The Pulse: Feb. 3, 2022

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  • -19°C: Increasing cloudiness. Periods of light snow beginning this evening. Wind south 20 km/h gusting to 40 becoming light this evening. Low minus 19. Wind chill minus 28 this evening and minus 22 overnight. Risk of frostbite. (forecast)
  • 1,598: Alberta reported 1,598 patients in hospital with COVID-19 on Feb. 2, including 106 patients in ICU. (details)
  • 5-3: The Oilers (23-16-3) defeated the Capitals (25-13-9). (details)

Colin Lachance

AltaML and Compass Law launch joint venture focused on legal AI

By Emily Rendell-Watson

Edmonton-based AltaML and Ottawa's Compass Law have teamed up to launch Jurisage AI, a new venture combining their strengths in legal innovation and artificial intelligence.

Jurisage CEO Colin Lachance, who lives in Ottawa but attended law school at the University of Alberta, said AI is particularly beneficial for the legal sector because of the "sheer volume of legal information" and its complexity.

"The volume speaks to how AI can support professionals, and complexity goes to how AI can help the law become more accessible to the public at large," said Lachance, who has been working in legal information and publishing for more than a decade.

He told Taproot that the cross-country collaboration AltaML and Compass Law have set up is significant because of the opportunity available in legal innovation.

"AI isn't an exclusively a local development activity. It's a national capacity-building thing. And what I love about Edmonton specifically is that the AI talent level is as high ... as Montreal, Waterloo, Silicon Valley. It's world-class talent," Lachance said. Edmonton is also home to legal innovation startups like dealcloser and PainWorth.

The first product Jurisage plans to launch is called MyJr. The concept is based on how senior lawyers typically hand off work to junior lawyers to continue research, so the system will aim to provide information to lawyers when they need it.

"A court judgment might have 20 pages and 5,000 words and a dozen issues and a whole lot of other stuff. So we want to help the lawyer understand the contents of that case in 30 seconds to a minute rather than in 10 to 15 minutes," Lachance explained, adding that to do that, they're building a "knowledge graph" to understand how data relates to other data points.

Juliano Rabelo is AltaML's director of data science, and his expertise includes knowledge graphs, in addition to legal information extraction and entailment. As the technical expert on the project, Rabelo has studied techniques that can be applied to any kind of freeform text.

"Our first step is to develop MyJr, but the company has an overarching goal, which is to democratize access to justice. We are already discussing other ideas and what we could do next," Rabelo told Taproot. "The ultimate goal would be to be able to answer any legal question that someone would have."

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By Doug Johnson

  • City council's executive committee voted 4-1 to advance an $18 million project that would see the old Coliseum Inn bought and converted into 98 units of supportive housing. The hotel has been used as bridge housing since April 2020. Councillors Anne Stevenson, Andrew Knack, and Erin Rutherford voted in favour alongside Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, while Coun. Jennifer Rice voted against, and said that council should be given the final say.
  • Construction on the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is complete in the Edmonton region, after two years of work. The new lines run between the Edmonton terminal in Sherwood Park, and the Acheson Industrial area, nearly 50 kilometres away.
  • TELUS has launched its new tier of home internet in Edmonton. PureFibre X allows upload and download speeds of 2.5 gigabits per second — the fastest internet in Canada, according to the company. The service first launched in Calgary back in June.
  • Curlers at Edmonton's Ellerslie Curling Club say that 90-year-old Cliff Holm is an inspiration. Holm has decades of experience and still curls three times a week. "(People) have said to me, 'You're crazy,'" Holm said. "And I say, I know, but that's what keeps me from going insane."
  • Balzac Billy, Alberta's weather-predicting groundhog, saw his shadow outside the Blue Grass Garden Centre on Wednesday morning, signaling another six weeks of winter. Billy's handlers expressed dismay at this development, though Billy is neither a prophet, nor — being a human in a costume — even a real groundhog.
  • Strathcona High School's Black Students Alliance, which launched last year, is educating students about microaggressions and other important topics. The group has decorated the school's halls with posters reading "My voice will be heard" and "Our collective power is immeasurable," for Black History Month. "I thought I could be part of the change and work toward a greater cause," said Grade 11 student Kaitlin Tetteh-Wayoe.
  • Court of Queen's Bench Justice Avril Inglis denied an Edmonton defence lawyer's argument for a mistrial in a sexual assault case. The court had dismissed potential jurors from the jury pool if they hadn't received at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Rory Ziv, who is representing the defendant Daniel Eserjose, had argued that the court had no authority for the exclusion of unvaccinated jurors but Inglis disagreed. The court recently posted a policy requiring jurors to provide proof of two or more vaccinations on its website.
  • The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre is diverting all surgical cases to hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary, except in the case of emergencies. The hospital is struggling to keep up with its list of urgent surgeries. "This is not a decision that we take lightly, and it has only been made following extensive conversation and exploration to ensure all possible options have been exhausted," AHS said.
  • UCP members are pressuring Premier Jason Kenney to axe the province's proof of vaccination protocols. Kenney said that the province would be dropping many COVID-19 safety protocols at the end of the month.
A newspaper clipping with the headline "Floodlights Are Dimmed, Empire Is Closed for War"

A moment in history: Feb 3, 1943

By Scott Lilwall

On this day in 1943, one of the city's most storied theatres was taking on a new role.

Earlier in the week, audiences had taken in the final show at the Empire Theatre. According to newspaper accounts at the time, it ended its run in a "blaze of glory" with a packed house for famed American singer Marian Anderson. Soon after, the stage would be shut down and given a new part to play: as a space for the thousands of U.S. military members stationed in Edmonton during the Second World War.

When the playhouse first opened in 1906, it was on the corner of 100 Street and 100 Avenue. It was the site of a 14-hour sale of lands belonging to the Michel Band, which had been under tremendous pressure from both the provincial and federal governments to sell off holdings. More than 8,000 acres of Michel Band property was sold to settlers, much of it for half its market value (and the band didn't actually get paid most of what was owed.)

In 1912, the Empire moved to a spot further east, where Enterprise Square now sits. It played host to some of the best-known vaudeville acts of the day, including Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers.

The Empire moved again in 1920 to its final location on 101 Avenue and 103 Street. While not quite as extravagant as the Pantages Theatre, it was still a popular venue that drew large crowds and was considered the superior stage for "serious dramas". The Empire was also the preferred venue for Edmonton's first orchestra (which disbanded in 1932 due to lack of funds).

After that last show in February 1943, the Empire became one of the dozens of buildings in the city to be leased to U.S. military contractors working on wartime projects in northern Canada, including the Alaska Highway. After the war, the building was purchased by local investors. A condition of the sale meant it couldn't be used as a theatre for another 25 years, but that didn't mean it wouldn't once again be home to an orchestra. The Trocadero Nightclub took over the space, complete with its own jazz musicians. The club was a staple of downtown nightlife for 35 years before shutting down. The building then served as a bingo hall for about a year before finally being torn down to make way for Manulife Place in 1981.

Live theatre has always been a rocky industry. And even though modern theatre companies no longer have to deal with the possibility of being conscripted for military use, many are still struggling with other challenges, like coronavirus. While many hope that 2022 might allow the entertainment industry to inch towards normal, the rise of the Omicron variant has forced many stages to cancel shows.

This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.

Taproot Edmonton's Bloom podcast, brought to you by Innovate Edmonton

AI dreams, airport innovations, and a departing founder catch Bloom's attention

By Emily Rendell-Watson

In Episode 2 of Bloom, Taproot's new show about the innovation sector, co-host Emily Rendell-Watson interviews Lejjy Gafour, co-founder and former CEO of Future Fields about his move to CULT Food Science.

Rendell-Watson and co-host Faaiza Ramji also discuss a new joint venture from AltaML and Compass Law, and a call from Cam Linke, CEO of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), for Alberta-based companies and the province to invest in AI as the field gains momentum.

"You need real-life businesses who want to see that kind of technology augment the customers they're trying to help, or to create a really unique growth or revenue opportunity in order for people to actually support it," Ramji said.

"Imagine like a camp of some sort where you have a bunch of CEOs in a room trying to think about how AI could push their industry or their company forward."

Ramji and Rendell-Watson also take a look at innovation happening at the Edmonton International Airport, where it has teamed up with Aira, an online service that helps visually impaired people navigate through the terminal. Plus, the University of Alberta and Aerium Analytics have partnered to use automated drones that look like predatory birds to scare real birds away from industrial areas.

Bloom is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and everywhere else you get your podcasts.