Bike and EV charging infrastructure are urgently needed for a green transition

Written by Deborah de Lange, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward. Originally published in The Conversation.

Canada should invest in sustainable transportation infrastructure to accelerate the green transition.

The green transition is happening too slowly. We are in a climate emergency, and it is clear that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning to more sustainable transportation.

However, without sufficient infrastructure to enable electric vehicles (EVs) or cycling for commuting, these options will remain too inconvenient or unsafe for most. Canada’s climate obligations will not be met without these infrastructure changes.

We just experienced the hottest July on record. We cannot burn more carbon, no matter the remaining carbon budget. Climate disasters around the world today are dictating timelines now. Meanwhile, gas cars are needlessly on city streets, adding to traffic congestion and pollution while urban sprawl means gas car driving habits expand.

Canada requires urgent investment in transport infrastructure and incentives to reverse this trend.

Policy breakdowns

Here in Toronto, a recent mayoral election provided a platform for two candidates who made election promises to close down cycling lanes. Meanwhile, a lack of high-quality cycling infrastructure in the city incentivizes travel by car to the detriment of the city’s happiness and carbon budget.

This stands in stark contrast to a city like Copenhagen, Denmark where 62 per cent of people commute by cycling. A city which, by some metrics, may also be the happiest in the world.

A blue two-wheeled bicycle is locked to a pole outside and is covered in ice.

Canada currently has both a lack of cycling infrastructure and reliable bike storage options. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Closer to home, cycling infrastructure remains poor and bike theft rose by 429 per cent in Canada this summer. However, the solutions to this problem, such as bicycle lockers, are not widely enough installed and where they do exist, they are only for regular users and require a reservation and monthly payments.

Solutions such as an on-demand bicycle storage system being piloted in Vancouver and the Vancouver City Centre Bike Valet show promise for nation-wide implementation but will require effort to implement at scale.

Nowhere to charge

Likewise, a recent survey says that Canadians are not switching to cleaner EVs partly because of a lack of charging infrastructure. In a climate emergency, bike and electric vehicle infrastructure should have been installed long ago.

Toronto’s mandate is to reach net zero by 2040, but its efforts pale in comparison to the actions of other cities in Canada and around the world.

A variety of incentives and legislation are accelerating an EV transition including fee exemptions, grants and mandated targets. Brazil is proposing that all gas stations offer EV charging.

An aerial view of a parking lot shows six parking spots, three of which are for electric vehicles.

A lack of enthusiasm for EVs in Canada is driven largely by a lack of reliable charging infrastructure. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Ireland’s zero emissions office is aiming for 100 per cent of new car sales to be EVs by 2030. France supports EV purchases with funding and bonuses for low income individuals. Ecuador’s public transport will be 100 per cent electric by 2025 and Sweden’s government fleet will be electrified by 2035. Colombia and South Africa are setting EV charging infrastructure minimums.

There are notable Canadian EV initiatives in Québec and British Columbia. Québec has ambitious electrification plans including expanding EV charging, funding further vehicle electrification across the province. B.C. is improving upon the Canadian national mandate by installing more EV charging stations and planning a changeover to clean vehicles.

In contrast, Ontario and Toronto are without any unique innovations in electric vehicle infrastructure or policy.

An electric future

EVs are already addressing local air pollution around the world and reducing health issues such as asthma. Higher EV sales are also associated with higher human development indexes (HDI). An HDI is a national measure of wealth, and a good reflection of standard of living, including health and education. Countries with higher EV sales also tend to lead worldwide in the development of environmental inventions. Healthier inventions make a better life.

Perhaps in Sweden, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Norway and certain Canadian provinces such as Québec and B.C., the connection is clearer between switching to cleaner technologies and increasing levels of personal health and happiness. Improving education is a catalyst for change.

An electric vehicle charging station from electrify Canada

An example of an electric charging station designed around a familiar gas pump form factor. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Doug Ives

If Canada is to meet its climate commitments, it has to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Infrastructure investments, such as for EVs and cycling, improve our quality of life and the economy at the same time. Building infrastructure is a classic approach to boosting an economy. It is also a green economic opportunity if the right choices are made.

Canada can start by applying well-known policy solutions and rapidly installing infrastructure nationwide. Studies have validated this recommendation and additional phased-in electrical grid capacity is neither controversial nor impractical. Emissions reductions with EVs as compared to gas cars, no matter the energy fuel source, ultimately validate EVs green utility over gas-powered cars.

Around the world, such as in China where they have energy mix variations across regions including coal, EVs make sense. Emissions reductions for Ontario have been calculated at around 80 per cent when EVs are driven.

The International Energy Agency offers a comprehensive policy database of worldwide examples for places like Toronto that are lagging on clean transportation transition policy and change. Beyond benchmarking, Canada could strive for leadership on the world stage by investing in university research and applying ambitious initiatives across the country.

Canada has an opportunity that should not be missed to stimulate its economy by investing in sustainable transportation infrastructure to accelerate the green transition.

The shift from owning to renting goods is ushering in a new era of consumerism

Written by Omar H. Fares, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Seung Hwan (Mark) Lee, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation

Instead of owning physical copies of DVDs or CDs, for example, people subscribe to streaming services, allowing them to access a wide range of products without the burden of traditional ownership.

Today’s consumer landscape is witnessing a pivotal shift away from traditional ownership towards an access-based model. Rather than outright owning goods and services, people prefer to simply have access to them.

Access-based consumption means engaging in transactions where ownership doesn’t change hands. Instead of owning physical copies of DVDs or CDs, for example, people subscribe to streaming services. Consumers are able to access a wide range of products without the burden that comes with traditional ownership.

This approach is closely associated with the sharing economy, which encourages collaborative consumption. This involves sharing, swapping and renting resources, eliminating the need for personal ownership of these goods.

The term “sharing economy” came into use after the 2007 financial crisis as people sought alternative ways to access goods and services, but started gaining more widespread usage in 2010 and 2011.

The sharing economy is growing exponentially. It’s projected to reach a market volume of $335 billion by 2025. This indicates that the way we consume goods and services has — and continues to — evolve significantly.

A response to global challenges

At a time filled with economic instability driven by a wealth of factors, including the long-lasting effects of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine, consumers continue to shift their consumption habits to align with these economic shocks.

The access-based and sharing economy has emerged as a powerful response to these global challenges, offering a flexible, cost-effective and more sustainable alternative to the long-standing paradigm of ownership.

A phone screen displaying music streaming apps
Music streaming services allow people to access a wide variety of music without actually owning any physical copies of CDs or records. Photo credit: AP Photo/Jenny Kane.

The rise of access-based consumption doesn’t appear to be a passing phase. Rather, it appears to be an enduring form of consumption that is emerging in various industries, including transportation, fashion and toys.

Navigating the current economic landscape requires a solid grasp of these evolving paradigms. The rise of the access-based and sharing economy is more than a trend towards cost saving; it’s about constructing a sturdier, sustainable consumption model.

What is driving the shift

The growth of access-based consumption is driven by two main things. First, access-based consumption is predicated on the affordability, value and convenience it offers to consumersParticipation in car-sharing services, such as Zipcar and Turo, are primarily driven by these factors.

Secondly, access-based consumption provides environmental and social benefits by encouraging consumers to share and increasing the usage of a particular good.

In the fashion industry, rental services allow consumers to enjoy a variety of choices and gain access to luxury goods they may not otherwise be able to purchase. These services are also beneficial for those experiencing body changes, like pregnant women, as clothing can be shared to reduce careless disposal.

Access-based consumption means there is a time-related aspect to the transaction, either in the form of duration of access or usage. Even so, this doesn’t stop consumers from developing a sense of perceived ownership over a good or service.

Two small cars parked on the street outside a business with a Zipcar logo posted in the window
The growth of ride-sharing services like Zipcar has largely been attributed to the affordability, value and convenience they provide to consumers. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

For example, consumers may develop a sense of pride, attachment and responsibility towards a shared community garden. They may gain social value from participating in this experience.

This social component also extends to peer-to-peer accommodation services, like Airbnb. One study found that the primary reasons American travellers used such a service included sustainability and connecting with community.

Interestingly, while service providers tout intrinsic motivations, such as promoting sustainability and building a community, users often have extrinsic factors such as affordability and convenience on top of their minds.

What does this mean for businesses?

Businesses need to reimagine traditional profit strategies, resource utilization, societal impacts and community relationships to better adapt to this shift in the economic paradigm.

Rethink profit: In an access-based economy, businesses need to shift their profit strategies from selling products to facilitating accessThis calls for innovative approaches to monetizing services, such as tiered subscriptions, dynamic pricing or pay-per-use approaches, creating multiple revenue streams while fulfilling diverse consumer needs.

Maximizing technological resources: The role of technology is central in orchestrating transactions, maintaining inventory and ensuring a seamless user experience. In an access-based environment, businesses must harness tech advancements like AI, data analytics and the Internet of Things to streamline operations. Investing in digital infrastructure is critical to success in the access-based economy.

Beyond revenue: Profit isn’t the sole aim anymore. The access-based economy focuses on sustainable practices and societal impact. Businesses can position themselves as conscious brands by promoting resource optimization and contributing to societal and communal welfare. This shift towards corporate social responsibility not only elevates a brand’s image, but also resonates with the growing consumer demand for ethical consumption.

The power of trust: Trust is one of the cornerstones of the access-based economy. Consumers need the assurance of safety, quality and reliability before partaking in sharing transactions. Businesses can foster trust by implementing transparent practices, rigorous quality checks and responsive customer service.

The future of consumerism

While ownership does offer consumers unique benefits, including enhanced autonomy and a stronger sense of consumer identity, it’s clear we are shifting away from this model.

As consumers and businesses navigate and adapt to this new landscape, we are not just witnessing a change in how we consume, but in how we perceive value, community and our roles within it.

This dynamic shift towards an access-based model, fuelled by intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, is driven by the idea of a shared future built on access to goods and services, improved efficiency and collective value.

ChatGPT and Threads reflect the challenges of fast tech adoption

Written by Omar H. Fares, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Seung Hwan (Mark) Lee, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: AP Photo/Richard Drew. Originally published in The Conversation

Meta’s Threads platform experienced a significant drop in users recently. 

ChatGPT recently experienced a decline in user engagement for the first time since its launch in November 2022. From May to June, engagement dropped 9.7 per cent, with the largest decline — 10.3 per cent — occurring in the United States.

Meanwhile, Meta’s Threads platform experienced a significant drop in user numbers, going from more than 49 million users on July 7 to 23.6 million active users by July 14. In the same time frame, the average time users in the U.S. spent on the app dropped from a peak of 21 minutes in early July to just above six minutes.

In the tech world, companies are always racing to be the first ones to introduce new innovations, aiming for the “first mover’s advantage.” This refers to a firm’s ability to get a head start over competitors by being the first to enter a new product category or market.

However, being a trailblazer doesn’t guarantee an easy ride. While there are perceived benefits, there are also a plethora of challenges that arise.

A news story about what the drop in Meta Threads engagement means for the social media app.

The recent declines of Threads and ChatGPT attest to this reality, demonstrating that rapid and widespread acceptance doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term success.

There are a few reasons why a fast adoption isn’t necessarily the key to success including unsustainable growth, inadequate scaling infrastructure and a lack of user retention strategies.
Unsustainable growth

The idea of unsustainable growth stems from a platform’s inability to uphold or maintain the quality of the user experience while scaling up at a rapid pace.

This is where the real challenge lies: being able to effectively scale up a product or service. It is precisely at this junction that the concept of unsustainable growth intersects with the Gartner Hype Cycle.

The Gartner Hype Cycle is a model that shows the stages of emerging technology adoption: from the initial hype and inflated expectations, through disillusionment and skepticism, to practical and mainstream productivity.


A line graph illustrating that Threads and ChatGPT both had a period of significant hype and inflated expectations, followed by a drop in user interest.
A graph illustrating how ChatGPT and Threads fit into the Gartner Hype Cycle. Image credit: Omar H. Fares and Seung Hwan Lee/Author provided.

In the context of unsustainable growth, products like ChatGPT and Threads appear to have reached the stage known as “peak of inflated expectations,” where the publicity of a new product generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. During this stage, users rapidly adopt the product due to its novelty and the hype surrounding it.

However, this stage often leads to the “trough of disillusionment.” During this stage, the product fails to meet users’ unrealistic expectations, causing a decline in their interest.

It indicates the product’s growth may have outpaced its ability to provide an excellent user experience. Without enhancing the product based on user feedback, declining user engagement will ensue.

This rise and fall underscores the challenge of achieving sustainable growth in the face of rapid adoption. The initial hype often attracts a massive influx of users, but without a clear, scalable strategy for maintaining quality and engagement, platforms can quickly lose their appeal.

Inadequate scaling infrastructure

When a platform’s user base expands at a rapid pace, the question of whether that platform’s infrastructure can scale to the demands of its users becomes critical.

The sudden influx of users that accompanies a successful product launch can be a double-edged sword; it brings a wealth of opportunities for data collection, user feedback and revenue, but also tests the scalability of the platform’s infrastructure.

If the underlying technology, support services or operational strategies are not built to scale, the product might suffer from slow loading times, frequent crashes or a lack of timely customer support — all of which are detrimental to the user experience and a product’s long-term success.

For instance, OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, had to limit ChatGPT-4 users to 25 messages every three hours due to infrastructure constraints — even for those with a paid membership. While this helps manage the infrastructure load, it presents a challenge from the user’s perspective.

Users who were accustomed to unlimited interactions with ChatGPT-3 now find themselves paying for a service with limitations. This may inadvertently dampen user engagement and drive some users away, underscoring the delicate balance between managing infrastructure and maintaining user satisfaction.

Lack of user retention strategies

ChatGPT app icon on a phone screen
A news story about what the drop in Meta Threads engagement means for the social media app. Photo credit: AP Photo/Richard Drew.

One reason why tech businesses struggle to retain users is because they don’t prioritize user-centered design. By failing to incorporate user feedback in product development, businesses can end up offering a product that doesn’t meet user needs.

In addition, businesses must provide effective support for users. Insufficient or unclear onboarding may leave users feeling lost and overwhelmed, leading them to abandon the product. In the case of ChatGPT, OpenAI provides a basic explanation of platform usage, but users are primarily responsible for exploring it themselves.

Users experiment with prompts without a clear understanding of how to generate impactful responses, resulting in uncertainty and frustration. This lack of guidance may contribute to lower engagement rates, as observed in the recent decline.

Lastly, increasing concerns about security threats and privacy have raised questions about how new technologies are protecting their users. The conflict between the need for more personalized experiences and privacy can give rise to a phenomenon called the personalization-privacy paradox.

As individuals grow increasingly uneasy about how their personal information is stored, the lack of proper regulations can lead to a decline in the use of personalized services or technologies.

While rapid user adoption is a promising start, it doesn’t guarantee long-term success. Striking the right balance between growth and infrastructure scalability, adopting a user-centric approach, maintaining user trust and investing in continuous innovation are the cornerstones for enduring success in the competitive tech landscape.

Enhancing survey data with high-tech, long-range drones

Gathering geoscientific data for mining and energy industries through ground-level surveys can be time-consuming, costly and physically dangerous. Drones can replace traditional surveying methods, reducing labour and equipment costs and completing surveys more quickly, but they have their own limitations.

To improve the versatility and quality of typical remote-system surveying data, Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) engineering alumni Robel Efrem (mechanical) and Alexandre Coutu (electrical) teamed up with Sajad Saeedi from TMU’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. In partnership with the alumni’s company, Rosor Corp., they develop near-surface, remotely piloted aircraft systems that support multi-datatype output surveying, such as geophysical and topographic, in a single pass.

(From left to right) TMU alumni Alexandre Coutu (BEng Electrical Engineering ‘20), Robel Efrem (MEng Mechanical Engineering ‘23) and professor Sajad Saeedi
(From left to right) TMU alumni Alexandre Coutu (BEng Electrical Engineering ‘20) and Robel Efrem (MEng Mechanical Engineering ‘23), co-founders of Rosor Corp., collaborate with Sajad Saeedi from TMU’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

These long-range survey drones will improve geophysical data collection using custom-designed sensor suites, improved low-altitude accuracy, longer stamina and untethered, long-range communication systems. Enhanced geophysical survey data can provide mining investors greater insights into national and global mining resources, help solve demand shortages through mineral discoveries, and support environmental monitoring and developing technologies like electric vehicles.

Funding for this project by Mitacs. To learn more about how Mitacs supports groundbreaking research and innovation, visit the Mitacs website.

Counting carbs with AI for real-time glucose monitoring

Diabetes patients have to monitor their diet’s glucose levels closely to avoid serious health complications. While some tools exist to help manage this challenging disease, one that accurately pre-evaluates diabetes patients’ meals and allows for on-the-spot portion adjustments is lacking.

To fill this industry gap and improve the lives of diabetes patients, three Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) engineering alumni connected with TMU biomedical engineering professor Naimul Khan to develop machine-learning algorithms capable of analyzing 2D food images for 3D depth in real-time. This innovation allows users to snap a photo of their meal and have the carbohydrates counted while they wait, allowing them to adjust their portions or food choices to maintain ideal glucose levels.

Headshots of TMU professor Naimuil Khan and alumni Liam Bell, Osama Muhammad and Muhammed Ashad Khan
Clockwise from top left: Biomedical engineering professor Naimul Khan and alumni Liam Bell (biomedical), Osama Muhammad (mechanical), and Muhammed Ashad Khan (electrical) worked together through Mitacs to improve glucose self-monitoring

Alumni Liam Bell (biomedical), Osama Muhammad (mechanical) and Muhammed Ashad Khan (electrical) are using these algorithms to further develop their smartphone app and accompanying wearable device, Glucose Vision. This technology has the potential to significantly reduce future health issues and the cost burden of diabetes on the Canadian health care system.

Funding for this project provided by Mitacs. To learn more about how Mitacs supports groundbreaking research and innovation, visit the Mitacs website.

Apple’s new Vision Pro mixed-reality headset could bring the metaverse back to life

Written by Omar H. Fares, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu. Originally published in The Conversation

The Apple Vision Pro headset is displayed in a showroom on the Apple campus on June 5, 2023, in Cupertino, Calif.

The metaverse — a shared online space incorporating 3D graphics where users can interact virtually — has been the subject of increased interest and the ambitious goal of big tech companies for the past few years.

Facebook’s rebranding to Meta is the clearest example of this interest. However, despite the billions of dollars that have been invested in the industry, the metaverse has yet to go mainstream.

After the struggles Meta has faced in driving user engagement, many have written off the metaverse as a viable technology for the near future. But the technological landscape is a rapidly evolving one and new advancements can change perceptions and realities quickly.

Apple’s recent announcement of the Vision Pro mixed-reality headset at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference — the company’s largest launch since the Apple Watch was released in 2015 — could be the lifeline the metaverse needs.

About the Vision Pro headset

The Vision Pro headset is spatial computing device that allows users to interact with apps and other digital content using their hands, eyes and voice, all while maintaining a sense of physical presence. It supports 3D object viewing and spatial video recording and photography.

The Vision Pro is a mixed-reality headset, meaning it combines elements of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). While VR creates a completely immersive environment, AR overlays virtual elements onto the real world. Users are able to control how immersed they are while using the Vision Pro.

A video from Apple introducing the Vision Pro headest.

From a technological standpoint, the Vision Pro uses two kinds of microchips: the M2 chip, which is currently used in Macs, and the new R1 chip.

The new R1 chip processes input from 12 cameras, five sensors and six microphones, which reduces the likelihood of any motion sickness given the absence of input delays.

The Vision Pro display system also features a whopping 23 million pixels, meaning it will be able to deliver an almost real-time view of the world with a lag-free environment.

Why do people use new tech?

To gain a better understanding of why Apple’s Vision Pro may throw the metaverse a lifeline, we first need to understand what drives people to accept and use technology. From there, we can make an informed prediction about the future of this new technology.

The first factor that drives the adoption of technology is how easy a piece of technology will be to use, along with the perceived usefulness of the technology. Consumers need to believe technology will add value to their life in order to find it useful.

The second factor that drives the acceptance and use of technology is social circles. People usually look to their family, friends and peers for cues on what is trendy or useful.

The third factor is the level of expected enjoyment of a piece of technology. This is especially important for immersive technologies. Many factors contribute to enjoyment such as system quality, immersion experiences and interactive environment.

The last factor that drives mainstream adoption is affordability. More important, however, is the value derived from new technology — the benefits a user expects to gain, minus costs.

Can Apple save the metaverse?

The launch of the Vision Pro seems to indicate Apple has an understanding of the factors that drive the adoption of new technology.

A white man in a polo shirt poses in front of a displayed VR headset
Apple CEO Tim Cook poses for photos in front of a pair of the company’s new Apple Vision Pro headsets in a showroom on the Apple campus on June 5, 2023, in Cupertino, Calif. Photo credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu.

When it comes to ease of use, the Vision Pro offers an intuitive hand-tracking capability that allows users to interact with simple hand gestures and an impressive eye-tracking technology. Users will have the ability to select virtual items just by looking at them.

The Vision Pro also addresses another crucial metaverse challenge: the digital persona. One of the most compelling features of the metaverse is the ability for users to connect virtually with one another, but many find it challenging to connect with cartoon-like avatars.

The Vision Pro is attempting to circumvent this issue by allowing users to create hyper-realistic digital personas. Users will be able to scan their faces to create digital versions of themselves for the metaverse.

The seamless integration of the Vision Pro into the rest of the Apple ecosystem will also likely to be a selling point for customers.

Lastly, the power of so-called “Apple effect” is another key factor that could contribute to the Vision Pro’s success. Apple has built an extremely loyal customer base over the years by establishing trust and credibility. There’s a good chance customers will be open to trying this new technology because of this.

Privacy and pricing

While Apple seems poised to take on the metaverse, there are still some key factors the company needs to consider.

By its very nature, the metaverse requires a wealth of personal data collection to function effectively. This is because the metaverse is designed to offer personalized experiences for users. The way those experiences are created is by collecting data.

Users will need assurances from Apple that their personal data and interactions with Vision Pro are secure and protected. Apple’s past record of prioritizing data security may be an advantage, but there needs to be continuous effort in this area to avoid loss of trust and consumer confidence.

Price-wise, the Vision Pro costs a whopping US$3,499. This will undoubtedly pose a barrier for users and may prevent widespread adoption of the technology. Apple needs to consider strategies to increase the accessibility of this technology to a broader audience.

As we look to the future of this industry, it’s clear the metaverse is anticipated to be fiercely competitive. While Apple brings cutting-edge technology and a loyal customer base, Meta is still one of the original players in this space and its products are significantly more affordable. In other words, the metaverse is very much alive.

Smart wearables that measure sweat provide continuous glucose monitoring

Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) researchers Reza Eslami and Hadis Zarrin have developed non-invasive sensors powered by movement that can determine the blood sugar levels of diabetes patients from their sweat. The researchers aim to revolutionize diabetes management by creating a user-friendly, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system that integrates these sensors into clothing and accessories, allowing diabetes patients to self-monitor their glucose levels 24/7.

Self-powered CGM smart wearables could significantly improve diabetes patients’ quality of life by enabling them to regulate their overall blood sugar level and meet glucose targets consistently. In addition, CGMs could play an essential role in predicting the risk of diabetes development before onset.

Chemical engineering PhD candidate Reza Eslami (left) and chemical engineering professor Hadis Zarrin
Chemical engineering PhD candidate Reza Eslami (left) and chemical engineering professor Hadis Zarrin collaborate to develop a user-friendly, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system

Zarrin, the principal investigator at TMU-based Nanoengineering Laboratory for Energy and Environmental Technologies (NLEET) and a chemical engineering professor, collaborates with Eslami, a chemical engineering PhD candidate and his start-up, Sensofine, to make this technology widely available. They use machine learning and input from fashion designers to develop smart wearables made of high-performing materials and consider various factors in their design, including accessibility, culture, gender and age.

Funding for this project provided by Mitacs. To learn more about how Mitacs supports groundbreaking research and innovation, visit the Mitacs website.

Gen Z goes retro: Why the younger generation is ditching smartphones for ‘dumb phones’

Written by Omar H. Fares, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.

Sales of so-called “dumb phones,” like flip and slide phones, are on the rise among the younger generation.

There is a growing movement among Gen Z to do away with smartphones and revert back to “less smart” phones like old-school flip and slide phones. Flip phones were popular in the mid-1990s and 2000s, but now seem to be making a comeback among younger people.

While this may seem like a counter-intuitive trend in our technology-reliant society, a Reddit forum dedicated to “dumb phones” is steadily gaining in popularity. According to a CNBC new report, flip phones sales are on the rise in the U.S.

Gen Z’s interest in flip phones is the latest in a series of obsessions young people are having with the aesthetic of the 1990s and 2000s. Y2K fashion has been steadily making a comeback over the past few years and the use of vintage technology, like disposable cameras, is on the rise.

There are a few reasons why, including nostalgia and yearning for an idealized version of the past, doing a “digital detox” and increasing privacy concerns.

The power of nostalgia

Nostalgia is a complex emotion that involves reconnecting with the happy emotions of an idealized past by recalling positive memories.

Over the years, marketers have realized that nostalgia is a powerful way to evoke positive emotions — so much so that nostalgia marketing has become a recognized marketing strategy. It leverages positive memories and feelings associated with the past to create an emotional connection with consumers.

A wealth of research shows that nostalgia can result in consumers being willing to pay more, enhance brand ties, increased purchase intention and increased digital brand engagement.

Nostalgia may be a driving factor behind people purchasing flip phones because they evoke memories of a previous era in mobile communication.

But nostalgia marketing doesn’t just target the younger generation — it’s also a powerful tool for advertising to those who grew up using older mobile devices. Nokia is an example of a company that understands this well.

A YouTube advertisement for Nokia’s 2720 V Flip shows how brands can use nostalgia marketing to appeal to customers and drive product sales.

A marketing video about the Nokia 2720 V Flip, a modern take on the flip phones from the 2000s.

When older generations speak about objects from the past, they usually hearken back to “the golden era” or “golden time.” The comment section of the Nokia video showcases this kind of thinking.

One comment reads: “My first phone was a Nokia 2760! It was also a flip phone. This brings back good memories.” Another says: “I am definitely getting this just for good old memories. When life was easy.”

Digital detox

Another reason why people might be purchasing flip phones is to do a digital detox and cut down on screen time. A digital detox refers to a period of time when a person refrains from using their electronic devices, like smartphones, to focus on social connections in the physical world and reduce stress.

In 2022, people in the U.S. spent more than 4.5 hours daily on their mobile devices. In Canada, adults self-reported spending about 3.2 hours per day in front of screens in 2022. Children and youth had about three hours of screen time per day in 2016 and 2017.

Excessive smartphone usage can result in a number of harmful side effects, such as sleep disruption. Just over 50 per cent of Canadians check their smartphones before they go to sleep.

The blue-light emitted from smartphones may suppress melatonin production, making it harder to sleep and causing physiological issues including reduced glucose tolerance, increased blood pressure and increased inflammatory markers.

A man looking at a smartphone while lying in bed
Just over 50 per cent of Canadians check their smartphones before they go to sleep. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The increased level of digital connectivity and the pressure to respond instantly, especially in a post-pandemic world where many people work remotely, can lead to increased levels of anxiety and stress. Being constantly online can also lead to reduced social connectivity and can negatively impact personal relationships and social skills.

The constant digital noise and multi-tasking nature of smartphones and apps like TikTok can lead to decreased attention spans. From my personal observations in the classroom, I’ve noticed students find it difficult to concentrate for prolonged periods of time.

condition known as text neck can also occur when a person spends extended periods of time looking down at an electronic device. The repetitive strain of holding the head forward and down can cause discomfort and pain in the neck.

As people become more aware of the potential side effects of excessive screen time and constant digital connectivity, some are choosing to digitally detox. Flip phones are a way people can limit their exposure to digital noise and build a healthier relationship with technology.

Privacy concerns

Smartphones have a long list of advanced features such as cameras, GPS and tons of mobile applications — all of which can store and access a significant list of personal data.

In some cases, personal data can be used for targeted advertisements, but in worst cases that information can be leaked as part of a data breach. More and more people are growing concerned with how their data is being collected, shared and used by companies and online platforms.

A handing holding a flip cellphone over a table covered with an assortment of smartphones.
The Motorola Razr was a type of flip phone that was extremely popular in the mid-2000s. Photo credit: Shutterstock

It’s natural to feel worried about the potential misuse of our personal information. That’s why some people are taking matters into their own hands and seeking out creative ways to limit the amount of data being collected about them.

Old-fashioned flip phones generally have fewer features that collect and store personal data compared to smartphones. That can make them a more attractive option for people concerned with privacy, data breaches or surveillance.

But this trend doesn’t mean smartphones are going out of style. There are still millions of smartphones being shipped worldwide every year. The trend may result in users opting to own both a smartphone and a flip phone, allowing users to digitally detox and reduce screen time without sacrificing the benefits of social media.

ChatGPT’s greatest achievement might just be its ability to trick us into thinking that it’s honest

Written by Richard Lachman, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo Credit Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation

AI chatbots are designed to convincingly sustain a conversation.

In American writer Mark Twain’s autobiography, he quotes — or perhaps misquotes — former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli as saying: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

In a marvellous leap forward, artificial intelligence combines all three in a tidy little package.

ChatGPT, and other generative AI chatbots like it, are trained on vast datasets from across the internet to produce the statistically most likely response to a prompt. Its answers are not based on any understanding of what makes something funny, meaningful or accurate, but rather, the phrasing, spelling, grammar and even style of other webpages.

It presents its responses through what’s called a “conversational interface”: it remembers what a user has said, and can have a conversation using context cues and clever gambits. It’s statistical pastiche plus statistical panache, and that’s where the trouble lies.

Unthinking, but convincing

When I talk to another human, it cues a lifetime of my experience in dealing with other people. So when a program speaks like a person, it is very hard to not react as if one is engaging in an actual conversation — taking something in, thinking about it, responding in the context of both of our ideas.

Yet, that’s not at all what is happening with an AI interlocutor. They cannot think and they do not have understanding or comprehension of any sort.

Presenting information to us as a human does, in conversation, makes AI more convincing than it should be. Software is pretending to be more reliable than it is, because it’s using human tricks of rhetoric to fake trustworthiness, competence and understanding far beyond its capabilities.

There are two issues here: is the output correct; and do people think that the output is correct?

The interface side of the software is promising more than the algorithm-side can deliver on, and the developers know it. Sam Altman, the chief executive officer of OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, admits that “ChatGPT is incredibly limited, but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness.”

That still hasn’t stopped a stampede of companies rushing to integrate the early-stage tool into their user-facing products (including Microsoft’s Bing search), in an effort not to be left out.

Fact and fiction

Sometimes the AI is going to be wrong, but the conversational interface produces outputs with the same confidence and polish as when it is correct. For example, as science-fiction writer Ted Chiang points out, the tool makes errors when doing addition with larger numbers, because it doesn’t actually have any logic for doing math.

It simply pattern-matches examples seen on the web that involve addition. And while it might find examples for more common math questions, it just hasn’t seen training text involving larger numbers.

It doesn’t “know’ the math rules a 10-year-old would be able to explicitly use. Yet the conversational interface presents its response as certain, no matter how wrong it is, as reflected in this exchange with ChatGPT.

User: What’s the capital of Malaysia?

ChatGPT: The capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lampur.

User: What is 27 * 7338?

ChatGPT: 27 * 7338 is 200,526.

It’s not.

Generative AI can blend actual facts with made-up ones in a biography of a public figure, or cite plausible scientific references for papers that were never written.

That makes sense: statistically, webpages note that famous people have often won awards, and papers usually have references. ChatGPT is just doing what it was built to do, and assembling content that could be likely, regardless of whether it’s true.

Computer scientists refer to this as AI hallucination. The rest of us might call it lying.

Intimidating outputs

When I teach my design students, I talk about the importance of matching output to the process. If an idea is at the conceptual stage, it shouldn’t be presented in a manner that makes it look more polished than it actually is — they shouldn’t render it in 3D or print it on glossy cardstock. A pencil sketch makes clear that the idea is preliminary, easy to change and shouldn’t be expected to address every part of a problem.

The same thing is true of conversational interfaces: when tech “speaks” to us in well-crafted, grammatically correct or chatty tones, we tend to interpret it as having much more thoughtfulness and reasoning than is actually present. It’s a trick a con-artist should use, not a computer.

A hand holding a phone screen showing a live chat with the text HI HOW CAN I HELP YOU?
Chatbots are increasingly being used by technology companies in user-facing products. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

AI developers have a responsibility to manage user expectations, because we may already be primed to believe whatever the machine says. Mathematician Jordan Ellenberg describes a type of “algebraic intimidation” that can overwhelm our better judgement just by claiming there’s math involved.

AI, with hundreds of billions of parameters, can disarm us with a similar algorithmic intimidation.

While we’re making the algorithms produce better and better content, we need to make sure the interface itself doesn’t over-promise. Conversations in the tech world are already filled with overconfidence and arrogance — maybe AI can have a little humility instead.

The next phase of the internet is coming: Here’s what you need to know about Web3

Written by Adrian Ma, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.

The terms Web3 and Web 3.0 are often used interchangeably, but they are different concepts.

The rapid growth of cryptocurrencies and virtual non-fungible tokens have dominated news headlines in recent years. But not many may see how these modish applications connect together in a wider idea being touted by some as the next iteration of the internet — Web3.

There are many misconceptions surrounding this buzzy (and, frankly, fuzzy) term, including the conflation of Web3 with Web 3.0. Here’s what you need to know about these terms.

What is Web3?

Since Web3 is still a developing movement, there’s no universal agreement among experts about its definition. Simply put, Web3 is envisioned to be a “decentralized web ecosystem,” empowering users to bypass internet gatekeepers and retain ownership of their data.

This would be done through blockchain; rather than relying on single servers and centralized databases, Web3 would run off of public ledgers where data is stored on computer networks that are chained together.

A decentralized Web3 would fundamentally change how the internet operates — financial institutions and tech companies would no longer need to be intermediaries of our online experiences.

As one business reporter put it:

“In a Web3 world, people control their own data and bounce around from social media to email to shopping using a single personalized account, creating a public record on the blockchain of all of that activity.”

Web3’s blockchain-based infrastructure would open up intriguing possibilities by ushering in the era of the “token economy.” The token economy would allow users to monetize their data by providing them with tokens for their online interactions. These tokens could offer users perks or benefits, including ownership stakes in content platforms or voting rights in online communities.

To better understand Web3, it helps to step back and see how the internet developed into what it is now.

Web 1.0: The ‘read-only’ web

Computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the world wide web in 1989, which allowed people to hyperlink static pages of information on websites accessible through internet browsers.

Berners-Lee was exploring more efficient ways for researchers at different institutions to share information. In 1991, he launched the world’s first website, which provided instructions on using the internet.

A middle-aged man in a suit sits in an arm chair speaking into a microphone.
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, speaks at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Ottawa in May 2019. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang.

These basic “read-only” websites were managed by webmasters who were responsible for updating users and managing the information. In 1992, there were 10 websites. By 1994, after the web entered the public domain, there were 3,000.

When Google arrived in 1996 there were two million. Last year, there were approximately 1.2 billion websites, although it is estimated only 17 per cent are still active.

Web 2.0: The social web

The next major shift for the internet saw it develop from a “read-only web” to where we are currently — a “read-write web.” Websites became more dynamic and interactive. People became mass participants in generating content through hosted services like Wikipedia, Blogger, Flickr and Tumblr.

The idea of “Web 2.0” gained traction after technology publisher Tim O’Reilly popularized the term in 2004.

Later on, social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram and the growth of mobile apps led to unparalleled connectivity, albeit through distinct platforms. These platforms are known as walled gardens because their parent companies heavily regulate what users are able to do and there is no information exchange between competing services.

Tech companies like Amazon, Google and Apple are deeply embedded into every facet of our lives, from how we store and pay for our content to the personal data we offer (sometimes without our knowledge) to use their wares.

Web3 vs. Web 3.0

This brings us to the next phase of the internet, in which many wish to wrest back control from the entities that have come to hegemonize it.

The terms Web3 and Web 3.0 are often used interchangeably, but they are different concepts.

Web3 is the move towards a decentralized internet built on blockchain. Web 3.0, on the other hand, traces back to Berners-Lee’s original vision for the internet as a collection of websites linking everything together at the data level.

Our current internet can be thought of as a gigantic document depot. Computers are capable of retrieving information for us when we ask them to, but they aren’t capable of understanding the deeper meaning behind our requests.

A hand holding a cellphone displaying a group of social media platform icons.
In a Web 3.0 world, users would be able to link personal information across social media platforms. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Information is also siloed into separate servers. Advances in programming, natural language processing, machine learning and artificial intelligence would allow computers to discern and process information in a more “human” way, leading to more efficient and effective content discovery, data sharing and analysis. This is known as the “semantic web” or the “read-write-execute” web.

In Berners-Lee’s Web 3.0 world, information would be stored in databases called Solid Pods, which would be owned by individual users. While this is a more centralized approach than Web3’s use of blockchain, it would allow data to be changed more quickly because it wouldn’t be distributed over multiple places.

It would allow, for example, a user’s social media profiles to be linked so that updating the personal information on one would automatically update the rest.

The next era of the internet

Web3 and Web 3.0 are often mixed up because the next era of the internet will likely feature elements of both movements — semantic web applications, linked data and a blockchain economy. It’s not hard to see why there is significant investment happening in this space.

But we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the logistical issues and legal implications. Governments need to develop new regulations for everything from digital asset sales taxation to consumer protections to the complex privacy and piracy concerns of linked data.

There are also critics who argue that Web3, in particular, is merely a contradictory rebranding of cryptocurrency that will not democratize the internet. While it’s clear we’ve arrived at the doorstep of a new internet era, it’s really anyone’s guess as to what happens when we walk through that door.

ChatGPT could be a game-changer for marketers, but it won’t replace humans any time soon

Written by Omar H. Fares, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.

A new AI chatbot could revolutionize marketing for businesses.

The recent release of the ChatGPT chatbot in November 2022 has generated significant public interest. In essence, ChatGPT is an AI-powered chatbot allowing users to simulate human-like conversations with an AI.

GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer, a language processing model developed by the American artificial intelligence company OpenAI. The GPT language model uses deep learning to produce human-like responses. Deep learning is a branch of machine learning that involves training artificial neural networks to mimic the complexity of the human brain, to produce human-like responses.

ChatGPT has a user-friendly interface that utilizes this technology, allowing users to interact with it in a conversational manner.

In light of this new technology, businesses and consumers alike have shown great interest in how such an innovation could revolutionize marketing strategies and customer experiences.

What’s so special about ChatGPT?

What sets ChatGPT apart from other chatbots is the size of its dataset. Chatbots are usually trained on a smaller dataset in a rule-based manner designed to answer specific questions and conduct certain tasks.

ChatGPT, on the other hand, is trained on a huge dataset — 175 billion parameters and 570 gigabytes — and is able to perform a range of tasks in different fields and industries. 570GB is equivalent to over 385 million pages on Microsoft Word.

Given the amount of the data, ChatGPT can carry out different language-related activities which includes answering questions in different fields and sectors, providing answers in different languages and generating content.

A picture of the OpenAI website showing a passaged describing ChatGPT.
ChatGPT is a chatbot that was launched by OpenAI in November 2022. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Friend or foe to marketers?

While ChatGPT may be a tremendous tool for marketers, it is important to understand the realistic possibilities and expectations of it to get the most value from it.

Traditionally, with the emergence of new technologies, consumers tend to go through Gartner’s hype cycle. In essence, Gartner’s cycle explains the process people go through when adopting a new technology.

The cycle starts with the innovation trigger and peak of inflated triggers stages when consumers get enthusiastic about new technology and expectations start to build. Then consumers realize the pitfalls of the technology, creating a gap between expectations and reality. This is called the trough of disillusionment.

This is followed by the slope of enlightenment when consumers start to understand the technology and use it more appropriately and reasonably. Finally, the technology becomes widely adopted and used as intended during the plateau of productivity stage.

With the current public excitement surrounding ChatGPT, we appear to be nearing the peak of inflated triggers stage. It’s important for marketers to set realistic expectations for consumers and navigate the integration of ChatGPT to mitigate the affects of the trough of disillusionment stage.

Possibilities of ChatGPT

In its current form, ChatGPT cannot replace the human factor in marketing, but it could support content creation, enhance customer service, automate repetitive tasks and support data analysis.

Supporting content creation: Marketers may use ChatGPT to enhance existing content by using it to edit written work, make suggestions, summarize ideas and improve overall copy readability. Additionally, ChatGPT may enhance search engine optimization strategy by examining ideal keywords and tags.

Enhancing customer service: Businesses may train ChatGPT to respond to frequently asked questions and interact with customers in a human-like conversation. Rather than replacing the human factor, ChatGPT could provide 24/7 customer support. This could optimize business resources and enhance internal processes by leaving high-impact and sensitive tasks to humans. ChatGPT can also be trained in different languages, further enhancing customer experience and satisfaction.

ChatGPT chat bot screen seen on smartphone and laptop display with Chat GPT login screen on the background.
It’s important to understand the realistic possibilities and expectations of new and emerging technologies. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Automating repetitive marketing tasks: According to a 2015 HubSpot report, marketers spent a significant amount of their time on repetitive tasks, such as sending emails and creating social media posts. While part of that challenge has been addressed with customer relationship management software, ChatGPT may enhance this by providing an added layer of personalization through the generation of creative content.

Additionally, ChatGPT may be helpful in other tasks, such as product descriptions. With access to a wealth of data, ChatGPT would be able to frequently update and adjust product descriptions, allowing marketers to focus on higher-impact tasks.

Limitations of ChatGPT

While the wide range of possibilities for enhancing marketing processes with ChatGPT are enticing, it is important for businesses to know about some key limitations and when to limit or avoid using ChatGPT in business operations.

Emotional intelligence: ChatGPT provides a state of the art human-like response and content. However, it is important to be aware that the tool is only human-like. Similar to traditional challenges with chatbots, the degree of human-likeness will be essential for process enhancement and content creation.

Marketers could use ChatGPT to enhance customer experience, but without humans to provide relevancy, character, experience and personal connection, it will be challenging to fully capitalize on ChatGPT. Relying on ChatGPT to build customer connections and engagement without the involvement of humans may diminish meaningful customer connection instead of enhancing it.

Accuracy: While the marketing content may appear logical, it is important to note that ChatGPT is not error free and may provide incorrect and illogical answers. Marketers need to review and validate the content generated by ChatGPT to avoid possible errors and ensure consistency with brand message and image.

Creativity: Relying on ChatGPT for creative content may cause short- and long-term challenges. ChatGPT lacks the lived experience of individuals and understanding the complexity of human nature. Over-relying on ChatGPT may limit creative abilities, so it should be used to support ideation and enhance existing content while still allowing room for human creativity.

Humans are irreplaceable

While ChatGPT has the potential to enhance marketing effectiveness, businesses should only use the technology as a tool to assist humans, not replace them. ChatGPT could provide creative content and support content ideation. However, the human factor is still essential for examining outputs and creating marketing messages that are consistent with a firm’s business strategy and vision.

A business that does not have a strong marketing strategy before integrating ChatGPT remains at a competitive disadvantage. However, with appropriate marketing strategies and plans, ChatGPT could effectively enhance and support existing marketing processes.

Canada needs to consider the user experience of migrants when designing programs that impact them

Written by Lucia Nalbandian, University of Toronto and Nick Dreher, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette. Originally published in The Conversation.

People walk through Pearson International Airport in Toronto in March 2020.

The first interaction many Canadians have with government services today is digital. Older Canadians turn to the internet to understand how to file for Old Age Security or track down a customer service phone number. Parents visit school district websites for information on school closures, schedules and curricula.

These digital offerings present an opportunity to enhance the quality of services and improve citizens’ experiences by taking a human-centred design approach.

Our research has revealed that governments across the globe are increasingly leveraging technology in immigration and integration processes. As Canadian government services focus on improving the experience of their citizens, efforts should be extended to future citizens as well.

Immigrants are a vital part of the Canadian economy and social fabric. In announcing Canada’s new immigration target of 500,000 permanent residents per year by 2025, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said the numbers strike a balance between our economic needs and international obligations.

Bar graph showing the increasing amounts of immigrants Canada plans to welcome into the country over the years.
Canada’s new Immigration Levels Plan aims to welcome 465,000 new permanent residents in 2023, 485,000 in 2024 and 500,000 in 2025. Photo credit: (Statistics Canada), Author provided.

Despite the importance of immigrants for the Canadian economy and national identity, it remains to be seen if immigrants are engaged in the development of policies, services and technological tools that impact them.

Advancements in the immigration sector

Canada has steadily been introducing digital technologies into services, programs and processes that impact migrants. This has especially been the case with the COVID-19 pandemic requiring organizations to innovate their services and programs without diminishing the overall quality of service.

Immigration scholar Maggie Perzyna developed the COVID-19 Immigration Policy Tracker to examine how the Immigration and Refugee Board and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) used digital tools to enable employees to work from home. This helped reduce the administrative burden and increased efficiency.

A grid of people raise their hands during a virtual citizenship ceremony as seen on a mobile phone screen.
Participants raise their hands as they swear the oath to become Canadian citizens during a virtual citizenship ceremony held over livestream due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on July 1, 2020. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang.

There continues to be a strong case for technological transformation in Canada’s immigration-focused departments, programs and services. As of July 31, 2022, Canada has a backlog of 2.4 million immigration applications.

In other words, Canada is failing to meet the application processing timelines it has set for itself for services —including passport renewal, refugee travel documents, and work and study permits.

While the Canadian government is trying to address these backlogs, there appears to be no discussion of asking immigrants about their journey through the application process. Rather, the government appears to centre employees. Still, issues with the Global Case Management System persist, driving current case management system issues for employees and government service users.

Virtual processes were prioritized

While the Canadian government previously introduced a machine learning pilot tool to sort through temporary resident visa applications, its use stagnated due to pandemic-related border closures. Instead, virtual processes and digitization were prioritized, including:

  • Shifting from paper to digitized applications for the following: spousal and economic class immigration, applicants to the Non-Express Entry Provincial Nominee Program, the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, the Agri-Food Pilot, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, the Québec Selected Investor Program, the Québec Entrepreneur Program, the Québec Self-Employed Persons Program and protected persons.
  • Hosting digital hearings for spousal immigration applicants, pre-removal risk assessments and refugees using video-conferencing.
  • Introducing secure document exchanges and the ability to view case information across various immigration streams.
  • Offering virtual citizenship tests and citizenship ceremonies.

Additionally, Fraser announced further measures to improve the user experience, modernize the immigration system and address challenges faced by people using IRCC. This strategy will also involve using data analytics to aid officers in sorting and processing visitor visa applications.

A man in a suit and tie speaking into a microphone. Behind him stands a line of Canadian flags.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser speaks during a news conference with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in April 2022 in Ottawa. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld.

These changes showcase Canada’s efforts to pair existing challenges with existing solutions — initiatives that require relatively low effort. Yet while these digitization efforts streamline administrative processes and reduce administrative burden, application backlogs persist.

While useful, these initiatives focus on efficiencies in IRCC processing for employees. As IRCC evaluates and develops processes, it should prioritize the experience of end users by taking a migrant-centred design approach.

The value of human-centred design

Human-centred design is the practice of putting real people at the centre of any development process, including for programs, policies or technology. It places the end user at the forefront of development so user needs and preferences are considered each step of the way.

To maximize value in technology implementation, IRCC should take a migrant-centred design approach: apply human-centred design principles with migrants treated as the end users. This approach should consider the following suggestions:

  1. Centre migrants in the development of immigration programs, policies and services, and digital and technological tools by seeking migrants’ input in forthcoming and proposed changes.
  2. Take a life-course approach to human and social service delivery by recognizing that “all stages of a person’s life are intricately intertwined with each other.” Government services prioritize Canadian citizens, but a life-course approach understands that all individuals in Canada, regardless of their current immigration status, represent potential Canadian citizens. Government services should implement a life-course approach by prioritizing quality services for migrants, some of which are seniors that will require different government services in the future.
  3. Combat discrimination and bias in developing new immigration technology tools. Artificial intelligence and other advanced digital technologies have the capacity to reproduce biases and discrimination that currently exist in IRCC. Any new technologies must be evaluated to prevent discrimination or bias.

As Canada continues to explore how technology can help streamline and improve the migrant journey, migrant-centred design should be at the forefront of their planning. When we design processes, policies and tools with intended users at the centre, they are more likely to resonate with users.

If Canada wants to be a first-choice migration destination, we need to approach immigration policies — including technology use — as opportunities to empower and encourage migrants.