PM’s tech adviser urges Canada to reach out

Although Canada has invested significantly in scientific research and development, the country still needs to strike international partnerships, commercialize technology and form good national strategies, the prime minister’s science and technology adviser warned a conference audience Tuesday.


climbed up the slope, almost to the pinnacle,”” and achieved a position of influence with the scope of Canadian investments, said Dr. Arthur Carty, a keynote speaker at the IBM Centres for Advanced Studies Conference (CASCON) in Markham, Ont., an annual software meeting for researchers, developers and industry partners.

Yet, Carty warns, “”We’re not going to be able, as a country, to afford health care”” and other services if private industry, universities and government fail to bring to market national research. For example, each year Canada pours $130 billion into health care but few innovations related to the field are developed, he said.

Canada ranks highest in the G8 in per capita R&D spending by universities and research institutes, Carty said. In 2003-04, Canadian governments, universities and industry spent $22.5 billion in R&D expenditures. That year, the federal government spent $8.5 billion on science and technology, of which 65 per cent was for R&D.

Carty noted Canada lacks international links to “”make sure we’re connected to science and technology.”” The research and technology community has also failed to understand commercializing software and next-generation technologies requires knowledge of both the marketplace and customers, not just capital, he said.

“”We’re often fragmented”” in developing national strategies, a situation which is seen in the country’s nanotechnology developments, said Carty. Canada has four centres dedicated to this scientific area but none are linked, in contrast to countries like France and the U.S. that share funding and information.

Discussing the information and communications technology sectors, Carty said Canada’s private sector’s contribution to R&D has remained about 43 per cent when measured in 2000 and 2002. “”Most of those investments come from a few companies,”” roughly 200, a number which must be bolstered, he said.

Other obstacles to the growth of R&D include the rapid decline in enrolment in computer science, computer engineering and software engineering programs in Canadian universities, he said. Not only has there been a 50 per cent drop over the years, an 80 per cent decrease in women graduating from computer programs by 2008 is projected, Carty said.

At the same time Canada is doing too little to capitalize on its R&D investments, universities and other groups are still achieving breakthroughs in their research.

A University of Victoria creation, Gild, or Groupware Enabled Interactive Learning and Development, consists of plug-ins for IBM’s Eclipse software aimed at helping amateur programmers studying computer science, particularly those in university.

“”It’s a pared-down Eclipse so the novice user isn’t overwhelmed by all of the expert functionality inside Eclipse. It also makes the software development process explicit,”” said Robert Elves, a master’s student who worked on the initiative.

So, for example, where standard Eclipse will compile a source code for a programmer, hiding some steps from the developer, “”in Gild, that’s not hidden from the novice. They get a better conceptual model of what’s taking place,”” explained Elves.

Gild, a technology project which began 18 months ago that’s free to students, also integrates teaching material in one spot so that instructors can better manage course-related information, and automates the course-marking process, he said.

Landscape Editor, a product of the the University of Waterloo in Ontario, assists in the visualization of source code so one has “”a better sense of what’s really going on inside it,”” said Ian Davis, a systems programmer and part-time teacher at the university, who has also been working for two years on the project.

“”When source code is initially developed, people know what they’re working with,”” said Davis. “”But over time, you have people come and go from organizations. You’ve got all the problems of no one person knowing all the details.””

Landscape Editor is available at, but Davis advises users to contact him directly so they can receive software updates through e-mail.

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