Beyond 60 lecture kicks off anniversary year
Democracy, cryptography, and the ethics of torturing robots in the name of science were all part of the discussion Monday night at the Beyond 60 special anniversary lecture in the Humanities Theatre that featured former National Security Agency subcontractor Edward Snowden, robotics expert Kate Darling, and a panel of Waterloo professors.
President and Vice-Chancellor Feridun Hamdullahpur gave opening remarks at the packed event, framing the context for the evening’s discussions. “We are on a mission to redefine the human condition in the 21st century,” he said. “We are looking not only where we have been, but where we are going. We are going to continue challenging the status quo and challenge innovators to break into whole new fields of innovation.”
“What awaits the world is nothing less than an information and intelligence revolution.”
Up first was Professor Kate Darling, research specialist at the MIT Media Lab who started her presentation by giving the University a birthday card that featured both a Canada goose and a robot. Darling spoke about how the two main pop-culture fears about robots—that they would either take all our jobs or rise up and destroy us—were largely unfounded (as a video of a hilariously inept soccer-playing robot was screened), but rather that the next 60 years would see a new era of increasing human-robot interactions.
When you combine the skills of humans and robots, Darling said, that's where the magic happens.
Darling spoke of a future where new ethical questions about the design and use of robots will arise.
Even as robots are increasingly being used in therapeutic and educational situations, Darling recounted an exercise where participants were asked to destroy small HexBug robots with mallets. Darling talked about the possibility of desensitization - where people who were being violent towards robots could find themselves being violent in other circumstances.
"Technology is a tool that can influence behaviour and even change it for better or worse," Darling said. "We can measure people's empathy by using robots. The question is, can we change people's empathy by using robots?"
Edward Snowden, who appeared onscreen from an undisclosed location in Russia, spoke about freedom, surveillance and democracy and the balance between national security and information privacy.
Snowden argued that his 2013 act of leaking classified information to journalists "was never really about surveillance. This was about democracy, and more generally how technology can change our relationship to the government."
He spoke about the relationship between technology and governing a free society, providing examples in several countries, including Canada, where government authorities have collected large amounts of private data and metadata on people, including innocent people who had done nothing wrong. The ability to conduct mass surveillance using technology inevitably leads to abuse, he said, because of the natural tensions and temptations of power and institutions. "Abuse results not because people are evil, but because they are weak."
"Privacy is the fountainhead of all rights," Snowden said. "If we are going to have individual rights we have to protect them for everyone." He illustrated this by saying that when everything we do can be tracked, we lose the ability to have a private space to form our own opinions, even unpopular ones. "A world in which we can't make mistakes is a world where we can't take risks."
Both keynote speakers took questions from the audience.
A panel, moderated by futurist Nikolas Badminton, included Waterloo professors Dana Kulic, Michele Mosca and Beth Coleman, who spoke about human-robot interaction, quantum cryptography, smart cities and smart citizens. The panelists also highlighted the need for students and researchers from different disciplines to engage at the University, strengthening vital collaborative links as Waterloo considers the next 60 years.
Check out the Storify for more information about the anniversary lecture.
A truly Canadian co-op experience
by Andreea Perescu
During his first co-op work term with R.J. Burnside, a Canadian engineering and environment consultant firm, Grant Mitchell traveled to northwestern Alberta to meet with a First Nations community. It turned out that Mitchell’s first co-op experience would involve working on a truly Canadian project: building an indoor hockey rink.
“There’s not much to do out there because it’s so far north,” said Mitchell, who is enroled in Geological Engineering at Waterloo. “They only have an outdoor hockey rink, so they were looking to get an indoor rink to play hockey more often. It's things like that – little things that we take for granted that the communities out there don’t have – that’s what we were trying to bring.”
The community development plan was for a small community of only about 225 people located approximately five hours away from Edmonton. “The entire plan was centered on building this hockey rink. That was at the forefront - anything that we could do to make sure there was a hockey rink there,” explained Mitchell.
Mitchell and the Burnside team also worked on plans to improve housing facilities and build shared living residences for elders in the community. Many of the homes in the community haven’t been refurbished in nearly 40 years. “There are quite a few members living off the land that would like to move back. Being able to fund housing is something that we were really interested in,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell enrolled in Geological Engineering at Waterloo in 2014 but deferred for a year due to a concussion. During that time, he secured a job as a mechanical engineering assistant at a goat cheese factory in his hometown of Lindsay, Ontario. The opportunity helped Mitchell add valuable work experience to his resume. “They needed an assistant for their engineer,” said Mitchell. “I just got my name in there and managed to get the job. In Lindsay, where there are no engineering jobs at all, I managed to sneak my way into one!”
In the future, Mitchell says he hopes to return to the community and visit the rink he helped build.
Staff association seeks President-elect
The University of Waterloo Staff Association (UWSA) has issued a call for nominations for its 2017 President-Elect. The position would take office at the association's Special General Meeting scheduled to take place on February 23.
The nominating period opens today and runs until January 25 for the three-year position, which proceeds in stages: President-Elect from February 2017 to October 2017, President from November 2017 to October 2018 (a full-time role plus stipend), and Past-President from November 2018 to October 2019.
"Please consider serving the University of Waterloo community by becoming a candidate for this Board position or nominating a staff member," says a note from the staff association. "To become a candidate, complete and submit the nomination form, available on the Election 2017: Call for Nominations page, before 12:01 pm on January 25, 2017."
The next WCMS developer drop-in lab will be on Thursday, January 12 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. in MC 2060.
"If you’re developing for the WCMS, or want to start, and are stuck, in need of guidance, or aren’t sure how to do things “the WCMS way”, you can get help by dropping by and talking with a member of the WCMS developer team," says a note from the WCMS team. "Everyone is welcome – it doesn’t matter if you’re full time or part time, contract or coop. External developers are encouraged to work on projects that may be integrated with the central build or deployed to specific sites."
Employers on campus next week hosting employer information sessions include Aviva Canada, Electronic Arts, Capital One Canada, Pacific Services Canada Limited, ContextLogic Inc. (Wish), TD- Technology & Data & Analytics, CIBC Technologies Co-op Program, Loblaw Enterprise IT, Google: Ask an Engineer Anything Panel, Connected Lab, Manulife Financial – Data Science, Wattpad, Bata Innovation Lab, Google: Tech Interview Prep, Blackberry, McRae Integration, Facebook, Rackspace, Siemens Canada, Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., SAP, and Nulogy. Visit the employer information sessions calendar for more details.