Cyber Summit 2017

The future is already here: It’s just not very evenly distributed

The story behind the Cyber Summit 2017 theme

“The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed” is a quote by William Gibson, a writer who has explored the effects of technology, cybernetics and computer networks on humans.

The visionaries within the Prairies’ Research and Education Networks work behind the scenes to connect education, research and IT sectors. Time and again, they’ve seen how a lack of access to connectivity, technology and computing power is affecting our communities.

The 2017 Cyber Summit is Western Canada’s digital innovation conference, bringing education, research and IT communities together to learn and share ideas. This year, you will discover the root of the issue of why so many have poor access to connectivity and computing resources, and discover actionable steps that can be taken to improve this access in your organization, as well as some of our most underprivileged communities.

In 2015, students at the University of Manitoba found that there is a huge divide in technology accessibility between schools in Winnipeg and rural areas in Northern Manitoba, which could affect the employment chances of those students in the north. As well as difficulties connecting to high-speed internet, rural schools were also shown to be lacking proper computing equipment (including hardware, like PCs and tablets) due to high implementation and transportation costs. These effects are being felt well beyond the classroom, as students from these schools are having a hard time adjusting to the high-tech environment of post-secondary schooling.

“It’s amazing how much of a difference location can make when it comes to access to networking,” says Gerry Miller, Executive Director of MRNET (Manitoba’s R&E Network provider). “A short drive from Winnipeg can bring you to a community with much slower internet, and much older computing equipment in its schools. Little things like these can affect the ability of young people to learn new technologies, and for new business ideas to emerge in the town.”

But this issue is not just in Manitoba. These limitations are being felt in many communities and organizations across the Prairies, and indeed, across Canada as a whole.

While a lack of access can be due to geography, or resource and educational limitations, those aren’t the only factors. We also need to acknowledge that the current era of technology can be complex, overwhelming and costly. Technology adoption will not occur if individuals don’t feel a certain level of control and trust in their provider.

Four years ago, Cybera (Alberta’s R&E Network provider) collaborated on a project called the Community Health and Immunization Program (CHIP) to provide a solution for digitally capturing immunization records in the Stoney and Siksika First Nation communities. This system was adopted by these groups because it met the needs of all stakeholders. If you don’t offer that layer of trust and support, you may reduce the success of even the most beneficial cyberinfrastructure.

“We’re seeing a huge demand for the most basic computing and networking infrastructure in First Nations communities throughout Canada,” adds Neil McClughan, President and CEO of SRNET (Saskatchewan’s R&E Network Provider). “We are currently working with our SRNET community to improve access to research and education technologies for Northern Saskatchewan and First Nations communities.”

In the technology sector, we tend to get wrapped up in what’s next. Cyber Summit 2017 will focus not only on the exciting technology that’s coming down the pike, but also on getting everyone up to speed on the vital technologies and tools that are already here.

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