Centre for International Governance Innovation
Depending who you ask, big tech is either going to save humanity or destroy us. Taylor Owen thinks it’s a little more complicated than that. Join him in conversation with leading thinkers as they make sense of a world transformed by technology.
Top 10 Big Tech Episodes
Best episodes ranked by Goodpods Users most listened
The Brain Is Not a Computer
01/20/22 • 57 min
Many unlocked mysteries remain about the workings of the human brain. Neuroscientists are making discoveries that are helping us to better understand the brain and correct preconceived notions about how it works. With the dawn of the information age, the brain’s processing was often compared to that of a computer. But the problem with this analogy is that it suggested the human brain was hard-wired, able to work in one particular way only, much as if it were a computer chip, and which, if damaged, could not reroute itself or restore function to a damaged pathway.
Taylor Owen’s guest this week on the Big Tech podcast is a leading scholar of neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to change its neural networks through growth and reorganization. Dr. Norman Doidge is a psychiatrist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing. His work points to just how malleable the brain can be.
Dr. Doidge talks about the brain’s potential to heal but also warns of the darker side of neuroplasticity, which is that our brains adapt to negative influences just as they do to positive ones. Today, our time spent in front of a screen and how we interact with technology are having significant impacts on our brains, and those of our children, affecting attention span, memory and recall, and behaviour. And all of these changes have societal implications.
02/10/22 • 48 min
People are divided: you are either pro-vaccination or against it, and there seems to be no middle ground. Whether around the dinner table or on social media, people are entrenched in their positions. A deep-seated mistrust in science, despite its contributions to the flourishing of human life, is being fuelled by online misinformation. For the first time in history, humanity is in the midst of a pandemic with communication tools of almost unlimited reach and potential benefit, yet social media and the information economy appear structured to promote polarization. Take the case of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast on Spotify: Rogan, a comedian, is able to engage millions of listeners and spread, unchecked, misinformation about COVID-19 “cures” and “treatments” that have no basis in evidence. What responsibility does Spotify have as the platform enabling Rogan to spread this misinformation, and is it possible for the scientific community to break through to skeptics?
In this episode of Big Tech, host Taylor Owen speaks with Timothy Caulfield, the author of bestselling books such as Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? and The Vaccination Picture. He is also the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Caulfield has been outspoken on Twitter about medical misinformation with the #ScienceUpFirst campaign.
What we have learned though the pandemic is how critical it is to have clear public health communication, and that it is remarkably difficult to share information with the public. As everyone rushed to provide medical advice, people were looking for absolutes. But in science, one needs to remain open to new discoveries, so, as the pandemic evolved, guidelines were updated. As Caulfield explains, “I think it’s also a recognition of how important it is to bring the public along on that sort of scientific ride, saying, Look, this is the best advice we can give right now based on the science available.” When health guidelines are presented in a dogmatic way, it becomes difficult to share new emerging research; misunderstood or outdated facts become weaponized by those trying to discredit the public health sector who point to what was previously known and attempt to muddy the discourse and sow doubt. And that doubt leads to mistrust in institutions, the rise of “alternative facts,” the sharing of untested therapeutics on popular podcasts — and a convoy of truckers camped out in the Canadian capital to protest COVID lockdown and vaccine mandates.
11/12/21 • 0 min
01/13/22 • 44 min
Democracy is in decline globally. It’s one year since the Capitol Hill insurrection, and many worry that the United States’ democratic system is continuing to crumble. Freedom House, an America think tank, says that nearly three-quarters of the world’s population lives in a country that experienced democratic deterioration last year. The rise of illiberalism is one reason for this, but another may be that democratic governments simply haven’t been performing all that well in recent years.
In this episode of Big Tech, host Taylor Owen speaks with Hélène Landemore, author of Open Democracy and Debating Democracy and professor of political science at Yale University. Landemore’s work explores the limitations of casting a vote every few years for a candidate or political party and how in practice that isn’t a very democratic process. “Electoral democracy is a closed democracy where power is restricted to people who can win elections,” she says. Positions on issues become entrenched within party lines; powerful lobbyists exert influence; and representatives, looking ahead to the next election, lack political will to lead in the here and now.
In an open democracy, citizens would be called on to debate issues and create policy solutions for problems. “If you include more people in the conversation, in the deliberation, you get the benefits of cognitive diversity, the difficulties of looking at problems and coming up with solutions, which benefits the group ultimately,” Landemore explains. In response to the yellow jacket movement in France, the government asked 150 citizens to come up with climate policies. Over seven weekend meetings, that group came up with 149 proposals on how to reduce France’s greenhouse gas emissions. In Ireland, a group of citizens was tasked with deliberating the abortion topic, a sensitive issue that was deadlocked in the political arena. The group included pro-life and pro-choice individuals and, rather than descending into partisan mud-slinging, was able to come to the recommendation, after much civil deliberation, that abortion be decriminalized.
Landemore sees the French and Irish examples as precedents for further exploration and experimentation and that “it means potentially going through constitutional reforms to create a fourth or so chamber called the House of the People or something else, where it would be like a parliament but just made up of randomly selected citizens.”
01/27/22 • 29 min
Governments around the world are looking at their legal frameworks and how they apply to the digital technologies and platforms that have brought widespread disruptive change to their economies, societies and politics. Most governments are aware that their regulations are inadequate to address the challenges of an industry that crosses borders and pervades all aspects of daily life. Three regulatory approaches are emerging: the restrictive regime of the Chinese state; the lax, free-market approach of the United States; and the regulatory frameworks of the European Union, which are miles ahead of those of any other Western democratic country.
In this episode of Big Tech, host Taylor Owen speaks with Mark Scott, the chief technology correspondent at Politico, about the state of digital technology and platform regulations in Europe.
Following the success of implementing the General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect in 2018, the European Parliament currently has three big policy proposals in the works: the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act and the Artificial Intelligence Act. Taylor and Mark discuss how each of these proposals will impact the tech sector and discuss their potential for adoption across Europe — and how many other nations, including Canada, are modelling similar regulations within their own countries.
02/03/22 • 42 min
Time and time again, we see the billionaire tech founder or CEO take the stage to present the latest innovation meant to make people’s lives better, revolutionize industries and glorify the power of technology to save the world. While these promises are dressed up in fancy new clothes, in reality, the tech sector is no different than other expansionist enterprises from the past. Their core foundation of growth and expansion is deeply rooted in the European and American colonialization and Manifest Destiny doctrines. And just as in the past, the tech sector is engaging in extraction, exploitation and expansion.
In this episode of Big Tech, host Taylor Owen speaks with Jeff Doctor, who is Cayuga from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. He is an impact strategist for Animikii, an Indigenous-owned technology company.
Doctor isn’t surprised that technology is continuing to evolve in the same colonial way that he saw growing up and was built into television shows, movies and video games, such as the popular Civilizations franchise, which applies the same European expand-and-conquer strategy to winning the game regardless of the society a player represents in the game. “You see this manifested in the tech billionaire class, like all of them are literally trying to colonize space right now. It’s not even a joke any more. They grew up watching the same crap,” Doctor says.
Colonialism and technology have always been entwined. European expansionism depended on modern technology to dominate, whether it be through deadlier weapons, faster ships or the laying of telegraph and railway lines across the west. Colonization continues through, for example, English-only development tools, and country selection dropdown options limited to “Canada” or the “United States” that ignore Indigenous peoples’ communities and nations. And, as governments grapple with how to protect people’s personal data from the tech sector, there is little attention paid to Indigenous data sovereignty, to ensure that every nation and community has the ability to govern and benefit from its own data.
12/23/21 • 39 min
In the early days of the internet, information technology could be viewed as morally neutral. It was simply a means of passing data from one point to another. But, as communications technology has advanced by using algorithms, tracking and identifiers to shape the flow of information, we are being presented with moral and ethical questions about how the internet is being used and even reshaping what it means to be human.
In this episode of Big Tech, Taylor Owen speaks with the Right Reverend Dr. Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford, Church of England. Bishop Steven, as he is known to his own podcast audience, is a board member of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and has been part of other committees such as the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence.
Bishop Steven approaches the discussions around tech from a very different viewpoint, not as an academic or technologist but as a theologian in the Anglican church: “I think technology changes the way we relate to one another, and that relationship is at the heart of our humanity.” He compares what is happening now in society with the internet to the advent of the printing press in the fifteenth century, which democratized knowledge and changed the world in profound ways. The full impacts of this current technological shift in our society are yet to be known. But, he cautions, we must not lose sight of our core human principles when developing technology and ensure that we deploy it for “the common good of humankind.” “I don’t think morals and ethics can be manufactured out of nothing or rediscovered. And if we don’t have morality and ethics as the heart of the algorithms, when they’re being crafted, then the unfairness will be even greater than they otherwise have been.”
Catherine McKenna on Cutting through Online Hate to Have Meaningful Discussions on Climate Change
12/16/21 • 42 min
Social media has become an essential tool for sharing information and reaching audiences. In the political realm, it provides access to constituents in a way that going door to door can’t. It also provides a platform for direct access to citizens without paying for advertising or relying on news articles. We’ve seen how Donald Trump used social media to his advantage, but what happens when social media turns on the politician?
In this episode of Big Tech, Taylor Owen speaks with Catherine McKenna, Canada’s minister of environment and climate change from 2015 to 2019. McKenna’s experience with online hate is not unique; many people and groups face online harassment and, in some cases, real-world actions against them. What does make McKenna’s case interesting is the convergence of online harassment on social media and the climate change file. In her role as minister, McKenna was responsible for implementing the federal government’s environmental policy, including the Paris Agreement commitments, carbon pricing and pipeline divestment. No matter what she said in her social posts, they were immediately met with negative comments from climate change deniers. Attacks against her escalated to the point where her constituency office was vandalized and a personal security detail was assigned to her.
Finding solutions to climate change is complicated, cross-cutting work that involves many stakeholders and relies on dialogue and engagement with government, industry and citizens. McKenna found that the online expression of extremism, amplified by social media algorithms, made meaningful dialogue all but impossible. McKenna, no longer in politics, is concerned that the online social space is having negative impacts on future youth who may want to participate in finding climate solutions. “I’ve left public life not because of the haters, but because I just want to focus on climate change. But...I want more women to get into politics. I want broader diversity. Whether you’re Indigenous, part of the LGBTQ+ community, or a new immigrant, whatever it is, I want you to be there, but it needs to be safe.” Which raises the question: To find climate solutions, must we first address misinformation and online hate?
01/06/22 • 44 min
On the first anniversary of the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol, Big Tech host Taylor Owen sits down with Craig Silverman to discuss how the rise of false facts led us to that moment. Silverman is a journalist for ProPublica and previously worked at Buzzfeed News, and is the editor of the Verification Handbook series.
Before Donald Trump popularized “fake news” as a blanket term to attack mainstream news outlets, Silverman had been using it to mean something different and very specific. Fake news, also known as misinformation, disinformation or false facts, is online content that has been intentionally created to be shared on social media platforms. Before it was weaponized as a tool for election interference, fake news was simply a lucrative clickbait market that saw higher engagement than traditional media. And social media platforms’ algorithms amplified it because that higher engagement meant people spent more time on the platforms and boosted their ad revenue.
After establishing the origins of misinformation and how it was used to manipulate the 2016 US presidential election, Owen and Silverman discuss how Facebook, in particular, responded to the 2020 US presidential election. Starting in September 2020, the company established a civic integrity team focusing on, among other issues, its role in elections globally and removed posts, groups and users that were promoting misinformation. Silverman describes what happens next. “After the election, what does Facebook do? Well, it gets rid of the whole civic integrity team, including the group’s task force. And so, as things get worse and worse leading up to January 6, nobody is on the job in a very focused way.” Before long, Facebook groups had “become an absolute hotbed and cesspool of delegitimization, death threats, all this kind of stuff,” explains Silverman. The lie that the election had been rigged was spreading unchecked via organized efforts on Facebook. Within a few weeks of the civic integrity team’s dismantling, Trump’s supporters arrived on Capitol Hill to “stop the steal.” It was then, as Silverman puts it, “the real world consequences came home to roost.”
02/17/22 • 42 min
Nicholas Carr is a prolific blogger, author and critic of technology since the early days of the social web. Carr began his blog Rough Type in 2005, at a time when some of today’s biggest companies where still start-ups operating out of college dorms. In 2010, he wrote the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction finalist The Shallows, in which he discussed how technology was changing the human brain. At the time, many were skeptical about Carr’s argument, but in just over a decade many of his predictions have come true.
In this episode of Big Tech, host Taylor Owen and guest Nicholas Carr reflect on how he was able to identify these societal shifts long before others. The social web, known as Web 2.0, was billed as a democratizing tool for breaking down barriers so that anyone could share information and have their voices heard. Carr had concerns; while others saw college kids making toys, he saw the potential for major shifts in society. “As someone who had studied the history of media, I knew that when you get these kinds of big systems, particularly big communication systems, the unexpected, unanticipated consequences are often bigger than what everybody thinks is going to happen,” Carr explains.
We are again on the verge of the next online shift, called Web3, and as new online technologies like non-fungible tokens, cryptocurrencies and the metaverse are being built, we can learn from Web 2.0 in hopes of mitigating future unanticipated consequences. As Carr sees it, we missed the opportunity to become involved early on with social platforms, before they became entrenched in our lives. “Twitter was seen as a place where people, you know, describe what they had for breakfast, and so society didn’t get involved in thinking about what are the long-term consequences here and how it’s going to play out. So I think if we take a lesson from that, even if you’re skeptical about virtual reality and augmented reality, now is the time that society has to engage with these visions of the future.”
How many episodes does Big Tech have?
Big Tech currently has 66 episodes available.
What topics does Big Tech cover?
The podcast is about Economics, Government and Technology.
What is the most popular episode on Big Tech?
The episode title 'The Brain Is Not a Computer' is the most popular with 2 listens, 1 ratings and 1 comments/reviews.
What is the average episode length on Big Tech?
The average episode length on Big Tech is 38 minutes.
How often are episodes of Big Tech released?
Episodes of Big Tech are typically released every 13 days, 23 hours.
When was the first episode of Big Tech?
The first episode of Big Tech was released on Oct 25, 2019.
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