Wayne MacPhail

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Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years. He was the managing editor of Hamilton Magazine and was a reporter and editor at The Hamilton Spectator until he founded Southam InfoLab, a national future information products facility for Southam Inc. in 1991. He went on to develop online content for most major players in Canada including Sympatico-Lycos, where he was the director of content. He is also a book author (Spin Doctors) and is a published and performed playwright (Abandon Hope Mabel Dorothy). He has taught online writing at several Ontario colleges and universities and is the co-owner of w8nc inc, a marketing and communications firm aimed at non- profit and educational organizations.
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Bananas and neural networks: Do androids dream of electric sheep?

Photo: PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE/flickr

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In the past few months we've heard the term "machine learning" bandied about by Google execs, computer scientists and nerdish blowhards at pool parties. The phrase is used to explain why digital assistants like Google Now and Siri have gotten so much better at understanding what we mean, why Google Photos can find images of flowers so well and how even our watches seem to listen better than an average 14-year-old.

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Robots at the summer movies

Photo: Flickr/Jen and Tony Bot

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On a recent flight to Vancouver I had a chance to watch a few episodes of the TV show Humans, along with the movie Ex Machina. They both, in their own ways, deal with the time when robots approach, equal and then surpass humans. Their neural circuits become infected, as it were, with a virus that corrupts their logic and renders them aware of themselves, and their possible futures. You know that's going to end badly.

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Technology? We are still in the steam era

Photo: flickr/Allan Light

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Health care's complicated relationship with technology

Photo: Amber Case/flickr

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Here's a quick, amateur medical diagnosis: the health-care system is ailing when it comes to technology.

In the last six months, we've read news of remarkable medical breakthroughs: mind-controlled artificial limbs, injectable brain implants, nano-sized robots that can do colon biopsies, and more. So, from those stories it would be easy to assume that hospitals, doctors and researchers are literally on the bleeding edge of tech. And yet.

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Making our masters: How to build a robot overlord

Photo: Hsing Wei/flickr

How do you build a robot overlord? Piece by piece. Let's look at how we're doing. The last year has been a kind of watershed for "plastic pals that are fun to be with," as Douglas Adams once called sentient androids with the brains the size of planets. In all sorts of different, but related, fields, human beings have made incredible strides at putting ourselves out of a job at the top of the food chain, cognition-wise.

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Glancing at the future: A week with an Apple Watch

Photo: LWYang/flickr

For just under a week, an Apple Watch has been on my wrist. I went for the "nerd" choice, a Space Grey watch with a black rubber band. For most of the day, the watch appears to be an obsidian lozenge -- a black hole of information. But, now and then, when I want to check the time, or when it taps me gently on the wrist to remind me of something, I turn my wrist towards my face, and the screen comes to life with the snippet of information I need to keep my life running, well, like a really expensive timepiece.

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Google and the next billion users

Photo: Sundar Pichai, on stage. Credit: Maurizio Pesce/flickr

What if the next billion Internet users don't own a computer? What if, for them, and the billion after them, the web is something you reach with a smartphone or a wearable via an always-on Internet connection, no matter where you are? And what if most of them are in the world's fastest developing countries or are members of low-income families, their playing fields levelled by their access to a world of indexed information?

Those are the kind of questions that Google asked at its I/O conference keynote last week. It was a keynote so egalitarian and humanistic that it made Apple and Microsoft look like the selfish jerks -- the Donald Trumps and the Karl Lagerfelds of computing -- with their interest in $17,000 gold watches and pricey tablets.

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The inevitable autonomous auto

Photo: smoothgroover22/flickr

Humans are dreadful drivers. We kill each other with motorized vehicles at an alarming rate -- 1.2 million men, women and children a year, worldwide. We drive drunk. We drive too fast. We drive with cellphones in our hands. In some ways, it's not our fault. We have limited, narrow vision, slow reaction times and make poor, emotional choices. Our knowledge of traffic extends only as far as our sense. Honestly, we stink behind the wheel.

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Why the World Wide Web is like an ice shelf

Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr

These days the World Wide Web looks a lot like Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf -- a large, open mass disintegrating at the edges because of human interference.

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that the Internet and the World Wide Web are the same thing. That's understandable. The World Wide Web made a public splash in the early '90s when it became possible to create and display text, tiny pictures and even tinier video clips via a web browser on a computer screen. It was an overnight success, 20 years in the making.

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Microsoft's pie in the cloudy sky

Photo: Michael Kappel/flickr

What are we supposed to make of Microsoft? Has it finally found its groove, or is it a desperate wannabe consumer brand? 

At the company's recent BUILD conference, the Redmond-based software giant showed off Windows 10 and a new browser. It attempted to woo iOS and Android developers and did a second demo of its HoloLens augmented reality headgear. And, its cloud-based Azure platform is a chart-buster. At first blush, it looked like it was firing on all cylinders. 

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