Germany is the most innovative

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Image source: https://www.tagesschau.de/wirtschaft/innovation-deutschland-101.html

No other country in the world is as innovative as Germany. This is the result of a new study completed by the World Economic Forum (WEF). As the Foundation states in their latest Global Competitiveness Report, Germany ranks first as the world’s most innovative economy with 87.5 points, outperforming the United States with 86.5 points in second, and Japan with 79.2 points in third place. Decisive factors were for instance the number of patents filed, the number of scientific research papers published and consumer satisfaction.

What makes innovation so important for countries, is it’s potential for economic growth. “[T]hose countries which can go from idea generation to the successful commercialization of a product the most quickly, within a fertile ‘innovation ecosystem’ of various factors, will have the greatest productivity” (Whiting).

In addition to the five sub-pillars commercialization, interaction and diversity, administrative requirements, research and development, and entrepreneurial culture that measure the innovation ecosystem according to the World Economic Forum, a country’s ability to innovate is also determined by other factors, such as ICT adoption, quality of education and intensity of competition.

Innovation capacity is one of the twelve pillars according to which the World Economic Forum ranks a country’s competitiveness. The other pillars include for instance a country’s financial system’s strength, infrastructure, education system and health care system. Taking all twelve pillars into account Germany ranks third, after the United States and Singapore. Still not too bad after all.

The report stresses however, that competitiveness is not a zero-sum game between countries; it is not a competition. “All countries can become more productive at the same time. Improving education standards in Country A does not lower standards in Country B; tackling corruption in Country A does not make Country B more corrupt. Hence, the pursuit of national competitiveness does not undermine global cooperation – indeed, openness contributes to competitiveness” (Schwab 5).

To read the full Global Competitiveness Report 2018 click here.


Sources:

“Deutschland Ist Am Innovativsten.” Tagesschau.de, 17 Oct. 2018, http://www.tagesschau.de/wirtschaft/innovation-deutschland-101.html.

Dpa. “Deutschland Ist Spitze Bei Innovationen.” Frankfurter Rundschau, 17 Oct. 2018, http://www.fr.de/wirtschaft/weltwirtschaftsforum-deutschland-ist-spitze-bei-innovationen-a-1603076.

Schwab, Klaus. The Global Competitiveness Report 2018. World Economic Forum, 2018.

Whiting, Kate. “Germany Is the World’s Most Innovative Economy.” World Economic Forum, 18 Oct. 2018, http://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/10/germany-is-the-worlds-most-innovative-economy/.

Career Booster Germany

On November 5th the GCCIR had the opportunity, together with numerous other organizations, to promote Germany and the German language to Junior High and High School students in Edmonton.

It was the second iteration of the Career Booster Germany event in Edmonton, organized by the Goethe-Institut Toronto and hosted by IISLE (Institute for Innovation in Second Language Education) and ZfA (Central Agency for Schools Abroad).

Special guests included the new Consul General of Germany for Western Canada, Dr. Klaus Otto Schmidt, and Honorary Consuls of Germany Mr. Harald Kuckertz for Edmonton and Mr. Hubertus Liebrecht for Calgary.

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Panelists Dr. Carrie Smith-Prei (Professor of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Alberta), Katelyn Petersen (Executive Director, GCCIR), Zuzana Schmidtova Ritzer (Senior International Officer, Concordia University of Edmonton, and Moderator Christine Korte (Goethe-Institut Toronto)    © photo by GCCIR

Working with companies in Alberta to foster innovative technological research and development collaboration projects with Germany, the GCCIR was invited to share with students how a working knowledge of German can be good for business and their future career paths. Katelyn Petersen, Executive Director of the GCCIR, also had the opportunity to share her experiences with the German language during a panel discussion on German/Multilingualism as Global Fluency, which discussed how  knowledge of German and international experience can also have professional benefits in a new global context.

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Stanley Walter (Project Coordinator, GCCIR)    © photo by GCCIR

GCCIR Project Coordinator, Stanley Walter, shared some of his experiences working internationally and interculturally and pointed out some of the advantages to learning German, as well as sharing some of the language’s more creative turns of phrase.

For the GCCIR, it was exciting to see how many students joined the event from Edmonton’s public schools and how many were either interested in learning German or already taking German classes at their schools.

We look forward to promoting Germany to students again at the next Career Booster Germany.

 

Interview with Raša Karapandža

FinTech

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Raša Karapandža (born January 4, 1978) is a professor of finance at EBS Universität in Wiesbaden. He serves as an academic director of Master in Finance program and head of chair of finance. He received a PhD degree in economics and finance from Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. He has been a visiting research scholar at NYU and at UC Berkeley, and also serves as a visiting professor at New York University Abu Dhabi. The general focus of Karapandža’s research and teaching activities is investments, empirical asset pricing, and portfolio management. In his recent papers, he studies return predictability of equities, new methods to test return predictability, the role of information on return predictability, and the use of big data to generate robustly predictable portfolio alphas.

1. Can you give us a definition of FinTech, tell us when this term was first established, and describe how the field is evolving?

Fintech is an abbreviation of the phrase “financial technology.” As it is currently used, FinTech represents the application of technology in order to improve financial services. It is believed that the word FinTech was used for the first time in the 1980’s by Peter Knight, the editor of a business newsletter in the Sunday Times, but in a very different context. He used it to describe a bot that altered his mailbox.

The widespread use of the term had to wait until after the financial crisis of 2008. It was only after that financial crisis that angel investors, venture capitalists, and private equity funds started massively investing in FinTech companies, which, in turn, started changing the world of financial services on a large scale.

2. You are a professor of finance at EBS Oestrich-Winkel in Germany, and you also teach at the New York University. What are the biggest differences between teaching finance in Germany and the United States, and is the importance of FinTech steadily increasing for education in both countries?

I do teach a FinTech course at EBS in Germany, and I also teach a FinTech course at NYU. However, I actually teach it at the NYU campus in Abu Dhabi. In my typical FinTech class in Germany, I would have students from all continents. Similarly, in the classroom at NYU, on any of their campuses – regardless of whether it is the NYU campus in New York, Shanghai, or Abu Dhabi – the student population is incredibly diverse. This tells an important story – education is global and it makes no sense framing it into a national perspective. This is especially true when it comes to FinTech courses. In my FinTech course we start with Euclid’s theorems and move to Euler’s theorems to be able to understand the cryptographic theory necessary for understanding how Blockchain works, for example. Similarly, the Machine Learning techniques that we cover are not nationally specific. National aspects do play a role – but only to understand the cultural differences that lead to the different directions in which FinTech has developed across the planet.

3. You serve on the board of directors of RS2, a company offering secure payment services, payment software, and managed services. They are responsible for over 62 million transactions per hour. How do companies like this one ensure that their data is secure and what are the biggest risks they face?

Cyber Security is one of the most important challenges in the contemporary world. There is no universal recipe for keeping cyber villains away. Investment into people and their education is the only thing that keeps the modern world safe from cyber villains. A cyber villain wakes up each morning thinking, “All I’ve got to do today is run faster than the weakest cyber security team.” A cyber security team wakes up thinking, “All I’ve got to do today is run faster than the fastest cyber villain.” Unfortunately, it is a difficult and never-ending race. And the importance of that race grows every day as more and more of our world becomes digitalized.

4. What are the key elements for companies and especially Start-Ups to be successful in the FinTech sector?

I believe that FinTech startups are not that special in this respect, so general Start-Up rules of success apply. In my view, besides having the right team that is able to execute, probably the most important factor is that one is doing the right thing at the right time. Fifty years ago, one could add location (or the place of business) into this equation. But internet and cloud services have almost removed location from this equation.

5. How do you see the future of FinTech and do you think that we will still be using cash in 50 years?

We live in times where the speed of change has accelerated. To give you an example –  when Facebook asks me about my relationship, I think of my wife and add her in that category. If you ask the same question to young people entering university, for them, the Facebook relationship may refer to a different category. They will have real life relationships and Facebook relationships, and these are two distinct categories. My (never tested) theory is that this comes from the fact that they started having Facebook relationships before they started having real life relationships. Societal categories like marriage, or monogamous relationships, are longstanding fixtures in communities around the world. And here, we have a completely novel societal category – Facebook relationship – created on a time scale of a decade. Thus, given this increased speed of change, I believe that cash will go extinct in much less than 50 years. And, at least to some extent, I have to say unfortunately. And I say that since cash is an important privacy tool that protects citizens from non-benevolent state actors.

 

 

International Symposium on Applications of Artificial Intelligence

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On September 27 and 28, the GCCIR hosted a two day symposium at the University of Alberta and invited international speakers, academic researchers, policy makers, company representatives and students to discuss the applications of Artificial Intelligence to a variety of different sectors and fields.

The symposium was organized in cooperation with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Science and Future Energy Systems Initiative, the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), the Consulate General of France in Canada, the Consulate General of the Czech Republic in Toronto, CzechInvest and the German-Center for Research and Innovation – New York, and included panel discussions on the relevance of artificial intelligence in the areas of Precision Health, Human and Machine Interaction, Policy, Precision Agriculture/AgriFoods, Transport, Future Energy Systems, and Humanities and Social Sciences.

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Panel discussion on AI & Precision Health with panelists (left to right) Dr. Russ Greiner (Professor of Computing Science at the University of Alberta and Amii Researcher), Dr. Edwin Wang (Professor of Medicine at the University of Calgary), and Dr. Jan Platoš (VŠB-Technical University of Ostrava). Not seen in the picture are the fourth panelist Dr. Radim Burget (Assoc. Professor  at the Brno University of Technology) and moderator Dr. Daniel C. Baumgart (Professor and Director, Division of Gastroenterology at the University of Alberta). © photo by GCCIR

Each of the panels included a short presentation delivered by the moderator to introduce the applications of artificial intelligence to their field and spark discussion among the panelists. As the content of the presentations and the individual questions were left to the discretion of the moderator, each presentation and ensuing discussion was quite different in nature. While most presentations highlighted the benefits of artificial intelligence to a given field, a few also reminded the audience members to critically reflect on the rapid technology advancements in the field of artificial intelligence and the risks these can entail if not governed effectively.

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Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer giving his Keynote Address at the International Symposium on Applications of Artificial Intelligence. © photo by GCCIR

Each day also included a keynote address. On Thursday, the audience was reminded by Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer that artificial intelligence research and development has been around for many years now, and that the University of Alberta has been a key institution in the field for decades. Formerly, the Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta, Dr. Schaeffer gave a brief introduction into the history of artificial intelligence and shared his experiences with the projects and successes that he was involved in. Among them is a program called Chinook, a computational proof to solve the game of checkers that took Dr. Schaeffer and his team “18 years to complete and is one of the longest running computations in history” (Mullins).

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Dr. Michal Pěchouček provides an overview of the artificial intelligence landscape in the Czech Republic. © photo by GCCIR

Friday’s keynote address by Dr. Michal Pěchouček provided an excellent overview of the artificial intelligence landscape in the Czech Republic. Also focusing on the advancements that artificial intelligence developers from the Czech Republic are significantly contributing to in the games and entertainment industries, Dr. Pěchouček introduced the main research centres for artificial intelligence in the Czech Republic, their fundamental and applied research in artificial intelligence, as well as the AI Startup culture that was able to rise in the Czech Republic as a result of the ongoing research.

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Panel discussion on AI & Future Energy Systems with panelists (left to right) Darren McCrank (EPCOR), Dr. Omid Ardakanian (Asst. Professor of Computing Science at the University of Alberta), Dr. Pavel Juruš (The Czech Academy of Sciences), Henning Wilms (E.ON Energy Research Center at RWTH Aachen University), and Joshua Wong (CEO of Opus One Solutions). The panel was moderated by Dr. Petr Musilek (Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Alberta). © photo by GCCIR

Further international speakers included Rodolphe Gelin from France, Dr. Jan Alexandersson and Henning Wilms from Germany, Sana Khareghani from the United Kingdom, as well as Dr. Jan Platoš, Dr. Ondřej Bojar, Dr. Pavel Juruš and Dr. Radim Burget from the Czech Republic, who through their presentations, moderation of three of the conference’s eight panels, and sharing of their experiences and knowledge in AI during the panel discussions added an invaluable international facet to the discussions.

It was no doubt a well-rounded conference and we, the GCCIR, could not have hoped for livelier discussions or a better audience and speakers.

 


Sources:

Mullins, Justin. “Checkers ‘Solved’ after Years of Number Crunching.” New Scientist, New Scientist, 19 July 2007, www.newscientist.com/article/dn12296-checkers-solved-after-years-of-number-crunching/.

Interview with Matthew Lowe

AUGMENTED REALITY

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Matt is a lifelong tech hacker and founder/CEO of ZeroKey, an AR/VR company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, virtual reality and software development. After getting frustrated with decades old input hardware, he founded ZeroKey in 2015 and set out to revolutionize the world of computing with a completely new type of human-machine interface that features high accuracy hand, finger and body tracking.

 

1. You are the CEO of ZeroKey Inc. Can you tell us more about your company and what you do?

You bet, that’s the fun part of my job!

ZeroKey is a company that set out to revolutionize the way people interact with technology. If you think about it, today we still use the same primitive technology that we did 40 years ago. We still mash keys on a keyboard that are laid out in a rather arbitrary flat grid. At ZeroKey we set out to find a better way, which is exactly where our name comes from; ZeroKey – as in zero keys.

Imagine if the computer knew in real-time the precise 3D location of your hands, fingers, arms, et cetera. Armed with this information the interaction between human and machine becomes very natural, very intuitive, and responsive to user intent. Suddenly we have this capability to provide intelligent AR/VR solutions and natural interfaces to make the connection between people and technology seamless. This means shorter learning curves, increased productivity, and new solutions that simply were not possible before.

It sounds a bit like science fiction, but this technology is already being deployed around the world today!

2. How is the virtual reality (VR) scene doing in Alberta compared to Canada, and where do you see the potential of this technology?

Alberta is surprisingly strong in AR/VR technology. It would seem like a strange sector to come out of oil & gas country, but as it turns out, the type of architectural and industrial challenges that AR/VR is great at solving are also common in the oil & gas industry. Many Alberta AR/VR companies have built great industrial solutions that are now being broadly applied to AR/VR as a whole.

In Calgary, Alberta, where ZeroKey is headquartered, we have a very strong and world renown academic community in the field of geomatics, which includes technologies related to positioning, like GPS. Industry leaders in that field including NovaTel, TopCon, and TDK-InvenSense, all have a major presence in Calgary. This expertise is the whole reason ZeroKey exists today; without that background in positioning technologies we could have never developed the technology that we have.

3. You developed a VR glove together with the design studio BeBop. What is new and innovative about this glove, and what are fields of its application?

Our VR glove started as a proof-of-concept to show off the capabilities of our ultra-high accuracy positioning system. It provides a very natural method of interacting with digital environments and as a result, requires no prior training. This leads to a host of applications covering almost every aspect of computing. Some of the more exciting applications include remote surgery, robotic control and of course immersive video games. Once you digitize the position and orientation of the hand and fingers you can drive amazing solutions that will make our current-day keyboards seem like the dial-up modem of yesteryear.

4. ZeroKey Inc. won the Samsung Developer Conference Pitch Competition 2017. At the conference you mentioned that VR is not accessible to mainstream consumers. Do you see reasons for why that could be and is ZeroKey Inc. planning to change this development?

For mainstream consumers in the AR/VR market I think there’s a real problem with having your cake and eating it too. Consumers either have to choose between low-cost solutions that offer poor experiences or shell out megabucks for high-end systems.

We’re working to bring down the total cost of ownership of AR/VR by deploying our 6-Degrees-of-Freedom tracking technology in low-cost headsets. This pairing of technology will bring affordable high-quality AR/VR to mainstream markets at a fraction of the cost of current products in market.

5. In which fields do you see VR having the biggest impact and how do you think VR will impact future technology development in those areas?

We’ve already seen VR transform the gaming industry, however if we look further down the road it’s hard to think of an activity that AR won’t improve in some way. From repairing your bicycle to cooking dinner, AR can improve all of these day-to-day tasks in a seamless and unobtrusive way. Much like the PC, the internet, smartphones, and now AR, these technologies transform how people live their lives. At ZeroKey we hope to be a small part of that.

 

6. VR has been around for a couple of years now, and has been attracting more and more attention as the technology keeps improving. This resulted in a certain hype of the technology similar to artificial intelligence in the last few years. While the advantages and applications of the technology are manifold, do you also see risks or problems that its use may entail?

When it comes to any transformative technology there is always the potential for misuse. However, from a risk perspective I think AR/VR is rather benign compared to other new technologies. If you look at use-cases like remote surgery and training for dangerous tasks, it’s easy to see that AR/VR will have a very quantifiable and positive impact on humanity.

 

Interview with Dave Damer

WORKING INNOVATIVELY IN A DIGITAL WORLD

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Dave is a computer engineer and proven tech entrepreneur with over 27 years of business leadership experience, 18 of which have been spent building startupsIn 2017, Dave founded Testfire Labs, a software company that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to build productivity solutions that modernize the way people work, so they can achieve more, faster. Testfire’s flagship product iHendrix.aian AI-assistant that transcribes meeting summaries and action items, audits meeting history, and drops it all into a simple, searchable dashboard, for unprecedented organization and productivity insights. In 2018, Hendrix.ai won the Startup Canada Prairies Region Innovation Award.

1) You are working at Testfire Labs, an award-winning AI start-up based in Edmonton. Can you tell us more about your company and what you do?

Testfire Labs is developing the next generation of business productivity tools that leverage applied artificial intelligence along with cutting edge application development techniques to build capacity and augment existing knowledge workers.

Since our inception in March of 2017, Testfire has grown from a solo operation to a team of 14 talented individuals, we were named a Top Startup to Watch by Startup Edmonton, and we were awarded the 2018 Startup Canada Prairies Region Innovation Award.

Testfire’s flagship products is Hendrix.ai, an AI-assistant that transcribes meeting summaries and action items, audits meeting history, and drops it all into a simple, searchable dashboard, for unprecedented organization and productivity insights. Since launching to public beta in the fall of 2017, more than 100 companies of all sizes and across all industries have signed up for Hendrix.

Testfire Labs is currently actively exploring 6 additional product opportunities as a direct result of Hendrix.ai and its capabilities, with plans to rapidly scale to commercialize multiple products across a variety of industries and applications.

 

2) How does Testfire contribute to working innovatively in a digital world?

One of the reasons I started Testfire Labs was I was finding people were just overwhelmed with all the interactions they had to deal with on a day-to-day basis, and when I saw the potential of what was happening in the artificial intelligence space, I knew there were opportunities to leverage that technology to help people be more engaged in their daily activity and be more focused while transitioning priorities throughout the day. In order to accomplish this, we’re building both products and expertise in the areas of voice assistants, chat bots, and summarization of data.

 

3) You have developed the artificial intelligent assistant “Hendrix.ai”. At the moment it is being tested by companies in meetings, where it takes notes by listening in via microphone. How do you think this will impact a company’s productivity and efficiency?

Meeting ROI is steadily declining and its estimated approx. $37 billion in salaries are wasted in ineffective meetings each year. Meetings are due for an upgrade, and that’s where Hendrix comes in.

While Hendrix does transcribe meeting minutes, it goes above and beyond the purely mechanical tasks of basic voice interaction and simple date-point transcription that competitors provide. Professionals in almost every organization participate in countless meetings every week, with no way to easily keep track of their notes and action items, recall key meeting details, or understand their meeting history.

Hendrix not only transcribes meeting minutes and action items, but also provides users the ability to edit the content he does provide, ensuring all participants walk away from the meeting on the same page, understanding exactly what was discussed, what needs to be done, and when its due.

The dashboard organization features ensure all meeting data is easily accessible anytime, from anywhere, improving institutional memory while employees are away, in the event they leave the organization, etc. Additionally, Hendrix uses machine learning to analyze user meeting history, providing valuable insights into meeting frequency, length, etc., as well as surfaces meeting trends and topics for better recall of key meeting details.

 

4) Are there any problems that teams may encounter while working with AI assistants?

The primary consideration when selecting AI-driven tools needs to be the predominant areas of inefficiency for that individual organization. While some AI assistants, like Hendrix, are useable and beneficial by anyone, across any organization, based on their broad application, others are quite niche in their scope.

Leveraging any technology, including AI assistants, for the simple sake of it will only serve to create greater inefficiency. In order for businesses to get the most out of technology, they need to truly understand where their greatest inefficiencies lie, then reconsider their operations and processes so that a partnership between both tools and human resources is created for the benefit of that business’s bottom line.

 

5) Even in a digital world, companies are still being led by humans. However, AI is taking over more and more tasks. Where do you see the limits for its use?

AI has obviously ignited fear in some industries and in some people, that machines will take over their jobs and they’ll be viewed as unnecessary, but I don’t see it that way. AI is really about giving employees the space and the tools they need to be more effective in their jobs.

Machines may be taking away menial, repetitive tasks, but what they’re not taking away human skills – skills like leadership, teamwork, creativity or emotional intelligence. That’s the limit for AI; it‘s not meant to replace us, it’s meant to partner with us to support us so we can do so much more.

New Membership: GCCIR joins IraSME and attends BMWi’s Innovation Day in Berlin

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Main stage at Innovation Day, photo by: Katelyn Petersen
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GCCIR Manager Katelyn Petersen testing a VR training module for hip replacement surgery, photo by: Jonas Kuhn

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In light of the new Alberta-Europe Technology Collaboration Fund established by the Alberta Ministry of Economic Development and Trade (EDT) and the German-Canadian Centre for Innovation and Research (GCCIR), the GCCIR has joined the IraSME network.

IraSME is a network of ministries and funding agencies, which offer national and regional funding programs for cooperative research projects between small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The network supports SMEs in their transnational innovation activities, and helps them access technological expertise, extend their own networks and bridge the gap between research and innovation.

Twice a year, IraSME issues calls for proposals for transnational cooperative research projects between SMEs and research and technology organizations (RTOs), with the objective of developing innovative products, processes and/or services in technological fields. The calls follow a bottom-up approach, meaning research topics are not pre-defined and are open to all technology sectors. Funding for collaboration projects is made available through national and regional funding programs administered by the respective ministry or funding agency participating in the IraSME network.

The IraSME membership provides the GCCIR with a unique tool to administer the Alberta-Europe Technology Collaboration Fund in Alberta, and to advise on respective funding agencies partnering companies could potentially apply to. The network will also benefit GCCIR in future matchmaking missions to Europe; missions the GCCIR offers to Albertan SMEs looking to find international collaboration partners.

Read the latest IraSME Newsletter containing the announcement of GCCIR’s membership here.

The official announcement of GCCIR’s membership in the IraSME network took place at Innovation Day, on June 7, 2018, in Berlin. It was an honor for GCCIR Manager Katelyn Petersen and Senior Project Coordinator Jonas Kuhn to travel to Germany and attend Innovation Day for this special occasion.

Also celebrating ZIM’s 10 years anniversary, this year’s Innovation Day had exceptional significance. With more than 300 companies and research institutes presenting a variety of innovations developed with the support of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), and more than 2000 visitors and attendees, it was a particularly exciting and productive showcase of technology development and international coopertation.


Links:

https://irasme-cornet-berlin-2018.b2match.io/page-1561

https://www.zim.de/ZIM/Navigation/DE/Infothek/Veranstaltungen/veranstaltungen.html

GCCIR at Global Petroleum Show 2018: Minister Hon. Deron Bilous highlights impact of international R&D collaborations between SMEs

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In the picture from left to right: Vladimir Mravcak (Chairman, Atlantis Research Labs), Hon. Deron Bilous (Minister of Economic Development and Trade), Dr. Andreas Sichert (CEO, Orcan Energy AG), and Markus Lintl (Head of Industry & New Business, Orcan Energy AG)

This month the GCCIR attended one of the biggest shows around technologies in the oil and gas sector, the Global Petroleum Show, in Calagry. Also attending were Orcan Energy AG from Germany and Atlantis Research Labs Inc. from Alberta. The two SMEs have recently entered into an innovative R&D collaboration. To learn about this new collaboration project and highlight the impact that the Albert government’s R&D funding programs have, Hon. Deron Bilous, Minister of Economic Development and Trade (EDT), stopped by the Orcan Energy AG and Atlantis Research Labs Inc.’s booths at the Global Petroleum Show.

The collaboration project Orcan Energy AG and Atlantis Research Labs Inc. have entered into is funded through the Alberta-Europe Technology Collaboration Fund, a program created by EDT and administered by the German-Canadian Centre for Innovation and Research (GCCIR) to support Albertan companies, foster economic growth in Alberta, and encourage international knowledge transfer between Alberta and Europe.

Interview with Dr. Chad Bousman

PRECISION MEDICINE

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Dr. Chad Bousman is Assistant Professor at the Department of Medical Genetics, Psychiatry, and Philosophy & Pharmacology at the University of Calgary and a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. The broad vision of his research is to discover, develop, and evaluate genomic-based tools with the utility to guide clinical decision-making and improve mental health outcomes. His primary focus is on optimizing the selection and dosing of drug therapies used to treat depression and schizophrenia. Dr. Bousman is also actively involved in the research examining the interactive effect genes and environments have on the brains of those with mental health problems.

1) You work at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the University of Calgary. Can you tell us about the organization and if precision medicine already plays a big role there?

 The Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) supports excellence in research, innovation and knowledge translation to improve the health and well-being of children from pre-conception to adulthood.  A multi-disciplinary institute of the University of Calgary, Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, the institute creates new knowledge to change practice and shape policy in ways that improve child health outcomes.

Precision medicine is medical care designed to optimize efficiency or therapeutic benefit for particular groups of patients, especially by using genetic or molecular profiling. The institute pursues precision medicine by assisting in the diagnosis of children with rare diseases and enabling individually-focused treatments, including pharmacogenomics where my lab sits. The importance of this research cannot be overstated. One in four children admitted to the Alberta Children’s Hospital is a patient with a hereditary illness. (i.e. arthritis, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell) The Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute is one of a few institutes in Canada which can provide rapid genetic testing of rare illnesses to provide meaningful answers to families and clinicians. We have been designated by the University of Calgary as the Centre for Health Genomics and Bioinformatics.  Our researchers can also provide experimental gene therapy for some specific disorders by engineering viruses that carry corrected proteins and reintroduce these cells into the patient through a bone marrow transplant.

More information about ACHRI can be found at: www.research4kids.ucalgary.ca

2) You focus on optimizing drug therapy to treat mental illnesses, especially depression and schizophrenia. Are there big differences using precision medicine in psychiatric care in comparison to other medical disciplines?  

Precision medicine encompasses a number of strategies for optimizing medical care and these strategies can differ across medical disciplines. The precision medicine strategy that my research focuses on is pharmacogenetics. Pharmacogenetics uses a person’s genetic information to assist doctors in the selection and dosing of medications. There is substantial overlap in how pharmacogenetics is used in psychiatric care and other medical disciplines. However, disciplines such as psychiatry, neurology, oncology, and cardiology are furthest along in the implementation of pharmacogenetics into clinical practice.

3) The costs of precision medicine seem to be higher than those of more traditional treatments. Is precision medicine also a question of money?

Costs are certainly a key concern when it comes to precision medicine but it is important to differentiate between short-term costs and long-term costs. In the short-term, the costs of delivering precision medicine is often higher than traditional treatment approaches because precision medicine is typically associated with the introduction of new technology or additional testing. However, clinical trials are now demonstrating that these upfront costs are off-set by the long-term cost-savings that precision medicine provides. For example, the cost of ordering a pharmacogenetic test prior to prescribing an antidepressant can range from $100-$500, a significant upfront cost relative to standard prescribing practice. However, this testing can assist doctors in selecting an antidepressant that has a higher probability of working for a particular individual, ultimately saving >$3,500 in direct medical costs over the person’s life.

4) If you compare the use of precision medicine worldwide how well is Canada doing?

The clinical use of precision medicine remains limited around the world. However, Canada along with a number of other countries are at the forefront of the precision medicine revolution. As with any new and bold initiative, precision medicine’s successes in Canada will depend heavily on the resources made available for research and implementation projects.

 5) What are the main challenges for precision medicine in the future?

Precision medicine is still early in its evolution and will require local and global collaborations to facilitate its transition into routine care. I think one of the biggest challenges will be redesigning healthcare systems to enable seamless integration of precision medicine into practice. This redesign will include education of healthcare providers and consumers on the use and limitations of precision medicine innovations, improvement of electronic health records, and the development of new treatment and prevention guidelines that are aligned with the precision medicine era.

Interview with Prof. Dr. Dietmar Kennepohl

ONLINE EDUCATION

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Dr. Dietmar Kennepohl is Professor of Chemistry and former Accosiate VP Acedemic at Athabasca University, a leading Canadian university offering online courses and degree programs through distance education. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from McMaster University with a B.Sc. (Honours) degree in chemistry in 1984 and continued directly to his doctoral studies in main group synthetic chemistry at the University of Alberta, where he obtained a Ph.D. in 1990. He became an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen in Germany, where he investigated Te-N and Mn-N chemistry and later returned to Canada to design molecular metals as a post-doctoral fellow with a research group at the University of Guelph. Dr. Kennepohl is also the Past President of the Humboldt Association of Canada and current Director of the Humboldt Foundation Liaison Office in Canada, as well as Secretary on the GCCIR Board. He is a well-published science researcher and has a strong commitment to online teaching.

1) You are a professor of chemistry at Athabasca University and you have written the book “Teaching science online”.  Can you tell us more about teaching online?

The emergence of new technologies and their promise of better instructional facilitation are not new to educators and so learning online provides both new opportunities and challenges. My university is unusual as it is 100% online and at a distance. That flexibility together with our open approach is part of a strong social mandate to provide access to quality university education. A much more common scenario would be traditional campus-based institutions blending online and face-to-face modes of teaching. In either situation in a world of ubiquitous knowledge the appeal of online learning is about convenience and supporting a more independent learner. Teaching and learning online opens the door to some interesting opportunities.

2) Do you see differences in teaching sciences online in comparison to other subjects?

Very much so. Every discipline and sub-discipline has its own particular epistemology, language, culture, and its own way of doing things. Students are not merely learning facts and concepts, they usually undergo an apprenticeship within their discipline. However, the approach to teaching and learning in the science disciplines also tries to reflect scientific methodology or process. That is, students are expected to state a problem, ask questions, make observations, keep records, offer explanations, create a design or carry out an experiment, and communicate findings with others. The vehicle to learning is problem solving and scientific inquiry, and this forms the model for navigating and dealing with hypotheses, facts, laws, and theories. It is therefore not surprising that the practical components are at the heart of most science programs—yet this practical component is incredibly challenging to do properly online and at a distance.

3) What are the key elements of successful online education?

Essentially good teaching is good teaching. There are basic practices and principles for creating a learning environment that will lead to student success. Of course some of these are particular to the online mode including selecting appropriate technology, providing technical support and training, exploiting open educational resources, or taking a team approach when developing and delivering courses to name a few. However, many of the more important principles are applicable to any mode of teaching such as engaging the learner early, focusing on concepts rather than content, avoiding cognitive overload, providing timely feedback, and so on.

4) When did you start to use online teaching methods and can you give us some examples of the ways you teach certain material to your students online?

The initial Athabasca University model was independent study courses with print-based material and telephone tutor support. As newer technologies became available, they were experimented with and, if found useful, adopted. Assignments originally sent through the postal system can now be submitted electronically. In the mid 90s my chemistry courses were hybrid—having both print and online components. It was not until this past decade that AU has truly moved online. This was precipitated by a number of system-wide changes across the entire university including adopting a standard learning management system to house courses (including electronic versions of all AU learning materials), the preference of both students and teachers to move away from telephone communications, the move towards e-textbooks and/or OER textbooks to replace commercial print materials, and finally the integration of a student relationship management system.

So, for example, my organic chemistry students work through their course online. Each section has clearly stated learning objectives with online activities including readings where they are linked to a ‘textbook’ which is an online wiki. Assignments are done and submitted electronically. They do attend face-to-face supervised laboratories. However, some components of the laboratory (pre-lab work, spectroscopy simulations, etc.) are done online. We are now even experimenting with having students analyzing products made in the laboratory by remote access to instrumentation.

5) How do you see the future of online education?

There are several exciting developments on the horizon for online learning and I’ll mention only a couple. The most obvious being new technologies that allow connectivity to both content and people. One subset of this has been the emergence of mobile devices and the entire area of mobile learning. Science educators (especially those doing field work) have been looking at this to facilitate online learning in the field. With handheld GPS-enabled mobile devices one is not limited by classroom walls and can readily do self-guided field work and in situ learning. Another area of interest is big data and learning analytics. Once a course and learner activities are digital they are also trackable. One can take that information to tailor courses to individuals and their learning styles. Finally, open educational resources has a big role in the future of learning online. Collaboration, sharing, reusing and adapting content is an emerging trend that will have a profound effect on quality of learning. Together online education will not only become even more flexible and accessible, but will also rise in quality and personalization.

6) Do you see signs that the already existing online universities could replace the classical ones?

I do not think so. A few years ago this same question was asked surrounding the hype on MOOCs (massive open online courses). Apparently MOOCs would shake the very foundations of higher education to the ground, and by 2060 there would only be 10 universities in the world. I do not believe that this is happening at all. Certainly the online learning environment will be used more to supplement existing universities and will dramatically increase capacity of and access to higher education worldwide. Still, there are other social interactions and learning opportunities classic on-campus universities provide that will continue to be valued and sought after.

There is another final thought. The initial concern with MOOCS was also that were meant to cut labour costs by replacing faculty, but I think the bigger and better discussion is around the role of the teacher itself. In a world of ubiquitous knowledge, what added value do we provide as educators? Indeed, online education is forcing this question on an entire generation of teachers and may end up being one of its biggest contributions to learning.