A.I. Manipulation

Artificial intelligence is here, but we don’t even know what it can do yet.

By Emilie Oblivión.

The artificial intelligence boom has arrived, not with the bang of omnipotent robots doing our bidding, but with the whisper of computer processors, aiding us more and more in our day-to-day lives until we can’t imagine a world without them. Image recognition, product recommendation, and satellite navigation are just the beginning of this technological revolution.

The current definition of artificial intelligence (A.I.) is broad, and what is considered an intelligent machine is up for debate. Classification of A.I. is based the two domains in which it can operate: closed and open. An open domain bot, whether in the form of software or an autonomous unit, can function in any field. There is no restriction on what the bot can process in terms of their general environment. Open domain includes sci-fi machines like the droids in Star Wars. They can apply their intelligence to diverse tasks as easily as a human can, for example, jumping from writing book reviews to predicting weather and stock fluctuations. This may be the end goal of A.I., but with current technology, it is almost impossible to achieve because it requires the bot to process such large sets of data.

Closed domain A.I., on the other hand, may not seem like the robots of science fiction, but it is the way artificial intelligence has already become an integral part of our society, and it is increasingly becoming indissociably so. These A.I.s have expertise on a limited subject, for example, automatically calculating the fastest route across town or finding and comparing flight prices. Google Maps, however, cannot simply begin piloting a driverless car. It is only intelligent across a limited number of tasks.

Although A.I. has been a concept in development since the 1950s, it has only recently made serious progress. This is mainly due to the breakthrough that machines can now learn by themselves instead of being programmed by hand-typed code. The previous method not only made the coder’s job tedious, but it also limited the capabilities of machines to exactly what coders told them to do. Where as previously programs could only …

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Threat to the Maple Leaf

Can Canada counter Islamist terrorism?

By Farhan Zahid.

On April 14, 2014, Canada’s National Post reported a threat from ISIS against the country: “This is a message to Canada and all the American tyrants: We are coming and we will destroy you, with permission from Allah the almighty”. Six months later, on October 24, 2014, Islamic convert Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed a Canadian soldier on ceremonial sentry duty at the Canadian War Memorial near Parliament Hill before being shot dead within Parliament itself, as members of Parliament, including the prime minister, huddled in caucus rooms he could easily have entered. It became clear that the government of Canada would need to revisit its counterterrorism policies.

Despite its reputation as a peaceable kingdom, Canada has been fully implicated in the global war on terror. Moreover, a wide range of terrorist groups of varied ideological backgrounds have used Canadian soil for launching attacks in the past; Islamist terrorists are in fact latecomers in the field. Since 1970, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), there have been 76 incidents of terrorism in Canada, in which 345 people lost their lives. The Sikh terrorists of Babbar Khalsa operated from Canadian soil during the heyday of the Khalistan Independence Movement in India, and the terrorist cells of the Quebec Liberation Front spread fear and insecurity through Canadian society in the late 1960s, culminating in the October Crisis of 1970. Before the 9/11 attacks, the largest terrorist attack in North American history, in terms of fatalities, was the 1984 bombing of Air India Flight 182 by Babbar Khalsa. Perpetrated by Canadian citizens Talwinder Singh Parmar, Inderjit Singh Reyat, and Ripudaman Singh Malik, this anti-India attack—carried out in response to anti-Sikh pogroms in India after the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards—cost the lives of 329 people, all on board.

Islamist terrorism in Canada has deeper roots than is always realized. The involvement of some Canadian Muslims in the U.S.-backed Afghan War against Russian in 1979-89 seems to …

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Currency Crackdown

India’s short-sighted ban on large currency risks wrecking the economy, but still aims for long-term success.

By Rajendra Prabhu.

Narendra Modi’s controversial and daring move to bring India’s economy under control has not gone smoothly. Exactly halfway through his five-year term, the Prime Minister who brought the Bharatiya Janata Party to power launched an unannounced midnight “surgical strike” at the hoard of untaxable black money and counterfeit currency drowning the country. With three hours’ notice on November 8, Modi declared that high-value currency bills would no longer be legal tender as of midnight of the same day. The goal was to force tax evaders and “hawala operators”, who clandestinely convert Indian rupees and U.S. dollars, to come out with their hoards or lose them. Modi promised a fifty-fifty amnesty for those who owned up before a deadline. The Prime Minister then assured those with legal currency that they would have a window within which to deposit or exchange their notes at banks and ATMs. The result of the well-meaning initiative has been disastrous.

In December, exactly a month later, the currency storm that Modi let loose countrywide has magnified into a hurricane for the common people. Wage earners as well as small-business owners, street vendors, farmers, and others have had to queue up for days and hours at banks and ATMs to exchange their holdings of demonetized notes for the new valid currency. The reality is that only a very small minority of Indians use credit or debit for day-to-day purchases—it makes up less than 5 percent of transactions. Thousands of factories and businesses were left with little valid currency to pay their creditors, suppliers, and workers. Transporters had to contend with credit promises. Salaried people found even their monthly wages deposited in their bank accounts of little use as banks ran out of new currency—even lower denominations of the old valid currency—faster than the central Reserve Bank of India (RBI) could replace them. Anger against the demonetization swept across the country as the long queues for new currency took its toll. In a single month, nearly 100 people died of exhaustion or heart attacks while standing in the endless queues.

With as much as 86 percent of notes in circulation suddenly becoming worthless paper and government printing presses unable to bring out replacements fast enough, disaster was inevitable. Modi’s hectic anti-corruption push has …

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Open Data May Beat World Hunger

The Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative seeks to use data innovation as a key tool towards their goal to end global hunger by 2030. The group has called on government and international and private sector organizations to make agriculture and nutrition data publicly available and accessible; this includes information that is already gathered from satellites and on the ground.

In revealing the particulars in the form of ‘big data’, GODAN aims to encourage innovation in farming, insurance, and technology, with the goal of increasing efficiency in order to feed the estimated 800 million people who go hungry every day. GODAN aims to address the fact that governments and the private sector collect enormous quantities of relevant data but seldom have the ability to process it all, let alone use it for innovation.

According to GODAN spokeswoman Natasha Mudhar, “Open data leads to innovation in agriculture and nutrition, and hence promoting food security, by improving farming methods, enhancing food production and providing better information and advice.”

“Copyright is Not a Divine Right”

Delhi University is now allowed to photocopy textbooks published by major publishers, thanks to a ruling in the Delhi High Court in September. The court declared that “copyright is not a divine right.”
The landmark verdict on intellectual property rights came on a case that started in 2012 when a small copy shop in Delhi University’s North Campus was sued by a group of international publishers, including both Oxford and Cambridge University Press, for copyright infringement for their role in photocopying textbooks for students.
The decision was based on the fact that students are unlikely to buy entire textbooks when they only need a portion for their readings, but the disparity between the cost of foreign textbooks and incomes in India certainly played a role. University textbooks cost more than 800 percent what they did three decades ago, while the consumer price index only increased 250 percent in the same timeframe.

Costa Rica Renewable for 75 Days and Counting

For more than two months straight, Costa Rica hasn’t burned any fossil fuels to generate electricity; it has been running solely on renewable power. This is a milestone for the country but not a one-off occurrence. Last year, Costa Rica’s electricity came solely from renewable sources for a total of 300 days. The country is on track to reach its goal of being carbon-neutral by 2021.

Costa Rica’s main source of energy is its hydro-electric dams; however, it also benefits from other sources, including solar, wind power, biomass, and geothermal energy.

Though Costa Rica is on its way to carbon-neutral electricity, there are other areas where it needs to improve. The country is still reliant on carbon-based transportation and other industries. Costa Rica nonetheless serves as a role model and an inspiration for other countries as they seek to lower emissions in line with the goals they committed to at COP21.

Cervical Cancer Rates Halved Thanks to Vaccine

The world’s first cancer vaccine was administered a decade ago in Australia. The vaccine protects against the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. Since the vaccine was instituted in Australia, there has been a 90 percent reduction in HPV infections. The vaccine has now been introduced in more than 130 countries and has halved the number of new cases of cervical cancers.

HPV is an extremely common virus that lives in skin cells in intimate areas and is propagated either through skin-to-skin or genital contact. Many people are carriers without knowing it.
“If we vaccinate enough people, we will eliminate these viruses because they only infect humans,” said Professor Ian Frazer, the chief executive of the Translation Research Institute, who believes that the vaccine could eradicate cancers caused by HPV by 2055. The vaccine also protects against oropharyngeal cancer, a type of mouth cancer caused by the same virus.

Medical Aid Group Pulls Out of Yemen Following Hospital Bombing

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced that it is withdrawing aid and closing its hospital in northern Yemen due to what it called “indiscriminate bombings” by the Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in the country. This follows the bombing of its hospital in Abs, which killed 19 people and wounded 24 in August. It was the fourth attack on one of their medical facilities during the conflict in Yemen.

The attack on their hospital came despite MSF sharing their GPS co-ordinates with all of the parties involved in the conflict, according to the organization. Attacks on medical facilities is in violation of international law. Coalition officials had made vocal commitments to honor international humanitarian laws.

The conflict in Yemen has already killed more than 10,000 civilians and has brought the region’s poorest nation to the brink of famine. A variety of Yemeni factions are engaged in the fighting and face heavy bombing from the Saudi-led coalition’s air campaign, which is supported by a variety of nations including the United States, UK, France, and Canada.

MSF is a humanitarian-aid, non-governmental organization that operates in conflict zones and developing countries around the world. The organization was founded in 1971 and is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Winter 2017