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Spark from CBC Radio

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Spark on CBC Radio One Nora Young helps you navigate your digital life by connecting you to fresh ideas in surprising ways.
208 Episodes
Technology design and programming can often exclude communities of users — sometimes even those the technology is specifically designed to help. So how can technologists better meet the needs of all users?
How countercultures, subcultures and niche communities have shaped, and continue to shape, digital tech.
566: Under lock and key

566: Under lock and key


For the 5th instalment of our Butterfly Effect series, we look at how the 6,000-year-old invention and concept has come to shape how we keep our valuables safe — physically and digitally.
There's a powerful connection between our built environment and our mental health, and architects are approaching the design of buildings and cities to better serve people.
Over 16 seasons of Spark, we've talked a lot about the evolution of tech and our changing relationship to it. We look back at some eerily accurate predictions of the future past, some out-there theories that turned into reality, and the hopes for technology that didn't quite pan out.
Much of our shopping has switched to online — which meant small business owners like CJ Tennant had to adapt their brick-and-mortar businesses for online shoppers. The increase in e-commerce also means a boom in customer data collection. So what kind of data is collected, and how is it used? We speak with Anteneh Ayanso and Arunesh Mathur about e-commerce data mining, and what to watch out for when legitimate data collection crosses the ethical line. (This is a repeat of an episode that first aired in Jan. 2021, and has been updated to reflect that.)
LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, were first conceived well over a century ago. But it took another half century before they were commercially available, and half a century again before they became ubiquitous. And now they're in everything from our phones to our holiday lights to special effects in film. On a special Butterfly Effect edition, we trace the development of the LED – and ask what might come next. With guests Carrie Meadows, Zheng-Hong Lu and Kevin McGeagh.
From paying for the privilege of "luxury surveillance" to workplace monitoring for long-haul truckers, this week, we're tracking the growth of surveillance solutionism – the idea that we can solve personal, social and economic problems with mass monitoring. With guests Karen Levy, Chris Gilliard and Albert Fox Cahn.
In this instalment of The Butterfly Effect, we hear the long tale of the mixtape: How the Sony Walkman paved the way for the iPod and streaming a million songs, TV shows and movies from our smartphones. Featuring Michael Bull, professor of sound studies at University of Sussex; Todd Green, associate professor of marketing at Brock University; and Josh Viner, founder of The Creative Lab, Toronto.
Big Tech aims to solve large social issues, from housing to urban transportation. We discuss tech solutionism with Paris Marx, host of Tech Won't Save Us podcast, author of Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong About the Future of Transportation. And, with massive layoffs happening all over Silicon Valley, and the sale of Twitter throwing social media into chaos, is it time to rekindle the cooperatives movement in tech? Nathan Schneider, professor of media studies at University of Colorado, Boulder and director of the Media Enterprise Design Lab, talks about tech co-ops. Then, Greg Lindsay, urban tech fellow at Cornell Tech University and a senior fellow at MIT’s Future Urban Collective, talks about peer-to-peer solutions focused on mutualism and solidarity in times of crisis.
Repeat: Interconnections

Repeat: Interconnections


A look at the evolutionary psychology of friendship with science journalist and author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond Lydia Denworth. Then, Tiffany Petricini, assistant teaching professor at Penn State Shenango and author of Friendship and Technology: A Philosophical Approach to Computer Mediated Communication, talks about how digital tech has shaped our friendships and our fundamental sense of togetherness. (This is a repeat of an episode that first aired in Feb. 2022, and has been updated to reflect that.)
We've seen remarkable gains in artificial intelligence – but only in specific, narrow domains, like fraud prevention or navigation. One reason for that is the way AI innovations get adopted. Another is our poor ability to distinguish between real progress and so-called AI snake oil. This week, we demystify AI with guests Ajay Agrawal, professor in University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, founder of the Creative Destruction Lab, and co-author of a new book, Power and Prediction: The Disruptive Economics of Artificial Intelligence; and Arvind Narayanan, professor of computer science at Princeton University and co-author of the newsletter and forthcoming book called AI Snake Oil.
When it comes to adapting to climate change, we tend not to think about the energy demands of our digital technologies. But data centres – the physical structures that store and process our digital information – are very resource-intensive and vulnerable to extreme weather events. Host Nora Young discusses data centre design with Lauren Bridges, critical data studies researcher and Ph.D. candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania; Chheng Lim, an associate at Chicago-based Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects, who specializes in data-centre design; and Simon Harris, head of critical infrastructure at Business Critical Solutions, a data centre consultancy firm in the U.K.
It's impossible to imagine life these days without the humble battery. So as part of our ongoing Butterfly Effect series, this week we talk about the past, present and future of the battery, and how the need for stored energy became one of the biggest demands of our time. Featuring Linda Nazar, University of Waterloo professor of chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Solid State Energy Materials; Jeff Dahn, co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery and principal investigator at NSERC/Tesla Canada/Dalhousie Alliance Grant, Dalhousie University; and James Morton Turner, professor of environmental studies at Wellesley College, Mass., and author of Charged: A History of Batteries and Lessons for a Clean Energy Future.
We explore the tech that helps us understand the language of plants and animals, and how it may hold the key to protecting biodiversity. With guests Karen Bakker, professor of geography at the University of British Columbia, and author of The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants; and Tom Mustill, wildlife videographer and author of How to Speak Whale: A Voyage into the Future of Animal Communication. Plus, a documentary about DNA barcoding from Spark contributor David Kattenburg, featuring Guelph, Ont. genomics researcher Dirk Steinke, UBC professor of obstetrics and gynaecology Deborah Money, and Dutch DNA barcoder Kevin Beentjes.
A new crop of innovators are using digital platforms to address housing equity, from improving mortgage terms to providing homelessness resources. But do technical answers work for social questions? Michelle Boyd and Alina Turner discuss if and how technology can address the housing crisis. This is a repeat of an episode that first aired in December 2021, and has been updated to reflect that.
The web of the '90s and early '00s has inspired many nostalgic projects, but it's not just the aesthetics that people miss. This week, we take a look at the efforts to build a new, open, decentralized web. Canadian programmer Mike Killingbeck talks about building RE-AOL, a re-creation of the beloved early-web platform. Writer, COMPOSTmag editor and senior organizer with DWeb projects at the Internet Archive Mai Ishikawa Sutton, and Alicia Urquidi Díaz, metadata & data services librarian at University of Toronto's Scholars Portal and volunteer archivist at DWeb camp, discuss the ideas of the decentralized web.
Almost 65 years ago, two American engineers independently developed the first integrated circuit on a chip. The effect has been described as a second Industrial Revolution: now almost every powered device we use, from toasters to Telecasters, uses them. The first episode of our special series, The Butterfly Effect, examines the origin of the microchip, and the massive changes it brought to all aspects of our lives. With guests Paul Ceruzzi, John Dallesasse, Chris Miller.
With students starting a new school year, we examine the impact of tech on remote learning. Western University associate professor Prachi Srivastava talks about the impact of COVID on educational outcomes. Sharon Saw, Grade 1 teacher from Edmonton, Alta., shares how she uses TikTok to connect with students and fellow educators. University of Windsor associate professor Bonnie Stewart discusses what technology tools educators found useful while teaching remotely, and what that means for in-person classes in the future.
551: Digital borders

551: Digital borders


Digital technologies are changing how migration happens: from the way artificial intelligence is used for policing borders, to how a person's journey is documented via social media. Journalist Sally Hayden speaks about how migrants and refugees use tech during their journeys. Lawyer and York University's Refugee Lab associate director Petra Molnar talks about how AI and surveillance tech are used in policing borders. Author and London School of Economics professor Myria Georgiou discusses the idea of a "digital border."
Comments (2)


Andrew Yang "The War on Normal People" #HumanityFirst

Mar 11th

Yaser Izadinia

So amazing topic...I need the can I have transcripts?

Oct 13th
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