By Jesse Brown - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Supreme Court of Canada has figured out what any teenager could tell you: text messages are private.
This surprisingly controversial ruling overturns a lower court’s decision against Telus, which fought laudably to protect their customers’ privacy from police investigators.
The cops sent Telus a warrant in March 2010 asking for all texts yet to be sent between two subscribers during a two-week period beginning in April 2010. Telus asked the courts to deem that a wiretap, which needs its own court order—one that’s harder for law enforcement to get.
The Crown argued that since Telus makes backup copies of customer’s texts, requesting access to them is not an “interception” of a communication, but something more like a request for access to a filing cabinet, which would be covered under a general warrant. The Supreme Court shot down this flimflammery and ruled that a person’s level of text-message privacy shouldn’t hinge on their choice of carrier (the other big wireless companies don’t make backups of texts).
It seems like common sense for the court to consider wiretapping a text-message exchange the same thing as wiretapping a voice conversation, and to demand an equivalent level of oversight. But common sense is uncommon when it comes to legislating electronic privacy.
The court’s job was easy here, since it was a rare case in which digital information had a direct analogue corollary. Most of the data we create resembles nothing from the past, and the law will have to do some original thinking to catch up.
Case in point is cellphone mobility pattern — not GPS data, but rather cell-tower “pings.” A recent study found that these digital trails can be a more accurate personal identifier than fingerprints. With just four cell tower pings (which happen whether or not you place a call), researchers were able to pluck an individual from a crowd of 1.5 million with 95 per cent accuracy.
Once these methods are available to law enforcement, ping data will be the new black. I wonder what the courts will make of that.
Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown
By Jesse Brown - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 5:39 PM - 0 Comments
So goes one of the world’s most popular myths. Kids may have an irresistible attraction to interactive screens and an uncanny ability to figure out how to play games and use apps, but when it comes to the code that makes these things work, most kids are totally ignorant. In fact, they are the most technologically illiterate generation of computer-using kids yet. Older, dumber computers forced their users to be smarter. Having to enter commands into an MS-DOS prompt meant speaking to computers in their own cryptic language, which forced us to learn how these machines think. Today’s kids are brought up on user-friendly, idiot-proof devices that don’t even require the know-how to to replace the batteries. The result is a generation of kids who are as reliant on technology as they are mystified by it.
Here’s how Barack Obama recently put it:
“Given how pervasive computers and the Internet are now and how integral they are in our economy and how fascinated kids are with them, I want to make sure they know how to actually produce stuff using a computer and not simply consume stuff.”
The urgency around learning code is increasing, and an all-star crew of tech titans and celebrities have teamed up to push the message directly to kids through Code.Org, a non-profit dedicated to improving the dreadful reality that only 10 per cent of schools bother to even offer coding class. Here’s their mandatory inspirational video, complete with celebs:
The incentives for learning code are laid on thick: coding will make you a “wizard” with “magical superpowers”. It will make you popular with the girls, just like Bill Gates. It will make you a rock star, just like will.I.am. Less revoltingly, and more plausibly, it will get you a job, a promise not even law school can make these days.
This pro-programming propaganda is very nice and well-intended, but I’d suggest that they’re gilding the lily. Not everyone who learns to code will become a coder and create programs. Not everyone should. Obama’s desire to make sure kids know how to “produce stuff” with code is overly ambitious and unrealistic. I can’t build a light bulb–I can barely change one. But I do have a basic understanding of what electricity is and how it works. Anyone living in our society and lacking this, I hope we’ll agree, is dangerously ignorant, helpless and vulnerable, existing in a world that might as well be illuminated by magical fairies.
Similarly, to walk the earth ignorant of what computers really are and how they work is unacceptable. I’m hopeful for a time when computer literacy is compulsory at the grade school level, taught alongside reading, writing, adding and subtracting as part of a basic literacy skill set.
Understanding technology doesn’t make you a wizard, it’s just part of being an informed citizen.
Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown
By Chris Sorensen - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
Caught trying to mimic the latest hot product, the most powerful tech firms can’t seem to dream up anything genuinely new
It’s a sure sign a company is in desperate straits when journalists go searching for answers from a former pitchman. In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Ben Curtis, the actor who played the “Dell dude” in computer-maker Dell Inc.’s 2000-era commercials (in which he would inform strangers “Dude, you’re getting a Dell”), suggested his troubled former employer could get a sorely needed boost if his character were resurrected. “Since that campaign ended, Dell has lost their personality,” Curtis said, adding that he, too, now uses an Apple Inc.-made laptop.
Dell’s problems won’t be so easily fixed. In a bid to speed up a badly needed transition from hardware manufacturer to provider of high-margin software and services, founder and CEO Michael Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners are proposing a massive $24.4-billion leveraged buyout of Round Rock, a Texas-based company that once held the title of the world’s largest maker of personal computers. It’s just another reminder of how fast the technology industry moves. One day a company is the most powerful in Silicon Valley, with a soaring stock price; the next it’s contemplating moving away from the very business that made it a household name. (In Dell’s case, its outstanding shares, once worth nearly $60, are being purchased by its founder and Silver Lake for $13.65 apiece.)
Although desktop and laptops remain ubiquitous in homes, offices and schools, sales of PCs have slumped in recent years as consumers increasingly use smartphones and tablets. Worldwide PC shipments totalled 90 million units during the last three months of 2012, according to Gartner Research, a 4.9 per cent decline from the same period a year earlier. In Canada, the fall was even steeper—down nearly 14 per cent. “We’re approaching a saturation point in the market,” says Tim Brunt, an analyst at consulting firm IDC Canada. “There are multiple PCs in every household. Everybody’s got one, so now it’s just about buying replacements.”
By Peter Nowak - Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 9:13 PM - 0 Comments
It’s easy to tell when a new technology has reached critical mass – discussions over its long-term effects start kicking into overdrive. That’s happening now with robots and how they are going to affect the human job market.
Conventional thinking has always held that automation and robots have historically been good things, because when a machine takes over a task, the human who used to do it is forced to do something smarter and better. This has had traditional repercussions both great and small, from auto assembly line workers necessarily having to upgrade their skills or maybe even start their own businesses, to regular people simply not having to remember minutiae like phone numbers because machines do it for them. Machines have traditionally freed our brains to worry about other, more important stuff.
However, in a recent 60 Minutes interview, MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Bruce Welty raised a worrying issue – that robotic development has now reached the exponential phase, which means that machines are taking over human tasks faster than humans can come up with new and better things to do.
“Right now the pace is accelerating. It’s faster we think than ever before in history,” Brynjolfsson said. “So as a consequence, we are not creating jobs at the same pace that we need to.”
By that estimation, robots will eventually take over all human jobs, leaving us with nothing to do. This is very bad, says the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, because that means all wealth will be controlled by the people who own the robots (assuming the machines don’t turn on us and kill us all, of course):
Smart machines may make higher GDP possible, but also reduce the demand for people — including smart people. So we could be looking at a society that grows ever richer, but in which all the gains in wealth accrue to whoever owns the robots.
Wired writer Kevin Kelly, on the other hand, takes a more optimistic approach when he says that we can’t evenimagine the jobs we’ll create because of this increasing automation. Humans’ role in the future will thus be the same as it is now: to create jobs that only people can do at first, with those tasks eventually falling to machines, whereupon the cycle will keep repeating.
This stuff is exactly the meat of the current chapter I’m working on for Humans 3.0, my upcoming book. I’m more inclined to side with Wired because, if there’s one thing we can be certain of when it comes to the future, it’s that it’s very difficult to imagine. As Kelly puts it:
Before we invented automobiles, air-conditioning, flatscreen video displays, and animated cartoons, no one living in ancient Rome wished they could watch cartoons while riding to Athens in climate-controlled comfort. Two hundred years ago not a single citizen of Shanghai would have told you that they would buy a tiny slab that allowed them to talk to faraway friends before they would buy indoor plumbing. Crafty AIs embedded in first-person-shooter games have given millions of teenage boys the urge, the need, to become professional game designers—a dream that no boy in Victorian times ever had. In a very real way our inventions assign us our jobs. Each successful bit of automation generates new occupations—occupations we would not have fantasized about without the prompting of the automation.
Where Krugman’s thesis falters is in the notion that it’ll somehow be big entities that own the robots. With even children creating their own Lego robots, that’s highly unlikely. Robots are getting better and cheaper, which means that everyone is likely to benefit from the robotic revolution.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, January 25, 2013 at 5:31 AM - 0 Comments
Work begins on B.C. radio telescope that will act like time machine: scientists
VANCOUVER – Construction has begun on a new radio telescope in British Columbia’s south Okanagan that will act like a type of time machine and help astrophysicists travel back to better understand the composition of our expanding universe.
The $11-million project is being built at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory southwest of Penticton, B.C., and will use components from the cellphone industry to capture and turn radio waves emitted six to 11 billion years ago into a three-dimensional map.
It’s the first research telescope built in Canada in more than three decades and includes scientists from the observatory, the University of British Columbia, McGill University and the University of Toronto.
“It’s almost like time travel,” said Kris Sigurdson, an astrophysicist from UBC and co-investigator on the project. “It’s looking back into the past and how the universe was at that time and it’s just amazing.”
By Sonya Bell - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 2:30 PM - 0 Comments
Two years in, One Laptop Per Child Canada eyes expansion
The kindergarten kids who attend Lloyd S. King Elementary School on a reserve near Brantford, Ont. know to pack something extra every Tuesday and Thursday morning: their laptops.
When it’s quiet time on those days, teacher Tammy Sault dims the lights, puts on instrumental music and turns them loose on the kid-friendly green and white machines known as XO laptops. Instantly, the five-year-olds are booting them up and loading programs, solving mazes and identifying patterns.
A girl who has marked her laptop with her name, Emma, points directly at its screen when asked what her favourite thing is about school.
The laptops are here on the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation courtesy of One Laptop per Child Canada, a core program of the Belinda Stronach Foundation. The organization partnered with the original One Laptop per Child Foundation in the United States, which has distributed 2.5 million XO laptops in the developing world, to roll out the same rugged, low-cost laptop to young aboriginal students.
Since the launch of OLPC Canada’s pilot phase in September 2010, students at 14 schools in seven provinces and two territories have been given their own XO computers.
“I was really excited about it because not all of the children have access to technology at home,” Sault said.
The kindergarten teacher marvels at how quickly her students have picked up both tech and social skills since they started using the laptops at the beginning of the school year. They instruct one another about how to use different programs and remind each other that the laptop isn’t broken, it just needs to be charged. It has built up their confidence and problem-solving skills, she said.
But not everyone is as excited about the laptop program. Some teachers, not tech-savvy themselves, have expressed no interest in integrating the laptops into their lesson plans. The chat and video functions in particular are labelled a distraction. The laptops sit underused, either at home or at school.
It is one of several reality checks noted by OLPC Canada Director Jennifer Martino. In March, a full outside evaluation of the pilot program will be released. But Martino already knows they need to boost teacher training in the future from her visits to the participating schools.
“In almost every case, I was asked to come back to do additional training.”
A short drive away, at Kawenni:io Elementary School on the Six Nations of the Grand River, students in a mix of running shoes and moccasins recite the Thanksgiving Address in Cayuga and Mohawk to begin the school day.
Here, the biggest controversy over the laptops has been around language. The private school was formed in 1985 as a institution where students could learn the languages of their ancestors. But the language of instruction on the laptops is English.
Kindergarten teacher Esenogwas Hill remembers the initial rollout period as “a frustration”: kids who dropped the laptops burst into tears, thinking they had broken them. They asked her questions about them that she couldn’t answer. Then there were the parents who wanted to know why the laptops used English. Her solution is enforcing a low-volume rule to limit the oral English.
OLPC Canada responded to the English-language concerns, which were heard at multiple schools, by creating a Cayuga and Inuktitut keyboard. Hill still hopes to get Cayuga recordings installed on the laptops for verbal instructions, but said she supports the laptops in any case.
“I try to use them because the kids love them.”
It takes teacher supervision to ensure the kids are using the XOs for their lessons, and not just for the Paint program. But it can be done. Down the hall from Hill’s classroom, Grade 2 teacher Tesha Emarthle is teaching her students about the different phases of moon, which determine when cultural ceremonies are held, using a program called Moon Activity. Earlier in the school year, she took the students outside with their laptops to photograph trees and label their different parts.
OLPC Canada’s pilot phase comes to end in June, and the organization is in the process of securing funding to go forward. With a growing list of communities asking to take part, Martino said she hopes to double outreach in the next two years.
“Some of the schools have five computers that were donated in 1995, and they were used at that time. Some of them are really, really struggling with just basic access to technology. So when they hear that they could have one laptop for every child in their school? I mean, there are some places that don’t even have a cell phone signal.”
Though the OLPC Foundation has struggled in recent years with the advent of tablets, one advantage the XO still offers is durability. Only a few laptops at each site require repairs during the school year. Nevertheless, OLPC Canada is keeping an open mind about future technology, another area that will be addressed in the March report.
“There are lots of great learning apps that have been developed since the XO laptop came out. We’re certainly free to make those decisions, and be flexible, depending on the needs of the communities,” Martino said.
Back at Lloyd S. King Elementary School, special education teacher Carla Miller is sure about one thing: the device itself doesn’t matter as much as the learning opportunities it provides in a changing world.
“It’s so important. It’s where everything’s heading,” she said. “May as well get them started now.”
By Peter Nowak - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 1:46 PM - 0 Comments
Brazilian burger chain Bob’s recently got a lot of press for introducing edible wrappers made of rice paper. With the tagline of “there’s no need to control yourself” emblazoned on the wrappers, the chain said it was testing them for environmental reasons. Continue…
By Peter Nowak - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 10:16 AM - 0 Comments
Who’d have ever thought Knight Rider would almost be reality?
It’s unlikely that robot cars will become commercially available in 2013, but it’s a certainty that they will take big steps forward. So far, Google has been pushing forward with the development of self-driving vehicles, but the search company is not alone. Toyota is the latest to officially join the fray.
The Japanese car maker will be showing off its “active safety research vehicle, Intelligent Transport Systems and 2013 Lexus LS,” which is “equipped with the world’s most advanced pre-collision safety system,” at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. I’ll be checking it out and speaking with Toyota executives. Watch for more on this next week. Continue…
By The Associated Press - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 2:33 PM - 0 Comments
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – LG unveiled a 55-inch TV that sports “ultrahigh-definition” resolution with…
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – LG unveiled a 55-inch TV that sports “ultrahigh-definition” resolution with four times the sharpness of regular HD television sets, kicking off what is likely to be a mini-obsession with the latest super-clear format at the annual International CES gadget show.
The model announced Monday is the smallest in a 2013 lineup that includes 65-inch and 84-inch versions. But the smaller size — and smaller price tag — begins the parade of TV makers that are seeking to bring ultrahigh definition to the masses. Continue…
By Peter Nowak - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 9:37 AM - 0 Comments
With the start of a new year, there’s no better time to review and reflect on the federal government’s complete and utter failure in providing leadership on digital issues. The country has been waiting on a digital strategy–a comprehensive plan for how Canada intends to compete in the global information economy–for years. For example:
“More than one hundred representatives from libraries, museums, archives, publishers, copyright collectives, the education community and government gathered last week in snowy Montebello, Que. for a national summit on a Canadian digital information strategy. The by-invitation-only event marked the culmination of a year-long cross-country effort to ensure that Canada is not left behind as our trading partners race to develop their own 21st century digitization plans.” – Toronto Star, Dec. 11, 2006
“Free access to government data and equitable access to the Internet itself are key to a prosperous digital economy, say many of those who took part in recent federal consultations. For two months, the government has been seeking public input on its strategy for a digital economy… [Industry Minister Tony Clement] did not provide a specific timeline, but suggested Canada would take about the same time as other countries, who have typically developed strategies in six to 18 months.” – CBC, July 14, 2010
“For over a year Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have been talking about the need to create a digital economic strategy for the nation, with Industry Minister Tony Clement promising to reveal details this spring.” – IT Business, Mar. 23, 2011
“I will launch a Canadian-made digital economy strategy by the end of the year.” – Industry Minister Christian Paradis, Aug. 28, 2012
If the government’s latest broken promise is any indication, the wait is going to continue, despite numerous consultations and reports having already taken place. For those paying attention to other countries and their digital strategies (New Zealand had one in 2005, Japan in 2001), it’s exasperating at best, infuriating at worst.
Yet, the government could do worse. It could, as many fear, release a digital strategy that is low on specifics and without any real teeth. Such a plan would be a disservice. Canada is already behind in many ways, from web usage by businesses, to Internet access pricing, to research and development spending, to venture capital access. There are many problems to be fixed, so any digital strategy must take specific actions to get the country back on the right track.
The other danger with any sort of digital plan is the tendency to throw money at a problem in the hopes that it’ll fix itself. That’s also the wrong way to go, since government-provided funds are often squandered without any concrete results to show at the end.
Most importantly, a digital strategy must be bold. There is no sense in aiming for the future if you’re not aiming high. Timidity has no place in such a plan.
The government has already heard from a broad range of Canadians as to what the country’s strategy should contain. Here is a list of 10 suggestions, some of which are repeated from submissions and some of which are my own additions. The list–sort of a set of New Year’s resolution for government–is by no means comprehensive, but it would make for a good starting point.
Technology Minister: Creating a cabinet ministerial position that would deal with all things technological would go a long way to showing the public that the government does indeed take digital issues seriously. Which it currently doesn’t, obviously.
Merge Telecom and Broadcasting Acts: Telecom and broadcasting technologies have converged, as have their owners, so why are the laws governing them still separate? Indeed, the government should move to liberalize foreign ownership in broadcasting the same way it did last year with telecom. Maintaining the restrictions does much to counter any positives introduced by telecom ownership liberalization.
Infrastructure regulatory holiday: Any new company that wants to build a telecom network in Canada, whether wired or wireless, gets a 10-year exemption from any regulations affecting access to that network (in other words, they won’t have to give access to third-party independent internet service providers). The holiday could be even longer for northern Canada, where things are even more dire. Some might say this is unfair to the likes of Bell or Rogers or Northwestel, but those companies got to build their networks and customer bases with government-granted monopolies. Such an exemption might seem especially intriguing to certain search engine companies that are currently building fibre networks in the United States.
Broadband targets: Speaking of which, the government should institute pricing, speed and usage targets that ISPs must reach within three years. The targets would be set based on projections of what will be needed to measure among the top countries at that time. Failure by the ISPs to hit the targets would result in the government launching consultations on how to structurally separate network owners from retail operations, and/or the feasibility of building a nationally-owned fibre network. Is this de facto regulation? Yes indeed, but it’s market forces that have caused Canada to fall behind. When the carrot doesn’t do the trick, sometimes you need to turn to the stick.
Internet access subsidies: With broadband simply being too expensive for many poorer Canadians, a simple subsidy program is needed –- if your household income is under a certain amount, the government pays part of your monthly Internet bill. Not only would this connect the people who need Internet access the most, it would also saddle the government with a continually escalating tab. If that doesn’t cause politicians to spur better Internet service and prices, nothing will.
Computer programs: In that vein, there are also too many households that don’t have computers, wherein Internet access would obviously not make a lick of difference. The digital strategy should outline a specific plan to work with private-sector companies to provide such households not just with computers, but with the training required to use them effectively. Certain individuals have expressed a desire to help on this front; these people should be sought and hired to lead such projects.
Tech export credits: Canadian businesses aren’t using the Internet enough to reach global markets, so applying further tax rewards on sales specifically made using digital means might spur some to finally take online expansion seriously.
Foreign recruiting: Going the other way, the government should step up recruitment in countries that have large numbers of the sorts of skilled people needed here. Universities have tried various recruitment drives over the years, but they can only promise students so much. Government is much better positioned to deliver such workers jobs, not to mention a life in Canada.
Incubators, incubators, incubators: The venture capital problem might actually be one that can be helped with money. With early-stage investment identified as a real issue for Canadian startups, the government could accomplish much by funding lots of technology incubation projects, where entrepreneurs can cut their teeth until they get noticed by proper VCs.
R&D tax breaks: The federal government should take a cue from the provincial governments of Quebec, B.C. and Ontario, which created a vibrant video game industry through tax breaks. Those governments attracted large multinationals by giving them big discounts on labour costs, with the result being thousands of new jobs. More importantly, an ecosystem of very talented developers has formed, with Canada now becoming a leader in independent game design. The same model should be used to attract multinationals to set up research and development centres, with similar benefits likely to result.
By Peter Nowak - Monday, December 31, 2012 at 10:02 AM - 0 Comments
Back around Halloween, I became a convert to Hailo, an app that connects taxi drivers and people looking for cabs via smartphone GPS. Ever since, I’ve been taking more taxis than ever, simply because the app is so slick, convenient and easy to use.
The company behind the app was started 18 months ago in London by a sextet of founders: three cabbies and three financiers and tech experts. Hailo has since grown explosively — first expanding to Dublin and then Toronto on Sept. 26, with Boston and Chicago following soon thereafter.
Ahead of New Year’s Eve, the busiest night of the year for taxis, I sat down with Toronto president Justin Raymond to find out more about the company’s impressive growth. Here’s an edited version of our conversation:
How did Hailo choose the cities it did?
They’re big cab markets. They look at the regulatory environment as well to see if there’s an opening for us to get in. We don’t like to barge in and not be licensed, we like to work with the regulator to help the city create a better transportation matrix. Toronto is an amazingly sophisticated town, it has a number of different transportation options, but it when it comes to taxis it’s antiquated. It’s ripe for change, which is the reason why it was the first foray into North America. It also comes down to having access to the right people.
So you have to have a pool of technically competent people to make it work?
The way we go to market is to find three cab drivers in each city – influential thought leaders in the taxi cab space because, as much as I wish that I’d be a great taxi recruiter, I’ll never be as good as a cabbie. I don’t speak cabbie and they do. They have mutual respect for each other and they listen to each other.
What’s your background – how did you get involved with this?
I was approached by Jay [Bregman, co-founder and chief executive]. I’ve started other companies that have touched on the taxi industry in Canada. I started TaxiGuy, which is a national network of 400 cab companies that was really cool 15 years ago because they were linked together through a toll-free phone number and now it’s moved to an app system. I also started #Taxi [through CellWand], which is on 250 million cellphones right now.
How do the regulations work?
Anybody who dispatches or connects a passenger and a taxi through any means in Toronto has to be licensed. There’s no room for interpretation. I went and sat down with the regulators and said, ‘This is what I want to do, what do I need to do to make it official?’ So I jumped through the hoops. The existing system is focused on the vehicle or the plate, whereas Hailo is focused on the drivers, so it basically turns the industry on its head because you focus on the independent contractors who bring the value. You don’t have to worry about all of the other issues with plates and garages and maintenance and all the other things that come with the old standards.
How does Hailo make money?
It’s a pay-as-you-go model, which is also unique. We take 15-per-cent commission [on each fare] and inside of that, we guarantee that all credit cards are accepted and we pay for all of the back-end of the transaction costs.
And that commission is lower than what traditional dispatchers charge?
Our model is working directly with drivers. So we send you a job through your phone, you take the job and take 85 per cent of the total, we take 15 per cent. Drivers on the other model go and pick up their car every day at a garage and they have to pay a weekly fee up front for either the day shift of the night shift. They pay between $550 and $700 for that weekly shift and for the opportunity to work themselves out of that hole over the course of the week. On top of that, they also pay seven to 10 per cent on credit card charges that they process, they have to pay for the terminal rental and seven to 10 per cent on any corporate charge accounts that they accept.
The garages end up paying the brokerages for the terminals that are in the cars, the radios and computers. When you net it all out at the end of the day, between 35 and 40 per cent of all the money [drivers] make goes to pay for all those services.
Do you have corporate-owned taxis? I’ve seen some with your branding plastered on them.
Those vehicles are operated by Ambassador drivers. There are about 1,500 Ambassador plates issued by the city, which is one car, one driver. They’re more often than not seasoned drivers who have been around for a long time and they have control decisions over that car. A lot of the guys in the Ambassador program work with Hailo and are enthusiasts and they let us wrap their cars as an advertisement.
You seem to have rubbed some traditional taxi companies the wrong way. How do you view this issue?
They just don’t really know how to react. We came to the market pretty fast and have grown our driver network very quickly. The old incumbents don’t really want to admit or recognize that drivers aren’t necessarily as happy as they think they are. The drivers are open minded to a new way of doing things, which is the foundation of innovation. If you can bring a model that is efficient, that creates no losers, it’s going to be successful, especially when it comes down to this industry, where drivers just want to be treated fairly. Our model is resoundingly being accepted as being fair to the drivers, to the company and to the passengers. I think it’s a period of adjustment for [traditional companies] and it’s interesting to see how it’s being accepted.
How are you positioned for growth?
London just celebrated its first anniversary and when they launched, they started with 600 taxi drivers. One year later, they had just under 10,000. Hailo is doing a job every seven seconds around the world. It’s amazing growth with amazing uptake and markets around the world are clamouring for it. The roadmap is already built for 2013. We’re launching in Madrid, Barcelona, Tokyo, Washington D.C. and New York City will be a big one. We’re also going to test some smaller satellite markets to see if it can be self-fulfilling.
Anywhere else in Canada?
Yeah, we’re doing the research now and are looking at several markets: Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal and some satellite communities as well, like the entire Greater Toronto Area.
What sorts of numbers are you seeing for Toronto?
We have over 600 drivers now that have the app and are trained and are actively using the system. We have over 30,000 downloads [on the user side]. The real indicator of growth is that word of mouth is really happening, people are becoming advocates of our system. Drivers love it, they love coming here and they feel welcome, like they belong. Technology can’t do anything unless you have the supply side.
There’s like 11,000 licensed taxi drivers in Toronto, but a lot of guys use it as their secondary source of income. In reality, there’s probably about 8,000 or 9,000 who are really making it their primary source of income. Smartphone penetration among drivers is pretty low. There’s the smartphone chasm where drivers have to get across in order to join Hailo. We don’t believe in providing them with a smartphone because that’s not a sustainable business model and we want them to put a bit of skin into the game. I think by this time next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had 2,000 drivers.
What’s your estimate on smartphone penetration among drivers?
From our research, I’d say it’s about 20 to 30 per cent.
Will traditional taxi companies have to try to out-innovate Hailo in order to stay in the game?
They [Beck] have an app. It’s a different system and it doesn’t do everything that ours does, but they are attempting to innovate. This is going to be a pretty intense competitive environment.
One of the things that drivers love about our app is that distribution of work is fair, it’s not based on picking and choosing, it’s based on GPS proximity. Some of the old traditional brokerages have been accused of playing favourites, like sending the good airport jobs to their friends and holding back opportunities for others. With Hailo, it’s the closest taxi gets the job first. They have 20 seconds to accept the job [after which it goes to the next closest].
You recently announced a deal with Molson Coors. How is that working?
We’re underwriting the $1 million [in fare discounts] and what Molson’s is doing is putting the actual promotional cards into licensed establishments around Toronto. Those people there get trained in the app and they distribute the cards. It’s a promotional code so you just go into your profile on the app and punch it in and you have $10 instantly come off your next ride.
How do you think this sort of thing is going to fit in with robot cars, which are now street legal in several U.S. states?
We talk about that and it’s fascinating. I love all of the environmental benefits that come with it… but do we see ourselves becoming part of that? It’d be interesting to be part of a test, but the fundamental part of Hailo is actually the drivers. So if you replace the drivers with someone with no personality, you’re sort of taking away from the overall experience.
But it’s funny because with the advent of systems like Hailo, you start to see what’s possible. We’ve taken all of the human error element out of it. It’s not like eliminating jobs is a priority but creating efficiencies is, and sometimes that’s just the reality of business.
By Jesse Brown - Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 8:39 PM - 0 Comments
Is it too soon to call this one? Maybe not. Check out the Leap Motion:
Before you even start to think about what you might use it for, the Leap Motion gobsmacks you with sheer wow-factor. When you imagined the future as a kid, did you picture a wireless telephone? Or did you see yourself Zeus-like, chucking gigs of data through the air with your bare hands? According to me at age 8, this is how we were meant to use computers.
By Peter Nowak - Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 7:59 AM - 0 Comments
With technology advancing exponentially, so too are the number of new gadgets flooding the market. There are indeed so many gizmos coming out on a daily basis that it’s almost impossible to keep track of them.
That’s why, love them or hate them, top-10 lists are especially useful when it comes to this particular theme. All such lists are purely subjective, as is the one I’ve put together below, but they are handy in identifying some of the standouts amid the sea of stuff out there.
Here are the 10 gadgets I liked best – or that I thought were important – in 2012:
By Peter Nowak - Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 8:02 AM - 0 Comments
The other day, I was fiddling with the new Lynx car receiver from Sirius XM. My previous satellite radio receiver had a bunch of actual physical buttons on it, while the new device is all touch screen. That got me thinking about how interfaces have changed over the years and how they’re going to continue evolving, particularly in how we’re having to put less and less effort into listening to music.
Rather than expound on it, I made up this short graphic that I think explains it all:
By Richard Warnica - Friday, April 13, 2012 at 10:13 AM - 0 Comments
Baboons can identify words but can’t read, according to a new French study. The…
Baboons can identify words but can’t read, according to a new French study. The researchers used a computer program to teach the animals how to distinguish random letter jumbles from actual words.
From the LA Times:
Six baboons were permitted to approach computer monitors whenever they wanted. The touch screens displayed a string of four letters, which could be a word or a non-word.
(The scientists) trained the baboons to touch the letters to initiate the test. In the next step, the letters would vanish and two response symbols would appear on the screen, either of which the baboon could opt to touch. A light blue oval on the right was the correct response for a real word, and a dark blue cross on the left was correct for a nonsense string of letters.
The baboons got a wheat reward if they pressed the correct symbol.
One particularly bright baboon, Dan, was able to pick out 300 words.
In semi-related news, Maclean’s Kate Lunau wrote about iPad loving apes in Milwaukee in the magazine in February:
Milwaukee’s project has been such a hit that zoos across North America, including Toronto, are clamouring to get some. “We’ve got about 20 zoos waiting,” says Richard Zimmerman, director of the non-proﬁt Orangutan Outreach, which is running a campaign called Apps for Apes that aims to get more tablet computers to zoos. Eventually orangutans in different zoos will be able to visit each other via Skype or FaceTime—maybe even start Internet dating. “Orangutans have to move zoos for mating,” says York University’s Suzanne MacDonald, who studies animal behaviour and cognition. “It would be really cool if they could meet over the Internet ﬁrst and see if they got along, or if they’re terriﬁed of each other.”
By Gabriela Perdomo - Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 9:56 AM - 0 Comments
Canadian businesses are amongst the fastest adopters of cloud computing and, according to a…
Canadian businesses are amongst the fastest adopters of cloud computing and, according to a Microsoft Corp. study released yesterday, they have much to gain from it. Canada could create as many as 36,000 new jobs by the end of this year and as many as 70,000 by 2015 just from businesses switching to the cloud, the Financial Post reports about a study by International Data Corp. Worldwide, outsourcing to a cloud could create as many as 14 million jobs by 2015, the study says.
But it is not entirely clear how the jobs would be created. The study summary says that, “Efficiencies gained from cloud are applied to innovation broadly (not just IT), such as hiring more sales, finance, production, marketing people and more.” Moreover, the study should also be taken with a grain—or a heap—of salt, since Microsoft is in the business of cloud computing.
By Jesse Brown - Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 5:15 PM - 0 Comments
Thus begins the Vikileaks Twitter account, a mean-spirited, vindictive, and very effective effort to humiliate and discredit Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. The account claims to draw its material from publicly available court documents from Toews’s divorce. In less than 100 tweets (so far), its anonymous author assassinates Toews’ character in ways personal and professional. I learned more about Toews than I cared to.
I won’t pass along the dirt. I don’t have to. It’s out there for anyone to read—and a lot of people are reading. As I write, the account has been active for about 48 hours, and it already has over 7,000 followers. Even if the account is shut down, its revelations will live online forever. And it probably won’t be shut down. Publishing court records is perfectly legal. Continue…
By Julia Belluz - Friday, February 10, 2012 at 12:34 PM - 0 Comments
An aging population—or “gray tsunami”—is the shadow lurking in the background of health care, poised to drive up health-care spending and wipe out the system as we know it. Technology, on the other hand, is a means to improving efficiency in the system and reducing costs. Consider the early, sparkling promises of Obamacare south of the border or electronic health records in Canada. Policymakers trumpet this conventional wisdom—but it isn’t quite right.
As a recent report by the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s argues, your grandmother’s visits to the doctor aren’t the key driver of health costs. Health technology, however—encompassing anything from drugs to diagnostic imaging—is becoming the great burden on the health systems of G20 countries.
By Jesse Brown - Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 6:00 AM - 3 Comments
Macleans.ca has asked its leading bloggers, pundits and critics to weigh in with what they’d like to see in 2012—in politics, television, film, books, wherever. The wish lists will run throughout the month of December and will be archived at macleans.ca/wishlist.
(1) Dear Internet, please fix travel: We’re still flying blind when it comes to planning flights. Want the cheapest fare? Good luck. Each airline has its own bizarre and opaque pricing system. Book too early, and you get hosed. Book too late, and you get hosed. What’s the sweet spot? They’re not telling. There are dozens of factors that determine what a seat costs, and they change by the minute. Continue…
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 11:20 AM - 0 Comments
Art curators are inflamed—and amused—by the new ubiquitousness of their role
The verb “curate” has become such an overworked—and distorted—marketing buzzword, it’s now in need of curation itself. Writing about designer Tom Ford’s new cosmetics line in September’s Vogue, Plum Sykes didn’t simply say Ford “selected” the colours in his four-colour eye shadow compacts. No, each compact offers “a complete look curated by Ford,” befitting its US$78 price tag. Even processed foods are treated as objets d’art in the Louvre: Loblaw Companies’ cookbook, The Epicurean’s Companion, part of the launch of their new high-end black label line, boasts “recipes inspired by the thoughtfully curated President’s Choice black label collection.”
“Curation,” from the Latin “to care for,” morphed beyond galleries over a decade ago—from indie music festivals “curated” by Matt Groening, Sonic Youth and the like, to high-end Paris boutique Colette, feted for pioneering the retailer-as-curator concept. Technology, too, paved the way to the “curated” identity on Facebook, iPod playlists and Flickr. It also created the market for “curated consumption,” the term coined by trendwatching.com in 2004 for the growing role style and cultural arbiters have in influencing buying decisions. In the recently published Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers are Creators, Steven Rosenbaum argues that huge opportunities exist for businesses able to cull the digital deluge to offer unique “curated” goods, services and experiences for customers. The result is a consumer universe in which credit card companies can be “curators”: Tourism Toronto’s recent “Toronto getaway” promotion, for example, was “curated by The Platinum Card for American Express.” Shopping itself can be an act of curation, Toronto jewellery designer Jane Apor recently told the Toronto Star: “Anyone can wear an Hermès bracelet, but layering it with leather bracelets and a mix of other pieces I’ve picked up on my travels, I’ve curated my own wrist.”
By Chris Sorensen - Friday, September 30, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 4 Comments
Will its increasingly complex website be its undoing?
Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of social networking giant Facebook, stepped onstage at a developers’ conference in San Francisco last week and, probably unwittingly, launched into his best Steve Jobs impression. Wearing jeans, sneakers and a grey T-shirt (the Apple Inc. chair favours black turtlenecks, but you get the idea), Zuckerberg took the wraps off a host of new Facebook features while peppering the presentation with Jobs-isms—“really easy” yet “so powerful”—that emphasized just how intuitive and exciting everything about the overhauled Facebook would be.
Except that none of the new features unveiled appear to be either—at least not at first blush. Once a relatively spartan piece of online real estate, users’ profile pages will now display a comprehensive “timeline” of their lives, curated in part by Facebook’s software and by users themselves, while a new window shows exactly what everyone in your network is doing at any given moment (Stephanie likes Peter’s status update, Lisa commented on her photo, Steve is friends with Sharon . . . and so on). Zuckerberg called it a place to monitor “lightweight” activity that threatens to bog down the main news feed, which will now consist entirely of material that is deliberately posted by a user’s friends.
Turns out there’s a reason Facebook decided to create a dedicated space for all of these auto-updates: it plans to unleash a torrent of them on its users. The company is planning to throw TV, streaming music and other online media services into the mix so that users can see, in real time, what songs their friends are listening to, which TV shows they’re watching and what news stories they are reading—and soon, no doubt, where they’re shopping. “What’s even more interesting and exciting than getting people signed up is all the things that are possible by having these connections in place,” said Zuckerberg, who suggested that Facebook and its partners will “rethink some industries.”
By Erica Alini - Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 9:05 AM - 1 Comment
Google is taking on industry rivals in the race to bring television online
People have been debating the value of YouTube for years. Some predicted Google wasted billions on something that could never make money. If recent rumours are true, the naysayers may soon be eating their words. The search-engine behemoth has apparently stepped up its efforts to deliver an alternative to cable television. The company is competing against Amazon, Yahoo and Dish Network to acquire Hulu, the online video site owned by Walt Disney, News Corp. and NBC Universal. Google’s initial offer far surpassed those of the other bidders, according to AllThingsD, a technology news website. This could be part of Google’s strategy for acquiring original video content to upload to YouTube, speculated Business Insider, a business blog, which also quoted two anonymous industry sources saying the tech giant is spending as much as $500 million shopping around for premium titles to boost its online video offering. Google also recently bought Motorola Mobility Holdings, which, among other things, makes cable set-top boxes, devices that allow users to access the Web via TV sets.
It’s all proof that the technology giant is gearing up to battle rivals like Netflix and Apple in the race to reinvent television. Its most formidable weapon, industry watchers agree, is YouTube’s unrivalled popularity.
By Chris Sorensen - Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
The search engine is paying a price for its dominance of the web
Google’s recent decision to reveal how much energy its data centres use—220 million watts, or about one-quarter the output of a nuclear reactor, according to a New York Times calculation—is being billed by the Mountain View, Calif.-based company as a small price to pay for the convenience of having billions of Web pages at your fingertips, not to mention funny YouTube videos. And it probably is. But the rare disclosure (Google had previously feared giving rivals clues about its internal operations) has also highlighted the degree to which the Internet is not necessarily the “free” service most people think it is. All that information comes with a cost. While the numbers sound big, Google claims the actual cost per user is actually tiny. It says the environmental impact of 100 searches is the same as running a laptop for an hour or turning on a light bulb for 28 minutes. Three days of watching YouTube? That’s the same as manufacturing, packaging and delivering a DVD. However, Google’s accounting of the cost of using Gmail for a year appears a touch self-serving: “less than the energy required to drink a bottle of wine, stuff a message in the bottle and toss it in the ocean.” Is that how we’re supposed to imagine a Google-less world?
By Peter Nowak - Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 12:08 PM - 4 Comments
And the big tech news just keeps on a’rolling. I’m on a mini-vacation in Quebec, but I couldn’t not write something about Steve Jobs’s resignation, which was as surprising as Google taking over Motorola or HP announcing its exit from the consumer business, both of which happened last week. Jobs has been battling illness for some time so the news isn’t that unexpected, but just like the company he built, the man himself seemed somewhat unstoppable so it’s shocking nonetheless.
There will be a lot of commentary extolling what Jobs has meant to the world of technology and not much of it will be overstated. Simply put, no company—probably not even Google—and certainly no individual has made as much of a difference or changed the way things work over the past 10 years as Apple has under Jobs. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Friday, August 19, 2011 at 11:31 AM - 0 Comments
World’s largest PC maker struggles to contain sluggish sales
Hewlett-Packard, the world’s largest personal-computer maker, may be getting ready to drop out of the PC business altogether. The news comes as a result of sluggish computer sales in recent years, as customers increasingly turn to smart-phones and tablets. The company is also planning to quit selling its own tablets and smart-phones, a market space where it was struggling to compete with giants like Apple and Google. At the same time, H-P agreed to buy British database-search firm Autonomy Corp., seeking to expand its activities in the more profitable software business. The move comes after months of turmoil at H-P, where several executive-level re-shufflings have followed the ouster a year ago of the company’s chief executive over ethics concerns. Investors showed little enthusiasm for H-P’s about-face, with company shares declining 6 per cent to $29.51 amid a broader market selloff on Thursday.