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Virtual Roundtable: Impact of Emerging Technologies

By Carol Beynon. Associate vice provost, School of Graduate & Post-Doctoral Studies


Western PhD candidates, from left, Kim Martin, Beth Compton, Adriana Soto. Courtesy Western News

What could be more important in our academic community than engaging our brightest minds in the imagining and decision-making process of designing Canada’s research future? Earlier this spring, a dozen graduate students from Western University’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) disciplines did just that in partnership with the University of Windsor. They were hosted by the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies, SSHRC and the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS). Their goal was to re-imagine what the future of research could and should look like in Canada.

It was part of a process where Canadian universities were invited to host graduate student roundtables to address SSHRC’s current plan to ensure research in the social sciences, arts and humanities is relevant to, and builds research capacity in relation to, Canada’s future, long term societal challenges and opportunities.

More than 20 Canadian universities took up the challenge to respond to one of six key questions.

Western and University of Windsor focussed on the question: How can emerging technologies be leveraged to benefit Canadians, with respect to sustainable, resilient communities; creativity, innovation and prosperity; values, cultures, inclusion and diversity; and governance and institutions?

Through the wonders of almost seamless technology, students from Windsor joined Western students around one large virtual table, and then worked collaboratively in four break-out rooms. Western Anthropology professor Andrew Nelson contextualized the meeting with an outline of SSHRC’s agenda. Western Anthropology PhD student Michael Carter presented an interactive e-presentation from Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone where he is director of industry relations. His provocative foreword clarified the term “emerging technology” and provided a history of the development technologies from the dawn of history to initial conceptions of computers and artificial intelligence, which actually began in the mid-1800s.

He drew attention to the necessity of vision, tenacity, creativity, and disruption in moving life forward. During the remainder of the four hour session, the air was filled with animated and engaged discussion among the participants from varied SSHRC-based disciplines. They commented, questioned, argued and challenged each other in joint breakout sessions. They probed the positives and negatives of technology, and wrangled with the idea that no matter who, or where, we are, we are always reacting to some form of emergent technology because society finds itself immersed without warning.

The students questioned:

  • How can we ensure, as responsible citizens, we become proactive? Is it even possible?
  • How can we ensure technology is available globally?
  • How do we manage disparity and complexity?
  • What happens when technology uproots and threatens important life traditions, health or global equity?
  • Is technology weakening our artistic creativity because of ease of accessibility?
  • Whose values? Whose culture? Whose definition of diversity?
  • Who should make the rules around technology?
  • How do we ensure government doesn’t take advantage of us technologically through imposing governance such as in Bill C-31?

“Meetings of the minds, such as these, are critical in recognizing and affording graduate students – who are our next generation of researchers – the opportunity to imagine and have a critical voice in creating the future, not just of Canada, but of our world,” said Linda Miller, vice-provost at Western’s School of Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies. This was a highly successful meeting. It showed the relevance of having our brightest young minds and researchers of the present/future inform SSHRC in its processes of implementing its forward- thinking agendas for the future.

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