Canadian Electrical Wholesaler

New tech

February 7, 2018

Heather Clancy

Stephen Hawking fears it. Elon Musk begrudges it. Mark Zuckerberg embraces it. There is no shortage of smart people willing to offer their sometimes dire, sometimes optimistic opinions about how humankind’s future will be reshaped by computers and software using some sort of artificial intelligence (AI).

If there’s one thing upon which the naysayers and yeasayers agree, it’s that AI is already more real than many people realize. A whopping 70% of the companies surveyed this year by Forrester Research plan to use some form of AI by the end of this year. It’s tough to think of a tech giant that isn’t making AI research a priority: Alphabet (through DeepMind and Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft are throwing literally millions of dollars at this opportunity.

You already use AI every day, whether you realize it or not. Consider the chatty personal assistant in your smartphone. The AI built into your handheld gadget is programmed to learn more about your habits — and the nuances of your individual speech patterns — over time. Those fraud alerts you receive from credit card companies, or shopping hints from e-commerce sites? They are made possible by software trained to observe your activity over time — in the form of online browsing and bona fide transactions — and to make predictions behind the scenes based on knowledge it gathers about your behaviour. Many companies are investing big in AI software and skills: market researcher IDC projects global spending related to this technology at US$46 billion by 2020, compared with an estimated US$12.5 billion in 2017.

Set aside, for a moment at least, the unease many people feel about the rapid pace at which AI is advancing. Concerns about disruptions and job losses across human workforces as certain tasks become automated, the unknown question of who will make sure AI is used in an ethical manner — and how to account for diverse perspectives based on gender, race and socioeconomic factors — all deserve serious consideration. Still, it is vividly clear that the transformative potential of this technology for the sustainability movement is unlimited. The staid United Nations even has adopted a rather hopeful position. “If we are smarter and focused on win-win type of results, AI could help proficiently distribute the world’s existing resources like food and energy,” notes U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed.

In the not-so-distant future, AI will play an intrinsic role in enabling and scaling sustainability solutions that today we only can dream about because the task of analyzing the data manually is too complicated. We’re talking about

  • wicked systemic issues such as automating pathways to more sustainable products and building designs
  • creating complex systems that detect sources of environmental pollution more quickly and precisely
  • resources that can surface potential issues across a corporate supply chain or across sensitive natural ecosystems.

AI software coupled with radar, ultrasound, cameras, LiDAR and other sensors and analytics also will be crucial for the success of self-driving vehicles.

That’s the reason Tesla founder Musk is backing OpenAI, a research institute dedicated to promoting AI technologies and policies that benefit society. Musk may be leery of AI, but he’s preparing for its broader infiltration. “I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late,” he says. The central promise of AI — a concept alive since the 1950s, but that has become more accessible alongside quantum leaps in low-cost computer processing power — is its capability to become smarter over time, to collect and consider millions or even billions of data points and types, then to act on that information in some active or predictive manner. It uses human guidance as a reference point but usually works on problems in the absence of human intervention.

But how do computers gain this knowledge? That’s where techniques such as machine learning come into play. As a computer gathers more and more data, its decision-making algorithms become more sophisticated. This is the behind-the-scenes brain that enables tasks such as near-real-time shopping recommendations or credit-card fraud warnings. Although the results aren’t always perfect, they would be all but impossible to support using human labour.

Machine learning is already widely used for applications that recognize speech and images, so it’s easy to envision how it could play a role in cataloguing endangered species, such as modelling how planetary ecosystems might react to catastrophic changes in the climate. An example of the latter is the EarthCube project, managed by the National Science Foundation, which is essentially a three-dimensional digital representation of Earth’s ecosystems. By changing the inputs, scientists more easily can simulate the effects of changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

AI is also emerging as a useful tool that companies can use to automate their response to conditions that could signal that, say, energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions are reaching levels deemed unacceptable by management. Google uses its parent company’s DeepMind neural network algorithms — software that can mimic the cognitive processes of a human brain — to manage the power it needs for cooling computer servers and other data centre equipment. Xcel Energy has used nascent AI approaches for more than a decade to manage emissions from coal-fired power plants. More recently, the utility has begun harnessing the technology to more thoroughly forecast the best places to add renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

You can also expect AI to help define new paths for urban development. One top-of-mind example is the partnership between Microsoft and the Chesapeake Conservancy, an ambitious effort to create better geospatial maps across 100,000 square miles in the region. The tech colossus is using the data to “train” a future system that could be capable of visualizing land cover across the United States down to a single-meter resolution.

Numerous projects in China deserve attention — 600 cities there have declared an intention to invest in “smart” technology, including the country’s eastern capital of Hangzhou. The “City Brain” project initiated by Alibaba and Foxconn collects copious amounts of data about the city’s more than 9 million residents, and it already has contributed to noticeable improvements in urban traffic flow, according to early reports.

IBM, which has identified AI as a core pillar of its future, used Beijing as the proving ground for its Green Horizons program, a framework for sustainable urban development. Among the first applications is a sophisticated system for tracking China’s notorious air pollution using data from satellites, weather stations, environmental sensors, traffic cameras and industrial facilities. The environmental bureau receives detailed information up to 72 hours in advance, which allows it to recommend actions that could reduce the impact such as adjusting traffic flows throughout a region or decreasing industrial production.

All of this is just scratching the surface of what’s possible looking into the near term and long-term future. “Computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence, and exceed it,” notes physicist Hawking. “Success in creating effective AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don’t know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it.”

The question: Is your team ready to help define the lesson plan?

Companies to watch

  • Autodesk — the well-known computer aided design pioneer is exploring the potential of AI to imagine and suggest alternatives that otherwise might not be considered.
  • DeepMind — bought three years ago by Alphabet for an undisclosed sum, the British company’s software is capable of playing professional level Go (a complex Chinese board game) and is also being applied to identifying breakthroughs in health care and materials science.
  • IBM — the company’s Green Horizons initiative focuses on air quality management, grid integration for solar and wind resources, and energy optimization.
  • Microsoft — its AI for Earth initiative is allocating US$2 million in grants and tech support to organizations applying machine learning to water conservation, agriculture, biodiversity and climate change.
  • OpenAI — is on a mission to ensure that AI benefits humanity, with more than US$1 billion in early funding from the likes of Elon Musk, entrepreneurs Peter Thiel and Reid Hoffman, and computer scientist Alan Kay.

Heather Clancy is Editorial Director, GreenBiz Group.

2018 State of Green Business is published by GreenBiz Group in partnership with Trucost, part of S&P Dow Jones Indices. Download the full report: https://www.greenbiz.com/report/state-green-business-report-2018

Image source: 2018 State of Green Business.

 

ABBDuring E.B. Horsman & Son’s (EBH) Annual General Meeting on March 5, 2019, ABB Canada was presented with the 2018 EBH Supplier of the Year award by Tyson Carvell, VP of Marketing. The award was received by Ed Atkinson, ABB Commercial & Construction Sales Manager for BC, on behalf of Rob Ruys, ABB Regional Manager for Western Canada.

Each year E.B. Horsman & Son monitors the sales and operations of each of their 600+ supplier partners. 

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SouthwireIn March 2018, Southwire announced the investment of more than US$9 million back into the lives of employees through one-time employee bonuses, expanded parental leave and a strengthened commitment to education through the Bridge Scholarship Program, a one-time opportunity for eligible hourly employees seeking to further their education through a two-year degree, four-year degree or technical certification. One year later, 64 employees have been awarded the Bridge Scholarship.  

“Building organizational capability is vital to maintaining our great culture and driving business results,” says Kelley Park, Executive Vice President of Human Resources.

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CEW 6 HR 400People with low levels of coping skills are at higher risk for mental health issues and mental illness than those with high levels. Gaps in coping skills inhibit the ability to solve problems and to make healthy and effective decisions.

To examine how coping skills can predict health outcomes, Dr. Bill Howatt facilitated a doctoral research study that examined the question: “What role does an individual’s coping skills have in predicting psychological and physical health outcomes?” The study found that coping skills mattered and were, in fact, a moderator that partially explains why some individuals had better physical and psychological health outcomes than others. The study concluded that when combining a person’s coping skills with their perceived stress levels, coping skills were significant in predicting which employees were at more or less risk for health issues.

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Changing Scene

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CREECree, Inc. has signed an agreement to sell its Lighting Products business unit, which includes the LED lighting fixtures, lamps and corporate lighting solutions business for commercial, industrial and consumer applications, to Ideal Industries, Inc. for approximately US$310 million before tax impacts, including up-front and contingent consideration and the assumption of certain liabilities. Cree expects to receive an initial cash payment of US$225 million, subject to purchase price adjustments, and has the potential to receive a targeted earn-out payment of approximately US$85 million based on an adjusted EBITDA metric for Cree Lighting over a 12-month period beginning two years after the transaction closes.

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EHRC WLNElectricity Human Resources Canada is delighted to have announced its new partnership with Women Leadership Nation™ (WLN) on International Women’s Day.

Electricity Human Resources Canada is delighted to have announced its new partnership with Women Leadership Nation™ (WLN) on International Women’s Day. This strategic alliance will offer EHRC members and Leadership Accord signatories with training, development and strategy support in their efforts to make progress in closing the Gender Gap.

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ABB Showcases Its Vision of Leadership in Digital Industries at ABB Customer World 2019

Show ReportBy Line Goyette

Leaders and innovators from business, government and the education sector gathered for this ABB premier collaboration event. More than 11,000 delegates attended the bi-annual ABB Customer World Houston 2019 from March 4 to 7 in Houston, Texas. ABB’s latest pioneering technologies were displayed over 150,000 sq ft of a colourful, buzzy display of futuristic conveyor belts and robots, an ABB Formula E Generation 2 car, and much more groundbreaking technology.

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Peers & Profiles

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National ManufacturingExcellence in Manufacturing Consortium EMC’s Advantage through Excellence: Future of Manufacturing Conference is a 2½ day event exploring the competitive advantages, opportunities and successes that can be achieved by manufacturers through a variety of learning forums — up to 40 workshops, panel sessions, keynote presentations and best practice plant tours — providing delegates with outstanding opportunities for benchmarking, peer networking, learning and sharing of hundreds of best practices. An estimated 500 to 900 manufacturing leaders and stakeholders from across Canada are expected to attend. 

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Rick McCartenBy Rick McCarten

I think it was Bill Gates who said the Internet will not have an effect on society short term, but will have a profound effect on us long term. 

Long term versus short term fascinates me. Making the call for one over the other can determine the success (or failure) of companies today. 

Using Bill Gates’ long-term Internet effect example, means that business decisions about the Internet will not necessarily show short-term gain, but will show “profound” gain in the long term.

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CEW 3 Perspective 400

We often learn how to look forward by first looking back, or at the very least we realize that despite our best efforts we have not truly advanced quite so much as we had thought. Sure, technology is rapidly advancing. That’s beyond question. But what about our approach to selling it? Have we changed that much in the last 20, 40, 60 years? Inevitably there have been advances and changes in marketing, the Internet causing the biggest shift, but many of the concerns and directives that have driven the distribution and marketing of industrial electrical products remain, or at least planted the roots of the concerns of manufacturers and distributors today. 

To gain perspective of the perceptions and directions of electrical product distribution in 1960, we turn to Edwin H. Lewis. In 1960 Lewis published “The Distribution of Industrial Electrical Products” in the Journal of Marketing.

To fully define electrical product distribution in 1960, Lewis broke his study into several categories. We will follow his direction and provide his insights on the industry in each of the categories he identified.

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Looking Back

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Bnei AkivaBy Blake Marchand


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Ms. Levy, a pre-med student from Toronto who recently received her BA in Biology while attending Yishiva University in New York.

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Looking BackLooking BackIn the 1930s to 1940s, CEDA’s Western Canada membership was very stable with old line independent companies like Horsman, Ashdowns, Brettell, Marshall Wells, Electrical Supplies Ltd., etc.

Small electrical distributors just were not acceptable for membership as they did not carry the main-line manufacturers’ goods, publish a wiring device catalogue, or employ four to five salesmen as CEDA requested.

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