Justin Trudeau explains why Canada really ‘gets’ AI and smart cities​

Justin Trudeau explains why Canada really ‘gets’ AI and smart cities

At Google’s Go North event today in Toronto, which features a slate of speakers focused primarily on artificial intelligence, Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (and actually asked him some tough questions on NAFTA negotiations and his feelings about Trump, surprisingly). Trudeau talked a lot about the Canadian perspective on innovation, and about why Canada is doing so well with regards to acting as a hub for research and development around artificial intelligence in general. “I just think Canadians realize better than most that there is an opportunity here,” Trudeau began, also nothing that this extends not only to the innovation side, but also to the “consequences of AI, the consequences of automation,” and the “economic imbalance of those who own the robots and those who are displaced by them.”

Trudeau explained that while he has no specific foresight in terms of where technological progress with artificial intelligence is taking us, he believes it’s not up to the Canadian government to “pick winners,” but that instead that it is their role to say that they’re going to “invest in quantum, we’re gonna invest in AI, we’re going to invest in robotics, we’re going to invest in high-value, innovative, creative, groundbreaking areas” that match the Canadian education system and the country’s entrepreneurial values.

He added that Canada has a drive to search for a way to “be relevant in a positive way on the world stage,” and that AI fits with that goal, as does investment in other high-tech areas.

Schmidt pointed out that Canada also has notably different strategies when it comes to encouraging an atmosphere of innovation, and that includes specific policies around immigration. Trudeau took the opportunity to talk about the similarities between the American and Canadian perspective on immigration, and then about where those perspectives diverge.

The Prime Minister noted that immigrants have been important to both countries, but that Canada realizes it continues to be important, and is in fact of growing importance in an increasingly global economy. He also explained that immigrants tend to be particularly well-suited to contributing to the growth of the economy specifically in the area of innovation.

“People choosing to move to a new place are self-selected to be ambitious, forward-thinking, brave, and builders of a better future,” he said. “For someone to choose to do this to ensure their kids have a good life is a big step.”

Trudeau said that Canada realized the need to attract world-class talent to the country hasn’t changed

Trudeau said that Canada realized the need to attract world-class talent to the country hasn’t changed, and that it continues to not only need to “draw in people from around the world, but also to “give them pathways to success,” which will in turn lead to success overall for both their communities and for the economy at large. Those pathways mean the means and opportunity to build out skills necessary to contribute in areas of innovation and economic growth. Trudeau also spoke on the subject of smart cities, and specifically the project Canada and the city of Toronto are undertaking with Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to turn a disused portion of Toronto’s waterfront into a new model city of the future. Schmidt asked the PM how Canada came to embrace this idea, in a manner currently unique across nations.

Social Travel: Rediscovering the Friendly Skies

Social Travel: Rediscovering the Friendly Skies

Editor’s note: TechCrunch contributor Semil Shah is an entrepreneur interested in digital media, consumer Internet, and social networks. Shah is based in Palo Alto and you can follow him on twitter @semil We’ve heard endlessly how “social” will eventually disrupt and transform old, stodgy industries, perhaps even reinvent them for the better. The promise of this change, of course, is often tempered by the reality that, if indeed this stuff actually happens, it will take time and we’re currently in the early stages of the game. And when it comes to travel, one of the most heavily regulated industries, disruption and transformation would be music to travelers’ ears. There are a number of reasons travel has become more of an onerous task (thank you, TSA), yet consumers continue to brave the elements to merrily trot around the globe. Brushing aside the fact that a significant portion of travel is business-related, decisions around leisure travel typically involve a number of factors, many of which are coming online. The catalyst for a personal trip can originate from different sources. One could have vacation time that will evaporate unless you use it. One could be offered a travel deal rate that motivates you to capitalize on it. One may want to catch up with old friends or families, or travel for entertainment, adventure, or to simply get away from your surroundings. In exploring the travel space through a social lens, most of today’s consumer web-related entrepreneurial attention is focused on what travelers do once they reach their intended destination. In the old days, travelers would book hotels directly (or through travel agents) and would rely on branded guides like Lonely Planet or Frommer’s, hotel concierges, and traditional tour companies to help address these needs. A few years later, services like Kayak and TripIt offered more options for users to organize their travel. Today’s traveler has many more options. They can “couch surf” or use others’ private spaces as lodging (thanks to Airbnb), and by comparison, could literally pick from over twenty different services to get information about their intended destinations. When I travel somewhere, I’ll typically ask friends on Facebook and Twitter for recommendations, which so far have tended to be excellent and satisfy my needs. If I happened to need even more information, I could continue my research through sites like TripAdvisor, FlyerTalk, TripIt, Quora (local), explore Foursquare lists, peruse Gowalla’s new social travel guides, or sign up for one of a new wave of startups focused on the space, such as Planely (meet people at the airport or on your flight), Trippy (friend-sourced itineraries), Triposo (interactive mobile guides), Travellr (location-based Q&A), Toour (currently in stealth), Tripping (traveler community service), Twigmore (connect with your friends’ friends in other places), Globetrooper (tool to find travel partners), MyTab (where folks can gift travel to members), Gtrot (scrapes social data and aggregates around places), JetPac (seems to be a slick iPad app, but not released yet), and many, many others I haven’t gotten around to trying.

Jetlagged yet?

The sheer number of startups focusing attention on this aspect of travel seems out of balance to me. Investors like this particular space because the path to victory is clearer, albeit its crowded, and because these types of apps and services could be inherently viral, both in terms of onboarding new users as well as benefitting from positive word-of-mouth.

Instead of destination-based guides, however, I’ve started to wonder if the real opportunity is higher up the decision funnel, before we buy plane tickets and hotel rooms, at the point we first feel the urge to travel.

The best travel recommendations I’ve received (and acted on) have come through having conversations with close friends in real life. They share slideshows of their trip and we get to interact with them in rich ways about their experience, to see if we want to sign up for the same feeling. That is a true recommendation with a real strong social signal. These moments of inspiration oftentimes ignite the travel spark and could trigger a transaction. Startups like Gtrot and Gogobot, for instance, allow users to plan trips or record them after the fact, and research travel tips from social networks, organizing information around places.

Montana-based mapping startup onX raises a round of funding fit for Big Sky Country

Montana-based mapping startup onX raises a round of funding fit for Big Sky Country

A mapping startup based in Missoula, Mont., which allows users to download sophisticated offline topographic maps outlining public and private lands and a number of other features geared towards hunting, fishing and camping, has pulled in its first major outside funding.

onX has closed a $20.3 million Series A round led by Summit Partners. Bessemer Venture Partners, Millennium Technology Value Partners, Next Frontier Capital and NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke also participated in the round. The company is calling the fundraise one of the biggest ever among startups based in Montana.

This is impressively the first bout of outside funding that the 70-person startup has ever taken since being founded in 2009.

The company’s founder and CEO Eric Siegfried, an avid outdoorsman himself, had created a more basic program to integrate these maps with his own Garmin GPS. After finding his friends were interested in having a product like this too, he put down $27k of his personal funds into the venture and turned his wife’s scrap-booking room into an HQ of sorts, copying the software he’d written to microSD cards and laser-printing labels. A big application of the Missoula, Montana-based startup’s technology has been in enabling users to track the boundaries of public and private lands while creating custom maps with other information grouped into “layers” for when they’re hunting, fishing or hiking. The company’s central product for desktop, mobile and Garmin GPS devices is an app called onX Hunt, which the startup says is used by “millions of hunters” though onX CTO/COO Joshua Spitzer notes that “almost zero percent of users use the product just for hunting.”

Your Next Passport Could Be On The Blockchain

Your Next Passport Could Be On The Blockchain

A blockchain tinkerer named Chris Ellis has created a system to build an actual digital passport that, through use of the Bitcoin blockchain and some encryption, will allow you to identify yourself online and off. Called World Citizenship, the project just launched on Github and shows some definite promise. “The goal of this project is to learn and layout a simple process for anyone in the world to create their own Private Passport Service that can be used to validate and prove the existence of other persons using nothing but available tools,” wrote Ellis. To build a passport you basically take a photo of yourself and then build a private and public key. This cryptographically signs the document, proving it is legitimate. A number of other aspects, including the state of the bitcoin ledger called the blockchain, further confirm the issuance. Still confused? Read on: By including the Merkle Root of the latest block we prove we have knowledge of an event that cannot have taken place any time prior the latest block being published.By signing the Passport with a PGP key we bind the state of the document to it’s cryptographic signature preventing us from changing its contents without detection.By stamping the digest of the resulting passport and its signature in to the blockchain following these steps we prove that it existed in this state at no time later than the block in which it was published.By using the venue’s Bitcoin address (preferably one used by their customers) with a public IP address we prove that it exists in this space. This is because Bitcoin nodes collect IP data in the debug.log file. Additionally since the venue is commercial they have an interest in maintaining their reputation and advertising their location. (Note: GPS data on phones can easily be spoofed).

Basically you are confirming that the document couldn’t have been created by any other person at any other time, an assumption that goes into the production of government passports (the need to go into a post office to confirm your existence for a passport is a low-tech version of this process).

Obviously you’re not going to be breezing through security with your new digital passport quite yet but it’s an interesting step in a very interesting direction.


With 3X The Active Users From A Year Ago, Skout Launches A Feature For Traveling Vagabonds

With 3X The Active Users From A Year Ago, Skout Launches A Feature For Traveling Vagabonds

Skout, the app for meeting new people that picked up $22 million in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz last year, is adding a feature for travelers who want to scope out people in new cities before they land. The Travel feature is a paid premium feature, where Skout users can spend a little bit of virtual currency to meet users in another city. (Normally, you are only connected to users near you.) It’s especially useful if you’re traveling to a place where you don’t know anyone. It also slides into the company’s current virtual goods-oriented model, where users pay for points to send wink bombs or feature their profiles. At about 100 Skout points, “traveling” to another city should cost around 20 cents or fewer.

The past year has had some major highs and lows for Skout.

After a safety scandal tied the app to a few rape cases, the company banned minors from the service until they instituted safeguards that they confidently felt separated adults and children. They set up a Trust and Safety board to regularly review the company’s policies and haven’t had a bad incident since then. “It was a really challenging time for the company,” said Christian Wiklund, Skout’s CEO, who has seen the startup through half a decade of existence and many near-death experiences. Because of that initial bad publicity, they’ve kept their heads low. Even so, the company has grown its number of monthly active users by three-fold (although they don’t release the raw monthly active user figure).

They also facilitated more than 200 million connections between users last year, up fourfold from 54 million connections in 2011. In total, they’re adding about 1.5 million new users every month and their most active locale is Hong Kong.

Initially pegged as something of a dating app, Skout broadened its focus out toward helping people meet one another. But in the meantime, newer apps like IAC-backed Tinder that are specifically focused on dating have gained momentum. Tinder has facilitated more than 100 million matches in less than a year after launch. “Dating is a subset of what we do, but we think the opportunity is much bigger than dating,” Wiklund said.

Colombia Is One Of Latin America’s Most Promising New Tech Hubs

Colombia Is One Of Latin America’s Most Promising New Tech Hubs

Ten years ago, the idea that Colombia would become a burgeoning hub for any dynamic industry beyond its notorious drug trade would have struck most observers as far-fetched. As recently as the turn of the century, conventional wisdom had it that the tropical, Andean nation was on the verge of becoming a failed state. Fast forward to the present day and Colombia already boasts one of the region’s stronger startup ecosystems, with huge potential upside still waiting to be explored. By 2018, the government hopes to have 63 percent of the country connected to broadband. And according to 2013 GSMA mobile economy figures, there are already 43.9 million mobile connections and 24 million mobile users in a country whose 47 million people give it the third largest population in Latin America and third largest Spanish-speaking population in the world. These and other figures are highly encouraging for people looking to tap a rapidly growing market, and it follows that a stronger internal tech culture will also form the groundwork for Colombia’s own aspirations in the field of innovation.

Laying the Foundation

The first stage of the government’s concerted campaign to rebrand Colombia as a technology center involved drawing in IT services with tax incentives and professional training programs. A $6.8 billion industry has taken strong root as a result, with 1,800 software development and IT service companies registered in the country. Looking forward, the hope is that IT, and the investments that went into promoting it, can diversify into a broader innovation ecosystem. With that in mind, the government has spurred a number of public initiatives to address the lack of venture capital in Colombia, currently the biggest ceiling on startup growth. Founded to support and promote tech innovation and new ventures, iNNpulsa awarded three grants of up to $800,000 in 2013 to investor groups establishing operations in Colombia.

Canada is North America’s up-and-coming startup center

Canada is North America’s up-and-coming startup center

They say that nice guys finish last — and Canada, with its reputation for polite citizenry and its charming prime minister, is used to being overlooked. Sure, Canada may tower over the United States in physical size, but many countries of similar stature — G7 nations, for example — dismiss the Great White North as nothing more than America’s top hat.

This is a mistake.

Canada, with nine percent of the world’s forests, is a land of plenty. As well as an enviable array of natural resources, Canada also boasts incredible support for entrepreneurs, both homegrown and international. Many household names, such as Slack, Hootsuite and Shopify — which may be mistakenly considered as U.S. products — hail from north of the border. This proves Canada is capable of delivering on startup success. And it’s no surprise that startups excel in the country. Sure, there is less access to VC funding and the persuasive call of Canada’s southern neighbor, but the Canadian government is working hard to build and keep successful startup ecosystems. There is a huge selection of government aid available to small businesses, some of which includes grants that don’t have to be paid back. Alongside substantial government backing is Canada’s array of world-class universities. The University of Waterloo — increasingly known as Canada’s answer to MIT — sees incredible numbers go to Silicon Valley every year, while others all over the country produce thousands of talented grads. While eventually losing out to Colombia, Canada was shortlisted as country of the year by The Economist in 2016. The United States’ northern neighbor boasts world-class universities and resources to develop talent and, currently, the Canadian dollar is 0.75 cents to the American dollar. This means a highly educated workforce is available for less capital for entrepreneurs all over the world who are ready and willing to make the leap to Canada.

New York on Tech is helping under-resourced students become future tech leaders

New York on Tech is helping under-resourced students become future tech leaders

Jessica Santana and Evin Robinson were riding the subway home from a college leadership conference when they realized they were getting off at the same stop. It turned out, they had grown up in the same neighborhood, no more than 5 blocks apart. Years later, both Santana and Robinson were working six-figure jobs in the tech practices of elite corporations but were disheartened by the homogeneity of their surroundings. The tech industry is the primary generator of new jobs in the US, but the inaccessibility of resources and practical education left students in neighborhoods like Jessica and Evin’s unprepared and unqualified in the eyes of recruiters. So the pair met at a local Starbucks and on the back of a napkin, they outlined what would become New York on Tech (NYOT). By offering comprehensive computational courses and a broad professional network, NYOT hopes to provide under-resourced students in New York City with the skills and infrastructure needed for a successful career in tech.

Real skills have led to real results

What began as a passion project with just 20 students has blossomed into an organization helping more than 1000 students across the city. Unlike the higher-level computer science classes Santana and Robinson saw offered in schools, NYOT aims to focus on more functional skills that are applicable to the day-to-day work of tech professionals. The program caters its curriculums specifically towards areas it believes are in high demand from today’s hiring managers, including front-end and back-end web development, mobile development and UX design. Classes are located at the offices of corporate partners, where students get direct mentorship from engineers and observe how technical skills are actually implemented in various roles. Graduates of NYOT are then given the opportunity to interview for internships at each partner organization, where they can gain practical experience and bolster resumes to be more competitive for future recruiting.

Offering more to more people

Going forward, the company plans to add curriculums that it believes fit the future needs of employers, including classes centered on cyber security, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. On top of serving more students in the New York metropolitan area, Santana and Robinson hope they can bring what they’ve done in New York to a national scale and expand to communities across the country. However, the founders emphasize that they will focus on slow effective scaling, crafting curriculums specific to each locality. “The work we do is really embedded in community. We’re not designing for that community but designing with it”, said Robinson. Santana and Robinson’s broader goal is bigger than “diversity” and inclusion.” “In the industry, we use words like diversity and inclusion. While we and our work value diversity and inclusion, this is about economic justice”, said Santana. “Think about job automation and job displacement. If our students aren’t getting the most critical training, how can we expect them to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow? This is not just about diversity or inclusion, it is about positioning our country’s talent strategy.” NYOT is now seeing extremely high demand for slots in its programs. With more qualified applicants than they can actually accept, Santana and Robinson hope to bring on more volunteers to help them break down the barriers of access for as many kids as they can.