Critical Tech Talk

UPDATE – Fall 2023: Critical Tech Talk has been renewed for a second season!

Our first round of Critical Tech Talk spanned six events from Fall 2021 to Spring 2023. Please see the event recordings and speaker details from our first series on this page. See the second series of talks (Fall 2023 – Present) on the current page.

Humility as a Value in Engineering and Design

Kari Zacharias

Friday March 22, 2024 | 4:00pm EST | Virtual and in-person

Register here

Responsible, sustainable, and equitable technological design requires a culture of engineering whose values reflect these intended design outcomes. In this talk, I use the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer – the Rudyard Kipling text that forms the basis of the iron ring ceremony – as a space to explore changing understandings of humility as an engineering value. While humility has long been positively associated with engineering practice, the humble engineer portrayed in Kipling’s poetry is a different figure than the engineer humbled by technology who is often presented in contemporary discussions of the iron ring and the Ritual. I argue that our understanding of engineering humility has implications for the ways that we think about and enact responsibility in engineering and technological design. Connecting recent discourse around the Ritual to the idea of humility, I suggest that engineers can work towards responsibility, sustainability, and equity in design by practicing humility as respect of other ways of knowing, doing, being, and making. 

Kari Zacharias is an Assistant Professor in the Centre for Engineering Professional Practice and Engineering Education at the University of Manitoba. Her work focuses on the intersections between engineering knowledges and other disciplines and knowledge cultures. She has a background in engineering and in science and technology studies, and she is a founding member and co-facilitator of the Retool the Ring group.

How to Build Anything Ethically

Suzanne Kite

Tuesday November 21, 2023 | 11:30am EST | Virtual

Couldn’t join us live? Catch up on the recording of this event:

This discussion of ethical decision making when building technologies in a ‘Good Way’ includes two examples. First, I illustrate how the protocol for building a Lakota sweat lodge can act as a framework for building a physical computing device. Next, I provide an example of how multiple streams of protocol are necessary to build an AI system as a confluence of ethics. Some ideas proposed here are not currently possible, some are possible if investment is made in the necessary research, and some are possible but only through a radical change in the way technology companies are run and the pyramid of compensation for the exploitation of resources is reversed.

Suzanne Kite is an award-winning Oglála Lakȟóta artist, composer, and academic. Her scholarship and practice explore contemporary Lakȟóta ontology (the study of beinghood in Lakȟóta), artificial intelligence, and contemporary art and performance. She creates interfaces and arranges software systems that engage the whole body, in order to imagine new ethical AI protocols that interrogate past, present, and future Lakȟóta  philosophies.

On Black Media Philosophy and Beyond

Armond R. Towns

Wednesday September 20, 2023 | 5pm EDT | Virtual and in-person

Couldn’t join us live? Catch up on the recording of this event:

Much of the contemporary research on race in communication media studies begins with media representations. However, for this talk, Armond R. Towns will focus on the relationship between the modern research university, race, and the development of communication and media studies in the early and mid-twentieth century, with a focus specifically on US and Canadian communication and media studies. Like the modern university, the discipline of communication and media studies, Towns argues, has a difficulty with understanding non-Western life. This talk is a beginning conversation on how to push toward new forms of understanding humanity beyond Western life. The topic of who counts as human is crucial in a context where big tech aims to control the future of so-called humanity and the AI race closes the gap between human and machine communications.

Armond R. Towns is an associate professor in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton University. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Communication. His research brings together Black studies, cultural studies, and media philosophy. His book, On Black Media Philosophy, was published in 2022 with the University of California Press. He is also the co-founder and inaugural editor of the journal, Communication and Race. Currently, he is developing a project on the relationship between the history of communication studies and the history of Black studies, focusing specifically on the development of both fields in U.S. and Canada.

Produced by the Critical Media Lab at the University of Waterloo, Critical Tech Talks is a series of honest dialogues about technological innovation. From data harvesting to the conflict minerals in our smartphones, critical thinking is shifting the momentum towards positive change – towards Tech for Good®. Each of the university’s six faculties will co-host a techno-critical speaker and invite Waterloo students and local tech sector members to participate in an on-stage dialogue and lead a post-event discussion online. The series is sponsored by Communitech, the Office of Research at the University of Waterloo, and the faculties of Arts, Environment, Engineering, Health, Math, and Science.