Opening Up Data: Unlocking new ideas for a brighter future
May 12, 2017

Ontarians today are excited about what technology will bring in the future. That’s one of the messages we are repeatedly hearing in our online survey about the future of our province: respondents are eager to see what new technologies and inventions might exist in even five years, and how these might change their lives.

Undoubtedly, the speed at which technology improves and progresses is a defining aspect of our era. In fact, we don’t need to wait until the future to be in awe of technology – there is still a lot of work to be done so that we fully understand and benefit from the technologies we have today.

We are, for instance, inundated in data right now. We have the ability to collect and store information at a rate that even a few years ago seemed unimaginable.

But data can only go as far as our analysis takes it, and the question of what to do with all the information being collected is a major issue for both governments and businesses. Already, this challenge has created an increasing demand for the analytical skills necessary to work with so much data. A recent report from the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity noted that one of the most in-demand skills today is the ability to analyze and draw insights from big data.

Having the right talent is key to making the most of this opportunity. But if we are to reap the rewards of all the data we can collect, it is also vital that we make information available in formats that are easy for researchers, software developers, journalists, citizens and others to access, analyze and share.

Today, this trend toward openness is expanding. Universities are partnering with businesses and other educational institutions to make the most of it.

At Ryerson, the SMART (Science of Music, Auditory Research and Technology) Lab, which has been studying the body’s physiological reaction to music for many years, partnered with WaveDNA to create a software that helps composers confirm if their music is eliciting the intended emotional response.

A collaboration between the University of Waterloo and the Institut d’Astro physique de Paris of the National Centre for Scientific Research of France has led to the creation of a 3D map of the universe that is the most complete picture of our cosmic neighbourhood to date.

And a research team from the University of Ottawa led by Dr. Patrick McCurdy has created a database of images, videos, articles and graphs that allow researchers, students, educators and the public to analyze existing data about the competing interests and campaigns related to the Alberta oil sands.

These are just a few of the ways that easier access to data can create benefits for businesses, researchers and the province at large. The question is: where does this movement go from here? How do we strike the balance between the opportunities it presents and the imperative to privacy? How can we seize the moment to make the most of our rich data?

These questions need to be confronted now, and they will be some of the key points of discussion at the THINK conference being put on by our partner ORION on May 24. Ontarians can hear about new ideas from thought leaders and experts in a wide range of fields, including Dr. McCurdy from the University of Ottawa, who will provide insights into their work, share best practices and answer the big questions about the “open” trend.

This vital issue is opening up opportunities across the province and is essential to creating a better future for Ontarians. So as we continue #futuring, we’ll certainly be in the audience next month to hear about it.

To share your thoughts on how Ontario’s universities can be good partners in creating a better future for the province, you can fill out our survey or write to us at insights@ontariosuniversities.ca. To follow the #futuring conversation on social media make sure to look for us on Twitter and Facebook.

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