Good morning, Mr. Chair, and thank you.
On behalf of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, I want to thank you and the committee members for the opportunity to appear before you today with respect to additive manufacturing and other disruptive technologies.
At SSHRC, we recognize the enormous potential that these fields possess in terms of stimulating the Canadian economy.
lt goes without saying that they create jobs and exports. When I think in terms of using 3-D printers to create custom-fit hip replacements, it's clear they can also improve Canadians' quality of life. At the same time, the rapid development of technologies like 3-D printing and robotics is generating the need for a better understanding of the economic, social, environmental, and legal implications of their adoption and use. More importantly, it can be argued that their very adoption depends on these implications. We know very well that early adopters generally have the competitive edge, but the flip side is that early adopters also face great uncertainty and risk, and their apparent advantages can be short-lived.
Societies adapt to rapid technological change best by understanding its impacts, capabilities and complexities. Social scientists and humanities scholars are uniquely positioned to address these issues with made-in-Canada solutions.
By that, I mean they bring critical and creative thinking to complex issues such as disruptive technologies. At SSHRC we understand that government, industry, and academia must work together to advance disruptive technology but also to embrace its enormous potential. With the launch of its renewed partnerships funding opportunities, SSHRC has reinforced its commitment to the power of all types of collaborations—multi-sector, multidisciplinary, and multi-institutional—to bring intellectual, cultural, social and economic benefits to Canada and to the world.
In our 2013-2016 strategic plan, SSHRC has identified multi-sector partnerships as an area where potential exists for improved and enhanced participation, development and sharing of best practices, and communication of results and impacts among a variety of stakeholders.
Multi-sector partnerships engage the users of research in the design and implementation of research projects at the start, thereby increasing the potential for that research to contribute directly to innovation in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors.
For example, take Aaron Sprecher, assistant professor at the school of architecture at McGill University and recipient of a SSHRC partnership development grant. Dr. Sprecher's laboratory for integrated prototyping and hybrid environments is helping to change the ways architects design, collaborate, and build. Working with an interdisciplinary team, as well as with external partners and companies, his work is advancing innovation in design, optimization process, the performance of materials, and fabrication. lt is a game-changing initiative with the end user in mind. Moreover, SSHRC-funded graduate students, whose research includes 3-D printing and additive manufacturing, are aligned with interdisciplinary practices in architecture, fine arts, and historical studies.
For example, François Leblanc is a doctoral candidate funded by SSHRC. He is exploring how 3D printing facilitates the design and production of complex and optimized structures that were inconceivable not too long ago. He is also looking at how this technology effectively optimizes the amount of material used in construction with a precise distribution of materials.
SSHRC's partnership with Mitacs will also continue to support the development of talent through support for internships for social science and humanities graduate students with both industry and community organizations. Further opportunities to provide training opportunities for students with industry involved with additive manufacturing can be explored to help Canadian businesses become more innovative, competitive, and productive.
At SSHRC, we recognize that dynamic new technologies are enabling, accelerating and influencing deep conceptual changes in the research environment, the economy and society.
As such, in collaboration with NSERC, CIHR, as well as with CFI, Genome Canada, and NRC, SSHRC has also been leading the creation of a new policy framework to address digital infrastructure challenges. The policy, which is being developed with the extensive engagement of multi-sector stakeholders, will enable best practices to manage and to grow the digital ecosystem required to meet 21st-century research needs, and thus contribute to Canada's social and economic prosperity.
In the absence of a standard definition, disruptive technology may perhaps be best described as lying at the intersection of various fields of research. In this regard, SSHRC will continue to explore opportunities to continue its efforts, and to coordinate its efforts, with federal agency partners as well as with the research community, industry, and organizations to create an enabling environment that advances research and the development of talent in this area.
I might add that these efforts are particularly well aligned with SSHRC's Imagining Canada's Future initiative, through which we are seeking to advance the contributions of the social sciences and humanities to future societal challenges and opportunities.
Following a comprehensive two-year exercise, six future challenge areas have been identified for Canada in an evolving global context that is likely to emerge in the next five, 10, 15, or 20 years.
The issue of leveraging digital technologies for the benefit of Canadians is one of those important challenges for SSHRC. This includes the need to understand the opportunities and risks associated with the adoption of emerging and disruptive technologies, as well as the need for effective training and tools that would maximize their utilization and enable equitable access to them.
In fact, emerging technology and how best to take advantage of it is the subject of a knowledge synthesis grant opportunity that SSHRC will be launching this fall. This funding opportunity will help our state of knowledge about emerging technology, as well as identify gaps in our knowledge and the most promising policies and practices related to it. More than ever Canada needs social scientists and humanists to focus on these matters.
In closing, a key point I want to emphasize is that in and of itself technology—disruptive or otherwise—is largely neutral. At the end of the day, innovation is a human endeavour. Technology is critical, but what makes it sing are the value-added elements that largely come from the research we fund at SSHRC—design, business planning, marketing, content, and training. To this end, SSHRC is focusing its efforts to encourage and promote research, talent development, and the mobilization of knowledge in this area, and we will be closely monitoring and assessing research capacity and the range of insights that are being developed across all our funding opportunities.
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss what SSHRC and its research community can bring to this important issue.
I'd be happy to answer questions you may have.
Thank you very much.