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Ready for the future

A widely read science-fiction writer and futurist, Robert J. Sawyer is one
of only seven writers in history — and the only Canadian — to win all three
of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year. He received Ryerson’s Alumni Award of Distinction in 2002. His next book, Wake, is the first in a trilogy about the World Wide Web gaining consciousness.

by Robert J. Sawyer, Radio and Television Arts ’82

Ryerson is turning 60. At a time like this, most people reflect on the past. But I'm a science-fiction writer: my job is thinking about the future. And Ryerson's is so bright, it glows.

When I entered Ryerson in 1979 to study Radio and Television Arts, we learned to cut audio tape with a razor blade. Now, students edit digital recordings with the click of a mouse. In the decades ahead, they'll be using voice commands, simply telling computers to "cut out all the umms and ahhs, then find that bit where the interviewee commented on prices and move it to the front." Video will be edited the same way, with images computer-morphed to flow smoothly over deletions.

Radical changes are coming in other course areas, too. Before long, some Hospitality and Tourism Management students will specialize in space tourism and the management of orbiting hotels. Theatre students will construct immersive virtual-reality experiences, in which the audience becomes part of the play.

Computer Science students will program quantum computers that harness the incredible problem-solving power of bits that can be both on and off simultaneously. And computers themselves will start to think: Ryerson Psychology students won't just be dealing with human minds but also with those of self-aware machines.

Journalism students will lead us to new understanding in a world in which everything and everyone are always online. Image Arts students will be working with three-dimensional holography. Sociology students will deal with cloned families and the need for society to adapt to radical life prolongation. Urban and Regional Planning students will design cities for sustainable growth here on Earth - and help create our first permanent settlements on the moon. And Engineering students will build complex machines just a few billionths of a metre long - as well as towers of carbon nanotubes that will stretch all the way up to those orbiting hotels.

Ryerson has always been at the cutting edge, but it has long tempered that edge with a solid liberal-arts education: it's that cyborg combination of the technological and the human that makes a Ryerson education unique - and will continue to make it valuable no matter how much technology evolves.

Yes, the tools we use will change, but the underlying basics won't. When all knowledge is accessible all the time, it won't matter what you know, but whether you know how to apply it. And that's why a Ryerson education - in applied arts, in applied science, in practical engineering, in real-world business - is future-proof: no matter what new technologies develop, Ryerson graduates will be able to adapt and use them effectively.

Traditional universities are all about ivory towers and hallowed halls: things that stay the same. But Ryerson has always understood flux: the world is ever changing, and this nimble institution constantly remakes itself and its curricula. By graduating the next generation of leaders in arts, technology and business, Ryerson will continue, as it always has, to set the stage for all the marvels yet to come.

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