Canadian innovation doesn’t need more money: it needs a brilliant vision

An article published this month in Science and Public Policy makes the startling claim that “between 74 and 90 per cent of total spending on support for business research and development (R&D) each year since 2000” has been distributed not as one would expect by the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), but by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The CRA’s Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program is one of the most generous tax incentives in the world, providing “more than $3 Billion” annually, according to its website.  Viewed under this lens, programs like the Strategic Innovation Fund…

The Chancellor by Kati Marton

The biography is interesting both for what it says and for what it omits. It’s remarkably thin in terms of content or juicy gossip. Merkel developed deep habits of paranoia when she lived in East Germany, so much so that years later she refused to use text or email. Her inner circle was so intensely loyal that nobody spilled the beans for this book, and it’s not clear that there were any beans in the first place. A few facts do emerge: Merkel had immense stamina for diplomacy, for engaging in dialogue. Germany’s chancellor is the de facto leader of…

Genius Makers by Cade Metz

This book is about the renaissance of artificial intelligence (via neural networks) in the early 2000s. The bones of the technology were developed at Cornell University in the 1950s but due to a combination of skepticism in the field and lack of computing power, the idea of the neural network lay mostly dormant for the next 30 years. The man at the centre of the book is British-Canadian professor Geoffrey Hinton, who has spent most of his academic career at the University of Toronto and had conceded that he enjoys the epithet “The Godfather of AI”. The book opens with…

Shackleton, By Endurance We Conquer by Michael Smith

I recently read “The Last Viking”, a biography of Roald Amundsen, the first man to traverse the Northwest passage, the first to reach the North Pole by airship (and possibly at all) and the first to reach the South Pole. It opened my eyes to the heroic age of polar exploration, a time when people straddling the line between sane and insane attempted feats that defied death and often defied logic. Shackleton did not achieve any enduring heroic “firsts”, and for years his reputation played second fiddle to that of the famous Captain Scott. Shackleton is now regarded as one…

No Bears by Jafar Panahi

Iranian cinema filmed in 2022 Iranian “New Wave” cinema seems to forsake narrative in favour of mood, in favour of speculative thought. The recently reviewed “A Time for Drunken Horses” by Bahman Ghobadi is an exception: this is straight storytelling, direct and true. “No Bears” also concerns itself with the pressing matter of border-smuggling but as a category of film it is something new: there is a narrative but there is also the constant presence of the filmmaker, Panahi himself. He attempts to stay neutral and only by the end is it clear the Panah may be well-meaning and detached…

The Last Viking by Stephen R. Brown

This is a fine biography of Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian polar explorer (b. 1872) who won several trophies in the heroic age of polar exploration, including the famed race to the south Pole in 1912, the first to navigate the Northwest passage, and the first to cross the Arctic by air. Amundsen learned a great deal from some early failures. He and his brother undertook a skiing expedition in Norway’s North for no particular reason but to prove their bravado; the journey nearly killed them both. Amundsen quickly realized the folly of slapdash preparation and he seldom made the same…

A Time for Drunken Horses

Unlike most Persian films, there’s no metaphor in this story. Some Kurdish children at the Iraqi border have it really, really tough. This film about four children – two sisters, an older sister bartered away for marriage, and their severely developmentally disabled older brother Madi is incredibly difficult to watch – the harrowing scenes of the care the siblings lavish on Madi will stay in your minds for a long time. There’s no question of CGI or elaborate sets – most what happened in the film almost certainly actually happened: the long dangerous treks over the border, the mules given…

Ontario needs a fresh approach to boost startup investing and close its innovation gap (published by yours truly in the Globe and Mail 2018)

Link to Globe and Mail website: Ontario needs a fresh approach to boost startup investing and close its innovation gap – The Globe and Mail Seven years ago, there was a lot of hand-wringing over Ontario’s heavily service-based economy and the “innovation gap.” In the flush of promise-making that preceded the 2011 provincial elections, the Ontario Liberal party pledged a tax credit to investors in homegrown tech startups. The details were vague, but the general idea was that investors would receive a 35-per-cent tax credit on eligible startup investments – or something to that effect. It doesn’t matter, because nothing…

The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell

Elizabeth Holmes was sentenced to 10 years in jail; Adam Neumann got a billion-dollar payday and has returned from the ashes to found a cryptocurrency startup. Both founders are liars; Holmes’ lies were dangerous, but of the two founders Neumann may have been more brazen. Theranos was a sham, but Bad Blood by Carreyrou describes it as a busy place where top-class scientists signed ironclad NDAs and strove to make Holmes’ lies come true in a toxic and stressful work environment. Neumann is 2000’s “hustle culture” personified: he is a hustler incarnate. The incredible thing about WeWork is that Neumann…