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Don’t outsource killing to AI, and other principles in the Montreal declaration for ethical tech

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Artificial intelligence should respect people’s privacy, foster diversity of thought and be open to scrutiny. It should not be used to discriminate, to replace human relationships or to interfere in democratic processes.

These are some of the principles in the Montreal Declaration for responsible AI development, unveiled Tuesday after one year of consultations involving 100 ethicists and technology professionals.

The document, an initiative of the Université de Montréal, hopes to guide companies that use AI systems to think about the moral implications of this increasingly powerful technology.

“Companies are deploying these systems today,” said Abhishek Gupta, a software engineer at Microsoft’s Montreal office and founder of the Montreal AI Ethics Institute.

“We’re using them in practice with real people. It’s not something in the far future that we can keep sitting and thinking about.”

AI technology has been involved in some of the biggest recent public scandals, lending a sense of urgency to calls to rein it in.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal reveled the dangers of harvesting Facebook user’s data without their consent for political purposes. Amazon’s facial recognition software was used by U.S. police forces without rules to guide it.

China’s authoritarian government is blending video footage with data from online transactions to give their citizens a “social credit score” in what seems like a dystopian trope straight from the sci-fi TV show Black Mirror.

China’s social credit system gives the state the power to monitor every move, of every citizen. The system links footage from 200 million closed circuit TV cameras with people’s personal data, letting the state rank its citizens based on their private lives. 7:12

“It’s important to have recommendations of norms and values that govern new technologies,” said Christine Tappolet, a professor of philosophy at the Université de Montréal and one of the writers of the declaration.

“Systems that detect what emotions people feel, what preferences they have — people may not want these facts known about them,” she added. “This needs to be respected.”

Need for more digital literacy 

Tappolet is especially concerned with the use of AI in automated weapons that could be programmed to identify targets and kill them.

The declaration contain a principle that “the decision to kill must always be made by human beings, and responsibility for this decision must not be transferred to an AI.”

The declaration is not legally binding, but it’s a starting point for future legal frameworks or regulations, said Catherine Régis, a law professor at the Université de Montréal and another of the document’s co-authors. The university has formed a task force to explore legal actions to guide ethical AI research.

Ultimately, though, companies will adopt its principles if there is enough public pressure, Tappolet said. She thinks teaching digital literacy and how companies collect and use data are essential to creating an informed public.

Montreal is increasingly recognized as a global hub of expertise in deep learning, an AI technique, thanks to university research institutes like MILA and successful startups like Element AI. 

In the last two years, tech giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft have opened and expanded research labs in the city.

Just hours after the declaration was unveiled, three AI companies from the UK — QuantumBlackWinningMinds and BIOS — announced they were opening offices in Montreal.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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