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Geoffrey Hinton

World Affairs Conference examined paradigm shifts

Around 800 students from high schools across Ontario gained valuable insights at the Upper Canada College-hosted World Affairs Conference (WAC) on Feb. 5 and 6. (Scroll down for full videos of keynote.)

The theme of this year’s event, presented by UCC and Branksome Hall students, was “Paradigm Shifts.” It examined how the axioms of society have changed and how they’ll change in the future.

One paradigm shift that’s starting to play a bigger role in society is artificial intelligence. University of Toronto computer science professor and Google employee Geoffrey Hinton (pictured above), who’s been called the “godfather of machine learning,” gave an open-to-the-public keynote address on Monday night that focused on neural networks and the technology behind deep learning.

The opening address on Tuesday morning was given by Micah White, co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, who made a presentation on the state of protest movements. He focused on what allows social change to happen and why specific protests work better than others. White explained that Occupy Wall Street was successful because it was decentralized and didn’t focus heavily on leadership. It was an idea and not an organization.

“Micah also mentioned that change will only come from meaningful protest,” says UCC student Julian Samek, who co-chaired WAC with Branksome Hall’s Kathy Kim. “His metric for meaningful was that it should, by at least a little bit, scare you.”

WAC featured six plenary sessions led by guest speakers that were chosen by student plenary heads.

“Ideally, when finding a speaker, we try to find someone who can offer a view that is rarely heard elsewhere,” says Samek.

“So we were less concerned with finding speakers who would reiterate the conceptions that people already had. Instead, we wanted speakers who would open us up to new ways of looking at problems and global events.”

The plenary topics covered: China and Africa’s new era; cryptocurrencies; drug legalization in a progressive world; the global food crisis; the changing face of feminism; and the threat of nuclear weapons.

“Delegates loved the opportunity to speak with the speakers individually, and getting to engage in conversation with the speakers,” says Samek.

WAC concluded with a closing address by Joe Strout, the president of Colorado-based software development firm Luminary Apps, who talked about saving civilization through space colonization.

“He explained what a space colony would actually look like, why it is a viable option for the future, and even gave a daring timeline that people may move to Mars sometime in the next 30 years,” says Samek.

WAC is Canada’s oldest annual student-run current affairs conference. Hundreds of hours of preparation go into it and, although some students have more responsibilities than others, 122 of them are listed as staff members on the WAC website. They should all be commended on pulling off another successful event.