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Playing for the planet: How scientists use gaming to talk about climate change





The idea — to use video games to make the impacts of climate change “tangible,” in a virtual way — came to Manjana Milkoreit after her research showed a problem with how the topic was being handled at the political level.

“Participants in global climate negotiations tend to know actually very little about the climate science,” said Milkoreit, a political science professor at Purdue University in Indiana. “The facts that effectively are being used in the negotiations are very limited.”

Climate science — like the global climate itself — is fiendishly complicated, and no one really expects the politicians who negotiate things like emissions caps and carbon pricing to understand it as well as the scientists do. But politics is all about making choices.

So are games. So Milkoreit and her team, together with other researchers at various universities, built one.

The online simulation game they came up with — Earth Remembers — gathers dozens of players in a virtual room and assigns each a country and a national budget.

To play, each ‘country’ must negotiate with others to set emissions caps, then watch to see what their choices do to the planet, in five-year cycles — mimicking the deadlines set by global leaders who signed on to the 2016 Paris accord.

Political science professor Manjana Milkoreit of Purdue University. “There’s a big emotional component” to gaming that makes it a powerful tool for teaching the facts of climate change, she says. (Jeff Martino/CBC)

“It gives them a sense of what climate change actually might do, rather than just sitting in a political context and negotiating over national interests,” Milkoreit said. “So there’s a big emotional component.”

Milkoreit’s colleagues road-tested their game with delegates at the United Nations COP24 climate change conference in Poland last month, and previewed it at past global conferences, to positive reviews.

Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences, tried it out in Washington, D.C. at a science conference. He called it impressive.

“I think I understood for the first time viscerally, not intellectually,” Dessler said. “You understand how much power the big countries have in these negotiations.”

Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, who runs the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, said she often feels like she’s “shouting down an empty well with nobody at the bottom” as she tries to explain to laypeople the “force-multiplier” effects of climate change — the fact that it makes other global threats, from famine to disease pandemics, more deadly.

She said she sees products like Earth Remembers filling a vital bridging role between science and politics: only governments can curb runaway climate change, but policy-makers seldom have the scientific grounding to know which approaches will work.

“Negotiators are not scientists,” said Hayhoe. “These gaming simulations [are] a fantastic way to connect the issue directly to our own decision-making.”

Hayhoe took to Twitter last year to lament the fact that a video her 11-year old son had posted showing him playing the hugely popular online game Fortnite had racked up 10 times more views than her own webinar on climate change.

Henri Drake heard her plea. The MIT graduate student turned to Twitch — a streaming platform for gaming fans that rivals the audience numbers for NFL football games — to invite climate scientists to play Fortnite with him while engaging in live-in-screen debates of the effects of climate change and the best policies for tackling it.

And it was popular — but as a forum for exchanging ideas, maybe not wildly successful. Typically, the science took a back seat to the spectacle. “Fortnite is a shooter game,” Drake said, “and so there’s often a lot of gunshots and explosions in the background and sometimes you just can’t even hear people because there’s all this warfare going on.”

He said he’s hoping to try again with a game a little closer to the subject matter, such as the soon-to-be-released Civilization VI: The Gathering Storm, an expansion of a popular franchise which has a storyline centred on a crumbling biosphere.

Henri Drake tried to use Fortnite as part of a streaming experiment in combining gaming with climate science outreach, but found the platform a little too noisy for the purpose. (YouTube/Contributed)

Others are pushing ahead with products of their own. EarthGames, based out of Seattle, describes itself as a “a growing community of researchers, game developers and students who share a passion for games and the environment.” The company has developed multiple games that model climate change — such as a choose-your-adventure story where the player is a water molecule travelling through time to stop environmental disasters.

In another EarthGames product, Infrared Escape, the player is a beam of infrared light trying to escape Earth’s atmosphere through a gauntlet of greenhouse gases.

Drake said the main goal for all such games should be fun — because nobody’s going to pick up on the message if the play stinks.

“If you can combine fun with education in the right way, you can have a lot of success because kids don’t usually want to do homework but they do want to play games.”

It’s something government agencies should factor into their own outreach efforts, Hayhoe said. Anything that engages with people through play has an audience. Games could be a very powerful tool for boosting public understanding of climate change, and the policy responses to it.

“If we want people to understand an issue as important as climate change that matters to every single human on this planet, we have to go out and meet people where they are,” she said.


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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future





Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M






Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.


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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study






The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”


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