big idea brief
The Big Idea Brief series tackles the big public policy issues of the day. It distills those issues into a concise and accessible read, offering ideas on how pressing challenges can be addressed. The series seeks to inform and drive vibrant public discourse, a key to policy innovation and healthy democratic institutions.

We accept unsolicited submissions for the Big Idea Brief series. Contributions on topical international security and governance issues should be sent to Submissions must not exceed 4,000 words and should contain a minimum number of footnotes.

Big Idea Brief No. 1 – Robotics and the Age of Automation: Preparing for the Coming Disruption
In the inaugural Waterloo Symposium on Technology and Society, Martin Ford explored the ways in which AI and automation are outpacing humans in a range of sectors, from education to law, agriculture to healthcare, and beyond. He presented a pragmatic view of what the future of work will look like. But Ford also sought to answer an existential question: can accelerating technology disrupt our entire economic system to the point where a fundamental restructuring is required? This paper will summarize the ideas presented by Ford and situate them within wider philosophical and policy debates. It will explore different policy options, from universal basic income to education system reforms, that private and public sector actors can enact to better prepare our society for the coming technological disruption.

December 2019

Big Idea Brief No. 2 – The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence

The second Waterloo Symposium on Technology and Society (WSTS), featuring Avi Goldfarb of the Rotman School at the University of Toronto, recast the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) as a drop in the cost of prediction. Like other new technologies, the emergence of AI as an important force in economic and social development has been accompanied by hype, fear, and broad acceptance. The fear is economic — where negative impacts on jobs and economic systems will displace humans — and social — where access to the benefits of AI and the control and value of data are real concerns. Despite the fears, and regardless of the hype surrounding the possibilities of AI, this technology is becoming ubiquitous, deeply important to the functioning of society, and increasingly inexpensive. However, the policy implications for the development and application of AI technologies are broad, and complicated by overlapping and competing national and international jurisdictions, regulations, and interests. This paper will explore the most salient concerns arising from the development and application of AI, the economic forces driving its development, and the potential negative consequences of these technologies.

July 2020