Sunday, April 14, 2024

BIG Exclusives

Understanding machine learning

Machine learning (also called artificial intelligence or artificial neural networks) was originally designed to help better understand how the brain works. For example, how does the brain recognize images? Have a look at the image above, and describe what you see. At the most basic level, it shows a vase sitting on a table next to a wall, and containing flowers (specifically, sunflowers). At the next level, many of you will have recognized it as...

Detailed analysis of 2021 death data reveals disturbing trends

The most recent official tally of numbers and causes of death in Alberta (2021) is available publicly, and the trends are alarming. I must admit I got a sinking feeling when I saw the data reveal a large increase in the 2021 death rates over 2020, which were already the highest in the past 20 years. Things did not go in the right direction, despite government-mandated pandemic interventions (e.g., social distancing, masking, business closures) and...

Geoscientists are well positioned to play pivotal role in energy education

Adequate, affordable, and available energy lies at the centre of modern human existence. Energy for food, shelter, warmth, and transportation enables long, healthy and productive lives. Yet many in our society have lost sight of this fundamental truth, caught up in a blinkered focus on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. As a result, people and industries in many high-income nations are experiencing energy shortages, or are paying so much for energy that they cannot...

Real-world lessons on energy transition

In the past month, I have attended two scientific conferences, each addressing a key component of humanity’s transition to more complex and diverse energy systems. The North American Helium Conference, hosted by the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists in Denver, brought together helium explorers from Canada and the United States to talk about finding and developing new sources of helium in secure domestic markets. The Atlantic Canada Carbon Neutrality Forum in Halifax explored how to...

What’s done can’t be undone

ChatGPT has a “mind” of its own, with apparently strong opinions about climate change, as you can see from its Shakespearean-style lament below. My contribution to the literary composition of the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot was the simple prompt, “Write a poem about climate change in the style of Shakespeare.” The reason for the rhyme was research for Part 2 in my series of articles on AI (AI: Where are we and where are we...

AI: Where are we and where are we going?

Part 2: The state of the art It is difficult to assess the “state of the art” when it comes to artificial intelligence because in the time it has taken you to read this sentence, AI has advanced. Unlike any other scientific endeavour that humans have undertaken – which tend to progress relatively systematically with the occasional breakthrough – AI is in a period of mind-blowing, unpredictable change. I recently asked an audience of about 50...

Peace River earthquakes – did the media get it right this time?

Last November 29, a series of three earthquakes shook the Peace River area in northern Alberta. The biggest shock measured 5.59 magnitude – a modest quake by many standards, but one of the largest ever recorded in normally quiet Alberta, Canada. There were no injuries reported, in part due to the remote location. Of course, people wanted to know – why did these events happen? Were they natural or human-made? Were they isolated occurrences, or...

Recognizing roots of global energy crisis might help us move toward solutions

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago is one of the great tragedies of the 21st century – millions of lives lost or disrupted, untold destruction, and economic upset throughout the world. The International Energy Agency (IEA) tells us that one of the terrible outcomes of the invasion and subsequent war was to create a global energy crisis (Where things stand in the global energy crisis one year on). In this commentary, IEA...

Fracking 101: Just the fracts

When I graduated from university and started my job at Shell Canada as an interpreter, I was trained on the basics of the petroleum system. To clarify, an “interpreter” in this context does not mean that I was hired to translate Greek to English. I do speak Seismic quite fluently, though, and my role as an interpreter was to translate sounds of a different type – the mysterious sound waves contained in seismic data...

Energy transition – a lesson in advocacy and models

There is so much written about humanity’s energy transition in the 21st century, and many of these articles, blogs, and studies are informative, examining different aspects of incredibly complex energy projects and processes around the world. But others are thinly veiled advocacy pieces, pushing viewpoints motivated by the authors’ interests. And, of course, in this era in which anyone can air their views online without oversight, there is a great deal of misinformation floating...