Critical Tech Talk

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 9: Perspectives on Accelerating AI Adoption

Tuesday, June 25, 2024 at 4:00 p.m. in the Communitech Hub


About the talk

Join us to explore the impact of the Voluntary Code of Conduct on the Responsible Development and Management of Advanced Generative AI Systems. The code, introduced by the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry, aims to foster public trust in AI technologies, intending to accelerate adoption. This engaging panel discussion featuring education leaders, computer science researchers and industry experts will explore the broader implications of accelerating AI adoption beyond economic impacts. Speakers will share insights, hopes and concerns about the potential societal changes, ethical considerations and regulatory challenges that come with AI. The talk will be moderated by Dr. Marcel O’Gorman, founding director of the Critical Media Lab.

About the speakers

Craig Haney

Craig Haney is a leader in commercializing innovation and championing the technology ecosystem. As Head of Ventures at AltaML, he drives the growth of new and existing ventures. With extensive experience at some of Canada's top tech companies, including Canadian Tire and ApplyBoard, Craig has successfully overseen innovation and technology initiatives and currently serves on the board for Propel Accelerator.

Kyle Jensen

Kyle Jensen is a Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Arizona State University. He has authored or co-edited six books, including "Kenneth Burke’s Weed Garden" (Penn State University Press, 2022). His research on writing instruction, AI, and public literacy has been featured in The Washington Post and Times Higher Education, with NEH support. He is working on two new books: "Time to Listen" and "Story Problems: How to be Curious About Generative AI."

Vincent Yang

Vince Yang is currently a Senior Product Manager at Vidyard and has worked in diverse B2B landscapes spanning content collaboration software, healthcare, and marketing & sales technologies. Most recently, he led the development and launch of Vidyard's AI Avatars. He's invigorated by the transformative potential of the latest advancements in Generative AI, envisioning a future where technology catalyzes genuine human interactions.

Edith Law

Edith Law is an Associate Professor and Director of the Augmented Intelligence Lab at the University of Waterloo. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and holds a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon. Her research interests include social computing, human-machine interaction, and designing technology to promote human values. Her work has received awards at CHI, CSCW, and DIS conferences, and is funded by NSERC and CFI-JELF. She is currently focused on designing tools and systems for value discovery and collaboration.

Critical Tech Talk Popup: Teaching Writing After Generative AI: An Expert Panel, Open Conversation and Workshop

Monday, June 24, 2024, 9:00 a.m to 12:00 p.m. in the Davis Centre Library, University of Waterloo


AI-generated image depicting a university classroom where a professor is instructing students on writing after the advent of generative AI

Join this workshop event for instructors who are grappling with challenges faced by generative AI, specifically in writing assignments.

All instructors are invited, though we will focus on instructors of writing. This is an inclusive event designed to foster dialogue; naysayers and early adopters are equally welcome. The event will feature Kyle Jensen, Director of Writing Programs at Arizona State University, who will co-facilitate with pedagogy leaders from across campus, including Antonio Muñoz Gómez (Library), Clare Bermingham (Writing and Communication Centre), Trevor Holmes (Centre for Teaching Excellence), Megan Selinger (Undergraduate Communications Requirement), Jay Dolmage (Department of English), and Karen Lochead (Centre for Extended Learning). The session will be moderated by Dr. Marcel O’Gorman, founding director of the Critical Media Lab.

Critical Tech Talk 8: Humility as a Value in Engineering and Design

Friday, March 22, 2024 at 4:00 p.m. in Arts Lecture Hall (AL) 116


About the talk

"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."

A special introduction will be made by Dr. Mary Wells, Dean, Faculty of Engineering. 

About the speaker

Kari Zacharias

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.


Jennifer Howcroft

Jennifer Howcroft is a Lecturer in the Department of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo. Her research encompasses technical and pedagogical research areas. Her pedagogical research focuses on engineering education, in particular engineering design, holistic engineering education, empathy, and values. Her technical research is predominantly focused on sensor-based human movement analysis encompassing signal analysis, big data analytics, and artificial intelligence techniques.


Naomi Paul

Naomi Paul (She/Her) is a Métis woman who grew up here in Waterloo region. This is outside of the Georgian Bay Métis Community, which is her family's hometown. She is currently pursuing her PhD in the Department of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo, where she completed both her undergraduate and master's degrees in Systems Design Engineering as well. Naomi's research focuses on bridging Indigenous and Western knowledge within STEM, recognizing that Indigenous Perspectives have long been excluded from education, but will play a crucial role in our progress towards reconciliation.


Marcel O'Gorman

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."

Critical Tech Talk Popup: How to Build Anything Ethically

Tuesday, November 21, 2023, 11:30 a.m. | Virtual


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.

About the speaker

Suzanne Kite

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.

Critical Tech Talk 7: Black Media Philosophy and Beyond with Armond R. Towns

Wednesday, September 20, 2023, 5:00 - 6:30 p.m. | WATCH THE EVENT RECORDING OF BLACK MEDIA PHILOSOPHY

This Critical Tech Talk event features Armond R. Towns, on the modern research university, race, and communication and media studies. Following the talk, there will be a short reception for in-person attendees at the Science Teaching Complex (STC).

About the talk

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.

About the speaker

Armond Towns

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.

About the respondent

Tolulope Awobusuyi

Tolulope Awobusuyi is an environmental software consultant and PhD student in Geography and Environmental Management. His research looks at the relationship between visual culture and Blackness, primarily through photography and film, and how Black spatiality is produced in media at the narrative level. He is also interested in the philosophies and epistemologies of design practice, particularly in technology and media.

Critical Tech Talk 6 — Clean Energy, Climate Justice & Indigenous Rights: From extractive, colonial capitalism to equitable, flourishing alternatives.

Thursday, July 20, 2023, 5:00 - 6:00 p.m. | WATCH THE EVENT RECORDING OF CLEAN ENERGY

About the talk

The climate crisis calls for a massive and speedy transition away from fossil fuels towards energy systems based on renewable, clean sources like the sun, the wind and the tides. But to date, what we’re seeing is a move towards extractive, large-scale, corporate-owned for-profit models of green energy. These so-called solutions are replicating the social and environmental injustices perpetrated by the fossil fuel industry, including the rampant violation of Indigenous Rights and desecration of their lands and waters .

Upholding indigenous rights and fighting for a climate just future for all requires not just a change in energy sources, but a transformation in the very systems of power, governance, worldviews and values that have driven the climate crisis. In this talk Eriel Deranger and Jen Gobby will share their own visions for what this transformation can look like and open up a discussion about how these visions can inspire and ground the work of those in the tech and innovation world.

About the speakers

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger is a Dënesųłiné mother from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN)  and the Executive Director and co-founder of Indigenous Climate Action (ICA),  an Indigenous-led climate justice organization in so-called Canada. Deranger is a member of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, and sits on various boards including  BioneersIt Takes Roots Leadership CouncilClimate Justice Resiliency Fund Council of Advisors, the UK Tar Sands Network and WWF Canada; and was a founding member of the Global  Indigenous Youth Caucus.

Jen Gobby

Jen Gobby is a settler living on a small farm on unceded Abekani Territory in rural Quebec. She has a PhD from McGill and is Affiliate Assistant Professor at Concordia University. She is the author of More Powerful Together: Conversations with Climate Activists and Indigenous Land Defenders and founder of Research for the Front Lines, where she currently works, supporting the research needs of communities and movements fighting for climate and environmental justice across so-called Canada.

Critical Tech Talk 5 — Artificial Wombs: The Disobedient Future of Birth

Monday, March 13, 2023, 5:00 p.m. on Zoom | WATCH THE RECORDING OF ARTIFICIAL WOMBS

The fifth event in this series of honest talks about innovation presents Dr. Claire Horn, Killam postdoctoral research fellow from Dalhousie University. This event is co-presented by the Faculty of Health.

About the talk

Since 2017, researchers have made significant progress toward developing a liquid environment to mimic the conditions of the uterus and allow fetuses to gestate outside the body from as early as 21-23 weeks. Bioethical and liberal feminist commentators have anticipated that artificial wombs (ectogenesis) will benefit all pregnant people. Contemporary ectogenesis technologies, however, are costly projects intended for well-equipped emergency neonatal facilities. Introduced into a world where globalised and racialized inequity in neonatal and perinatal mortality and morbidity are pronounced, rather than proffering universal improvements to care, these technologies are likely to increase existing stratification. This talk explores how the design, implementation, and regulation of artificial wombs may shape the technology’s impact and considers how artificial wombs and reproductive technologies more broadly might be altered if they were disentangled from the spheres of both healthcare and the commercial market. Exploring how existing technologies (such as medication abortion and artificial insemination) have travelled within heavily regulated medical settings and through networks of home care, medical knowledge sharing, and mutual aid, I will consider the possible future paths an artificial womb might take. 


Dr. Claire Horn is a Killam postdoctoral research fellow at Dalhousie University’s Health Law Institute. She has previously held research fellowships with the Wellcome Trust and the Modern Law Review. Her work over the last six years has focused on law and policy governing sexual and reproductive health, rights, and technologies, with specific interest in ectogenesis. Her book, EVE: The Disobedient Future of Birth, is forthcoming in March 2023.

Dr. Horn’s talk will be followed by a conversation with two Waterloo researchers.

Alana Cattapan is the Canada Research Chair in the Politics of Reproduction, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Waterloo, and an Adjunct Professor at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan. She is also the director of the Politics of Reproduction Research Group at the University of Waterloo.  She studies gendered inclusion in policy making related to reproduction, identifying links between the state, the commercialization of the body, and reproductive labour. 

Margaret Mutumba is a health innovator and public health researcher with over 10 years of experience in maternal, sexual & reproductive health in Sub-Saharan Africa. Margaret's recent work has focused on equitable access to fertility care in low-resource contexts, having overseen management of fertility hospitals in Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Her doctoral research examines the accessibility and affordability of fertility care in Sub-Saharan Africa. Through this work, Margaret founded a digital health startup, MedAtlas, that makes it easier for patients anywhere in Africa to access specialist (fertility) care. 


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 on responsible innovation and critical design at the CML, which is located at the Communitech Hub. 

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

Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, 4:00 p.m. | WATCH THE RECORDING OF BATYA FRIEDMAN'S TALK

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 Friedman

Batya 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.

Student respondents

Carl Tutton

Carl 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 Heeg

Sid 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 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 Chun

Wendy 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'Gorman

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."


Brianne Wiens

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

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 – 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 Aschoff

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:


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 research scientist for Cerebras Systems.