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Meet the innovators behind Toronto's 3D printing and cyber security sectors

There's an unwavering beauty in the way innovation lives at the apex of art and science. While both disciplines pursue truth, innovation can’t exist without a little bit of both—an amalgam of creative flair and scientific precision. 
A 3D printer has the ability to save lives. To change the way medicine is used. But it lacks vision—it needs to be told what to print, what materials to use and exactly how to do it. 
The same goes for cyber security. Without a multidisciplinary approach and open discussion surrounding what cyber security is, the Internet could become a very clinical, bland place. Protection of data is important, but so is the protection of the creativity and freedom of expression that the Internet is built on.
Toronto is home to a number of visionary innovators taking a multi-faceted approach to solving some of the world's challenges in creative ways. The following is the second in a two part series that looks at what the city is doing to make its mark as a flourishing hub of innovation. In this part we delve into the world of cyber security and 3D printing. 
Cyber Security
If you ask Ron Deibert about the city's role when it comes to innovation in the cyber security sector he's apt to question your understanding of the term.
"When we say cyber security, most people would imagine a bunch of geeks who try to build firewalls and defend companies from breaches," says Deibert, director of the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. "That's not the way that we see it. We see cyber security as something that should be oriented around protecting and preserving a free and open Internet."
Toronto plays host to both schools of thought surrounding the issue of protecting all those little digital 1s and 0s dancing around in cyberspace, but it's that openness in discussing the semantics that makes the city a hive of innovation in the sphere. 
While interdisciplinary think tanks like the Citizen Lab focus on cyber security with respect to human rights, other groups such as the 2000-member strong Toronto Area Security Klatch—and informal get-together of information security professionals—foster dialogue surrounding emerging trends in the sector.
One of the key innovations to come out of Deibert's discipline is Psiphon, an Internet censorship circumvention tool that gives users in countries such as China, Syria and Iran—where governments keep a tight control on the Internet—access to foreign news sites and otherwise censored material.
The system was developed at the Citizen Lab before being spun off as its own company.
"It is a Toronto-based organization and I think we do benefit from the physical location being close to the university and being in a vibrant city where there's a lot of technology activity happening," says Karl Kathuria, vice president of commercial management for the company.
If the recent forays by foreign governments—like, say the private data hungry-hippoing efforts of a certain three-letter security agency in the U.S.—is a glimmer of the shape of things to come, services like Psiphon will only rise in demand.
"I think the recent news stories [about the NSA] have changed a lot of people's perceptions. People actually care now and notice you can't avoid the fact this is happening," says Kathuria, adding that Psiphon gets 100,000 connections on its network every hour with 1.5 million unique users in a week.
Another effort by The Citizen Lab called The OpenNet Initiative—a partnership between tech researchers The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and The SecDev Group—is actively documenting the patterns of Internet censorship and surveillance worldwide.  
On the business protection side, Toronto is home to prominent businessman and Shark Tank personality Robert Herjavec’s The Herjavec Group. The tech services company focuses on data protection, security and storage networking for its stable of large clients. Then there’s Toronto-based cyber security firm, Spyders, which developed the IntelliGO platform to protect the growing number of businesses employing a "bring your own device" policy by securing those devices with a military grade encryption.  
The bustling innovation on both the business and human rights side of cyber tech is hardly surprising for Deibert, especially given the global nature of the web.
"I think there's a tradition going back to Marshall McLuhan and before him Harold Innis around communication technology and its impact on society and politics, so it's a natural home for this type of research," says Deibert. "Toronto is a global city and there's a heavy media concentration here and I think together those are important as well."
3D Printing
Much like the altruistic path cyber security innovators have seemingly launched themselves on, Toronto companies and researchers are revolutionizing the way 3D printers are used.
MaRS Innovation’s Fanny Sie—project manager for the Bioprinter, which is capable of printing organic material—gets excited when she discusses the endeavor and the implications it could have for human health and medicine.   
"In theory, in the future we could probably print 3D organs," says Sie.
In fact, that’s exactly what one of the companies she works with is trying to do. The mad scientists at Organovo are hoping to make structurally and functionally accurate bio-printed human tissue models of skin and organs.
"Right now they're working on coming up with the most simple geometry of functional tissue," says Sie. But eventually the company would like to be able to include sweat glands and hair follicles in their artificial skin.
"Cells are very intelligent, you just have to be able to put them close enough to one another in order for them to take over," says Sie adding that some of the research is a partnership with the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Research Institute.
The ability to print skin could change the way doctors treat large-scale burns, which typically cover 50 to 70 per cent of the body. "A very small 3 by 4 cm piece of artificial skin can cost in the tens of thousands, which is not a feasible or cost effective answer," she adds. 
In addition to Organovo, Modern Meadow is also working with the technology to print food and leather.

"The reason why this printer is different than any other printer out there is that it's able to place specific agents very precisely relative to one another," she says, of the technology invented at the University of Toronto.
Outside of the health sector, Toronto has experienced a sort of renaissance-like burst of activity in the 3D printing sector.
"The city is full of smart, creative people, so it makes sense that a technology that manifests ideas as physical objects would be embraced here," says Derek Quenneville a self proclaimed 3D printing evangelist and expert who at 3DPhacktory, one of the many design studios that employ the tech in the city.
Quenneville got into the tech in 2009 when printer manufacturer MakerBot was selling a new batch of their original MakerBot Cupcake 3D printers. 
"Since then, I've been doing talks, demos, and teaching workshops around hobbyist 3D printing," says the Toronto-based 3D printing guru. "In that time, home 3D printers have gone from crude experiments to retail products."
Professor Matt Ratto and PhD student Ginger Coons—researchers at University of Toronto’s Critical Making lab—are partnering with an international NGO and a Ugandan hospital to utilize 3D scanning and printing to streamline the process surrounding creating prosthetic limbs for children in Uganda.
While fitting typically takes days or weeks, the tech could be used to make the process more efficient.
Sie points out that the 3D printing sphere offers a sort of art meets science approach, a collaborative effort that is born of the diverse clusters of researchers and brilliant startups dotting the city and living in close proximity. Incubators and research centers help to encourage that spirit of collaboration, which in turn helps push innovation.
"[At MaRS], we often take things that look like they live in isolation and expose them to one another," says Sie. "That spirit is what drives people here."
The Future
Maybe that’s what makes Toronto so innovative—collaboration—that endless stream of ideas swirling in each other’s gravity, paths crossing, feeding on each other’s vision. Between the city’s research institution, incubators and burgeoning startup culture—resources and inspiration are never far from reach. And if innovation is the barometer of creativity, then Torontonians are a pretty creative bunch.

Andrew Seale is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose writing has appeared in The Toronto StarThe Vancouver SunThe Calgary Herald, and Alternatives Journal among other places. Stay tuned for Part II of his series exploring exponential technology in Toronto, which runs in Yonge Street on December 4th.
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