Professor Mihaela Ulieru is a seasoned expert in ICT-enabled innovation and President of the IMPACT Institute for the Digital Economy, aiming to capitalize on her achievements as the Canada Research Chair in Adaptive Information Infrastructures for the eSociety which she held for five years since July 2005.
Along her over 25 year career, Professor Ulieru led several large scale projects targeting the management of complex situations through more organic ways of governance, attacking global challenges from original and highly interdisciplinary perspectives. Among the highlights are her large scale international collaborative projects aiming to make ICT an integral component of policy making for a healthier, safer, more sustainable, and innovation-driven world: IT Revolutions, Industrial Informatics, Future of Medicine, Living Technologies and Emulating the Mind. In 2007 she was appointed to the Science, Technology and Innovation Council of Canada by the Minister of Industry, to advise the government and provide foresight on innovation issues related to the ICT impact on Canada's economic development and social well-being against international standards of excellence. In 2006 she was appointed to the Science and Engineering Research Council of Singapore, and in 2010 she was appointed Expert in ICT-Enabled Innovation at the Executive Authority for Scientific Research and Innovation of Romania, and as Adjunct Research Professor at Carleton University in Canada. She was on the Governing Board of IEEE-Industrial Electronic Society and on the Scientific Board of several EC Networks of Excellence in the Future and Emerging Technologies ICT Directorate.
As a tenured professor at the University of New Brunswick (2005-2012), she founded the Adaptive Risk Management Laboratory with the Canada Foundation for Innovation sponsorship and led multi-million dollar projects with NSERC, CANARIE and DRDC. A frequently invited speaker at the most prestigious venues, Professor Ulieru works with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the White House and many governments around the world to achieve the true promise of the Knowledge Society.
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Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
What are the policies required for organizational transformation in the digital economy?
"....You cannot approach this by thinking in terms of the industrial society...The digital environment and its economics represent a 'post-scarcity' paradigm...which stems from the free sharing of knowledge....I will only name two of the principles which are most relevant from the digital economy perspective. For example, developing the appropriate incentive to encourage learning, knowledge sharing, teaching and innovation. Or implementing collaboration spaces that are outside of the physical and digital security parameters to facilitate easy exchanges with potential partners and stakeholders....Organizations can start with goals such as to enable and guide a collaborative culture in which all employees are responsible for the knowledge they learn, embody and share...."
How do you see all of the things that you talked about integrated into all of the social change that is occurring? This wide proliferation of social media, blogs and these flat, no boundary corporate and country structures that the internet has enabled?
"....We can regard this from the perspective of increasing performance and stimulating innovation....You cannot have top-down policies stimulating exchange, you have to give people the freedom to do it...."
What is the impact of all of this, if you don't have the education and yet you have access to all of this technology?
"....People call it a 'digital divide'....I've been teaching courses in communication for 20 years which emphasized that we'd have to prepare for this for the new generation. The United Nations is making big efforts in this regard to bring more equality in the digital world. For the knowledge societies this principle was a dream; it's still a dream and still unfulfilled not only because we think of it in terms of the industrial economy, but also because much more has to be done to invest in those parts of the world in order to bring them up to speed with the technology. That is not an easy thing...."
What is the impact of these Massively Open Online Courses? Are people going to be applying for credits and what does that mean to the education space? Because all of this is being available how is that going to affect the digital economy?
"....This is part of the radical transformation of education. There is radical transformation of all areas of society, not only governance as I started to mention, but of course education and medicine....I started a big conference called the IT Revolutions in 2008 (which was the year that was considered the year of no return)....How are we going to embrace it, are we prepared or can we prepare better to benefit fully, or will we simply be dislocated by the young generation who are going to create their own rules and if we are not ready we will be left behind?....We only have the industrial, one-size-fits-all model in education and medicine. This is a bit tragic I would say because it keeps our society still stagnant...."
Earlier we talked about the policies required for the organizational transformation in the digital economy. You gave a superb answer to that question but I would like to take that further now. How do the policies impact performance and innovation?
"....The classical managerial decision and leadership, the institutional framework, is significantly challenged when called on to effectively and efficiently deal with conflict problems or to seize rapidly emerging opportunities for and of innovation and we need to do something about it....From an action perspective this points directly to the need to develop much more non-linear policies around the world to explore the different meanings of learning industrial knowledge society in different parts of the world because there is still an uneven distribution of tools....In terms of what the ICT revolution can do for reframing the knowledge society it can be summed up in many ways, including rules as simple as change from a knowledge-based education to thinking-based education...."
You talked about accepting change on a rapid basis, being agile and also this aspect of embracing failure in that it allows agility and allows innovation. It's interesting that kind of attitude is embraced for example at Silicon Valley, what about in different cultures where it is not so accepted, what do you do in those countries?
"....Silicon Valley and a few other parts of the world are very unique in their approach....I can tell you that you don't have to go to China to find those examples, I mean in Canada we have the same dialogue. How do we stimulate our society, our industry to accept failure, to actually invest those 10% or 20% of revenue in trying new things even if they fail? This is not an easy matter, especially not for economies that are based on commodities and resources and which are doing very well without needing to embrace risk and innovation. So how do you stimulate such economies?...."
How do you mitigate global challenges in an Interdependent World
"....I will give my answer in terms of the digital economy....Individuals increasingly take cues from one another rather than from institutional sources like corporations, media outlets, religions and political bodies. The digital environment enables each individual to create networks and think-tanks addressing global problems....You see as individuals and communities communicate or organize or take action governments and the governance model that have been taken for granted for so long are coming under pressure....The government stage is now crowded with nations, stakeholders, communities and others which are fighting for a role and for recognition, and such innovating linkages among diverse and aligned stakeholders and communities are bringing changes to existing governance and engagement models and are forcing governments to adapt the way they interact with all players...."
You’ve already touched on this question but do you have anything further to add to why is it necessary to reframe the knowledge society?
"....If only we knew how to understand it in advance, the interweaving of humans and ICT to create a world with social, physical and cyber dimensions enabling a kind of social network operating system, with citizens as players inputting through interactions using the invisible hand of democratic informed choice to address complex interdependent and global scale challenges such as sustainability and climate change. If only we knew how to enable the deployment of such social-technical infrastructure when supporting the transition to a post-manufacturing innovation and knowledge-based green economy and society we would be in a much better position to address global challenges in our inter-dependent world and for this we need to reframe the knowledge society...."
Can you add to what you already mentioned as to what should the ICT Revolution be delivering and why? Why the focus on Medicine and Education?
"....For the ICT revolution to deliver on the possibilities we need to be able to answer questions (and asking the right questions might be more important than finding the right answers in this case), because that is what is framing the mindset in order to address these challenges. Questions such as: Which governance models and structures are appropriate for such social-technical infrastructures to explore their innovative potential at its best? What is the role of knowledge governance and social computing in this broader context? What are the principles of management and engineering that will infuse this emerging social-technical complex large-scale system with the ability to discover a variety of potential solutions in the collective intelligence that are to meet future challenges as they arrive? How do we define indicators that expose the impact of the convoluted effects of the inter-dependence social-political-economic actors on the current global agenda negatively affecting the overall well-being of the living and sustainability of life on earth? How do you define new indicators of wealth and social wellbeing in a global context? How do you increase people's work productivity while engaging....They are very simple questions if you look from the perspective of the technology because the technology is there, but we do not use it to our advantage to answer such questions for our education or health...."
All this is intertwined with your work at the Impact Institute; can you talk about this Impact Institute?
"....My institute is a non-profit organization which actually acts to champion and to accelerate the answer to such questions. Let me give you an example of a project in which my Institute is involved and this is related to the future of medicine...."
What do you see as the truly disruptive technology forces for the next five years and why are these your choices?
"....I would refer to them in terms of short-term, low hanging fruit and more far-fetched. Shorter term....we'll start to see much more radical transformations brought about by sensor networks and social computing which I already mentioned. Longer term I would mention the brain-computer interfaces coupled with nano-technology and there's others that we do not even think today like graphene which is waiting to impact every aspect of our lives, from artificial blood and tissue to faster computing, foldable tvs and neutralizing radio-active waste...."
Do you follow the work of Kurzweil and this idea of singularity and do you have an opinion on it?
"....I know that most people do not understand it and this comes back to actually what Ray Kurzweil preached from the very beginning, as an inventor and the technologies and the bright mind that has seen and observed that actually technology evolves exponentially, it's almost a power law, it's not linear and we humans think linearly....Many of his inventions of course, have had the impact which he had anticipated because he has this ability to think into the future exponentially. So yes, I definitely believe in the singularity and that it will happen....For example, I was involved and still am in a project which is quite unusual in artificial intelligence, it's called Emulating the Mind. It ended up in a book and I was championing the idea together with Dietmar Dietrich from the Technical University of Vienna, and Mark Solms (a very famous neurofreudianpsychoanalyst) is actually reviving the power of the mind and how we work and how we are driven by memories which we create already in childhood — that's why the emphasis on education and our upbringing and the way of thinking and the frameworks in which we develop which will have a long lasting impact...."
From your prior roles, can you share some key lessons or best practices that you think will be of value with the audience?
"....We look at and define symptoms not the problem....There are all sorts of obstacles on the path to international collaboration....You cannot make a student love or hate a discipline if you are not embodying it, so being a mentor through your own example is much more valuable than preaching from a pedestal...."
You’ve described some already but can you describe some other areas of controversy in the areas that you work.
"....Software engineering....The revolutions that ICT is creating is empowering the patient rather than the medical doctor....Organizational Management....Strategic planning versus foresight....Anticipation as a discipline....Emergent engineering...."
Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials? [See www.ipthree.organd the Global Industry Council, http://www.ipthree.org/about-ip3/global-advisory-council]
"....I'm surprised it's a question because all along I thought it's a recognized profession....As such although a generic Code of Ethics could be shared as you mentioned, it is very difficult to define a meaningful defining body of theoretical and practical knowledge, the mastery of which we can decide are prerequisites for a practice of a computing professional. We have to operate our profession by the same means, with the same dynamics which ICT opens from an open innovation perspective that enables us to keep pace, as the profession itself will continue to evolve and face new fields and areas of exploration...."
From your extensive speaking, travels, and work, do you have any stories that you can share(amusing, surprising, unexpected, amazing)?
"....Another story which I think is quite significant from my career, kind of a life-changing story, is about how my math teacher in Grade 12 changed my life and I became an engineer from what I was at the time which was a poet...."
If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
"....What drives your work?....Can you talk about your experience as a single mother who is a successful career woman in a male-dominated field?.....What does it take to be a thought leader and how do you become one?...."
Mihaela, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.
Music by Sunny Smith Productions and Shaun O'Leary