so far. It’s impressive what such a small team has accomplished, but it’s clear that making trustworthy AI will require enormous resources, probably on the scale of what companies like Microsoft and Google possess.

There are two reasons for this: The first is the enormous amount of computing infrastructure required, says Tinglong Dai, a professor of operations management at Johns Hopkins University who studies human-AI interaction. That means tens of thousands of computers in big technology companies’ current cloud infrastructures. Some of those computers are used to train the enormous “foundation” models that power generative AI systems. Others specialize in making the trained models available to users, which as the number of users grows can become a more taxing task than the original training.

The second reason, says Dr. Dai, is that it requires enormous human resources to continually test and tune these models, in order to make sure they’re not spouting an inordinate amount of nonsense or biased and offensive speech.

Google has said that it has called on every employee in the company to test its new chat-based search engine and flag any issues with the results it generates. Microsoft, which is already rolling out its chat-based search engine to the public on a limited basis, is doing that kind of testing in public. ChatGPT, on which Microsoft’s chat-based search engine is based, has already proved to be vulnerable to attempts to “jailbreak” it into producing inappropriate content. 

Big tech companies can probably overcome the issues arising from their rollout of AI—Google’s go-slow approach, ChatGPT’s sometimes-inaccurate results, and the incomplete or misleading answers chat-based Bing could offer—by experimenting with these systems on a large scale, as only they can.

“The only reason ChatGPT and other foundational models are so bad at bias and even fundamental facts is they are closed systems, and there is no opportunity for feedback,” says Dr. Dai. Big tech companies like Google have decades of practice at soliciting feedback to improve their algorithmically-generated results. Avenues for such feedback have, for example, long been a feature of both Google Search and Google Maps.

Dr. Dai says that one analogy for the future of trust in AI systems could be one of the least algorithmically-generated sites on the internet: Wikipedia. While the entirely human-written and human-edited encyclopedia isn’t as trustworthy as primary-source material, its users generally know that and find it useful anyway. Wikipedia shows that “social solutions” to problems like trust in the output of an algorithm—or trust in the output of human Wikipedia editors—are possible.

But the model of Wikipedia also shows that the kind of labor-intensive solutions for creating trustworthy AI—which companies like Meta and Google have already employed for years and at scale in their content moderation systems—are likely to entrench the power of existing big technology companies. Only they have not just the computing resources, but also the human resources, to deal with all the misleading, incomplete or biased information their AIs will be generating.

In other words, creating trust by moderating the content generated by AIs might not prove to be so different from creating trust by moderating the content generated by humans. And that is something the biggest technology companies have already shown is a difficult, time-consuming and resource-intensive task they can take on in a way that few other companies can.

The obvious and immediate utility of these new kinds of AIs, when integrated into a search engine or in their many other potential applications, is the reason for the current media, analyst and investor frenzy for AI. It’s clear that this could be a disruptive technology, resetting who is harvesting attention and where they’re directing it, threatening Google’s search monopoly and opening up new markets and new sources of revenue for Microsoft and others.

Based on the runaway success of the ChatGPT AI—perhaps the fastest service to reach 100 million users in history, according to a recent UBS report—it’s clear that being an aggressive first mover in this space could matter a great deal. It’s also clear that being a successful first-mover in this space will require the kinds of resources that only the biggest tech companies can muster.

Source: The AI Boom That Could Make Google and Microsoft Even More Powerful

Canada’s Growing Problem with Trust in Government

Almost a rant, but legitimately so (passports backlogs have largely been addressed, with Service Canada issuing more passports than applications September-November):

The strength of liberal democracies like Canada’s is often measured in terms of social cohesion. It’s the glue that holds society together — the common values and goals shared by citizens that inspire trust in each other and in our country’s institutions.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines a society as cohesive if “it works towards the well-being of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalization, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust, and offers its members the opportunity of upward social mobility.”

Social cohesion is much more than “campfires and kumbaya.” Cohesive countries are politically stable, their citizens respect laws and they have robust institutions that reflect competence and trusted governance. As Donald Savoie, the Canadian public services guru, wrote in the Globe and Mail last summer, “The rule of law, sustained economic development, the ability to pursue the national interest, and the need to deal with society’s wicked problems require these institutions to function well.”

Governments are judged by what they do, but it’s useful to distinguish between the normal back and forth of politics, and the specific actions of governments that truly build or diminish social cohesion. Political partisanship is largely irrelevant to trust in government and is regularly discounted by citizens; it’s the policies and programs and how they are implemented that are more likely to impact how we feel about the quality of public governance. In addition, the loud political disagreements of the day often obscure the ultimate impacts of public policy issues on social cohesion.

In the mid-1960s, successive minority governments and the bitter partisan battles between Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and Opposition Leader John Diefenbaker dominated the political headlines. But despite the day-to-day rancour, those P parliaments also put in the place the basic architecture of this country’s modern welfare state – medicare, the Québec and Canada Pension Plans, the Canada Assistance Plan and national student loans – vital public services that over time became highly prized by citizens. It was only with the perspective of history that Canadians saw how they performed and realized their value.

Canada has traditionally been a “peaceable kingdom,” enjoying traditionally high levels of social cohesion on many fronts. Our political institutions are stable and accessible. Public and charitable programs to help the disadvantaged are relatively strong. We value our health care system as a right of citizenship. Collectively we are a welcoming people and understand that our low birth rate means that we need immigrants if we are to keep economic growth and prosperity rolling.

But only six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, polls began to chart the erosion of social cohesion in Canada and around the world. In October 2020, IPSOS found that “more Canadians have “weak” (30 percent) than “solid” (26 percent) social cohesion.” By March of this year, IPSOS reported that Canadians’ “trust in government to do what is right” had dropped from 58% in late 2020 to 43%. Equally troubling, the survey found that “In Canada, only 33 percent  of citizens believe that most people can be trusted, against 67 percent who believe that you can’t be too careful dealing with people.” Similarly troubling are reports from news organizations that their own research shows a decline in trust in the work that they do.

More recently, there is evidence of additional damage to social cohesion resulting from perceptions of how our federal system works. The Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) published a “Resentment Index,” indicating that “Canadians in every province are resentful about their province’s place in the federation.” While feelings of resentment are strongest in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador:

  • “On average residents of all provinces think the region where they live contributes more than its fair share.”
  • In the Prairie provinces, “the sense that they contribute more than their fair share is combined with the view that Quebec contributes less.”
  • The practice of asymmetrical federalism (the practice by which national arrangements apply differently to Québec) is seen in the rest of the country as a special benefit for that province.

The authors conclude that alienation is rooted in zero-sum perceptions about how the country works: resentment of Québec is the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed.

There’s no doubt the pandemic stressed Canadians as no other recent event has done. To lead the fight against COVID-19, governments intervened  in people’s personal lives as never before with lockdowns, vaccine mandates and school closures, and for some, this stirred feelings of fear and anger. The resulting bonfire of grievances let loose some nasty demons that are likely to be with us for a long time: many politicians and public officials at all levels still experience personal insults and public threats just for doing their jobs. And the pandemic also highlighted failures in state capacity at all levels and a startling lack of competence that is diminishing trust in government on several fronts.

Nowhere are these failures as stark as in health care. COVID-19 placed intolerable strains on the system, and it is still struggling to address huge surgery backlogs and deliver basic services. Nationally, the pediatric care system is overwhelmed, with some children’s hospitals operating at 180 percent of capacity. Provinces have major problems keeping and finding doctors and nurses, but Canada is the only developed country without a national health care human resources strategy. More than six million Canadians do not have a family doctor. My wife and I have personal knowledge of this problem – we are among that number.

These challenges are a wake-up call for those of us who thought Canada was on the right track on health care. In 2020, Canada spent 12.2 percent of its GDP on health, more than any other countries in the OECD except the US, Germany and the Netherlands. But what do we get for all that money? Not nearly enough. In 2021, a multi-nation study by the Commonwealth Fund found that Canada placed 10th among 11 high income countries in terms of access to health care and its quality, the administrative efficiency of the system, equity and health care outcomes. Only the US fared worse in the performance rankings.

While Canadian health care is on the verge of collapse and crying out for reform and innovation, the federal and provincial governments are locked in a squabble over transfer payments and control over an increasingly failing system. The provinces want money for health care with no strings attached while the federal government wants assurances that its additional dollars will buy much-needed reforms.

While the stand-off continues, due to higher energy prices, a more buoyant economy and inflation, the federal government and most provinces are awash in cash, and several are eying budgetary surpluses in the near term. While a few provinces are investing to fix health care, others have spent billions in taxpayer kickbacks such as cancelled taxes on gasoline, abolition of auto licence fees, or simply to create a rosy glow among voters before their next election. It’s both sad and ironic that health care, which has done so much to build social cohesion, is now diminishing trust in governments’ capacity to deliver the country’s most treasured public program.

What’s happening in health care is closely matched by what’s been revealed at the recent public hearings of the Public Order Emergency Commission on the invoking of the Emergencies Act. It’s been a master class in provincial/municipal dysfunction in crisis management and policing. The disclosure that members of the Ottawa police, the OPP and the RCMP were leaking policing plans to the demonstrators, and to the far right-group Diagolon, is particularly chilling. If the police lack the leadership, capacity and will to uphold the rule of law, it’s no wonder that public trust in institutions is plummeting.

Meanwhile, Canadians continue to face other reminders of diminished institutional capacity and performance. Waiting for passports is still an eight-to nine-month challenge, long after the federal government promised it was on the way to be fixed. This fall, thousands of international students coming to Canadian universities and colleges met weeks of delays in receiving their study permits, as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) struggled with a backlog of 1.5 million applications for study permits and other temporary resident visas, further diminishing Canada’s reputation for simple competence in providing necessary services.

For immigration generally, as of October 31, IRCC had roughly 2.2 million applications in its inventory, with around 1.2 million in backlog, meaning that they exceed the department’s service standards. As the Globe and Mail recently reported, these processing delays have caused a surge in mandamus applications, a legal procedure aimed at achieving a court order that tells the department to do its job. Eight hundred such applications were filed in federal court last year and another 709 so far this year; and 333 came from people in the economic streams of immigration, the very people Canada needs most. These delays are just another example of high-sounding policy promises made by government being sandbagged by a failure to deliver. It seems the government’s earlier focus on “deliverology” has been forgotten.

Another spectacular policy and implementation failure is the federal protection program for air travellers seeking compensation for travel delays. The Airline Passenger Protection Regulations spell out the conditions under which air carriers must compensate passengers who have experienced cancellations or delays, including arranging alternate flights, providing refunds or paying compensation.

The large airline carriers have been playing fast and loose with these requirements for as long as they have existed. They regularly deny compensation by claiming that crew shortages caused the delay or cancellation, but the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTC), the complaints adjudication body for the regulations, says “Crew shortages are within the airline’s control, unless the airline could not have prevented the flight disruption despite proper planning.”

In the 2021-22 fiscal year, the CTC received 28,673 complaints, up from 26,742 a year earlier. By the end of this November, the agency had received another 19,000 complaints since April. The backlog of complaints now totals a stunning 30,000, meaning the CTC is yet another federal agency overwhelmed in doing its job. It’s difficult to imagine a government that doesn’t recognize that with over 47,000 citizen complaints over two years a system is not working and take steps to fix it. Insult is added to injury when the complaints systems for failing programs are themselves swamped by public demand and do not perform with speed and efficiency.

The ubiquity and reach of social media have raised the stakes for governments at all levels to deliver public programs on which millions of people depend competently and effectively. When public-facing services fail or triumph, the performance of governments is available for all to see. With faults and failures instantly apparent, the resulting anger of citizens is amplified by social media and seen by millions in the global commons. The result is a destructive cycle of disappointment, leading to grievance and anger, and further distrust of government institutions. The message that “everything seems broken in Canada” is gaining in resonance.

Governments at all levels face peril if they ignore their responsibility for delivering necessary services smartly, effectively and on time. Canada’s social cohesion, along with the public’s trust in our institutions of governance, are at stake.

Contributing Writer Geoff Norquay was Senior Adviser on Social Policy to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and later served as Director of Communications in the Opposition Leader’s Office under Stephen Harper.  He is a Principal of Earnscliffe Strategies in Ottawa.

Source: Canada’s Growing Problem with Trust in Government

Pratte: Federal gridlock is a threat to national unity

Like most Canadians, Quebecers have relatively few interactions with the federal government. When constituents face difficulties, they usually call their provincial representative, rather than their MP.
Most “close-to-people” government services — health care, schools, day cares, etc. — are delivered by the provincial government, while Ottawa deals with things like passports, customs, immigration and employment insurance. Unfortunately, virtually all the services administered by the Government of Canada are currently broken, despite the fact that the federal government has significantly increased its expenses and its workforce since the pandemic hit.

When Quebecers are thinking about the federal government these days, they are not impressed. How come a G7 country is not able to issue passports in less than three months? Why can’t it deal with an immigration file in months rather than years? How is it that the government can’t ensure there are enough security and customs agents at major airports to process travellers within an acceptable time frame?

Le Journal de Montréal reported this week that a newly unemployed man has been waiting for close to three months for his first employment insurance cheque. It appears that his file needs to be treated by a “public servant level 2,” which would explain the delay …

Remember the sponsorship scandal, the massive (and corrupt) advertising program developed by the Chrétien government to increase the federal government’s visibility in Quebec? What we are seeing these days is the reverse.

Sovereignist columnist Joseph Facal was quick to highlight the federal government’s “gross incompetence,” and compare it to the Quebec government’s more responsive attitude: “While there is certainly incompetence at the Government of Quebec level, one does not see that lazy indifference, that feeling of distance, of flying way over ordinary people, of living on another planet that coats the federal public service.”

How can the Government of Canada argue that being part of the federation is advantageous if it cannot deliver the basic programs it is responsible for? Even before this latest mess, the proportion of Quebecers who said they think that Canadian federalism has more advantages than disadvantages for Quebec slipped to 43 per cent in 2022, from 51 per cent in 1998, according to Environics’ annual Confederation of Tomorrow survey.

This trend is not unique to Quebec; Canadians from other regions have also become skeptical about the advantages of federalism. Fortunately, other data points from that survey are more encouraging. For example, over the last two years, the percentage of francophone Quebecers who feel “Quebecers only” has dropped to 12 per cent from 22 per cent, while the proportion who feel equally Canadian and Quebecer has increased to 25 per cent from 18 per cent.

The same survey shows that 80 per cent of French-speaking Quebecers feel they are both Quebecers and Canadians to some degree. Quebecers know, for example, the very high value of a Canadian passport in foreign lands — if you can manage to get your hands on one, that is.

The breakdown of the services delivered by the Government of Canada cannot be allowed to continue. It is intolerable for Canadians, who carry a heavy load of taxes to receive those services in an efficient and timely manner. It is bad for the country, because it weakens the trust that Canadians have in their national government.

Because of this, and because repairing the large machine of government is obviously a complex undertaking, that should be priority number 1 for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet. It’s fine to issue statements and tweets about Ukraine and abortion in the United States, but when your government cannot deliver passports or unemployment cheques, it is your responsibility and your duty to come back from your worldly travels and get to work.

As long as the bureaucracy does not feel the pressure coming from the prime minister himself, this frustrating situation will continue. Members of cabinet like to show up at airports when refugees arrive; why don’t they show up at airports and passport offices now?

Relatively few Quebecers celebrated Canada Day yesterday. For most of us, the true national holiday is June 24, the Fête nationale. This does not mean Quebecers don’t feel some connection with Canada. But nowadays, the prevalent feeling is indifference — which could easily turn to anger if the Trudeau government does not tackle the current bureaucratic disarray head-on.

Source: Federal gridlock is a threat to national unity

National security agencies’ relationship with racialized communities marred by a ‘trust gap:’ report

Not surprising and not one easy to reduce. And yes, my experience while in government with respect to the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security was that the information flow tended to be more one-way than a conversation:

The relationship between “racialized” groups and Canada’s national security and intelligence institutions —  like the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canada Border Services Agency  — continues to be bogged down by mistrust, says a new external report prepared for the federal government.

“We frequently heard about the trust gap between the country’s national security institutions and Canadians, and in particular with racialized Canadians,” says the report drafted by the National Security Transparency Advisory Group (NS-TAG) — an independent and external body first set up in 2019 to advise the deputy minister of Public Safety and the national security and intelligence community.

“At times, these relations have been marred by mistrust and suspicion, and by errors of judgment by these institutions, which impacted communities have perceived as discriminatory.”

The NS-TAG group, made up of 10 members from legal, civil society and national security backgrounds, warns that the emergence of artificial intelligence and data-driven intelligence poses a threat to racialized communities.

“Systemic biases in Artificial Intelligence (AI) design can have perverse impacts on vulnerable individuals or groups of individuals, notably racialized communities,” they found.

“These biases reflect not only specific flaws in AI programs and organizations using them, but also underlying societal cleavages and inequalities which are then reinforced and potentially deepened.”

CSIS responds

The report, published earlier this week, also calls on national security agencies to have better two-way conversations with communities.

“Too often engagement involves, in practice, government officials offloading a prepared message and failing to listen to the concerns of stakeholders,” says the report.

“Constructive engagement should instead be based on dialogue; government officials should be attuned to the questions and concerns of stakeholders, listen to them, and be prepared and willing to respond.”

The report also calls on agencies like CSIS to engage with communities on an ongoing basis — and not just when there’s a crisis.

The authors pointed to CSIS’s contact with the Iranian-Canadian community after the destruction of Flight PS752 in January 2020 and with the Muslim community following an attack on a mosque in Mississauga, Ont.

“Such engagement was important, but it was prompted by specific incidents. In our view, CSIS will not succeed in building long-term trust with racialized communities as long as its engagement is primarily reactive,” says the report.

CSIS responded to the report’s findings Friday by acknowledging the problem.

“We know that the voices of racialized communities and Indigenous peoples have not been heard as clearly as they should in conversations around policy, legislative and operational deliberations on national security matters,” CSIS wrote in a response published Friday.

“We are committed to changing this.”

Source: National security agencies’ relationship with racialized communities marred by a ‘trust gap:’ report

All-powerful PMO, mistrust “destroying” the public service: Paul Tellier

Of note.

Would be of interest for other former and more recent clerks (e.g., Michael Wernick, Wayne Wouters, Mel Cappe etc) would also be surveyed on their perceptions on trust/mistrust between the public sector and PMO. Certainly existed under the Harper government although diminished over time for most:

A lack of trust between politicians and senior levels of the public service, and a Prime Minister’s Office that calls all the shots, is “destroying” Canada’s public service, warns Paul Tellier, Canada’s former top bureaucrat and former head of both Canadian National Railway and Bombardier Inc.

“The current government, with centralization of everything in the PMO, is in the process of destroying the public service … and the word ‘destroying’ is not too strong,” the former clerk of the Privy Council in the Brian Mulroney era said in an interview.

Tellier made his comments after the release of a new report, Top of Mind, by two think tanks – the Ottawa-based Institute on Governance, and the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University – which threw the spotlight on the increasingly troubled relationship after probing public service executives at all levels of government about their biggest challenges.

The report found that today’s executives worry about falling public trust in government; the decline in senior bureaucrats giving “fearless advice” to ministers; a hollowing-out of policy capacity; a post-pandemic economic reckoning; conflicts among levels of government; and the need for public service reform.

The relationship is a longstanding problem, one that Tellier argues was aggravated by the Stephen Harper rules-bound Federal Accountability Act. But he thinks the problems have worsened under the current Justin Trudeau government.

Tellier questions how the public service can recruit and keep top talent, as well as drive change if deputy ministers and ministers feel compelled to check everything they do with PMO.

“There is no way that if I was a cabinet minister, I would allow a bunch of people in PMO to tell me how to do my work. And it’s at every level, it’s not only for junior ministers, the most senior ministers… It’s for deputy ministers and departments.”

“So why, if you trust the minister and if you trust the advisors to the minister in his office and in the department, do you want six people in PMO to review a draft press release, or a tweet?”

Tellier has never been far from Canada’s public service over the past five decades. He joined as a young lawyer in the 1970s, went on to lead the public service and advise ministers and prime ministers. He has watched various public service renewal efforts come and go – including Public Service 2000 (PS 2000), which he led under Mulroney.

Mulroney came to power after the Liberals had ruled for all but a few months from 1963-84. At first, the new prime minister distrusted the public service and promised to issue them “pink slips and running shoes.” But Mulroney said in a recent interview he grew to trust and rely on public servants who gave him the “straight goods,” even poaching senior bureaucrats like Derek Burney and Mark Entwistle to join his PMO.

Mulroney also told the Institute on Governance that without the work of public servants, “we wouldn’t have got our major agenda through.”

Today, many experts say much about the public service needs fixing, but Tellier believes the first step is to restore trust between politicians and bureaucrats – a key relationship in Canada’s Westminster-style democracy.

“There’s no trust,” said Tellier. “And it starts at the top.”

“I don’t know what happened (to trust). I like to say, if you write a good policy paper or a good briefing note, it is going to be read. But if it’s not going to be read, why bother?

The relationship has been strained for years, but respect for the public service nosedived during the Harper era as its role was diminished, its advice devalued and its neutrality undermined.

The Federal Accountability Act, with its focus on rules, oversight and compliance, changed the role of the deputy ministers, which left them inward-looking and isolated from Canadians.

Tellier pulls no punches about the accountability act, introduced by the Harper government in response to the sponsorship scandal. He called it a “mistake” that must be reviewed.

He said the act deepened a culture of risk-aversion, putting a stop to public servants meeting with business leaders, which was essential to understanding the various forces at play when developing policy.

“The accountability act was a mistake – not every single clause – but I think that it went way too far. As a result, it has deprived future governments of very useful input from the public service and the business sector and visa-versa.”

The public service’s job is to offer policy advice, then deliver programs and services to Canadians. Of late, the focus on reforming the public service is aimed at fixing problems that get in the way of implementing programs and service – an archaic human resources regime, a gridlock of rules and outdated technology.

But Tellier argues such reforms miss a key problem – fixing the relationship between ministers and deputy ministers.

“I think that Tellier is right about that,” said Lori Turnbull, director of the school of public administration at Dalhousie University.

“There’s only so much the public service can do by way of self-improvement that will really change anything if the political classes aren’t interested in what they say or what ideas they have.”

Take innovation. If politicians aren’t interested in public servants’ advice or innovations – unless it’s risk-free – then there is no impetus for innovation, Turnbull said.

A big problem is politics. Parties get elected on campaign platforms they consider a “contract with the voter” that they must deliver. As a result, they come to power knowing what they want and don’t believe they need any advice from public servants.

This leaves little “time and space” for public servants, who end up “playing at the margins,” taking care of implementing promises, but not coming up with the big ideas, Turnbull said.

Also, ministers want advice and answers fast. They complain that public servants take too long to gather evidence and assess options. That urgency has ramped up over the years because of technological change, the 24-hour news cycle and the rise of social media.

“There’s always been a kind of time difference between how fast the political side wants things, and how quickly the public service can move while still doing its job responsibly,” said Turnbull. “That time crunch seems to be getting worse. At one point, it was a healthy tension and now it’s becoming unhealthy, where the political side stops waiting and just does it. “

But Turnbull worries what could happen to the already fractured relationship with the shift to a public service with more flexible working arrangements in the wake of COVID-19.

She said executives and politicians are more likely to return to the office “in real time” while the rest of the public service could work remotely from anywhere across the country. That could further distance senior bureaucrats and politicians from the rest of the public service, which delivers services and does the legwork for evidence-based policy advice.

Stephen Van Dine, senior vice-president of public governance at the Institute on Governance, said those “opportunities to have a quiet word” with the minister that are critical to building trust are less likely in a public service where some are working remotely.

“The hustle and bustle of briefing a minister, whether in the car to-and-from the Hill, over a sandwich, in a hallway where you can grab one-on-one encounters where the minister and deputy can have a quiet word,” Van Dine said. “If these opportunities become fewer and fewer, that is like the compounding impact of (playing) broken telephone.”

Canada is not alone in facing this issue. The tensions between ministers and senior bureaucrats have been studied to death over for years. A major U.K. study on the relationship called it the “fulcrum” of a Westminster system. When it’s not working, policy and service delivery are compromised.

But past efforts at fixing it in Canada have focused on making the public service more accountable – such as the accountability act – and responsive to what politicians want. There’s been little discussion of what ministers could do to repair the relationship.

Tellier said there must be a “healthy tension” between public servants and politicians, but that balance is out of whack with politicians increasingly dominating.

Without trust, frank discussions between politicians and public servants — which Tellier called “the tennis match” — don’t happen, putting policy and delivery at risk.

He said a fix begins with the prime minister, who must make it clear that ministers should consult their deputies. And if they don’t trust them, the prime minister should replace them with deputies they do trust.

Source: All-powerful PMO, mistrust “destroying” the public service: Paul Tellier

Milloy: In this increasingly polarized society, how can we learn to trust each other again?

No easy answers in terms of how we address weakening trust:

How should we react to calls for both sides of the COVID-19 debate to try to find common ground? Many federal Conservatives as well as a collection of commentators are urging dialogue on vaccine mandates and public health restrictions. The new Conservative leader, Candice Bergen, has talked of the need to extend “an olive branch.”

Their arguments are simple. Although there may be racists and extremists involved in the anti-vaxx movement, most of those protesting current COVID-19 rules are ordinary Canadians who deserve to be heard. The trucker’s protest in Ottawa, which has now spread to other communities, is symptomatic of a divided nation that needs to be healed.

Communication is generally a good thing, and both the “pro” and “anti” vaccine sides could certainly benefit from a dose of humility. But beyond gaining a deeper appreciation of each other’s basic humanity (never a bad thing), here is a question to ponder: if they ever did meet what would the two sides talk about?

Those who oppose COVID vaccines and restrictions have made it clear that they don’t trust our political leaders. They mistrust scientists, public health officials, doctors and much of the mainstream media.

And on the other side, proponents for vaccine mandates and restrictions don’t trust the protesters. They don’t trust their claims about science or public health. They don’t trust their opinions on politics or governing and would be quick to point to their bizarre calls for the Governor General and the Senate to somehow force the federal government and provinces to end COVID-19 restrictions. Most of all, they don’t trust their motives and see them as a bunch of yahoos looking simply to cause trouble.

We have a problem in our country. The level of polarization seems to be growing exponentially. Extreme views are becoming more commonplace, but perhaps more concerning is the fact that even middle of the road people are increasingly admitting that they have no time for anyone who doesn’t share their opinion. A recent Angus Reid poll found that close to 40 per cent of Canadians believe that “there is no room for political compromise in Canada today.

This isn’t about the need to “hash things out.” This is about trust. We don’t trust each other. We don’t trust our governments, our political leaders, experts, media, multinationals, or our churches.

As a society we have developed ways of dealing with issues and challenges. We have institutions and systems that are supposed to analyze problems and drawing upon the best evidence, find the needed solutions.

Source: In this increasingly polarized society, how can we learn to trust each other again?

Adams and Parkin: Don’t let angry protestors fool you — Canadians still trust in our democracy

Good nuanced perspective:

Certain truths seem self-evident: We are all created equal. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Our democracy is imploding under the strain of declining trust and increasing polarization.

The first two we should accept, but the characterization of our democracy as nearing collapse does not fit the facts, at least not in Canada. The trends run in the opposite direction: trust in many of our democratic institutions is actually growing, and the gaps between the political left and right are in fact narrowing. This helps put the troubling scenes of gravel-throwing anti-vaccine protestors in context: it is not just that they are a small minority — it is that the protestors and the majority of Canadians are moving in completely opposite directions.

Our regular Environics Institute surveys show that three in four Canadians are satisfied with the way democracy works in this country — a proportion that has held steady over the past 10 years. An equal number are satisfied with the way our political system works, but in this case, satisfaction has risen. Feelings of pride in the Canadian political system and of respect for our political institutions have both also been gradually increasing.

It is true that only a minority of Canadians have a lot of trust in Parliament or in political parties — a degree of healthy skepticism that is neither surprising nor problematic. But over 80 per cent have at least some trust. And the trends again are positive: strong trust in Parliament has risen by 19 points since 2010, including a 10-point increase since the previous survey in 2019. Strong trust in Parliament is now twice as high as it was just seven years ago; weak trust is now almost twice as low. The change in the case of trust in political parties is more modest, but in the same positive direction.

While the anger seen on the campaign trail makes our politics seem highly polarized, this too is a misleading impression. Our research shows that, in many cases, the views about our democracy among those on the left and right of the political spectrum have actually become more similar over the past few years, rather than diverging. And while it goes without saying that the Conservatives draw more support from those on the right and the NDP attracts more of those on the left, the fact is that the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP each draw a majority of their support from those who place themselves in the centre. The electorate is not divided into hostile camps separated by a widening, unbridgeable gulf.

But there is one measure in our survey that has shown a sudden decline: national pride. Almost all of us continue to feel at least some pride in being Canadian, but in our latest survey, this pride is less strongly expressed — a change likely linked to the discovery earlier this year of hundreds of graves of Indigenous children at the sites of former residential schools. Our survey began right after Canada Day, when many Canadians were discussing what these discoveries mean for the country. As these discussions unfolded, flags were lowered to half-mast, and feelings of national pride became more muted.

But this too is more the sign of a healthy democracy than one in crisis. It is reassuring to see that the revelations about residential schools upset our self-image. The shift in the tone of Canada Day from celebration to reflection did not occur only among a handful of political insiders, but among many ordinary citizens as well. This is a sign of a democracy in which minds remain open, and backs are not turned on one another.

As voting day approaches, there is no better time to bring the image we have of our democracy into alignment with the evidence. Angry antimask or antivaccination protestors fuelled by misinformation are currently a security and public health risk, but they are not the tip of a larger iceberg that reflects broader public opinion.

Canada is not the United States, and what has happened there (and elsewhere) does not always foreshadow events here. In a year filled with so much bad news, let’s open the curtains to welcome at least one ray of sunshine.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2021/09/13/dont-let-angry-protestors-fool-you-canadians-still-trust-in-our-democracy.html

Why A.I. Should Be Afraid of Us: Because benevolent bots are suckers.

Of significance as AI becomes more prevalent. “Road rage” as the new Turing test!

Artificial intelligence is gradually catching up to ours. A.I. algorithms can now consistently beat us at chesspoker and multiplayer video games, generate images of human faces indistinguishable from real oneswrite news articles (not this one!) and even love stories, and drive cars better than most teenagers do.

But A.I. isn’t perfect, yet, if Woebot is any indicator. Woebot, as Karen Brown wrote this week in Science Times, is an A.I.-powered smartphone app that aims to provide low-cost counseling, using dialogue to guide users through the basic techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapy. But many psychologists doubt whether an A.I. algorithm can ever express the kind of empathy required to make interpersonal therapy work.

“These apps really shortchange the essential ingredient that — mounds of evidence show — is what helps in therapy, which is the therapeutic relationship,” Linda Michaels, a Chicago-based therapist who is co-chair of the Psychotherapy Action Network, a professional group, told The Times.

Empathy, of course, is a two-way street, and we humans don’t exhibit a whole lot more of it for bots than bots do for us. Numerous studies have found that when people are placed in a situation where they can cooperate with a benevolent A.I., they are less likely to do so than if the bot were an actual person.

“There seems to be something missing regarding reciprocity,” Ophelia Deroy, a philosopher at Ludwig Maximilian University, in Munich, told me. “We basically would treat a perfect stranger better than A.I.”

In a recent study, Dr. Deroy and her neuroscientist colleagues set out to understand why that is. The researchers paired human subjects with unseen partners, sometimes human and sometimes A.I.; each pair then played a series of classic economic games — Trust, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Chicken and Stag Hunt, as well as one they created called Reciprocity — designed to gauge and reward cooperativeness.

Our lack of reciprocity toward A.I. is commonly assumed to reflect a lack of trust. It’s hyper-rational and unfeeling, after all, surely just out for itself, unlikely to cooperate, so why should we? Dr. Deroy and her colleagues reached a different and perhaps less comforting conclusion. Their study found that people were less likely to cooperate with a bot even when the bot was keen to cooperate. It’s not that we don’t trust the bot, it’s that we do: The bot is guaranteed benevolent, a capital-S sucker, so we exploit it.

That conclusion was borne out by conversations afterward with the study’s participants. “Not only did they tend to not reciprocate the cooperative intentions of the artificial agents,” Dr. Deroy said, “but when they basically betrayed the trust of the bot, they didn’t report guilt, whereas with humans they did.” She added, “You can just ignore the bot and there is no feeling that you have broken any mutual obligation.”

This could have real-world implications. When we think about A.I., we tend to think about the Alexas and Siris of our future world, with whom we might form some sort of faux-intimate relationship. But most of our interactions will be one-time, often wordless encounters. Imagine driving on the highway, and a car wants to merge in front of you. If you notice that the car is driverless, you’ll be far less likely to let it in. And if the A.I. doesn’t account for your bad behavior, an accident could ensue.

“What sustains cooperation in society at any scale is the establishment of certain norms,” Dr. Deroy said. “The social function of guilt is exactly to make people follow social norms that lead them to make compromises, to cooperate with others. And we have not evolved to have social or moral norms for non-sentient creatures and bots.”

That, of course, is half the premise of “Westworld.” (To my surprise Dr. Deroy had not heard of the HBO series.) But a landscape free of guilt could have consequences, she noted: “We are creatures of habit. So what guarantees that the behavior that gets repeated, and where you show less politeness, less moral obligation, less cooperativeness, will not color and contaminate the rest of your behavior when you interact with another human?”

There are similar consequences for A.I., too. “If people treat them badly, they’re programed to learn from what they experience,” she said. “An A.I. that was put on the road and programmed to be benevolent should start to be not that kind to humans, because otherwise it will be stuck in traffic forever.” (That’s the other half of the premise of “Westworld,” basically.)

There we have it: The true Turing test is road rage. When a self-driving car starts honking wildly from behind because you cut it off, you’ll know that humanity has reached the pinnacle of achievement. By then, hopefully, A.I therapy will be sophisticated enough to help driverless cars solve their anger-management issues.

A fear of others in Australia’s ethnically diverse neighbourhoods is affecting mental health

While not captured in the study, suspect that some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric among some Australian politicians may be a contributing factor to lack of trust:

We’re often told to ‘love thy neighbour’ in order to build a more harmonious society, but when it comes to multicultural communities, it seems concerns about ‘others’ are rife – and it’s impacting peoples’ mental health.

A new report by RMIT University has found higher levels of neighbourhood ethnic diversity are associated with poorer mental health outcomes for people living there.

And it appears it’s because they don’t trust each other.

The study, Neighbourhood Ethnic Diversity and Mental Health in Australia, is the first of its kind to empirically examine the effects of ethnic diversity in an area on mental health. It was published this month in the journal Health Economics.

Based on 16 years of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, up to 2016, it found a lack of trust in ‘others’ is having a negative impact.

Respondents to the HILDA surveys were asked how often they felt “nervous”, “down”, and “so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer them up”.

Dr Sefa Churchill, a senior research fellow at RMIT who led the study, said coping with difference tends to brings a greater mental load, which “not everyone finds easy or wants to make work”.

“In communities that are quite diverse we tend to see people that are a bit different in different ways, because we do not know them,” he told SBS News.

“It raises some sort of natural anxiety and suspicion about what they are doing because they are ‘different’.

“And that level of anxiety and unsettledness that is associated with this lower levels of trust, tends to hinder mental health.”

That lack of trust was the key factor behind poorer mental health outcomes in diverse communities, he said.

Dr Churchill said it is a natural compulsion to be wary of strangers, and the research shows it is not diversity itself that is the problem, but more likely the lack of trust that often accompanies it.

“If you do not know someone, if someone is different from you, you will not go be willing to go all in, in terms of trust, so from a fundamental perspective as part of nature, trust comes the more you get familiar with someone.”

“Trust is the glue that binds social networks, and social networks and feelings of inclusion are important predictors for mental health and wellbeing.”

But it’s not all bad news for those living in Australia’s ethnic melting pots.

When comparing diverse and homogeneous neighbourhoods which both had similar levels of trust, people living in diverse communities had better mental health outcomes.

“Our analysis considered potential scenarios where we have diverse communities and homogeneous communities both with high levels of trust, and the results actually did suggest if you are in a diverse community with higher levels of trust you tend to have better mental health than insular, homogeneous communities,” Dr Churchill said.

Australia is often touted as one of the most diverse countries in the world, with more than a quarter of residents born overseas.

Mohammad Al-Khafaji, CEO of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) told SBS News: “As in all parts of our society, mental health is a major issue in ethnically diverse communities that desperately needs greater attention”.

“What this study also demonstrates is that programs that promote cultural awareness and understanding make our communities happier and safer.

FECCA has partnered with Mental Health Australia and the National Ethnic Disability Alliance to deliver The Embrace Project – a platform raising awareness of mental health and suicide prevention and providing resources and services for those from culturally and linguistic diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

Mental Health Australia CEO Frank Quinlan told SBS News the project “recognises social isolation and stigma surrounding mental health in culturally and linguistically diverse communities can negatively impact mental health.

It “aims to engage people in CALD communities in a conversation and provide information about what comprises good mental health and where to seek support if needed,” he said.

Dr Churchill says the results of the study show the need for more policies that foster social inclusion and promote awareness of the benefits of diversity. That should help to build trust and reduce the negative effect of diversity on mental health, he said.

“We need to, at the local level, organise programs and events that bring us together, allow us to communicate, allow us to talk, allow us to know each other and go beyond the differences.”

“The fact that you do not know someone and all that, this will build that level of trust.”

Source: A fear of others in Australia’s ethnically diverse neighbourhoods is affecting mental health

US: Low-Income PoCs Still Don’t Trust The Police, But Would Work With Them : NPR

Interesting study with identifying the problem (lack of trust) and opportunity (willing to work together):

While trying to catch a bus to school, Emilio Mayfield, 16, jaywalked. When he didn’t comply with a police officer’s command to get out of the bus lane, a scuffle ensued. Mayfield was struck in the face with a baton and arrested by nine Stockton, Cal. police officers. The arrest was captured on video by a bystander and the video went viral.

A police officer responding to a domestic violence call shot Jamar Clark, 24, in the head as he lay on the ground. He died the next day, sparking weeks of protests. A Minneapolis Police Department internal investigation later cleared the two officers involved in the shooting of any wrongdoing.

Devon Davis crashed his car and was running away from cops when they caught up to him. A witness says officers severely beat Davis in the legs before carrying him away. Police assert that Davis injured his legs in the car crash. Davis sued the city of Pittsburgh and six police officers.

These incidents — which all took place in 2015 — may have been on the minds of residents in these cities when they were asked to participate in a study of their views on the police.

The study, released Wednesday, reveals that while the majority of residents in high-crime, high-poverty areas have a negative view of the police, they also have great respect for the law and are willing to work with law enforcement to make communities safer.

The majority of residents surveyed hold a very negative impression of the police. Less than a third believe that the police respect people’s rights, “treat people with dignity and respect,” and “make fair and impartial decisions in the cases they deal with.” More than half of residents say that “police officers will treat you differently because of your race/ethnicity” and that officers act “based on personal prejudices and biases.” Survey respondents identified as black (66 percent), white (12 percent), and Latino or Hispanic (11 percent). The majority are female (59 percent). Most respondents live in extreme poverty, reporting a total annual income of less than $20,000.

Residents also expressed a firm belief in the law and a willingness to partner with police to improve community safety. Seven in 10 respondents believe that the “law should be strictly obeyed” and that laws benefit the community. More than half agree with the statement “the laws in your community are consistent with your own intuitions about what is right and just.”

And while only 38 percent of respondents say that they feel safe around the police or find them trustworthy (30 percent), they also say they would work with police. More than half are willing to attend a community meeting with police and close to half say they would volunteer their time to help the police solve a crime or find a suspect.low-income_pocs_still_don_t_trust_the_police__but_would_work_with_them___code_switch___npr

The Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., conducted the study in partnership with local organizations in six cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Fort Worth, Texas; Gary, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Stockton, California. The focus on households located in the highest crime, lowest income areas — with predominantly residents of color — is a marked departure from most surveys about perception of law enforcement which sample the general population.

Using data from the U.S. Census and crime data provided by police departments in the six cities, researchers identified the areas with the highest concentrations of crime and poverty in each city. Focusing their research in this way allowed them to survey the “people who live in the areas where trust may be weakest, but who may benefit the most from increases in public safety.”

“General population surveys often mask differences between groups,” the authors said. “Those who are white and more affluent are the most likely to respond to general population surveys and tend to have relatively favorable views of the police.” Researchers conducted surveys in person, instead of using the more common methods of mail or phone because residents who are low income, have less education, or are racial or linguistic minorities tend to be underrepresented in phone and mail surveys.