Critical Tech Talk

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.

Critical Tech Talk 3: AI Five Ways

May 16, 2022 | 7pm | Hybrid In-person and Virtual

Register here

As artificial intelligence grows more prevalent every day, even to the point of making life-and-death decisions for humans, principles of Responsible AI must be implemented to ensure safety, dignity, privacy, and autonomy for all. In this roundtable discussion, hear from five experts across different professional and disciplinary backgrounds on their approaches to the field and perspectives on the future of responsible AI.

Panelists

Hessie Jones is a Privacy Technologist, Venture Partner, Strategist, Tech Journalist and Author. She is currently a Venture Partner at MATR Ventures and COO, Beacon, a social enterprise start-up focusing on privacy solutions. She has 20 years of experience in start-up tech: data targeting, profile and behavioural analytics, AI tech and more recently data privacy and security. Hessie advocates for AI readiness, education, ethical distribution of AI and the right to self-determination and control of personal information in this era of transformation. Hessie is also a contributor at Forbes and GritDaily, a Co-founding member of MyData Canada, Women in AI Ethics Collective member, Board member with Technology for Good Canada, a Co-founding Member of Education Reform Collective (to combat Anti-Black and Anti-Indigenous Racism in Canadian education) and a technology mentor and start-up advisor.

Kem-Laurin Lubin is a Ph.D. Candidate in English Language and Literature at the University of Waterloo, where she focuses on AI models used in apps deployed in digital citizen management, specifically judiciary, healthcare, and education-based apps. She explores how AI models are rhetorical in nature and are emergent textual forms, with an inherent discursivity that negatively informs the material outcomes for users and doing so with its built-in bias. She is also the founder of the AI-HCI Working group, as well as the Exec. Director of the NFP Organization, Canadian Tech for Social Good, focused on AI and Tech Literacy for all Canadians.

Patricia Thaine is a Computer Science PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto and a Postgraduate Affiliate at the Vector Institute doing research on privacy-preserving natural language processing, with a focus on applied cryptography. Her research interests also include computational methods for lost language decipherment. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of Private AI, a Toronto- and Berlin-based startup creating a suite of privacy tools that make it easy to comply with data protection regulations, mitigate cybersecurity threats, and maintain customer trust. Patricia is a recipient of the NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship, the RBC Graduate Fellowship, the Beatrice “Trixie” Worsley Graduate Scholarship in Computer Science, and the Ontario Graduate Scholarship.

Reza Bosagh Zadeh is founder and CEO at Matroid and an Adjunct Professor at Stanford. His work focuses on Machine Learning, Distributed Computing, and Discrete Applied Mathematics. He’s served on the Technical Advisory Boards of Databricks, and has been working on Artificial Intelligence since 2005 when he worked in Google’s AI research team. As part of his research, Reza built the Machine Learning Algorithms behind Twitter’s who-to-follow system, the first product to use Machine Learning at Twitter. Reza is co-creator of the Machine Learning Library and the Linear Algebra Package in Apache Spark. Through Apache Spark, Reza’s work has been incorporated into industrial and academic cluster computing environments. In addition to research, Reza designed and teaches two PhD-level classes at Stanford: Distributed Algorithms and Optimization (CME 323), and Discrete Mathematics and Algorithms (CME 305)

Ben Armstrong is a Ph.D. Candidate in Computer Science at the University of Waterloo where he is affiliated with the Artificial Intelligence Group. His research combines machine learning and social choice with a particular focus on using machine learning techniques to develop and evaluate novel methods of voting, such as liquid democracy or sortition. He has also helped to run several graduate and undergraduate courses on the social implications of computer science, and the intersection of artificial intelligence, ethics, and law. Ben is a recipient of a NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship and multiple Ontario Graduate Scholarships



Critical Tech Talk 2: Wendy Chun

February 10, 2022 7pm | Virtual

In her most recent work, Wendy Chun reveals how polarization is a goal—not an error—within big data and machine learning. Correlation, which grounds big data’s predictive potential, stems from twentieth-century eugenic attempts to “breed” a better future. Recommender systems foster angry clusters of sameness through homophily. Users are “trained” to become authentically predictable via a politics and technology of recognition. Machine learning and data analytics thus seek to disrupt the future by making disruption impossible. Chun will address these issues directly and engage in a disruptive conversation with two featured respondents and a live-streamed audience.

Couldn’t join us live? Rewatch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJOntvvZ2wQ

About the speaker

WENDY HUI KONG CHUN is Simon Fraser University’s Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media in the School of Communication and Director of the Digital Democracies Institute. She studied both Systems Design Engineering and English Literature at the University of Waterloo, disciplines that combine and mutate in her work on digital media. Her recent books include Discriminating Data: Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognition (2021), Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media (2016) and Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (2011).

Moderator

Professor Marcel O’Gorman, University Research Chair, professor of English, and founding director of the Critical Media Lab (CML), University of Waterloo. Professor O’Gorman leads collaborative design projects and teaches courses and workshops in the philosophy of technology at the CML, which is located at the Communitech Hub. The role of the CML is to disseminate a philosophy of “tech for good.”

Student Respondents

Brianna I. Wiens (she/her) is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Communication Arts at the University of Waterloo and co-director of the qcollaborative, an intersectional feminist design lab. Her interdisciplinary work draws on her mixed-race queer activist-scholar experience to explore the digitally and culturally mediated phenomena of networked social movements and the politics of their design.

Queenie Wu (she/her) is a fourth-year undergraduate student studying Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo. Her experience in digital product design influences her curiosity regarding the impacts of data and research processes on social systems through various lenses – including data journalism and urban planning.


Critical Tech Talk 1: Nicole Aschoff

November 8, 2021 5 PM | Theatre of the Arts, University of Waterloo

Silicon Valley companies have brought digital technology into every sphere of modern life. But while Big Tech garners unprecedented power and profits, everyday existence becomes ever more deeply enmeshed in the circuits of capital. To what end? What are the limits of the digital frontier?

Couldn’t join us live? Rewatch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UE7mgcYi5A

About the speaker

Nicole Aschoff is an editor, writer and public sociologist focused on technology, labour, politics, feminism, the economy, and the environment. Her recent book is The Smartphone Society: Technology, Power, and Resistance in the New Gilded Age. She examines the complex ways that people, institutions, and big systems, intersect to forge the society we live in. Aschoff holds a PhD in sociology from Johns Hopkins University and currently works as a senior editor with Verso Books. Read more: nicoleaschoff.com

Moderator

Professor Marcel O’Gorman, University Research Chair, professor of English, and founding director of the Critical Media Lab (CML), University of Waterloo. Professor O’Gorman leads collaborative design projects and teaches courses and workshops in the philosophy of technology at the CML, which is located at the Communitech Hub.

Student Respondents

Neha Revella (she/they), MA Experimental Digital Media, Department of English, University of Waterloo. Neha is currently working as a research and project manager at Mozilla.

Nolan Dey (he/him), BASc Systems Design Engineering, University of Waterloo. Nolan is currently working as an AI research scientist for Cerebras Systems.