Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
Good morning, everyone.
Welcome to the 52nd meeting of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology where we're continuing our study on disruptive technologies.
We're grateful to have some very high-calibre witnesses with us. From the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, we have Robert Walker, president and chief executive officer. From Information Technology Association of Canada, we have Karna Gupta, president and chief executive officer, as well as Kelly Hutchinson, vice-president, government relations and policy. From Mitacs, Jean-Marie De Koninck, special adviser for the scientific director, and Robert Annan, chief research officer, research and policy; and from Pratt & Whitney Canada, we have Walter Di Bartolomeo, vice-president, engineering.
We'll begin with Mr. Walker and we'll go in the order in which I introduced everyone. Please try to keep it to six minutes. We'll go to rounds of questions after that, and anything you weren't able to say within six minutes, I'm certain you'll be able to squeeze into some answer somewhere along the way.
Please go ahead, Mr. Walker.
I want to thank the committee for this opportunity to share my perspectives on disruptive technologies.
These are rooted in my 38-year career, first as a scientist, and then as an executive of science and technology organizations and programs that, in one way or another, have been intimately connected to matters of defence, national security and public safety.
Ladies and gentlemen, the early indicators of disruptive potential of technologies often appear long before the disruption occurs, though history shows we often miss these indicators for many reasons. I'll use some anecdotes to make this point.
As a young researcher at one of Canada's defence labs in the early 1980s, I was introduced to a somewhat clunky but fascinating new communications tool called “electronic mail”, or what we had started to call “email”, when our defence labs gained access to an emerging concept being pioneered by the U.S. military, called ARPANET. We immediately had a new, real-time method of collaborating with our Canadian and U.S. defence researchers. Our mindset towards collaboration changed quickly.
In the early 1990s, under a defence program I was managing at the time, we were approached by a group of engineers looking to spin out of Nortel. They had what appeared to be an effective and affordable way of encrypting email. This seemed like a great idea with a potential future market if email were to gain wide use. We agreed to help. The company was formed. Its name is Entrust, now recognized as a world leader in information security technologies.
In the late 1990s, as the ARPANET had moved into civilian mainstream, now known as the Internet, we began to be concerned that as the military became more dependent on information and communication technologies, it would be vulnerable to potential adversaries' disruption of these systems. We formed a group to begin researching information security, including the potential of information warfare and how to defend against it.
In 2008 the world witnessed the first use of cyberwarfare during the Russia-Georgia war. The world had been disrupted.
Here's a second example. In the mid-1990s our defence scientists were examining the potential to bring together two space-based technologies. First, what were the military and civil implications of the U.S. military agreeing to make available for civil use the signals from its newly operational space-based global positioning system? What if low-cost GPS receivers were available commercially? The second was the potential military and civil applications for high-resolution imaging obtained from space-based systems, such as Canada's then recently launched RADARSAT. What if these massive digital images of any location in the world could be made available to users in real time?
Now, couple this with the real-time accuracy of GPS location information and we have enormous potential. We thought these could be game-changers, but we were daunted by the challenges to commoditize them. A decade later, companies such as Apple and Google had made low-cost accessibility to these integrated technologies ubiquitous. The world had been disrupted.
On September 11, 2001, we all watched in horror as the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington unfolded before a global audience. Terrorists had used existing technology—civilian aircraft—in an unconventional way to a massively disruptive effect. Were the warning signals there in advance? Arguably, our cultural bias that suicide was unacceptable, no matter what the commitment to a cause may be, made it difficult to contemplate such a scenario. The month following, the world was introduced to the spectre of biological terrorism when laboratory-engineered anthrax spores were sent to individuals using the U.S. postal system as the delivery mechanism.
What's my point in reciting these incidents? Yes, both were cases of innovative application of existing technologies. However, the real disruptions have been in the way governments and societies have responded to these events through the implementation of new and more stringent security legislation and measures.
Let's look at some of the key issues that are before Parliament legislators and regulators today. In the late 1940s, the oil and gas industry had proven a new and innovative technology, called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Over the past 15 years it has been applied on large commercial scale to shale-oil and gas deposits.
What's the disruptive effect? Arguably the most significant is that within the coming decade, the U.S. is forecast to go from being a net energy importer to being a net energy exporter. The geopolitical implications are far-reaching. In Canada, we are presently dealing with the economic implications of a dramatic drop in the price of oil, tied in part to a global oversupply enabled by fracking. The world has been disrupted.
Now I suggest that the most disruptive technology that the world is experiencing today is social networking. This is profoundly changing the way that people interact. There are many upsides. There are also new ethical, security, and safety implications to which governments, legislators, regulators, and security organizations are scrambling to respond. Cyberbullying, identity theft, and ISIS recruitment of Canadians via social networks are examples of hot topics.
The world needs new technology to address many of the grand challenges facing humankind in the 21st century: climate change, population health, energy security, food supply, and urbanization. We can expect that technological solutions to these grand challenges will be disruptive to markets and to society, just as the consequences of humankind's inability to find technological solutions will most assuredly be disruptive to our current way of life.
However, I contend that the public's acceptance of new technology is taking on some troubling dynamics. The public's perception of the risk to society of new technology is being confounded by the inability to communicate in simple terms and build broad public trust in the answer to one question: what does the science say regarding risk? Regulators are frequently faced with public backlash, in effect that the risk is not acceptable, and in fact, that no risk is acceptable. Genetically modified foods, deep geological repositories for radiological materials, pipeline safety, windmill siting, and child vaccinations are each important case studies of how the public perceives and ultimately accepts or rejects risk, despite the significant benefits that these technologies will otherwise bring to society, the environment, and the planet.
The world will surprise us; of this, I'm sure. Many of these surprises will be rooted in the disruptive consequences of new technology or the innovative application of existing technology. Business will be on the front line, both in creating the conditions for disruption that leads to competitive advantage in the marketplace and in responding to others' competitive advantage. There is much that governments can do and must do to help the business sector in this regard.
On the other hand, governments will be on the front line when it comes to addressing the social, ethical, economic, safety, and security disruptions that occur from technological innovation. Efforts to forecast the potential disruptive effect of technologies on markets and society are important. There is much at stake.
Now I contend that to effectively address these challenges requires vigorous engagements of government and science and of the public and science. It's difficult to find a grand challenge facing Parliament that does not have a significant science component. Parliament needs to be a customer of science advice. New mechanisms have been put in place to address this gap—the Council of Canadian Academies, and the Science, Technology and Innovation Council, to name some—and more needs to be done.
One example of “more” is the government's initiative under way to transform Canada's largest science and technology complex located two hours up the Ottawa River at Chalk River into a multi-mission, national laboratory under private sector management. The government-owned, contractor-operated model has been proven to work very well in the U.S. and U.K.
What does this big idea offer by way of potential? It offers relevant and timely science advice and technology innovation for governments to help them understand future disruptive technologies and to address public safety, security, and health needs; the potential to be a key player in meeting the G-7 goal to decarbonize economies; commercialization support for small to large companies seeking to build competitive advantage through technology; and access by academic and industry researchers to large publicly funded science infrastructure. It's a big idea whose time has come.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and honourable members. Thank you very much for having ITAC at this session.
Just to introduce ourselves, ITAC represents the technology sector of the country. With over 300 companies, we produce about $160 billion in revenue and one million jobs. Most importantly, we spend about $5 billion on R and D, so the disruptive technology discussion is very apropos.
There are several disruptive technologies that are unfolding at the same time. They range from robotics to the cloud to genomics to 3-D printing to renewable energy. However, we need to address them not only as discrete technologies but also look at how these innovations collide and create a new world, because they are and they will be always connected and intelligent.
A McKinsey report recently talked about several disruptive technologies. Today, I will speak about one that falls in the top three, and it is often referred to as the Internet of things, or IoT. The Internet of things, or IoT, is the online interaction between different technologies. All of the disruptive technologies you have heard about and you will be hearing about over the next little while through this committee will essentially dovetail into IoT as they all become interconnected and in some part reside online.
As ITAC, we look at technology through the filter of public policy. We understand the benefits of innovation but also its implications. For our members this is a major issue in the technology sector: how to deal with the policy and the new business models that will emerge. Today I will comment on what it means, why it is important, and what the impacts are.
ITAC wants this committee and the government to recognize IoT and develop a national discourse, ignite a must-have dialogue amongst academia and private sector and public sector experts, and start a discussion to begin developing a policy framework to proactively deal with it.
IoT creates the ultimate connected world where intelligence is shared between machines, applications, and services, and therefore creates data models that will significantly improve the way we make decisions. In fact, sometimes the decision may not even require human intervention. Simply put, technologies will connect, work together, and communicate online. It provides us with capability rather than technology. The solution comprises technology and telecom hardware, software, services, sensors, applications, security, radio frequency, etc. Most of it will be cloud-based and mobile-enabled.
Just to give you two examples, recently a company in Alberta, called GrowSafe, used RFID tags for their livestock. What that means is that it allows them to measure many factors related to wellness of the farm animals. This gives farmers the visibility on health and development to proactively deal with the animals, and this makes our food supply safer. This is an example of the Internet of things, a capability that resulted from multiple things communicating one with the other through technology and the Internet without human intervention.
I'll give you a second example. Dr. Carolyn McGregor, Canada research chair in health informatics at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, leads a project that significantly improves the survival of premature babies. The combination of cloud computing, wireless technology, and data analytics has provided their team with the ability to detect infections in preemies earlier than before, and this has saved a lot of lives. Again, it's an example of the Internet of things, whereby a multitude of hardware, software, services, and centres that come together without human interaction will truly usher in a new world we have not seen before.
Unfortunately, not all great things are devoid of consequences. There are several things we need to address. Privacy is one of the greatest concerns. Canada has been at the forefront of global leadership on safeguarding privacy and with the evolution of our digital age this could be compromised. Safety and security is a problem. While these new technologies have benefits, IoT will dramatically increase the attack surface available to bad actors. With the capacity issues, bandwidth and network capacities in rural areas, regardless of infrastructure investments made, will become a scarce resource and their governance even more complex.
Economic and commercial and public policy issues are very far-reaching. There are intellectual property and trade issues. Who owns the data that's being generated? Standards and legal frameworks issues: what regulations can be put in place for competing technologies to work together and what kind of governance is required to be ethical? There are workforce implications. A recent study done in the U.S. demonstrates that robotics may replace up to 40% of their workforce. The policy implications are very serious and we need to address them.
As the Information Technology Association of Canada, we strongly recommend that the standing committee continue this discussion into new sessions and beyond. IoT will be a truly disruptive force, moving faster than you can see it happening.
For our part, ITAC is starting to create a white paper with several top leaders and as soon as it's ready, we'll have it translated and sent to all of you. We have established an IoT round table of leading industry experts who have pledged to contribute and provide perspective, insight, and knowledge on this important factor.
We ask the standing committee and the government that a national discourse be created with a proper secretariat and facilities so we can do a deep dive, have further investigation done, and have the policy framework that prepares for the IoT that is coming. Much like the information highway in the 1990s, it needs that level of attention from the government of the day.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for this invitation to appear before the committee.
I would like to begin by introducing myself and the person accompanying me. As some may know, I am a mathematician and professor at the Université Laval. I am also the Special Advisor of the scientific director of Mitacs. I identify myself as a researcher, educator and communicator.
I will now introduce Dr. Robert Annan, Chief Research Officer at Mitacs.
Rob has provided leadership at Mitacs in various roles for the last five years and he's a passionate advocate for the role training and innovation must play in Canada's economic success.
I will provide an opening statement and Rob will be available to assist in answering questions, particularly those related to Mitacs' philosophy and activities.
First, here's a short explanation of what Mitacs is and what it does. Mitacs is a national not-for-profit organization that delivers research and training programs in Canada. Representing over 60 universities, it works with thousands of companies and both federal and provincial governments to build partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada. We do this through research internships and skills training programs. We do this because these internships and other forms of experiential learning can integrate academic strengths with public and private sector innovation needs. They also give graduate students and post-doctoral fellows the opportunity to gain essential professional skills and non-academic experience.
Disruptive technologies are having a huge and positive impact on our Canadian economy. I'd be surprised if anyone you speak to over the course of this study would disagree with that statement. However, I'd like to use my time today to focus on two specific ideas that I see as critical to this discussion. First, I believe the vast majority of disruptive technologies are driven by advances made in fundamental research. Second, in order to maximize the impact that disruptive technologies can have on our society and our quality of life, we must also focus on the concept of disruptive learning.
First, we are surrounded by countless examples of applied science in our lives. There's no doubt that applied research and development is essential to the creation of disruptive technologies. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget that many of these had their origins in fundamental research. One such example is the way we exchange confidential information and communicate data. For this we need modern cryptography techniques.
It turns out that one of the most powerful encryption methods, which ensures in particular that important financial transactions are totally secured, was created in 1977 by three young mathematicians from MIT. Their research was in the field of number theory, an area of mathematics with results that are, for the most part, of theoretical interest. Today, this most secure data encryption system, which has fundamentally changed our lives in the way business is done online, exists because mathematicians indulged in pure mathematics without being concerned about the applications it might have in our daily lives.
The second idea I would like to touch on is what I call disruptive learning. Some of you may have heard of Sir Ken Robinson. He is an English author who argues that education systems should foster curiosity through creative thinking. He sees education as an organic system, not a mechanical one. He even claims that our current education system is archaic and outdated.
While we don't necessarily endorse all of Ken Robinson's ideas, we are challenged by them. Given that we all live in a technology-driven world, one that would have been unfathomable even a generation ago, doesn't it make sense to reconsider or at least re-examine how people are being educated? I would suggest that it's at least worth asking the question: can we do more to provide broader and more relevant training experiences and opportunities for our children and students?
This idea of embracing a new disruptive education paradigm is likely beyond the scope of this committee, but it's an important concept nonetheless. What is relevant, however, given the ongoing changes in technology and how it is used, is the question of how we invest in talent and in Canada's greatest resource, its people, in order to take full advantage of the disruptive technologies that exist today and that will exist in the future. We need to reconsider how we train and teach our students to function optimally in a world full of disruptive technologies.
Mitacs gets this. By delivering programs that look at research and experiential learning in a different way, they are demonstrating that they get how innovation really works.
I understand that in previous meetings you discussed the importance of investing in disruptive technologies, and that is clearly important. The question of which ones are worthy of such investment is far harder to answer. However, we at Mitacs believe that even more important is investment in talent and the training of our next generation of innovation leaders. With support from the federal and provincial governments, Mitacs delivered more than 3,000 internships across the country last year, and with the commitment in the recent federal budget we are on track to double this number by 2020.
Let me take one minute to tell you about one recent Mitacs funding recipient, Andre Bezanson. While impressive, Andre is by no means a unique case as Canada is full of young, ambitious researchers like him. Andre is a Ph.D. student in the school of biomedical engineering at Dalhousie University. His research focuses on developing technology to miniaturize ultrasonic probes to about the size of a pencil eraser so that they can be used for endoscopic imaging applications.
During his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, Andre discovered a passion for the engineering design process and for being able to see a project evolve from an idea to a tangible product. As part of his Mitacs-funded internship, Andre worked with Daxsonics Ultrasound Incorporated to develop high-frequency ultrasonic transducers and electronics for use in medical imaging. This new technology was adopted by Daxsonics and Andre was offered a key position in the company as a result of the success of this work. Upon completion of his degree he hopes to turn his new technology into a commercial product, opening up benefits of ultrasonic imaging to new clinical applications.
Andre's story is an example of how internships can have a profound impact on students and their success by expanding the way they learn. By investing in new models of experiential learning, we indirectly promote the creation and development of disruptive technologies.
I believe that the integration of experiential learning in graduate studies can change the landscape of research and innovation in Canada in three main ways. First, it builds collaborative research projects to leverage academic strengths and boost the innovation activities of the partner organization. Second, it expands the scope of research and development opportunities on Canadian university campuses. Third, and perhaps most important, it supplements traditional scholarships and training with experiential opportunities designed to expand creativity and innovation.
At Mitacs we use experiential learning to address complex issues and research challenges. At the same time, we provide Canadian students in post-docs, just like Andre, with opportunities that will broaden their skills and research experience.
We applaud the efforts of this committee in tackling such a challenging and complex issue. It will only be through such collaborative and cross-sectoral efforts that we can take full advantage of disruptive technologies here in Canada.
Indeed, there is a role for all of us to play if we truly hope to harness the power of disruptive technologies, and properly prepare our young Canadians to use them to their full potential and to develop the disruptive technologies of tomorrow.
Thank you for your attention.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee, for this opportunity to speak today.
Disruptive technologies are an important element but not the only element of an innovation process. They can lead to true breakthroughs in the design, function, and costs of products, and contribute to significantly increasing our competitiveness. They must be recognized and even encouraged as part of a company's, an industry's, and a country's innovation strategy.
That being said, I'll take a few minutes to provide a brief overview of our strategy at Pratt & Whitney Canada, which has led to a number of game-changing products and technologies that we like to say spark the imagination and move the world. Over 87 years, we have demonstrated a deep commitment to research and development. This has enabled us to emerge not only as a world leader in our markets but as a key player in the development of Canada's aerospace industry. We've produced 85,000 engines to date, and more than 50,000 are still in service today. We have 12,000 operators around the world, in more than 200 countries and territories—probably more than recognized by the United Nations, at that.
Every second, a Pratt & Whitney Canada powered aircraft takes off or lands somewhere in the world. These flights have a real and positive impact on thousands of human lives each and every day: humanitarian missions, emergency medical services, search and rescue, reuniting families, and creating jobs, to name a few. To that end, it must be realized that the most critical characteristic of the product that we design, produce, and service is reliability. As part of the flying public, we, our families, all count on successful flights every day.
To that end as well, we operate in an industry framework that is highly regulated—appropriately so—and for which the time scale for demonstrated innovation is measured in many years. In the last 25 years, we have successfully certified and brought to market over 100 new engines, a record that is unmatched in the industry. We've also forged strong R and D collaborations with universities, research institutes, and other partners across Canada to develop these technologies and products. No fewer than 9 of the 13 research chairs supported by NSERC in aerospace are in association with Pratt & Whitney Canada.
On our innovation journey, we've also been able to count on the support of the Canadian government and Industry Canada, which have shared our vision to build a strong and prosperous aerospace industry. These investments in cutting-edge materials, high-efficiency technologies to enhance engine performance and reduce fuel consumption, and combustion systems to reduce noise and emissions are a big part of our development.
We're also creating world-class centres of excellence for advanced manufacturing. These will be dedicated to manufacturing highly complex components and to supporting small and medium enterprises. The unique high-strength properties of the very complex materials that are used require fully integrated and ultra-efficient production lines equipped with automation, closed-loop process control, and high-precision machining technologies.
If we look back, our very first engine, which was first delivered in 1963, was the iconic PT6 engine. It was developed after numerous false starts, and at one point we had well over the net worth of the company invested in the program. That engine was game changing, and it was a step up from the traditional piston engine powered aircraft. It essentially created a new brand and market. Since that first model, we've developed more than 50 variants, and within the same size of engine we have increased its power by more than 400%.
Disruptions in markets can also lead to opportunities for innovative technologies that are technology ready. This was the case in the mid-eighties, with our PW100 turboprop market. In the eighties, we shifted direction in response to opportunities opened by airline deregulation in the United States, a deep economic recession, and a big spike in aviation fuel prices. These factors suddenly made fuel-efficient turboprops more competitive vis-à-vis jets, and we were there to leverage that. Today, those engine families are by far the leaders in that market.
Finally, I'll talk about the example of one of our most powerful disruptive technologies, and it's in our newest engine family, which is called the PurePower PW800. The genesis of this engine is the revolutionary and disruptive geared turbofan or GTF engine that powers the C-series aircraft. It was developed in concert with our parent company, Pratt & Whitney. This disruptive technology suite was more than 15 years in the making, and it reflects the rigour of effort, development, and validation that is sometimes required for flight critical technologies.
In the aerospace industry, disruptive does not necessarily equate to fast. Nevertheless, the geared turbofan increases efficiency and delivers significantly lower fuel consumption, emissions, and noise. The advances in aerodynamics, in materials, in combustion, will set a standard for many generations to come.
I'll speak more generically about disruptive technologies. They have an important place in our value stream, whether it's engineering, manufacturing, or services. However, there are many barriers to adoption, particularly in engineering and manufacturing, due to the regulation I spoke of, or market and economic contexts.
While fuel burn performance will continue to be a key indicator in the future, speed indicators such as speed in design, speed in manufacturing, and speed in service are dramatically evolving. Key future focuses will include disruptive technologies that address speed in manufacturing, for example, and we hear a lot about 3-D printing as an example of a dramatic evolution in such technologies.
You just heard about innovation and the Internet of things. Speed in customer service is another example where customer feedback and problem-solving will turn a new leaf with social media, and customer data will be transformed with evolving intelligence and predictive analytics for revolutionary service, offering a more connected world.
With respect to the basic propulsion technology, we firmly believe that we're starting to be at the cusp of cheating physics, and as such disruptive technology at this end will be more a rethink of the aircraft's system and architectural optimization. Though still very theoretical, the future is bright.
To conclude, it should be clear that Pratt & Whitney Canada has no intention of resting on its laurels. We already are well into the design of a new turboprop engine to replace that engine we started in the mid-1980s. We have several disruptive ideas still on the drawing board, from more electric solutions to significant architectural design innovations targeting 35% fuel burn improvements over current architectures. To put the number 35% in perspective, the industry considers that a 1% per year improvement in fuel burn is a general measure of successful innovation.
The future holds plenty of opportunities for more disruptive innovations. If we remain flexible in our technology choices, encourage our academic institutions and industry to collaborate closely, and continue to promote our industry, we'll continue our legacy of innovations and successful products and services within the country.
For one, perhaps a bit more generally, certainly the encouragement of STEM programs, early learning, high schools, and the like, and getting the industry to be involved in such things to encourage young individuals to like the sciences, I think is a way forward.
In terms of the implication of industry in school systems, FIRST Robotics is an excellent example of a program where universities, collectively with industry, get in and just encourage young individuals. To your point of being able to understand the type of individual you want to hire, I think what has worked well in the aerospace industry over the last 15 years is to forge and push curriculums to be more in line with what the industry would need.
The last thing is that if I look at the last 15 years, we have more Ph.D.s working on the shop floor than one would expect. That's because of the science of manufacturing and the materials we use. The advances in the technology around manufacturing means the level of science on the shop floor requires Ph.D.s, which is not something you necessarily would have thought of certainly when I started in this industry.
Those are three points.
Thank you for the question.
I think if you look at the Canadian ecosystem from an information technology lens, if you use that lens to look at it, there is no shortage of innovators or entrepreneurs starting in business. Where we get into some issues as a Canadian sector is that we are unable to build companies of scale and size, partly because we're still a growing nation. We don't have the necessary infrastructure support and everything in place to help companies grow in scale.
Our market is very small. For any technology company to be of capacity and survive, it must have a global footprint. There is no such thing as “just a Canadian market” once you start to do that. We have always been tied to the north-south trade, which is the U.S., and it's a big market. But as the winds of trade change and east-west becomes more important, and the rate of growth is much more sharp in some of the emerging economies, it is necessary that we provide our companies with the tools and infrastructure to grow and enter those emerging markets.
On what is needed, we need to have the skill set, the talent, that can build the companies and grow companies of scale. It needs the funding, so it needs the capital market available to them as and when they need to grow, from working capital and everything else. Finally, it needs the access to the right market.
We need to use all of the tools that the government and others can marshal to help this company to the actual market. At the end of the day, the question you posed really comes under the three, what I call blood vessels that make a company successful: access to capital, access to market, and access to talent. For the first part, I think we need to address them from those perspectives.
I think more could be done. We have appeared at multiple committees in terms of IP regime in Canada, innovation culture in Canada. I think a lot needs to be done.
Yes, thanks for the question. It's a big question and it's one that we spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about.
I think the challenge is to try to reflect the reality. In science labs across the country people don't think about their research, necessarily, as applied and basic. The research is much more organic than that.
I did my Ph.D. at McGill in biochemistry, and we were working on mechanisms of protein folding inside of cells—how do proteins fold?—and there is a lot of mystery. Proteins have to fold and they do and we don't really know how. We developed certain tests to try different explanations and so on, and those tests ended up being really useful to screen for drugs for cystic fibrosis, which is a folding disease. So the tests we developed for basic science we started using to screen drugs, and we had an agreement with a major drug company to screen rapidly lots and lots of drugs to treat cystic fibrosis. Every time we'd get a hit from the drug screen we would then take it back to the basic side and ask, “What was the target? Does this explain why things are happening the way they do?” It was back and forth, and very fluid.
This has always been the way with science. It doesn't compartmentalize easily into these different areas.
Unfortunately it's tough to create mechanisms to reflect that kind of fluid reality. So we've been working with other research organizations like NSERC and SSHRC, the tri-council, and these other government-funded agencies, to try to find ways to integrate efforts to reflect that. Unfortunately I think we still have a lot of funding silos that say this should either be basic research or it should be applied research.
I think the more government can do to try to encourage either integration of effort and support, or to break down some of these silos and fund research, and encourage research to move in whatever direction is necessary to take us forward, that's really a positive step toward supporting innovation and getting away from this false dichotomy of it being either basic or applied.
Thank you for that question here.
This plays a bit to the theme I've tried to pull on. Disruptive technologies have, ideally, very positive effects on societies. Much of what we try to do, governments with industry, is to maximize proactively the potential for that constructive benefit. It's also the case that technologies can have a downside that has public safety and security consequences. How is it that we're able to get the early indicators of what the downside could be and engage, as opposed to reactively, rather proactively, how we can better address that issue? I would suggest that Dr. Gupta's comments around the Internet of things highlighted a number of the areas where we know there are likely to be security implications emerging. How can science be simultaneously helping us understand the upside and the downside, and address them both at the same time?
At CNL, for example, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, we're heavily engaged with the security apparatus of government to help understand, for example, the illicit tracking of nuclear materials around the world, to make early detections of that material, for example in containers, and then to be able to provide a fingerprinting of that material to trace it back to source of origin, which allows the security community to intervene and deal with the criminal aspects of that particular activity. These are all technologies, of course, that were spun out of the civil application of nuclear technology for nuclear energy, the upside of it. But at the same time as being conscious of the negative side, and helping the security apparatus of government be ready for that, we're helping that technology be a net contributor to society.
CNL knows hydrogen intimately. The origin of that, of course, is in our development of the CANDU reactor, which is based on the use of a particular isotope of hydrogen called deuterium in heavy water, which is used for moderating the reactors, the chain reactions in CANDU reactors. The consequence of this is that we understand all of the isotopes of hydrogen intimately. Hydrogen is a potential game-changer when it comes to the energy storage dynamic, the energy storage dilemma, that is facing the globe as we move forward to decarbonize global economies, potentially coupling tightly to the vulnerabilities of renewable technologies, which still have this issue of intermittency to deal with.
There are also breakthrough technologies in the use of tritium, radioactive tritium, for low-powered, very long-life batteries for remote applications. Energy storage, batteries, catalysts that allow the introduction of hydrogen in the hydrogen economy, are all spin-out technologies that have come out of our focus, first on nuclear energy, but through serendipity we are seeing the applications go into a broader set of spheres. That is the innovative process, and certainly CNL is quite engaged in that, oftentimes trying to find that sweet spot with start-up companies in Canada that want to take those ideas into the market.
There are two sides to that. Again, I come back to a comment made by one of my colleagues here that we have many start-ups in Canada. The challenge we have is turning companies into sizable companies. It's getting over that threshold of size and market access.
I also think at times we struggle with not having science capacity that's sufficiently robust. The idea of the national laboratory, which is being created at Chalk River, is one such entity. It has critical mass, large infrastructure, and opportunities of easy access by academics and innovators and entrepreneurs to come in and test ideas to prove their viability commercially, to answer questions of regulators, to couple with international capitalists, to be able to prove the concept, to get over prototyping stages, and oftentimes to introduce to larger companies around the world that are interested in accessing or acquiring that company and giving it the critical mass.
The idea of a national lab is something new to Canada, something of the scale of national labs that we see in other jurisdictions such as the U.S. It's going to be enormously interesting to watch how that dynamic plays out in Canada over the next decade.
I'd also highlight that, going forward, solving the problem of decarbonizing the global economy is something I think Canada is uniquely positioned for, given the strength we have, not only in nuclear technology but renewable energy. I believe we need every arrow in the quiver to solve these problems, and a combination of nuclear energy and renewables that build on their complementary strengths can be the answer. I believe CNL's well positioned to help move that forward.
Thanks for the question.
It's a big question. Recognizing, of course, the challenges around federal-provincial jurisdiction when it comes to education, I think there's still a lot the federal government can do and is doing.
I think working with young people is important. For instance, I know that one organization, Let's Talk Science, does a lot of great work with young people in encouraging K-to-12 students to engage in science, whether it's through science fairs or scientists in the schools and that sort of thing. Support for those kinds of organizations I think is really great.
I will make one statement, though. I think there is a risk in focusing too much on STEM to the neglect of broader skills. At Mitacs, of course, we work a lot with STEM students, but roughly 15% of our interns who go through now are actually from the social sciences and the humanities. Those creative disciplines have a lot to contribute to innovation, particularly once you start bringing multidisciplinary teams together, where you have engineers working with psychologists and with design people. This kind of mix of skills is important. While of course STEM is important in terms of creating people who have the tools to build disruptive technologies and so on, I think the creative disciplines are still really important. We don't want to neglect them.
I'll also say that, generally speaking, while we are doing a good job as a country with post-secondary attainment—we have one of the highest rates in the world of post-secondary graduation per capita—we do have blind spots, particularly at the higher levels. In terms of Ph.D. production, for instance, we're 20th in the OECD per capita. We just don't produce people at the highest levels of education, and I think we can do better on that.
Right through the post-secondary system, I think it's important to build in diversity so that all of our bachelor's graduates aren't going through exactly the same kind of training—and the same with master's graduates and Ph.D.s—but rather that we provide a diversity of opportunity, which you can do through co-op, internships, and other sorts of experiential learning.
To my mind, diversity, both in terms of disciplines and in terms of experience, is really important to creating a generation that has the necessary skills.
I think first we need to understand what the situation is today in the Canadian market. In the Canadian market, most of the time you see that small and medium-sized businesses are not using online tools as much as they should in order to grow. That is a statement of fact. If you go look at eBay or others, from their statistical point of view, they will say they're not using it.
Why are they not using it? The underlying economics are not supportive of it. To give you an example, if I'm south of the border and I order some goods from any store, the goods will show up the next day at the price I clicked on my screen. At that price, at my door, they will appear. If I do that sitting in my home today, they will be double the cost with shipping and everything else.
The economics do not support it. Fundamentally, the business model for online trade in Canada is not exactly where it needs to be. That needs a little bit of work.
The second part is privacy and security. That needs a much deeper discussion in terms of what gets disclosed. This is really a policy instrument that government, with industry, needs to develop in terms of what is getting disclosed from consumers and users on the platform. When we talk about data on a platform, it's not necessarily residing here. The moment your computer is connected to a wire, it is reachable from anywhere in the world. We live in a day of false security that everything is resident here. It isn't.
I think the policy instruments need a lot more work. I don't think any study has been done, or government has any work getting done, on what type of data people should put up in online trade. There is a lot of trepidation on the part of users to use the e-commerce platform. Economics aside, they don't want to put data up online. That's holding a lot of the consumption back. People do shopping online but they don't buy because they have to put in some data and information.
This is where some of the policy discussions become very important—what we expect our citizens to put in, how we manage it, and where it resides. On that part, I don't think we have a good answer yet.
Sorry, but I will answer in English, as I am a bit nervous.
I'm not comfortable necessarily commenting on how this specific government is achieving that balance. I will say, though, generally speaking, that this is a difficulty around the world—and it's true in the United States and in Europe—regarding how you balance the support for basic research with the view towards kind of planting seeds for long-term harvesting, and how you reap the rewards of those investments from the past.
Achieving that balance is difficult. There isn't good research. There isn't good evidence as to what kind of balance is maybe the most productive, either from a research output perspective, social output perspective, or an economic output perspective. It is an ongoing challenge.
I think it's one whereby it may be possible to have a rethink more generally about this idea that I mentioned before about silos. If we think about either making an investment in basic research or making an investment in applied research, you necessarily set up a competition. What I think we want to be doing is funding good ideas that span the spectrum. Then, at some point you get into the areas around commercialization and so on, which to my mind moves past where you're looking at R and D, in the university ecosystem anyway. Those are different sorts of discussions.
When it comes to applied and basic research, fighting one against the other isn't the most productive mechanism. If we can find new ways of funding good ideas, then I think we'll be making good steps forward.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here.
I'd like to continue with the nuclear issue. One of the things I've taken an interest in is the deep geological repositories for radioactive material. I'm wondering how far off we are with new technology to deal with what's taking place. In Germany, the Morsleben and the Schacht DGRs have been decommissioned because they've been deemed unsafe. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, in New Mexico recently had a breach contaminating over 20 people. Thank goodness it was an isolated location.
OPG right now is considering Kincardine as a DGR. It's never been done before. It's within about a mile and a half of the Great Lakes. It's created quite a problem. There are about 153 resolutions representing 20 million people who are opposed to this, including the U.S. Congress and Senate, which has two distinctive bills about this. Canada once promised, under the Joe Clark regime, that they would never do this type of activity within 10 miles, I believe, of the Great Lakes. We seem to be breaching that agreement.
I would ask whether or not there has been any type of breakthrough. What we're doing now is that basically a shaft about the length of the CN Tower goes down into limestone. It doesn't seem like a very high-tech solution to take the secondary nuclear waste, bury it as deep as we possibly can, and hope that nothing happens for 100 million years. How far away are we from maybe some new technology that could actually deal with this waste in I think a little bit more of a sophisticated way? The minister now has our report on her table. She's put it off until after the next election and is actually calling for more hearings because of the complexity of this.
I'm just eager to hear whether there's any new technology on the forefront out there that could help deal with this problem, because I think it's a very crude way to deal with nuclear waste.
Thank you for the question. I put this in the category of some of those grand challenges that industries are facing with technologies that address big social issues. The social issue here is not the DGR; it's how to provide clean, safe, reliable energy at scale. Nuclear technology is one of the answers to that. It, unlike, for example, the fossil fuel energy source, has no externalities. One sees the waste at the end of the equation and says, here it is. It's not in the air. It's not in the oceans. The question is how best to deal with it.
The issue of DGR technologies has been examined over many years, previously by AECL and now by CNL, to understand the science around keeping this material isolated for long periods of time, understanding how radiological materials migrate in the environment. These have been put forward as solutions that are believed to be safe. Those go through regulatory reviews to gain an opinion on whether that's considered acceptable for moving forward.
To the point I made in my remarks, oftentimes, and not just in this case but also I would say in the case of child vaccinations or genetically modified foods, we end up with case studies that are indicative of how a risk is perceived by the public. On the one hand, science comes forward to try to explain that risk and the risk versus the benefits and it looks at how society accepts that. I've seen times where society's response to that is that no risk is acceptable. How do you find the right answer to move forward on these issues?
I don't have the answer to this but I suggest that among the policy and legislative and regulatory issues that governments will struggle with as we move forward to find technology answers to some of these big challenges with public health, energy, and climate change, we are going to struggle to find answers to the question of whether society will accept the risk-benefit equation in moving this forward.
To your point about ongoing research on ways to recycle fuel, I made reference to reactor technology going forward. Much of that research is built around what is called the closed fuel cycle. In other words, you burn the fuel, you take it out, you do some work on it, you put it back in the reactor, and you burn it again. You actually diminish the volume of waste. You dramatically extend the lifetime before you're into a DGR kind of problem. Ultimately the view is still that you'll need deep geological repositories but perhaps with less footprint, less radioactivity, etc., and perhaps with greater public acceptance.
I think the profound question here is whether this is a discussion around DGRs or a discussion on finding solutions to decarbonize economies. We tend to be having only the first discussion and not linking it to the second discussion.
It's a very good question. A lot of work is actually going on in this area. I was fortunate enough to come across, as part of the millennium goals, a program called Millennium@EDU. If you look into that, you'll find even within the developed countries like Spain and Portugal, they have immensely developed by having a national strategy around deploying Millennium@EDU.
What that means is that you get industry collaborating with the government, co-funding, and delivering a curriculum of prepackaged tools to schools that otherwise don't have sufficient funding. That could go to the north. That could go to inner-city schools. Now you have the full material developed, delivered, and available to students in terms of their curriculum. It's not only the private schools that have access to it. You basically equalize and democratize the process of delivering the education.
It is a program that we as an organization are trying to look at. How do we shop this around various governments? Should we do this in Canada because it has been happening in several countries in Europe? It has happened in Africa and some of the states in the U.S.
Unfortunately, we run into the barrier of the federal-provincial jurisdictional issue, but this does need a national discussion. Should we do this to democratize and equalize the delivery of programs? Big corporations like Microsoft, Intel, and Symantec, they are sponsoring this program globally through Millennium@EDU. We as a nation are not taking advantage of it. We have private sector partners at the table. We just need the government side, whether it be federal or provincial, to step up and say they will participate, engage, and roll it out to various schools.
I think part of it is that our structural issues get in the way. You not only have the federal-provincial; you also have the multiple school boards. It's just getting more complex from an administrative point of view to deliver the program, but there are programs that we can look at. It's not a new invention. Other countries have done it with results that can be looked at.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you to the panellists for being here today as well. I certainly appreciate all of your presentations. It was very informative for a person who hasn't had the experience of being on the committee that much.
I certainly wanted to ask you, Mr. Gupta, about one of the comments that you made. It was that obviously these types of technological advancements take place because of, in your comments, three areas: capital, markets, and talent. Rural and remote broadband was one of the things that you pointed out there as well.
Can you just expand on that a little bit more and what's needed in that area? We have programs that are out there now developing some of that and trying to get higher speeds into some of those rural areas. Certainly, in the northern areas, as my colleague across the way has indicated and she represents those areas as well, we need advancements in that.
At the same time, here's a question to everyone. In regard to your experiences and in regard to, maybe we'll call it disruptive technologies, but leaps into the future, could you describe to us where we're going and what you see on the horizon in some of your industries? You touched on a few, but can you expand on some of that as well?
I'll jump in on this question about leaping into the future. We work with hundreds and thousands of students each year who are coming out of the universities. I feel that I am now definitely old enough to say that young people today are not like me or, with respect, many members of this committee.
People such as my kids, people coming out of universities now, just take it for granted that they have in their pockets a means to access the entirety of human knowledge and to connect with anybody on the planet immediately, including, with social media, people they don't even know. They can just make these connections. In a way, they're coming out ready and primed to change the world. They have a lot of tools at their disposal, but many of the mechanisms we use to educate, to train, and to support were built for a different time. I think one of the challenges we have is, how do we evolve?
Institutions are not easy to change. You don't change overnight. Technology changes a lot faster than universities. Universities change very slowly—very slowly—but that doesn't mean we can't find mechanisms to adapt and to support. The students, the young people today, are going to run further than we can keep up with, so how do we try to evolve the infrastructure we have, the support mechanisms we have, in order to support entrepreneurship among young people, to make transitions easier from university into the private sector or the not-for-profit sector, and to take their ideas and make them reality?
Whether it's through protecting the IP or through tools for development, and whether it's broadband in rural and remote communities or aboriginal communities, for all these sorts of pieces what we can do to connect them to the opportunities available I think is really essential, because the young people today are going to push into the future whether we adapt or not.