Critical Tech Talk

talking hands and laptoop computer

Welcome to Critical Tech Talk, a series of honest dialogues about technological innovation.

Assembling a diverse group of stakeholders — including both developers and end-users — the series is designed to promote an ethos of responsible innovation in the local tech ecology and beyond. 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. 

Critical Tech Talk is produced by the Critical Media Lab at the University of Waterloo. The series is sponsored by Communitech, the Office of Research, and faculties of Arts, Environment, Engineering, Health, Math, and Science at the University of Waterloo.

Critical Tech Talk 4 – Shaping Technology with Moral Imagination: Leveraging the Machinery of Value Sensitive Design

Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, 4:00 p.m. 

The fourth event in this series of honest talks about innovation is co-presented with the Faculty of Environment and features Professor Batya Friedman from the University of Washington.

About the speaker and topic

Batya FriedmanBatya Friedman is a professor in the Information School and holds adjunct appointments in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, the School of Law, and the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington where she co-founded the Value Sensitive Design Lab and the UW Tech Policy Lab. About the talk, she writes:

Tools and technologies are fundamental to the human condition. They do no less than create and structure the conditions in which we live, express ourselves, enact society, and experience what it means to be human. They are also the result of our moral and technical imaginations. Yet, with our limited view, it is not at all obvious how to design and engineer tools and technology so that they are more likely to support the actions, relationships, institutions, and experiences that human beings care deeply about – a life and society of human flourishing.

Value Sensitive Design (VSD) was developed as an approach to address this challenge from within technical design processes. Drawing on over three decades of work, in this talk I will provide an introduction to value sensitive design foregrounding human values in the technical design process. My remarks will present some of value sensitive design’s core theoretical constructs. Along the way, I’ll provide some examples of applying value sensitive design to robots for healthcare and to bias in computing systems as well as demonstrate one toolkit—The Envisioning Cards—in the context of a design activity. Read more

Student respondents

Carl TuttonCarl Tutton is undertaking a PhD in Sustainability Management. His background in end-of-life electronic waste policy and management systems, material flow analysis, and long-time interests and hobbies in consumer electronics led to his interest in the beginning of the lifecycle of products, the design phase. His work seeks to analyze successful implementations of, and barriers to, sustainable design changes and more efficient product lifecycles.


Sid HeegSid Heeg is a PhD student in Sustainability Management. Their research focuses on mis/disinformation surrounding farming and farm practices and how to bridge the knowledge gap between urban and rural populations. They are interested in learning how social media algorithms play a role in the continued spread of mis/disinformation and how it impacts sustainable farming practices. 


Critical Tech Talk 3: AI Five Ways

Monday, May 16, 2022, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. | WATCH THE VIDEO RECORDING OF AI FIVE WAYS

The third event in this series of honest talks about innovation features five experts from across domains and disciplines of artificial intelligence (AI).

As AI 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.

About the speakers

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Critical Tech Talk 2: Wendy Chun — Discriminating data

Thursday, February 10, 2022, 6 to 9 p.m. online in three parts


Have you ever observed a divisive, rage-fuelled fight online and wondered about the role technology played in the background? 

In her most recent book, Discriminating Data (2021), Wendy Chun reveals how polarization is a goal—not an error—within big data and machine learning. These methods, she argues, encode segregation, eugenics, and identity politics through their default assumptions and conditions. 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.

6:00-7:00 p.m. 
Data Jam

In this pre-conversation event, co-organized with the qcollaborative, participants will engage in a group design activity inspired by Wendy Chun’s book, Discriminating Data. Limited space available.

7:00-8:00 p.m. 
Discriminating Data: A Conversation with Wendy Chun

Participants include Marcel O’Gorman (moderator) with respondents Brie Wiens and Queenie Wu.

8:00-9:00 p.m. 
2D Social Mixer 

Join in Gather Town for the “Data Jam Showcase” and a surprise jam room.


About the speaker

Wendy ChunWendy Hui Kyong 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).



Marcel O'GormanProfessor 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."



Brianne WiensBrianna 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 WuQueenie 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 – The digital frontier and its limits

Monday, November 8, 2021, 5 PM | Theatre of the Arts, University of Waterloo, in-person and livestreamed 


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?

About the speaker

Nicole AschoffNicole 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:



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

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 ressearch scientist for Cerebras Systems.