COMMENTARY: In tech we trust | Artificial intelligence

I just spent two days in the Kitchener-Waterloo region at Communitech's True North Tech for Good Conference.

Full disclosure, Ipsos Canada did some pro bono research to help frame the development of a Tech for Good Declaration that former Governor General David Johnson launched on May 31. The Declaration is a voluntary code that all organizations using technology can sign on to and work to build into their operating principles.

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But it wasn't the Declaration that caught my attention. It was the overwhelming enthusiasm and interest in harnessing technology to do good from every person I spoke to.

I spend many of my work days examining public opinion, and of late, it has seemed to lean to the negative on most issues.

Take the Ontario election, for example. Very few people are voting for someone or to support something. Most are voting against someone or to stop something. It's not the most positive example of democracy for our youth.

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On the future of technology, many Canadians are having a difficult time keeping up with today's changes and they can't yet really fathom how they will feel once and blockchain start to have an impact on their lives. And while autonomous vehicles may be coming soon, Canadians rank near the bottom in our global research in their willingness to accept driverless cars.

On the economy, Canadians expect mass unemployment, and a difficult job transition due to tech advancement. And they are increasingly concerned about the security of their personal information as more and more of their data is collected and used to fuel the digital economy.

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On communities, our research shows low levels of social cohesion and a shift away from our geographic roots to a focus on a digital community that we feel greater affinity for. That's not great news for a system of government that is organized around geography, and where feeling a sense of belonging is one of the main reasons for voting, volunteering and working to help others who are worse off than us.

But at True North, the other 2,399 people in the room clearly hadn't seen the data I have, and they truly believed that with some hard work, a community-wide focus, and a desire to do good, they could ensure that the story of the future of tech and the future of Canada would be a positive one.

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“Slow down and fix things” was the mantra from Communitech CEO Iain Klugman. Johnson joked about there being something special about the water in the Grand River that made the community pull together so well. But they were just two of the many positive voices in the room.

Maybe the tech visionaries can see past the challenges better than most. After all, even Canadians agree that technology will “eventually” do what it has always done through history — make our lives better.

Most Canadians say that technology is inherently neutral, but it's how people use it that makes it a force for good or bad.

And after two days at True North, it's hard (even for someone who is constantly examining society's fault lines) not to feel at least a bit optimistic about this whole tech thing.

Mike Colledge is president of Ipsos Public Affairs Canada.

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