Thursday, November 3, 2022

There are no easy answers when it comes to protecting people’s rights in the digital domain.

Take, for example, your face. Clearly, it belongs to you. But that’s not necessarily the case when you use it to unlock your smartphone or post an image of it on social media – in both instances your likeness is transformed by a third party into a stream of data.

“Right now, we really don’t have a lot of agency over our data, even though it stems from really mundane activities,” says Wendy H. Wong, a professor of political science in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts & Science and a faculty affiliate at the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society.

“It is generated about you, but you don’t actually create that data yourself.”

The Canada Research Chair in Global Governance and Civil Society, Wong is working to bridge the divide between rapid technological innovation and society’s capacity to develop rules and regulations to govern it.

She is exploring how challenges in governing data and artificial intelligence are forcing us to re-examine our perspective on human rights. Called “Human Rights in the Digital Era,” Wong’s project – one of the major research projects underway at the Institute – looks at how the proliferation of data has fundamentally changed what it means to be human, how we relate to one another, and what it means to have rights in the digital era.

An Institutional Strategic Initiative (ISI) that launched in 2019, the Schwartz Reisman Institute’s mission is to ask critical questions and generate deep knowledge about the increasingly important – and potentially fraught – relationship between technologies and societies by fostering research-based collaborations between computer scientists, social scientists and humanists. It’s supported by a historic $100 million donation to U of T from Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman – a gift that is also underpinning construction of Canada’s largest university-based innovation hub: the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Campus.

“Toronto is home to some of the key innovations that have powered the explosion of AI over the last decade,” says Gillian Hadfield, the institute’s director and a professor in the Faculty of Law who is the Schwartz Reisman Chair in Technology and Society and was recently named a CIFAR AI Chair. “This generates the capacity for expertise and collaborations for people interested in solving problems.”

“The Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society can play a great role in helping grow the vibrancy of the community and the potential for Canada to grow such technology.”

Read the full story at U of T News