As society grapples with myriad technology-related issues, including biases in facial recognition software, algorithms to identify hate speech and misinformation, as well as growing concerns over privacy and data protection, a new Chair in McGill’s Department of Philosophy seeks to bridge the gap between technology and pressing ethical, social and political questions. The Chair will be supported by a $2-million gift from The Jarislowsky Foundation to undertake ground-breaking research and study about technology and its impact on individuals and societies.
The Chair, to be named the Stephen Jarislowsky Chair in Technology and Human Nature, will bring together a deep understanding of new technology along with a strong philosophical perspective on the many issues inherent in the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technologies which are rapidly changing our world. The timely donation will be matched by McGill in order to endow the Chair’s total cost of $4 million.
“This generous gift from the Jarislowsky Foundation puts McGill in the exciting position to recruit a world-class scholar to interrogate the relationship between technology and human nature,” says Hasana Sharp, Associate Professor and Chair of McGill’s Department of Philosophy. “The questions posed by technology include those of the deepest significance and of greatest consequence for us as thinkers, social animals and citizens.”
“Having a Chair who straddles the world of technology and the world of philosophy will enable us to contribute to the public debate about some of the most important issues that are emerging in our society,” says Ian Gold, Professor of Philosophy and Psychiatry, and member of the Chair search committee.
While based in the Department of Philosophy, the Chair will promote collaboration with researchers and students from across the University, as well as with the wider Montreal technology community. In particular, the Chair will work closely with the Yan P. Lin Centre for Freedom and Global Orders in the Ancient and Modern Worlds, which has established itself as a locus for studying social structures, social transformations, and ideas about social values from across eras and in regions around the world.
“The new Chair will help crystallize the research community across departments, disciplines and faculties at McGill that are interested in the social and ethical implications of technology,” says Jacob Levy, Director of the Lin Centre and Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory. “All of us at the Lin Centre are looking forward to working with the Chair to allow collaboration across the University.”
The Jarislowsky Foundation was founded by Stephen Jarislowsky, one of Canada's foremost philanthropists and business leaders. The Foundation has endowed research and academia in fields ranging from democracy, governance and public sector management to arts and medicine, including the Stephen Jarislowsky Chair in Urology at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. A Companion of the Order of Canada and a Grand Officer de l'Ordre national du Québec, Jarislowsky has served as an Executive-in-Residence at the Desautels Faculty of Management and was awarded an honorary doctorate by McGill in 2008.
“There is an urgent need for all of us to consider the implications of technology for individuals and society,” says Jarislowsky. “I am pleased to have this opportunity to support McGill’s work in making a major contribution to teaching, mentoring and research in this field.”
In addition to acting as a leader in the interdisciplinary study of the human, moral and political significance of technological innovation, the Chair will also focus efforts on events and public outreach, articulating key issues and questions about the impact of technology and working with the thriving computer technology and AI sectors in Montreal.
“We are grateful to Stephen Jarislowsky and The Jarislowsky Foundation for this generous and timely support,” said Antonia Maioni, Dean of the Faculty of Arts. “This Chair will provide the impetus for more interdisciplinary opportunities to explore the fundamental challenges associated with the rapid pace of technological change in our lives.”
About McGill University
Founded in Montreal, Quebec, in 1821, McGill University is Canada’s top ranked medical doctoral university. McGill is consistently ranked as one of the top universities, both nationally and internationally. It is a world-renowned institution of higher learning with research activities spanning two campuses, 11 faculties, 13 professional schools, 300 programs of study and over 40,000 students, including more than 10,200 graduate students. McGill attracts students from over 150 countries around the world, its 12,800 international students making up 31% of the student body. Over half of McGill students claim a first language other than English, including approximately 19% of our students who say French is their mother tongue.