Technocultural Questions

Decimal Lab (Ontario Tech University) in partnership with the Digital Life Research Group & Faculty of Social Science and Humanities welcomes the public to evenings of short academic talks. These events will be held at the Centre for Social Innovation, Decimal’s Ontario Tech University, Toronto location.


Decimal Speaker Series 6 – Aging and the Digital: Developing Ethical Social Support Technology for Seniors

Date: March 12, 2020

Time: 5:30-7:30PM

Place: Toronto, Centre for Social Innovation, 192 Spadina Ave. ground floor Atrium



Featured Speakers: 

Goldie Nejat, PhD, P.Eng, Canada Research Chair in Robots for Society, University of Toronto

Jennifer Boger, PhD, Assistant Professor, Schlegel Chair in Technology for Independent Living at the  Research Institute for Aging, University of Waterloo

Andrea Slane, PhD, Associate Professor, Ontario Tech University

Isabel Pedersen, PhD, Canada Research Chair in Digital Life, Media and Culture



Goldie Nejat, PhD, P.Eng, Canada Research Chair in Robots for Society, University of Toronto

Healthy Aging with Socially Assistive Robots

The world is experiencing a silver tsunami: rapid population aging. As the world’s elderly population significantly increases, dementia is becoming one of the fastest growing diseases, with no cure in sight. Robots are seen as a unique strategic technology that will become an important part of society, aiding people in everyday life, in order to meet the urgent and immediate needs of an aging population. This talk will present some of my group’s recent research efforts in developing intelligent assistive robots to improve quality of life and promote independence (aging-in-place) of older adults, including those living with dementia. In particular, I will discuss our Brian, Casper, Tangy, Blueberry and Leia socially assistive robots that have been designed to autonomously provide cognitive and social interventions, help with activities of daily living, and lead group recreational activities in human-centered environments. These robots can serve as assistants to individuals as well as groups of users, while learning to personalize their interactions to the needs of the users. Numerous user studies conducted with older adults in care settings will also be discussed to highlight how these robots can effectively be integrated into people’s everyday lives.


Jennifer Boger, PhD, Assistant Professor, Schlegel Chair in Technology for Independent Living at the  Research Institute for Aging, University of Waterloo

Ethical by Design: Incorporating ethical considerations into technology development

Technologies are becoming more pervasive, inclusive, and autonomous. While technology shows great promise to support multiple facets of aging, its use brings with it questions about how to develop appropriate, responsible solutions. This talk will present the concept of ‘Ethical by Design’, where we will explore how ideas from many different viewpoints can be identified, balanced, and incorporated into technology in a way that complements different requirements from technology, system, and human perspectives.


Andrea Slane, PhD, Associate Professor, Ontario Tech University

Isabel Pedersen, PhD, Canada Research Chair in Digital Life, Media and Culture

Involving Seniors in Developing Privacy Best Practices: Toward Responsible Development of Anthropomorphic Social Support Technologies for Seniors

Social robots emerge across the globe as an exciting solution to the perceived issues concerning seniors and aging. However, the companies that invent and develop them rarely seek feedback from their intended consumers. Seniors are often not consulted on the design of technologies geared to them. This presentation sets out preliminary findings from an interdisciplinary study funded by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada that engaged seniors in discussions about their attitudes toward use of devices and applications that provide social support for seniors, including personal robots. The project consisted of two phases: in the first, focus groups were asked open-ended questions about both their current use of technology and attitudes toward new technologies.  In the second phase, workshop activities encouraged participants to imagine the kinds of factors that should go into deciding to use a technology for social support, now or in the future.  Given the convergence of social, technological, and business model factors that encourage the development of both the technology and the market for it, the project aims to give seniors a voice in the process of establishing privacy best practices for this new domain of senior-oriented anthropomorphic social support technologies.


Decimal Speaker Series 5 – Emotional Machines, Programmable Humans: What is Lost in the AI Interpretation of Human Emotion?

Date: February 6, 2020

Time: 5:00-6:30PM

Place: Toronto, Centre for Social Innovation, 192 Spadina Ave. The Viola Desmond Room third floor

Rsvp: Free and open to the public,

Featured Speaker: 

Dr. Lyuba Encheva is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) postdoctoral fellow based at Decimal Lab. She received her PhD in the York and Ryerson Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture in Toronto. She studies technological practices such as gamification and automatic emotion detection through rhetorical analysis and critical theory lens.

Host: Isabel Pedersen, PhD, Decimal Lab Director


Decimal Speaker Series 4 – Aging and the Digital: The imagined and lived dimensions of aging with digital technology

Date: October 15, 2019

Time: 5:30-7:30PM

Place: Toronto, Centre for Social Innovation, 192 Spadina Ave. ground floor Atrium

Rsvp: Free and open to the public,

Moderator: Barbara Marshall, PhD, Trent University

Host: Isabel Pedersen, PhD, Decimal Lab Director


The goal of this fall’s Speaker Series is to highlight the very different and often contradictory understandings of what it means to age with digital technology. Assumptions about aging often go unchallenged and are furthermore reinforced by innovations in technology that are designed on behalf of older adults. With a decided move away from the premise that aging is a problem to be fixed and/or managed by digital technology, the speakers pose a different set of questions, examining the sociocultural, practical and material implications and futures of aging with digital technology.


Featured Speakers


Stephen Katz, PhD, Trent University

Designing Age: The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Promise of Digital Health Technologies

Abstract: The field of technology and aging or ‘gerontechnology’ is largely promoted within a health perspective on technological intervention, to ameliorate conditions of isolation, disconnection, inactivity and loneliness through digital communication networks, alert systems, transportation coordination and emergency services. Contesting the image of a ‘digital divide’ separating younger from older generations, the recreational industry has also produced a seniors market of technological games, toys, apps, exercises, and social media. However, critical issues have arisen, such as the collecting and use of personal data by surveillance, monitoring, and tracking systems for commercial and insurance purposes. Another is the use of exclusionary ‘anti-aging’ ageist designs for efficiency, speed and convenience in digital consumer products. This presentation will explore these and other issues based on data collected from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2019, focusing on the ways in which positive lifestyle concepts ‘smartness’, ‘fitness’ and ‘wellness’ are embodied within senior health and lifestyle marketing. However helpful sensor clothing, home surveillance cameras, self-tracking appliances, robotic companions, or digital mobility devices may be, they are also opportunities to capitalize on algorithmic standardizations of health risks for older people, healthcare austerity programs, and social inequalities based on technical markers of successful aging and privileged life-course trajectories.


Kirsten Ellison, PhD, Trent University

Disciplinary Spaces and the Datafication of Care: Sociotechnical Imaginaries of Smart Home Designs for Aging-in-Place

by Kirsten Ellison & Barbara Marshall

Abstract: Technologies designed to allow for older adults to “age-in-place” safely and independently have experienced tremendous growth in the past five years (Orlov, 2019). Prominent companies that have emerged with ‘smart home’ devices for the older adult include CarePredict, Sensara, Billy, TruSense, Essence, LiliSmart, and Presence Pro Care. While many of these companies include devices that are also marketed to younger adults, such as thermostats, doorbells, and voice- activated hubs like Alexa and Google Home, they also, more significantly, add into their purview home sensors that are designed with a function unique to this demographic: the monitoring not of the home but its inhabitants. Drawing on Kim and Jasanoff’s (2015) notion of ‘sociotechnical imaginaries’, this talk explores the imagined spaces of aging-in-place with home sensor technology. Examining the promotional materials of a selection of home sensor technologies marketed to older adults and their caregivers, we highlight the kinds of homes, inhabitants and users that the devices evoke in their conceptual design.


Kim Sawchuk, PhD, Concordia University

Algorithmically Ageing

Abstract: Algorithms are a key component of the world of big data, providing the calculations that make a glut of data, collected in real-time, responsive and strategically useful. While age is one variable deployed in these calculations, how age and ageing performatively interact with our movements through the data sphere, has been largely overlooked in the critical literature on algorithmic media. This talk traces some of these connections as they pertain to our shifting, intersectional inter-relational identities as ageing subjects.


Decimal Speakers Series 3

Date: January 28, 2019

Time: 5:30-7:30PM

Place: Toronto, Centre for Social Innovation, 192 Spadina Ave. ground floor Atrium (new building)

Rsvp: Free and open to the public,

Moderator: Isabel Pedersen, PhD, Decimal Lab Director


Featured Speakers


Andrew Iliadis, PhD, Temple University

Semantic Media: Who’s Building Meaning into our Machines?

Abstract: Since Google declared, in a 2012 blog post, that they would begin focusing on “things, not strings” there has been renewed interest in semantically enhancing web data. As the amount of data on the internet grows, there is a need to structure those data to produce semantic interoperability and increase understanding. To this end, tools like metadata schemas, knowledge graphs, and applied ontologies are experiencing a resurgence. Yet, along with increasing our ability to make sense of data through semanticization, there are identifiable problems related to interoperability that may negatively impact people, practices, and places. This talk explores semantic media technologies by asking if they are appropriate for modeling all kinds of knowledge, and how such modeling affects access and control​.


Tero Karppi, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

Disconnect. Facebook’s Futures?

Abstract: After the Cambridge Analytica revelations, #DeleteFacebook hashtag became a trend. #DeleteFacebook was the crystallization of the demands to leave the social media site because it was compromising privacy, exploiting user data, and the connections it established could be used to manipulate the current political climate. In this talk, I show that the demands to disconnect Facebook have existed almost as long as the social media site. Furthermore, I argue that this threat of disconnection is constitutive to how Facebook understands user engagement and builds its affective bonds. Facebook’s futures depend on disconnection and are designed against its different modes and modalities.


Decimal Speakers Series 2

Date: November 14, 2018

Time: 5:30-7:30PM

Place: Toronto, Centre for Social Innovation, 192 Spadina Ave. ground floor Atrium (new building)

Rsvp: Free and open to the public, rsvp

Moderator: Isabel Pedersen, PhD, Decimal Lab Director


Featured Speakers


Steven Downing, PhD

Pains of imprisonment in a “lock em’ up” video game: exploring peacemaking discourse through gaming

An extremely limited body of literature has considered video game portrayals of the prison experience. This inquiry examines the game Prison Architect, with respect to how its interactive experience has the potential simultaneously portray and problematize pains of imprisonment, and how these portrayals may prompt a public discourse surrounding prison, particularly from a peacemaking perspective, even if the game itself does not incorporate concepts such as restorative justice.  Drawing from game developer video diaries, this inquiry link pains of imprisonment in Prison Architect to the broader societal discourse surrounding rationales for incarceration (i.e., retribution, incapacitation, and rehabilitation) and considers implications for prison themed games, particularly those such as simulation games that afford players a broad degree of freedom, as vehicles through which to engage the public in discourse about prison that can adopt a more human-centered, peace-oriented approach.



Andrea Slane, PhD

Protecting Vulnerable Humans in the Emerging Era of Robot Companions

Popular culture is filled with examples of companion robots that not only embody the best of human qualities, but indeed exceed them:  they are unflappably loyal, steadfast, trustworthy, and brave; they are often charming, sweet, cute.  Companion robots for the consumer market are an emerging technology that has not yet lived up to the fantasy.  However, other home and personal use technologies are becoming more commonplace: digital assistants, like Amazon’s voice-oriented Alexa, and text-based chatbots, like Mitsuko and Replika, are sure to converge to eventually produce a companion robot for home use that is capable of sustained, personalized, AI-powered conversation.  What’s missing from this future is a clear picture of how the various functions that home-use personal robots can perform to be monetized.  While consumer-grade robots are being marketed according to projections of their eventual capabilities, the missing business models make it difficult to ensure that the interests of users who take up the promise of robot companionship will be protected.  Drawing on existing models for assigning responsibility for the well-being of vulnerable people, this talk considers how to protect users when robots – or robot platform proprietors — become personal information custodians, fiduciaries, or confidentes.

Decimal Speakers Series 1

Date: March 1, 2018

Time: 5:30-7:30PM

Place: Toronto, Centre for Social Innovation, 215 Spadina Ave 4th floor

Rsvp: Free and open to the Public, rsvp

Moderator: Andrea Slane, PhD


Featured Speakers

Gary Genosko, PhD
Leap Smears:  Corporate Ontology and Time Criticality 
Since 1972 compensatory leap seconds have been introduced 37 times due to the discrepancy between Coordinated Universal Time and International Atomic Time. Google uses a temporal smear over the course of 20 hours, within the machine worlds of its NTP (Network Time Protocol) servers. Google wants other corporations to follow its Kairotic time critical practice. A corporate ontology of control would rewire the history of Western metaphysics and constitute a convulsive Aionic event.

Isabel Pedersen, PhD

‘Keeping up’: Humans, Brain-computer Interaction and AI Futures

In 2016, Elon Musk said “not all AI futures are benign”. His answer to this conundrum was to launch OpenAI, a non-profit venture at the same time as Neuralink Corp, his brain computer implant company. One Rolling Stone article explains Musk’s intent: “Neuralink allows our brains to keep up in the intelligence race.” This talk addresses the theme of vulnerability as a technocultural motivator. Brain-computer technology is developed in both consumer and research spheres to read thoughts, feelings, reactions, anxieties, delights, and fears. Ethical questions arise from the interpretation and storage of emotions within data assemblages and the implied future of their role in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Tanner Mirrlees, PhD

Ubiquitous Media War: A New Paradigm?

This presentation conceptualizes the conditions and characteristics of the “ubiquitous media war.”  The military history of the Internet is well known, and currently, the institutions of war and the businesses of Web 2.0 converge as result of military-corporate research and development (R&D) partnerships, military-Silicon Valley procurement regimes, information operations, and techno-cultural imaginings. As militaries drive the digital to war, media wars in an age of abundant, interactive, and many-to-many social media platforms are qualitatively different from and disruptive to the media wars waged in the TV broadcasting age of media scarcity, transmission communication models, and few-to-many content flows.