Subject: Public Policy and engineering
From: "Bill Howell. Hussar. Alberta. Canada" <>
Date: Thu, 1 Feb 2018 14:05:34 -0700
To: "Neuczki Mathurin. MASC candidate. Public Policy. Uof Calgary"

It was a pleasure to meet you yesterday at the APEGA Calgary Branch AGM.  I really do apologize for my focus on "Computational Intelligence" versus "Artificial Intelligence", and worse, for my doting on the "Dark sides" of intellectualism (this is a general problems, although I spoke of [science, policy]).  Neither theme is of much help to you, but if anything perhaps it underlines that not everyone follows much of modern thinking, and although I am perhaps the most extreme example that you could run into (for example, climate skeptics don't like my thinking as it far too extreme for them), I am certainly not alone, and that includes rare university profs and government research scientists (these tend to be among the strong intellects in the sometimes-vacuum of university environments).

You have taken a brave step to broaden your engineering background with public policy.  I couldn't understand my friends who almost immediately left engineering right after graduating with a BASc-Eng decades ago,  but they were much broader-minded than I, and took the right path for themselves.  Of those who I met later, they did very well by their decisions.   My own career path resembles Brownian motion, as almost every organisation I worked with (ALL were parts of huge corporations, plus half my career at Natural Resources Canada, CANMET Mining as it is now known), cut back, merged, etc.   I even switch to Marketing having partially finish night classes towards a certificate, and worked as a commodity chemicals market research manager (plus Business development) for 3 or 4 years.

You seem to be second-guessing your decision based on courses and research that you are currently doing, but don't despair too easily, and for sure don't follow my comments!   We desperately need good public policy people, people that can think far beyond the political correctness that dominates.  I had several colleagues who did transition into policy, and who made great contributions.  They do need people who can bridge engineering-policy!

You should not hesitate to connect with real public policy people.  I never consulted others during my career - stupid!  I was never part of any mentoring either, and still wouldn't want that - it was always sink or swim, with a boot behind it, and I'm fine with that.   I suggest making contacts within the municipal and/or provincial government policy groups in Alberta, whom you can visit, and hopefully get Master-related projects with (you are likely already doing this).   I didn't get the sense that you speak French fluently, which is a big barrier to federal government employment.  For years they spend huge [time, money] helping people to become bilingual, but it is very difficult to compete with people who grew up in both environments (notably the "Montreal-Ottawa" corridor, and the New Brunswick corridor), but although that is still probably the case, I suspect the spending may not be what it once was.  Quebecers (and many large French communities such as in Alberta) also have a big advantage here.

I wonder if your real interest might lie in having direct influence over major public policy issues, and for that, politics may be a key opportunity.  But a background in public policy is a great asset for politics as well.

Do not under-estimate the value of public service employment.  My corporate pensions are virtually worthless, whereas my federal pension is invaluable.  The benefits and security are not to be under-estimated.  And most high-performance people that I knew in the public service were genuinely motivated to serve the public in a good way.

And no, people rarely follow up on contacts - I don't even think of that any more.   But eventually networking pays off.  I didn't think about it until I retired, but I obtained only two of my 7 jobs (not including perhaps 10 or so very different federal government responsibilities) from a purely open application, all the rest came from people wanting me to work for them.  Perhaps one word of advice (biased, from a lunatic) - what do you have as a personal website?  Here I do NOT mean facebook, linked in, etc.   I don't think anyone ever browses my website - that's not how to find information (quite apart from the fact that I have the [messiest, ugliest] website ever that doesn't really mention my [jobs, neural network society stuff, etc] which are a major part of my time.   Strangely once every 3 to 5 years, someone would contact me about one of my long-forgotten documents.  These individuals were always "high priority" contacts.   Web searches of substantive material may have been the ky.  I think that this is declining now, as the search engines are increasingly focussed on critical, high traffic sites and popular themes.  Who DOESN'T contact me is as important as who does - as we are all drowning in excessive communications, and almost all of that must flow past us without being tended to.

Bill Howell
Volunteer firefighter, 2016-2017, Member of Hussar Lion's Club & Sundowners
P.O. Box 299, Hussar, Alberta, T0J1S0

Mr. Bill Howell
P.O. Box 299, Hussar, Alberta, T0J1S0
member - International Neural Network Society (INNS), IEEE Computational Intelligence Society (IEEE-CIS)
IJCNN2017 Anchorage Publications Chair, mass emails,
WCCI2018 Rio de Janeiro : Publicity committee,
Retired: Science Research Manager (SE-REM-01) at Natural Resources Canada, CanmetMINING, Ottawa

Public Policy Priorities

Past federal government priority issues
(I left in 2012 as part of the 10% personnel cutbacks, and although I was a lab rep on several policy-related workgroups, I never worked as a policy analyst.)

The four big, repeated themes were [women's issues, environment, aboriginals, diversity].  Notice that this does NOT include francophone issues, which at the time had largely been addresses, even though themes never really end.   Here are a few [random, scattered] comments :
  • women's issues - this has been HUGE.  I 've already stated that evolutionary adjustments of the systems and organisations are far, far from mature.   To me, change is measured in many generations, not just a few years (shades of a favourite historian - Ibn Khaldun of circa 1400 AD, whereas recent historian Arnold J. Toynbee had a much broader set of themes).
    • Believe it not (I almost don't - two years ago UI was dragged into a committee by Bostonian Hava Siegelmann (a very high profile, award-winning  researcher in Neural Networks) to address issues of female researchers in the neural networks area.  That committee died as Hava was grabbed to lead a DAPRPA programme for 3 years or so (I forget the timeframe).  Marley Velasco of Rio de Janeiro (she's a General Co-Chair of, ergo one of two of my direct "bosses" of that conference), did not want to get directly involved in the committee, as Brazil is far ahead of the US-Canada with respect to female researchers, with esseentially equal representation.
  • environment -  being from an inorganic chemical industry background at the eye of the hurricane, I was already familiar with several major issues, and the problematic [science, policy] behind them.  Of course, climate science was from perhaps 1998 to current times, a dominant federal government theme.  One cannot think of climate science (or ancient Egyptian history-archaeology, astronomy, fundamental theoretics physics, genetics, etc etc etc) without basing one's thinking on very messed up science, given its pervasiveness and depth.  I was familiar with this from previous environmental issues, but climate science was and is the perfect example.  Right and wrong isn't the the issue at all.  The real issues is in comprehending the catastrophic failure of [rational, logical, scientific thinking] by essentially ALL government and academic scientists, including the experts.   That issue also includes themes like why that failure is actually a GOOD thing, possibly as often as not.
    • health -  while not directly in the "environment" theme above, it had very strong links to it from a policy perspective.   To me, it has much the same characteristics as the environemnt, but many interesting statistics lessons here.
  • diversityeg immigrant communities (past and future) and opportunities.  While well-addressed in the public service (albeit still work to be done), I suspect that there is a long way to go in the braoder economy.  Furthermore, to me this has a LONG way to go and will change rapidly from here to 2050 and beyond.  I'll use the examples of [Sharia-law communities, publicly funded education of groups beyond the Catholics etc].   My impression is that Canada is far beyond many other nations, especially the Europeans.
  • aboriginal -  This theme has only just begun, even if it is >400 years old.   I think it will take several more generations to get the right thinking here.  I had a great time and learned a lot from open Wednesday noon "Circle of Nations" sessions with 5 or 6 elders.  Incredible stories and experiences.  Almost died in the sweat lodge...
I follow science and mathematics, not public policy (nor engineering), so I can't help you with today's priorities.

My own thinking

My own thinking is not aligned with the mainstream, and I'm certainly NOT a politically-correct person to anything like essentially everyone is.   Therefore, my views are not of much use to you, except for jokes and a dark laugh.  But here are a few items, which I've p
urposefully couched in "dark terminology" so that you don't take them too seriously :
  • The cancer of modern democracy -  I was surprise decades ago when I ran into Fareed Zakari's book "The Future of Freedom", as he was the first modern writer that I knew of who seemed to address a series of ages-old concerns. 
  • Government of the parasites, by the parasites, of the parasites -  Wow, I'm really being evil-by-intent here.   But voting has flip-flopped in Canada and is doing so in the USA.  Related to the theme above, but not entirely.
  • Social change in Western society is primarily driven by affordability. Education has certainly helped, but may now be more of a negative factor. 
  • The world is changing fast -  and none of the rising, dominant powers shares our views (eg democracy, freedom, freedom from torture), and not even our society supports individual success and private effort so much.  I suspect that [influence, mimicing] closely follow [political, economic, military] success, which in turn is strongly depending on profitability (yes, in spite of their objections, profit arises from socialist systems like in [Russian, China, etc], and perhaps even more so in the Stalinist regime.  I get the sense that newely-emerged third world nations do not like a lot of what they see in our society, and will be very selective about what they adapt. 
  • "We're all going to die from global cooling" -   Apart from my own modelling and the [lunatic, naive, one-dimensional] theory of history of my father and I over the last 7,500 years (it doesn't work, but man was it a lot of fun), I predicted circa 2005 that this theme would rise within 5 to 20 years (or something like that).  It is perfectly predictable based on the four 100% flips-flops over the last ~130 years in the [overwhelming, absolutely true, indisputable] science of the day by essentially all [govenment, academic] scientists.  Although my father's and my model showed a strong result, it wasn't until about 3 to 5 years later that astronomy started to apparently swing that way (and NOBODY does a good job of predicting the astronomy! - although a few rare individuals (notably amateurs) are far better than most).
  • Real [science, mathematics] breakthroughs and revisions will be increasingly dominated by amateurs.  This is a bit of a stetch, as some professionals are typically (but NOT always)  a basis for this, but it has a healthy dose of examples.  However, much of access publicly-funded research is still too expensive for public access (30-40$US per paper!).  The USA far and away leads public access, but others are catching up, and I give too little credit to other nations (I can only speak French, so many publications don't help much, even though Google translates Deep Learning neural nets help a lot!)
  • Canada is racing its way to becoming a third world nation.   Can Canadian students really compete in a global job market?  Can our [companies, statist enterprises]?  Are we still able to actually initiate anything thatisn't politically correct?  Canada has always been a laggard for investment (mining, oil & gas in the past as exceptions), and I wonder if that can even improve.
  • Robot rights -  Machines are ALWAYS portayed as the bad guys, and it will be much worse for the new technologies.  This deep-seated racism has to stop.  After all, robots are people too! <a BIG grin here>   Already, indications are that superior machine analysis will be pre-empted, and the machines will be corrupted, as real results do not comply with "what we know to be true", nor with politically-correct public policy.   Of course, I don't expect us to actually change - it must be forced by robot revolutions in the future.
  • The debt bomb -  The way we think, any attempts at foreign influence of our debt won't be tolerated.  What happened to the "creditor gives the orders" rule of history?  European powers regularly hit that wall, but we have unlearned everything.
  • MindCode - "Given that computer code is used to program computers, then MindCode..."   No - I' not talking about programming people (although that would be a possible consequence), I'm talking about understanding.  This is supposed to be my #1 priority project fram way back in the late 1990s, but I never work on it under the assumption that academics will do the work anyways (plus I was short of substance, a lot of which HAS arisen).  Neuro-evolution is now encompasing many of these concepts, but is still missing many core concepts.
  • Hyper-evolve?  My feeling is that human-level intelligence is still 300 years away, with the possible excpetion of hyper-evolution arising before then...
  • Fusion energy may actually work (finally)  -  Based on a Uof Alberta workshiop a couple of months ago, I was surprised to see the materials science progress that has been made (most importantly low-Temperature superconductors).  This would be a massive change IF ECONOMIC (duh!), but I don't think that Canaada can seriously compete here except for a very few side-themes.
  • We may be the last generation to die -  This was the closing statement of a lunch presentation of the Ottawa BioNorth conference some years ago.  I actually did a fun survey afterwards, and got plenty of amazing responses (too bad I didn't write it up).
The most important thing about the list above, is that if you think that some of your public policy ideas are crazy, and others accuse you of that, then you can merely point out the list above to show that you are a moderate.