Issue 21: May/June 2016
Change surrounds us and we are constantly reminded of the importance of keeping abreast of the potential of future innovations. As author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen said: “Successful companies can put too much emphasis on customers’ current needs, and fail to adopt new technology or business models that will meet customers’ unstated or future needs. Such companies will eventually fall behind.” Since I joined Ryerson in 1986, in the School of Information Technology Management, we have been preoccupied with technology-enabled transformation. We have developed and commercialized leading-edge technologies, many of which are showcased in the DMZ today. At the same time, we have grappled with questions about the drivers and impediments to the adoption of these technologies, because innovation only occurs when technologies are actually used to drive change. We have also explored the impacts of these technologies, including both the benefits and the risks. For 30 years, we have been preoccupied with these issues, and as the pace of change accelerates so does their importance. It seems only fitting that in this newsletter — the last we will publish before I leave my role as vice-president, research and innovation — we highlight current work of Ryerson researchers who shed light on possible futures and their implications. One certainty is that there is no certainty other than uncertainty.
Three years ago, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne from Oxford University published a paper, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?”, in which they predicted that 47 per cent of jobs in the United States might be lost as a result of technological innovation. The Brookfield Institute recently conducted a similar analysis with similar conclusions for Canada. While we have all been prepared for the impact of new technologies to replace labour in manufacturing, and the ways that online services have “disintermediated” whole sectors like the travel agency business by giving customers direct access to services, recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics are changing the world in ways only Star Trek could have predicted. Journalist Diane Francis, for example, points to the Associated Press, which announced that it would be relying on new software to generate its stories on the earnings of companies. Other disruptions come from using familiar technologies in new ways — for instance, the technologies underlying Uber and Airbnb are relatively mundane, but the impact of the new models they have created is profound.
However, while many technologies have the potential to transform, we are not necessarily able to predict when or how. Consider health care. As Andrew Bradbury wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Record Association: “The future of medical computing is bright. Obstacles to the practical use of the computerized medical record exist, but we may expect these to vanish within a few years... We have a golden opportunity to avoid a new round of escalating medical costs.” But he wrote this 25 years ago, and most would agree we still have a long way to go in the implementation of e-health.
Key to planning, particularly when you cannot make an accurate prediction, is understanding not just the technologies but also the ways in which they are being used — the drivers and impediments to adoption. This is why the study Adopt-IT, led by Ojelanki Ngwenyama and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, is so critical.
Data analytics is changing on so many fronts, from how we view the world to how companies view us. At the Data Science Laboratory, Ayse Bener is collaborating with industry to create tools that will allow mined data to be applied toward solving real world problems. From financial to medical applications, data analytics will soon become ingrained in how business is done.
Unintended consequences abound, which makes understanding both the benefits and potential risks of new technologies essential. For example, while electronic personal health records have the potential to enable seamless sharing of information between family physicians and specialists to dramatically improve health care delivery, in the wrong hands that data could be misused to stigmatize or discriminate. Ali Miri’s work looks carefully at how we encrypt that data and how we can create sharing platforms that still protect sensitive information.
Technology can also advance social goals. The Syrian refugee crisis has resulted in an influx of people who may not know how to access health care. Sepali Guruge has partnered with Women’s College Hospital to establish a web portal where Syrian refugee women can connect with health care providers, while also connecting with each other to help strengthen that community. Additionally, Andrew Millward has developed a web-based crowdsourcing application designed to engage the public in stewardship of trees within the City of Toronto and beyond, enabling the public to learn about local trees and add information about trees on their own properties. April Lindgren’s work uses an interactive online map to track changes in local media, particularly “local news poverty” in suburban and rural areas throughout Canada.
In the long run, transformative technologies will be economic drivers for our city, province and country. Ryerson is a hub of innovation and transformative change in the heart of Canada’s largest city.
Vice-President, Research and Innovation
July 15, 2016 | 12:00pm - 2:00pm
EPH-201, Eric Palin Hall, 87 Gerrard Street East
Hosted by the School of Social Work and Toronto Mad Pride.
As part of Mad Pride Week, Ryerson is hosting a series of events, workshops and community forums meant to celebrate & reclaim madness and mental health difference. Join us for a panel discussion with scholars, students and community activists to discuss and engage in the intersections of anti-black racism and madness. We will get an introduction to anti-black sanism from Ryerson social work scholars (Idil Abdillahi, Sonia Meerai and Jennifer Poole), and lots of opportunity to converse about how this relates to current events in Toronto, with hope for moving forward. Everyone is welcome (space permitting).