To build technology that is good for society, ethical discussions have to happen at the research and development stage – not at the end of a project, says a Waterloo professor.

Marcel O’Gorman, a professor in Waterloo’s Faculty of Arts, told attendees at the True North Waterloo conference that this region has an opportunity to create an ethos and a culture that supports innovation that improves lives.

“We might want to stop and look around . . .  to north Waterloo Mennonite communities who are living without tech and what they are doing to preserve community,” says O’Gorman, a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature and director of the University’s Critical Media Lab in downtown Kitchener.

“What is the ethos of a person or a community that wants to develop a type of intelligence that exceeds human intelligence?” he asked. True North Waterloo is a conference hosted by Communitech for innovators, entrepreneurs, academics and policymakers. The theme of the three-day conference is Tech For Good.

Gender diversity in tech

Michael Litt, a University of Waterloo alumnus and co-founder and CEO of Vidyard, took the main stage to explore the reasons the tech sector has become so male-dominated. Litt said women had worked in computing prior to the dawn of personal computers which were marketed primarily to men. “IBM tried to target the buyer of the household, which was the dad, to create a bonding experience between the dad and sons,” said Litt.

Litt pointed out that 75 per cent of people who create the algorithms that shape society’s artificial intelligence are men, so AI reflects their biases. He pointed out that a Google search for images of doctors will pull mostly photos of white men.

“What does that mean for the next generation of humanity?” he asked.

He urged the audience to explore their own biases, take part in conversations like True North, identify whether job postings have implicit gender bias, and to consult women about their experiences in the industry.

Photography courtesy of Lucas Dunlop.