BlackBerry’s automotive division has created an updated software platform to help keep the connected and autonomous vehicles of the future secure.
The QNX hypervisor 2.0 allows multiple operating systems to run at the same time on one hardware platform and allows breaches in one part to be isolated without impacting the rest of the car’s software.
BlackBerry QNX head John Wall said multiple automakers are using the product already and provided feedback to help create the product.
BlackBerry (TSX:BB) says Qualcomm Technologies Inc. has adopted the product as part of certain digital cockpit solutions.
The former smartphone-maker ditched its hardware business last year in favour of its growing software business, with chief operating officer Marty Beard saying this past March that the shift was “100 per cent complete.”
BlackBerry’s shares have been on the rise following research reports suggesting the company’s shares could see big gains over the next several years, and one report suggesting the company could be a target for an acquisition.
The company’s shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange rose nearly one per cent in early trading to $15.14.
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Rebranding BlackBerry as a software firm a big challenge: COO (The Canadian Press)
Uber Technologies Inc. said on Tuesday it fired 20 employees and was improving management training following an investigation by a law firm into sexual harassment allegations and other claims at the ride-hailing company.
Uber fired the staff following a report by law firm Perkins Coie, which Uber hired to look into claims of harassment, discrimination, bullying and other employee concerns.
The law firm has been working in parallel with a broader investigation by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder into company culture and practices.
Perkins Coie investigated 215 staff complaints going back as far as 2012, Uber said, taking action in 58 cases and no action on 100 more. Other investigations are continuing.
Of the 215 claims, Uber said 54 were related to discrimination, 47 related to sexual harassment, 45 to unprofessional behaviour, 33 to bullying and 36 to other types of claims.
It said the majority of the claims came from employees based at Uber’s San Francisco headquarters.
The world’s highest-valued venture-backed company – worth $68 billion at its last funding round – also told staff on Tuesday it would expand its employee relations unit to better investigate claims and that it would dramatically increase management training since most Uber managers were first-time bosses, a person familiar with the matter said.
On Monday, Uber said it hired Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei to train all managers, reporting to Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick. On Tuesday, it said Bozoma Saint John, prominent in some Apple Inc product launches, joined the company as chief brand officer.
Uber also said it is offering a confidential helpline for employees to report concerns and has implemented a system to log and track all complaints.
Uber’s firing of employees comes after a series of events this year that have raised questions about Uber’s business model and leadership.
In February, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler said in a widely read blog post that managers and human resources officers had not punished her manager after she reported his unwanted sexual advances.
In addition, Uber was caught using technology to avoid regulator crackdowns, a video surfaced showing Kalanick berating an Uber driver, and the company is caught up in legal battles around the world over the way its ride-services business operates.
Uber is also facing a lawsuit from Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving car division, Waymo, alleging trade secret theft.
The company declined to comment further on the move to fire staff. Some saw it as a step in the right direction for Uber to repair its tarnished reputation.
“They are heading the right way, both with action and reaction,” said Jason Hanold, manager partner at human resources executive recruitment firm Hanold Associates. He added it was “not nearly a complete and final surgery to heal a troubled culture.”
The move follows a string of executive departures at Uber, including the company president, heads of finance and product, an East Coast general manager and several high-level engineers.
For the last three months, Uber has been seeking a chief operating officer to work alongside Kalanick, who has earned a reputation as a pugnacious leader. Uber board member Bill Gurley is overseeing the search.
Uber has also been under the microscope of Holder and Tammy Albarran, partners at the law firm Covington & Burling, who were asked to conduct a broad review of sexual harassment at Uber as well as general questions about diversity and inclusion. Their report was completed at the end of May and has been shared with a subcommittee of the Uber board of directors, a company representative said.
In March, Uber board member Arianna Huffington pledged to make the findings of Holder’s investigation available to the public. Initially, the company had expected to make a public announcement this week, but that timing has been pushed back.
Uber is expected to discuss it with staff next week, a person familiar with the matter said.
Apple is hoping a new smart home speaker will strike a chord with music lovers — the latest test of the iPhone maker’s ability to redefine markets originally staked out by its rivals.
The trend-setting company also is putting new twists on existing products as it delves deeper into virtual reality and a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning.
‘HomePod’ speaker, new iMacs debut at Apple Expo (The Associated Press)
The moves announced Monday escalate Apple’s technological battle of wits with Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook. These giants are battling over still-emerging fields that are expected to turn into technological gold mines, much the way personal computers and smartphones became moneymaking machines in previous decades.
NO PLACE LIKE HOMEPOD
The “HomePod” speaker unveiled at Apple’s annual developers conference is similar to rival devices that have been released during the past two years.
Like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the HomePod will play music while also helping people to manage their lives and homes. Siri, a digital assistant that has been on Apple’s iPhone since 2011, will be voice activated to respond to requests for information and other help around the house.
Unlike those other smart speakers, Apple is positioning the HomePod primarily as a way to listen to and discover new songs and artists. Making the most of it will require a subscription to Apple’s own music streaming service, which runs $10 to $15 per month and has attracted 27 million subscribers so far.
The company is casting Siri as a music connoisseur that will learn and cater to the tastes of the HomePod’s owners, as well as answer questions about the songs as they are played. “It will reinvent home audio,” boasted Apple CEO Tim Cook.
The speaker will sell for about $350 in December in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Amazon sells the main version of the Echo for $180; Google’s Home speaker goes for $130.
The Echo, released in 2015, and Google Home, released last year, were the first entrants in a promising market. The research firm eMarketer says than 35 million people in the U.S. are expected to use a voice-activated speaker at least once a month this year, more than double its estimate from last year.
APPLE VS. THE DRY SPELL
The HomePod is Apple’s first new gadget in nearly three years, following its announcement of the Apple Watch in September 2014. Although that product came out after other smartwatches hit the market, it quickly outshone competitors, according to industry research firms.
Still, the Apple Watch hasn’t been a smash hit, fueling worries that the company’s ability to transfix customers had waned after the 2011 death of co-founder Steve Jobs. During Jobs’ last decade, Apple introduced the iPod, iPhone and iPad — all huge commercial successes that both reshaped daily life and swamped previous digital music players, smartphones and tablets.
Analysts said the smart home speaker market is ripe for Apple. The company “can’t afford to yield valuable real-estate in the heart of people’s homes to Amazon, Google and others,” said Geoff Blaber, research analyst at CCS Insight. That’s especially important because people are starting to access information, entertainment and search in a more “pervasive” way that’s less dependent on smartphones, he said.
But it’s also possible that the HomePod could expose Siri as less capable than Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana, Blaber said. (Many reviewers have suggested that the current incarnation of Apple’s assistant already trails competitors in key respects .) “This is the start of the AI wars,” he said.
MACS, PHONES AND PAYMENTS
Apple had plenty of other announcements. New iMacs released Monday are getting better displays and graphics capabilities. Apple said that makes the Mac a great platform for developing virtual-reality “experiences,” although the company didn’t announce any consumer VR products.
Safari, Apple’s web browser, is getting new features aimed at online annoyances. It will block videos that start playing automatically, for instance, and can also prevent ads from following and profiling users. It will not actually block ads, though.
Apple also introduced a new version of its business-oriented iPad Pro at an intermediate size with more storage, a better display and an improved camera. It’s part of Apple’s effort to entice professionals with tablets that can handle many tasks previously reserved for laptops.
New features coming to iPhones and iPads, meanwhile, include marginal improvements such as syncing messages to Apple servers in the cloud, saving storage space on phones and tablets. Apple also laid some groundwork for augmented reality, the projection of digital features onto real-world surroundings, by giving app developers tools for incorporating AR into their products.
Apple is also bringing the ability to send money to friends or other people through its payment service, Apple Pay. So far, the service has limited payments to purchases of products and services from companies and other organizations.
The free software update for mobile devices, iOS 11, is expected in September, when Apple typically releases new iPhones.
Shares of Google parent Alphabet Inc. passed $1,000 six days after Amazon.com Inc. crossed the same threshold, showing the sustained investor confidence that tech giants can outmatch older companies.
Amazon’s rise reflected a bullishness in e-commerce, coming despite bigger sales in brick-and-mortar retail. Likewise, Alphabet shareholders see that TV ad budgets will continue to gravitate online, where Google dominates.
Alphabet’s transition just under two years ago to a portfolio structure has also buoyed investor confidence in the stock. Alphabet’s shares hit $1,003.76 at 12:18 p.m. in New York Monday, about a 38-per-cent increase since August 2015 when Google became Alphabet, splitting off its audacious, earlier stage ventures from the core Internet business.
During that time, Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat oversaw cuts to the company’s massive spending bill and decelerations on some pricey initiatives, like its fiber broadband service and drones. Alphabet issued a rare share buyback last year.
Google’s primary ads business has kept expanding too, dodging any threat from the spread of mobile devices. Ad revenue reached $21.4-billion in the first quarter, a 19-per-cent annual leap. And the company has shown some signs of growth in its cloud-computing business, an area of massive investment internally.
Along with cloud-computing, Google has heaved considerable investment into artificial intelligence, such as voice-computing. Many investors believe that investment positions Google well to hedge against any threats to its web search business a shift in computing brings.
Prospects for the one-time “moonshots” — the company’s experiments in industries like health care and transportation, now called the “Other Bets” — have looked brighter this year. Verily, Alphabet’s medical business, closed a $800-million outside investment from Singapore firm Temasek. Alphabet cut investment in its fiber broadband service, a move investors appeared to cheer for the slowdown of capital in a competitive industry.
Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car unit, is in position to lead the competitive autonomous transit market, according to a note last month from Morgan Stanley. The analysts wrote that the unit could be worth around $70-billion by 2030 — a prospective value that is not baked into Alphabet’s current share price.
Streaming music service Spotify could be floated within a year, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday, after co-founder Martin Lorentzon told Swedish radio a listing was not in the pipeline.
Reuters reported last month that Spotify, working with investment banks Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Allen & Co, will be the first major company to carry out a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange later this year or early in 2018.
Lorentzon told Swedish radio on Friday there were no plans for a listing, but responding to his comments, the source told Reuters that it looks like “it would be within 12 months from now.”
Spotify also confirmed a stock market listing was still an option.
“Martin is our co-founder and a board member, but not a spokesperson for the company. Spotify hasn’t confirmed any definitive plans to go public. It remains an option for us,” it said in a statement on Friday.
Lorentzon, who is a significant shareholder in Spotify, told Swedish Radio Ekot the firm had not “gotten anywhere and there is nothing planned regarding that.”
“I am not saying it is fake news, but half of what the media writes is usually correct and half is usually not,” he said.
Spotify, which most recently was valued at $13-billion, lost €173-million ($262.37-million) in 2015, according to the latest figures disclosed by its Luxembourg-based holding company.
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Video: Video feed offers first-ever high-definition video of Earth (The Globe and Mail)
have found evidence they said could link North Korea with WannaCry. Symantec and Kaspersky Lab say that some code in an earlier version of the ransomware had also appeared in programs used by another group that several companies have identified as a North Korea-run hacking operation.
Canada was largely spared from the first wave of WannaCry, and Bell Canada said Monday that the ransomware was unrelated to a recent security breach of its customer records. The telecom company apologized to customers after 1.9 million of its customer e-mail addresses were accessed illegally.
a patch for the EternalBlue vulnerability in March.
Windows XP and Windows Server 2003: Microsoft didn’t issue a set of patches for some of its older, unsupported operating systems until May 12.
Don’t open that attachment: To avoid infection from ransomware e-mails, be careful about clicking on links or attachments in e-mails, especially if the sender is someone you don’t know. Look carefully to see if the e-mail is worded suspiciously, or if it comes from an address that seems to be imitating a sender that you trust; malware senders sometimes try to fool you. And to make sure your important files are safe if you do get infected, back them up on a secure device. Here are some more pointers from Microsoft on how to avoid ransomware infection.
data breach at telecom giant Bell Canada was not related to the WannaCry attack, the company said Monday after 1.9 million customer e-mail addresses were illegally accessed. “There is no indication that any financial, password or other sensitive personal information was accessed,” Bell said in a statement about the breach.
The defeat of WannaCry is widely credited to a 22-year-old British computer expert, Marcus Hutchins, who works for Los Angeles-based Kryptos Logic. He’s the one who discovered a so-called kill switch that slowed the unprecedented outbreak on Friday.
In his first face-to-face interview, Mr. Hutchins told Associated Press Monday that he stumbled across the solution when he was analyzing a sample of the malicious code and noticed it was linked to an unregistered web address. He promptly registered the domain, something he regularly does to discover ways to track or stop cyber threats, and found that stopped the worm from spreading.
Salim Neino, CEO of Kryptos Logic, said Mr. Hutchins took over the kill switch on Friday afternoon European time, and that doing so protected the United States from the worst of the ransomware:
Marcus, with the program he runs at Kryptos Logic, not only saved the United States but also prevented further damage to the rest of the world. Within a few moments, we were able to validate that there was indeed a kill switch. It was a very exciting moment. This is something that Marcus validated himself.
Mr. Neino said the company was not able to identify “patient zero,” the first system infected, which would give researchers more information about who was behind the attack. Nevertheless, he said the worm was “poorly designed” – patched together and a “sum of different parts” with an unsophisticated payment system.
Mr. Hutchins has long tweeted under the handle MalwareTech, which features a profile photo of a pouty-faced cat wearing enormous sunglasses. But he realizes his newfound fame will mean an end to the anonymity. After all, now he’s a computer celebrity; he’s been in touch with the FBI, as well as British national cyber-security officials.
It is likely to be a big adjustment. Mr. Hutchins lives with his family in the seaside town of Ilfracombe, where he works out of his bedroom on a sophisticated computer setup with three enormous screens. He will soon become a local hero – but if you ask him, his life of celebrity will be short lived. “I felt like I should agree to one interview,” he said. But even that made the fame-averse Mr. Hutchins so nervous that he initially misspelled his last name, leaving out the letter “n” when doing a sound-level for the cameras.
His mother Janet, a nurse, couldn’t be prouder – and was happy to have the veil of anonymity lifted:
I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t.
Mr. Hutchins told Associated Press that he doesn’t consider himself a hero but fights malware because “it’s the right thing to do”:
I’m definitely not a hero. I’m just someone doing my bit to stop botnets.
While security experts figured out fairly quickly how to slow down WannaCry, several mysteries remain about who started it and why it spread the way it did.
Who was behind it?
Some researchers have found evidence they say could link North Korea with the attack. A senior researcher from South Korea’s Hauri Labs, Simon Choi, told Reuters on Tuesday that the reclusive state had been developing and testing ransomware programs only since August. In one case, the hackers demanded bitcoin in exchange for client information they had stolen from a South Korean shopping mall.
Mr. Choi, who has done extensive research into North Korea’s hacking capabilities, said his findings matched those of Symantec and Kaspersky Lab, who say some code in an earlier version of the WannaCry software had also appeared in programs used by the Lazarus Group, identified by some researchers as a North Korea-run hacking operation. The Lazarus hackers have however been more brazen in their pursuit of financial gain than others, and have been blamed for the theft of $81-million from the Bangladesh central bank, according to some cybersecurity firms. The United States accused it of being behind a cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.
How did it spread?
Researchers are still unsure exactly how the malware spread in the first place, IBM Security’s Caleb Barlow told Reuters. Most cybersecurity companies have blamed phishing e-mails – e-mails containing malicious attachments or links to files – that download the ransomware. The problem in the WannaCry case is that despite digging through the company’s database of more than one billion e-mails dating back to March 1, Mr. Barlow’s team could find none linked to the attack.
The NSA used the Microsoft flaw to build a hacking tool codenamed EternalBlue that ended up in the hands of a mysterious group called the Shadow Brokers, which then published that and other such tools online. But the puzzle is how the first person in each network was infected with the worm, Mr. Barlow said.
Some cybersecurity companies, however, say they’ve found a few samples of the phishing e-mails. FireEye told Reuters it was aware customers had used its reports to successfully identify some associated with the attack. But the company agrees that the malware relied less on phishing e-mails than other attacks. Once a certain number of infections was established, it was able to use the Microsoft vulnerability to propagate without their help.
Why didn’t the hackers make more money?
Only paltry sums were collected by the hackers, according to available evidence, mostly in the bitcoin cryptocurrency. There were only three bitcoin wallets and the campaign has far earned only $50,000 or so, despite the widespread infections. IBM Security’s Mr. Barlow said that single payments in some other ransomware cases were more than that, depending on the victim.
Jonathan Levin of Chainalysis, which monitors bitcoin payments, told Reuters there were other differences compared to most ransomware campaigns: for instance, the lack of sophisticated methods used in previous cases to convince victims to pay up. In the past, this has included hot lines in various languages. And so far, Mr. Levin said, the bitcoin that had been paid into the attackers’ wallets remained there – compared to another campaign, known as Locky, which made $15-million while regularly emptying the bitcoin wallets.
Reports have already emerged of new variants of WannaCry, and security experts are remaining vigilant to prevent them from doing more harm. One was detected on Monday, cyber security firm Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. told Reuters, but said it had been stopped from damaging computers by activating a kill switch in the software.
The WannaCry scare has also renewed fears of future threats from the Shadow Brokers, the hacker group that took credit for leaking the NSA information used in the WannaCrypt attack. An apparent communiqué from the Shadow Brokers, posted in its trademark garbled English on a blog believed to be run by the group, threatened to release tools on a monthly basis to anyone willing to pay for access to some of the tech world’s biggest commercial secrets. The post also threatened to dump data from banks using the SWIFT international money transfer network and from Russian, Chinese, Iranian or North Korean nuclear and missile programs, without providing further details. “More details in June,” it promised.
Stingray Digital Group Inc. is buying four specialty music television channels from Bell Media, with a plan to revamp them for distribution outside Canada while also appealing to the largest Canadian TV distributors.
The deal, announced Tuesday, will see Stingray acquire niche offerings in MuchLoud, MuchRetro and MuchVibe, as well as Juicebox, a music video channel aimed at kids. Bell Media, a division of BCE Inc., will keep ownership of the flagship Much network and its sister channel, M3.
Financial terms were not disclosed, and the deal is expected to close in the third quarter of 2016.
The Much brand is established among generations of Canadian viewers who came to know it under its former name, MuchMusic, but its fortunes have declined as viewing of music videos shifted online. Stingray, which used the former Galaxie music service as a platform to become a leading provider of packaged music channels, plans to rebrand and reprogram its new acquisitions with a view to exporting them south of the border.
“The major advantage is for us to export these channels with Comcast on the X1 platform,” said Eric Boyko, Stingray’s president and chief executive officer, referring to U.S.-based Comcast Corp.’s newest TV offering. In early May, Stingray expanded a distribution agreement with Comcast.
In a statement, Bell Media president Mary Ann Turcke said selling the channels “enables us to focus our resources,” and that the deal “helps foster a more competitive broadcast environment and ultimately creates more choice for consumers by capitalizing on both companies’ strengths.”
The transaction may also prove strategic for both companies, thanks to a new regulatory requirement that has yet to take effect. Starting in September of 2018, Canada’s vertically integrated communications giants, which have both media and distribution arms, will have to offer one independent channel for each of their own channels that they offer.
The sale of the four channels to Stingray reclassifies them as independent, which Mr. Boyko expects will attract interest from large TV distributors such as Bell, Rogers Communications Inc. and Quebec’s Videotron Ltd., which will need to match independent channels with their own to meet the one-to-one ratio.
Stingray has been building its portfolio of TV music channels as part of an aggressive international expansion that helped the company more than double its profit for the fiscal year that just ended March 31 – its first as a public company – to $13.9-million.
Mr. Boyko told analysts last week that Stingray is looking ahead to “a healthy pipeline of acquisitions,” and said in an interview that the company is exploring deals in the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia.
Using smartphone sensors to peek over its drivers’ shoulders, Uber is promising to keep a closer eye on their behaviour – while discouraging speeding or slamming on the brakes.
The global ride-hailing company on Wednesday announced an extensive test of new software that aims to increase safety by analyzing data from individual drivers and sending them daily reports about things like sudden acceleration, braking and whether they’re holding their phones when they drive.
Trucking companies and fleet operators collect similar information, while some auto insurers offer a discount to motorists who install a data-collection device in their cars. Uber, which is requiring drivers in several cities to participate, is eager to show that it’s making safety a priority at a time when some jurisdictions are mulling whether to impose stricter oversight on ride-hailing businesses.
At the same time, Uber is also trying to ease some strains in its relationship with drivers, who work as independent contractors and in some cases have sued Uber over pay and working conditions. Earlier this month, Uber modified its app to give drivers more discretion to reject rides at certain times and to charge passengers who keep them waiting.
For now, Uber says it isn’t using the new safety program to penalize drivers – or even to reward good driving habits – although the software measures some of the same behaviours that the company says are often cited by passengers when they give drivers a low rating. Repeated low ratings can lead to drivers being suspended from the service.
One part of the new program uses data from the same gyroscope and motion sensors that let smartphone users play games on their devices. Uber drivers already use a smartphone app to book rides and track their progress via GPS. By adding additional software to the app, Uber says it can measure a car’s movement and gauge how fast the driver accelerates or brakes.
The software sends a daily summary to each driver, including a count of how often the driver has sped up or hit the brakes too abruptly. But it’s an automated process: Uber says the software’s not intended to trigger human intervention in the case of a driver who’s dangerously erratic. Instead, the company says passengers should use the “help” button on its app.
San Francisco-based Uber will also use sensors to measure “phone movement,” which may indicate the driver is clutching the phone while steering. Since that can be a distraction, Uber says it will notify drivers if it detects excessive phone movement through the day, with a reminder that it’s safer to leave the phone in a mounting device. As it tests this program, Uber may also send passengers an email or text, asking if their driver was holding the phone.
A third feature will send drivers a notice immediately if they’re travelling at excessive speed, although for now, the notice will only be triggered if a car is moving more than 15 miles per hour above the posted limit on highways. A fourth program will send generic reminders to drivers about the benefits of taking a rest break.
Uber says it’s testing the new features in a handful of large cities. About half of its drivers in each test city will get the new software, so the company can compare their behaviour with the half that don’t receive the notifications. After two months, the company says it will evaluate the results and decide whether to expand the programs.
Facebook has launched a British newspaper advertising campaign to warn users of the dangers of fake news, in the latest drive by the social media giant to tackle malicious information ahead of a national election.
Facebook has come under intense pressure to tackle the spread of false stories, which came to prominence during the U.S. presidential election last year when many inaccurate posts were widely shared on it and other social media services.
Ahead of the June 8 parliamentary election in Britain, it urged its users in the country to be sceptical of headlines that look unbelievable and to check other sources before sharing news that may not be credible. It said it would also delete bogus profiles and stop promoting posts that show signs of being implausible.
“We have developed new ways to identify and remove fake accounts that might be spreading false news so that we get to the root of the problem,” said Simon Milner, Facebook’s director of policy for the UK.
The effort builds on the company’s recently expanded campaigns to identify fake news and crack down on automated profile pages that post commercial or political spam.
Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in France ahead of the first round of its presidential election last month and uses outside fact-checkers in the country. It has also previously taken out full-page ads in German newspapers to educate readers on how to spot fake news.
With the headline “Tips for spotting false news”, the adverts in Britain listed 10 ways to identify whether a story was genuine or not, including looking closely at a URL, investigating the source, looking for unusual formatting and considering the authenticity of the photo.
Facebook said it had taken action against tens of thousands of fake accounts in Britain after identifying patterns of activity such as whether the same content is being repeatedly posted.
“With these changes, we expect we will also reduce the spread of material generated through inauthentic activity, including spam, misinformation, or other deceptive content that is often shared by creators of fake accounts,” Facebook said.
Social media sites including Twitter and YouTube are also facing pressure in Europe where governments are threatening new laws and fines unless the companies move more quickly to remove extremist content.
Facebook has hired more staff to speed up the removal of videos showing murder, suicide and other violent acts.
Silicon Valley’s raid of top Canadian artificial intelligence talent continued Monday as Uber Technologies said it had hired University of Toronto associate professor Raquel Urtasun, a leading expert in driverless car technology.
“She’s a real star in this area, which is why Uber wants her,” said Alan Bernstein, CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.
Ms. Urtasun is the latest Canadian-trained AI academic to be poached by U.S. heavyweights eager to capitalize on one of the hottest trends in technology – which was largely pioneered by scientists here. Researchers from U of T and the University of British Columbia now hold senior AI posts with Google, Apple, Facebook, Uber Technologies, Microsoft Corp. and Elon Musk’s OpenAI, while Microsoft and Google have snapped up Canadian AI startups.
“Unfortunately, this kind of thing is happening more and more,” said Yoshua Bengio, a renowned deep-learning scientist at University of Montreal at the heart of his city’s flourishing AI scene. Mr. Bengio said he was concerned that as Silicon Valley drains universities of AI experts, there will be fewer people to train in-demand AI scientists.
In a blog post, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said Ms. Urtasun, an expert in computer vision programming, will be based in Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District and build a team of researchers drawn from “the region’s impressive talent pool.” Uber will also give $5-million to the new Vector Institute, a Toronto organization aimed at stanching the brain drain of locally trained AI scientists co-founded by Ms. Urtasun and supported by the federal and Ontario governments.
While Ms. Urtasun’s hiring further validates Toronto’s global standing in AI, it represents “a loss economically for Canada” because profits from the technology she develops “will be taxed in the U.S. rather than in Canada,” Dr. Bengio said. “It would be better for Canada if these kinds of deals were with Canadian companies or if these professors stayed in academia. Companies who can leverage this kind of expertise are going to produce a lot of growth.”
Former BlackBerry Ltd. co-CEO Jim Balsillie noted that while Uber and the U.S. Treasury would ultimately benefit from Ms. Urtasun’s research, she would continue to draw a taxpayer-subsidized salary from U of T. Ms. Urtasun will continue to work at U of T one day a week. Mr. Balsille further criticized Ottawa for its $125-million AI strategy unveiled in the budget and for championing foreign companies such as Google and Microsoft that invest in the AI ecosystem.
“It’s disappointing…how hard our government is working to turn Canada into a branch plant economy that aims for pennies [from foreign direct investment into Canada] while ignoring the innovation billions,” Mr. Balsillie said. “At its best the current AI strategy will result in a small handful of startups flipping for cheap to big multinationals the government is courting.” He said Ottawa should instead focus on supporting homegrown companies that stay and scale up globally from Canada.
Richard Gold, associate dean of McGill University’s faculty of law and a director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy, said “a deal that takes taxpayer-supported research to provide a foreign firm with patents does not provide a fair return to us. It may generate a few jobs in the short term, but hinders our ability to create growth and thus jobs in the long term.”
Uber is coming off a string of public relations disasters, including a lawsuit filed in February by Google’s driverless car division, Waymo, alleging it used documents taken illegally by a former manager whose startup was later bought by the ride-sharing company. The company is also notorious for a testosterone-heavy culture, as highlighted in a recent damning column by an ex-female employee accusing Uber of tolerating systematic sexual harassment and discrimination. “I had a lengthy conversation with Travis” before joining, Ms. Urtasun told Wired. “I am really convinced he is taking all the necessary steps.”