Tag

technology

Browsing

How do you feel about smart robots?

Ex- Machina, iRobot, and The Terminator are movies that all have one thing in common — robots. But not just any robot. We are talking about specifically designed computer software, or commonly known as artificial intelligence (AI), able to think, talk, and more importantly rise up and overpower us tiny humans.

Growing up and watching movies like The Terminator, spoiler alert, made me wonder if a robot uprising was possible in real life. Sure, Arnold Schwarzenegger always came out on top, meaning there was nothing to worry about… right? These movies always instilled a sense of fear or uncertainty, but it also added to the fascination level, hence why is is such a popular genre. So, why is it increasingly nerve wrecking when you hear stories like popular social networking giant Facebook having to shut down their AI nicknamed Alice and Bob after they invented their own language and were communicating to each other in a way humans could not understand?

This sounds like the plot for the next popular television, but it’s a real thing! It’s interesting that we are constantly producing movies and shows that demonstrate this threat, and yet we are somehow obsessed with making this threat a reality.

When the iPhone 4s was released in 2011, it was the launch of Apple’s digital personal assistant, Siri. Those of you that know Siri may love her, or you may have her disabled in your settings, but one thing for sure is that we now all have access to virtual personal assistants that can schedule our appointments, set reminders, call friends, or even compose a message for us.

Siri is a voice recognition feature that will respond to the tone of your voice and she is often activated with a simple “Hey Siri”. She is pretty accurate in her response and can access a wide amount of information on the Internet, but at the end of the day, I always wonder if she will turn into a version of HER.

After All, Siri is based on a military designed program. The use of Artificial Intelligence systems are common in scientific and military designs. AI was originally created as a computer-based program that can solve problems in a creative manner.

Siri is not the only modern AI system that you may be familiar with. There is Alexa by Amazon Echo and Google Home by Google.  All these systems are able to meet our demands through voice activation, but soon will we expect them to do more? And where will that lead?

People, are often exposed to the friendlier robots, café serving robots, or even, Paro, the increasingly popular robotic harp seal. Paro is a therapy robot, designed to help patients with dementia by soothing and engaging them. The creator of Paro, Japanese scientist Takanori Shibata, says Paro is a Canadian seal, since his voice was recorded from baby harp seal in Quebec. Paro has been used since 2003 in Japan and Europe, but has now made his way to San Francisco, where he was showcased at a gerontechnology gathering.  Gerontechnology studies human aging and the combination of technology to assist the elderly. In fact, there are numerous AI’s designed to help humans and are called carebots. Another example is Robear, a nursing robot that is being tested to lift patients up and transfer them from beds to wheelchairs.

However friendly and cuddly these robots appear to be, I will always end up thinking about the movies that are bringing this obsession to life.

By all means, robots are helpful and can make life easier, but when they develop their own language and leave humans out of the picture, things become a bit more questionable and creepy.

So, do you think that one day AI will overpower human intelligence? Have we started the process of designing our own downfall, or am I just being dramatic? Let us know in the comments below.

Toronto top 10 city for female entrepreneurs

Toronto has been listed as one of the top 10 cities for women entrepreneurs!

The Dell Women Entrepreneur Network Summit released days on the h2017 Women Entrepreneur cities earlier this week, ranking 50 cities around the world based on how they support female entrepreneurs. This is the eight year Dell has hosted such a summit.

Toronto is listed as number nine on the top 10 cities list, with Vancouver making it on the list for the first time at number 26 in the rankings.

Dell teamed up with IHS Markit, an analytics firm that helped the company gather data on various cities, to see which cities qualified to be listed. One key factor of determination was based on a city’s ability to attract as well as support women entrepreneurs. Their research does not include data from previous years — each study is conducted fresh each time and the company also changes and adds factors.

Karen Quinto, the executive VP and chief customer officer at Dell, remarked the number of women entrepreneurs is growing globally at a rate of more than 10 per cent each year. “Women are likely or more likely than men to start businesses in many markets,” he said. “However, financial, cultural, and political barriers can limit the success of these businesses.”

Factors of determination were based on city characteristics such as capital, technology, talent, culture, and markets. Other factors include local policy, national laws, and customs. There were categories that were broken down even more, for instance culture was determined based on areas things like role models, mentors , networks and attitudes towards women entrepreneurs. In this instance, Toronto ranked third and Vancouver ranked 17th.

Vancouver has made the list thanks to their paid maternity leave for women which is a plus to their businesses. It is also easy to start a business there as the city ranks 26th in terms of access to capital.

Dell continues to be committed to empowering women in business especially in the sue of technology. The company believes that this venture can lead to an increase in global economic growth and development. Dell believes that women especially understand the connection that is necessary with your customers in business.

Twenty-five cities was added to the list for 2017. Here are the top 10 in the list:

1. New York

2. San Francisco

3. London

4. Boston

5. Stockholm

6. Los Angeles

7. Washington, D.C.

8. Singapore

9. Toronto

10. Seattle

For the full list of countries, check out this link to get the full executive summary index.

Ontario may use hydrogen-powered train on GO Transit lines

Ontario is hoping to join the list of mostly European innovators looking to create clean public transportation.

The provincial government has announced their intention to study the feasibility of having hydrogen-powered passenger trains in use on RER lines and the UP express. The train will combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, converting the energy via fuel cells that charge the train’s battery. The only emissions that will be produced is steam and condensed water.

The feasibility study will look at whether or not hydrogen-powered trains are more efficient than electric vehicles. The ultimate decision maker will be how quickly this technology can be adopted, as the government doesn’t want these new innovations to impact pre-set completion dates for RER.  “We want to know if hydrogen fuel cell technology can be ready in time to deliver Go regional express rail by 2024-25,” Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, said while in Etobicoke.

In the fall, the province will bring industry leaders together for a symposium to explore the application of hydrogen fuel cell technology. In the meantime, the province will continue to work on electrified rail service.

“Our work on GO RER is about transforming transit in the GTHA by creating a sustainable, integrated, regional transit network that connects people and communities to jobs, services and activities in their everyday lives,” Del Duca said in a statement. “Electrified service as part of GO RER will allow us to run faster, more frequent rail service across core sections of the GO rail network, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by removing diesel service where possible.”

The first hydrogen-powered train will launch in December 2017 in Germany. Alstrom, a French manufacturing company, is working on the actual train while a Canadian company called Hydrogenics is providing the fuel cell to help with the energy conversion.

Del Duca mentioned Hydrogenics and said there is a “positive economic development potential” in embracing hydrogen-powered technology, but that Ontario isn’t ready to discuss any specific details.

While in Etobicoke, Del Duca also announced the launch of a study that will examine electrification of the GO line as part of the Regional Express Rail program, “the backbone of this next generation of transit”. The RER program is set to be completed by 2025, regardless of whether or not the province chooses to use to clean technology.

The RER program expansion will introduce two-day GO service by 2025, including Lakeshore, Kitchener, Barrie, and Stouffville lines.

Where are the women in Canadian green tech?

The environmental sector is often thought of as progressive and forward-thinking, but when it comes to gender diversity in low-carbon economies, is it truly equal?

At the Ontario Climate Symposium hosted on Friday May 12, York University environmental studies professor Christina Hoicka facilitated a panel that discussed gender diversity and how women experts are leading the way on energy research. Part of Hoicka’s research focuses on discovering which women academics are influencing the field of energy research, and whether or not enough is being done to encourage women to be a part of the renewable energy (RE) industry.

Women make up less than 20 per cent of the renewable energy sector workforce. Jobs are opening up in this sector thanks to the the growing popularity in green technologies, which means it’s the perfect opportunity to close the gender gap in STEM fields.

Canada Research Chair in global women’s issues at Western University, Dr. Bipasha Baruah, was one of the panelists and explained that because there are so few women leaders in clean technology, she feels she actually gets more attention in her role. “Sometimes I feel hyper-visible. Part of that is that you can check so many boxes with me. Even if you are acknowledged, you can still be tokenized,” Baruah says.

Women are clearly under-represented in the green sector in Canada, representing only 20 per cent of jobs, but 50 per cent of university graduates. Most women within the industry are found in sales, administrative roles, and technology positions. For women that are in STEM jobs, the wage gap is smaller, with women earning 14 per cent less than men compared to 21 per cent in other fields. But, they are still massively underrepresented. According to Baruah, women are often discouraged from entering engineering and technology fields because of the misperceptions of the ‘dirty work’ involved and that they typically feel inadequate in the technological aspects of certain occupations.

Baruah’s research did emphasize that Canadian women are increasingly becoming leading entrepreneurs. She interviewed Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE) CEO Rebecca Black, who pointed out that of the membership base of 1000 women in the province of Ontario, at least 20 per cent were entrepreneurs in RE. Women are often more community-based leaders and renewables thrive off a grassroots cooperative business model.

Julie MacArthur, Professor at University of Auckland, reinforced this idea through her study of the evolving socio-technical community-based approach in the renewables sector. In the wake of moving away from large fossil fuel corporations, several renewable community-based organizations have popped up that focus on alternative energy sources. Many of these grassroots organizations are spearheaded by women, who are essential to this movement of cooperation and community-based growth. MacArthur explains that ‘energy democracy’ is growing and there is a changing socio-political focus that is happening right now, as the environment grows as a central concern in the Canadian economy. Obviously, women have a key role to play in this change.

Including women in the move from a brown to green economy will only make RE more diverse and versatile. Being able to provide even more data about women in clean technology helps society to understand where we stand in regards to gender diversity and how we can better accommodate women looking to enter these fields. It is important to provide a discursive research space and more panels to educate women invested in an environmental career, and Women’s Post hopes to learn more as amazing women researchers grow and learn in green technology.

Hang up on your social media hang-out

Has social media made it easier to make friends, or is it even more difficult with our mobile devices in hand?

Technology has vastly changed the way younger generations make friends. With the overconsumption of various social media apps ranging from Facebook to Snapchat, the rules have changed on the how-to’s of finding your bestie.

There are many pros and cons of the social media world people live in today. There is a lot of accessibility, opportunity, and connection that can happen because of computers and cellphones. On the other hand, these positive developments in technology are also paired with pressure to constantly be plugged in and responsive, resulting in face to face interactions becoming less valued. Remember when people used to call a friend’s house and make plans in order to hang out? Now, it’s possible to have a Skype date with a friend across the world and watch a movie without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Though there are perks to social media, there are still some issues that need to be ironed out. Call me a skeptic, but I’m very hesitant about social media. There is something innately creepy about having your every breathing moment tracked online. It’s also clear that people are addicted to their phones. It also puts more pressure on friendships. If someone doesn’t answer immediately, it is quickly assumed that something is wrong (guilty as charged). This need for immediacy and instant gratification creates a lot of issues and useless drama. It is also anxiety provoking to be expected to be available at all times.

It is all too easy to hide behind the computer screen and utter disrespectful statements on a whim that would never fly in person. Social media’s accessibility has made people quicker to cut another person off permanently with the flick of a button. Being able to ‘block’ someone so easily or bully them online has caused a lot of hurt, and instigates more issues. I’d like to believe that most people are decent human beings, but online communication can turn even the kindest friend into a ruthless beast if an argument occurs over the interweb. The golden rule folks: if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online.

So far, I’ve only touched on the direct affects of social media on friendships, but there are also a a lot of unusual rules and social patterns developing. Instead of watching concerts, people are often too busy taking a video of themselves being “cool” or appearing “valued.” When people hang out in groups, oftentimes it feels like the other person isn’t there because of the phone they can’t tear their eyes from. And of course, there is the “don’t eat until I’ve taken three dozen photos for my Instagram” phase.

It is time to put down the phone or computer! Relying on social media to build and maintain friendships is not the way to go. Instead, try the good old-fashioned in person hang-out without phones. You will find yourself looking at the world in a whole new way without any distractions in your face. There is still hope for people to interact without a social media hang-up, all is not lost, but it is vital to put down your phone first.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

The one text message you should never send

“Hope you’re well!”

It’s a phrase that takes one second to send. No autocorrect needed, no thinking required. Sometimes modified, most seen in work emails, with family and friends, your next-door neighbour, the phrase implies that we, the sender, wishes the best upon the person. And that’s pretty much it.

I learned the implications behind this text message the hard way. After sending a similar text to a friend of mine during a difficult time in his life, I quickly realized that sometimes, it’s better to just ask.

So, just ask.

Wishing well upon a person is nice. But it doesn’t do the job of showing how much you care about the person. It’s a wish. Meaning you don’t expect a reply, you instead assume- and hope- that it’s going well. Sending a text message along these lines allows you to skip the details, tidbits, and everything in between and just jump straight to the conclusion; everything’s well.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of the hidden subtext behind this phrase either. But, to some, it implies that the sender is merely pretending to care about someone. Because that was the truth when I sent this text to him. We had just met. He was a new addition to my life. So, I felt like I was required to check up on him out of formality. It was courtesy.

However, it was the first time I was called out for being courteous. He knew exactly where I was coming from when I sent that text. As a people pleaser always looking to get on everyone’s good sides – the guilt was real. So, ever since that incident, I’ve took it upon myself to be very careful before ‘hoping’ the people I interact with are well.

Before sending the text, it’s important to ask – do I really care how this person is doing? Sometimes, the answer is still no. And that’s okay. It’s fine to just hope in this case. However, the question then arises, when you’re looking to catch up with someone you truly care about, how you can really showcase your interest in the person’s life.

Take a look at the text messages exchanged between you and your best friend. There will be no hope in sight. Rather, your texts will contain a plethora of very concrete questions; “How is it going with that thing?”, “Did you find out about…?”, “Is it over yet?” followed by very detailed responses, usually details that you, the reader, could have lived without actually knowing. (i.e The events that took place the morning after Taco Tuesday)

The bottom line is, there will be a time in every person’s life, sometimes multiple times a day, when they must stare directly into their phone screen and laptop, and spout the words ”I hope you’re well.” It’s embedded into us to hope well for humanity. And although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, sometimes instead of hoping well, it’s better to just make sure they are well. You never know what a person is going through unless you ask. Because, unfortunately, we live in a society where there’s no answer other than ‘good’ when it comes to responding ‘how are you?’

So, offer something extra and lend your ears once in awhile. If their story turns out anything like mine, you’ll get a great article topic in return.

What text would you never send to a loved one? Let us know in the comments below! 

Why the term “fake news” is so dangerous

What is “fake news”? That’s a question a lot of people are asking these days. It’s also a question a certain President-Elect SHOULD be asking before he takes office; although, I’m sure he won’t.

As a journalist, this phrase makes me cringe. News, by its very definition, cannot be considered “fake”. It can be sensationalist, maybe sometimes biased, but not fake. “Fake News”, therefore, isn’t news at all. It’s just garbage on the Internet or the tabloids that way too many people are gullible enough to think is true.

The Internet is big. Anyone can create a free website and start to write, upload photos, and create video. They can even make their site look like that of a news organization. It’s not that difficult. This fact is an amazing thing, but it does create a few problems. Who do you trust? What information is real and what is, as we call it now, “fake news.”

This is where journalists and news organizations come in.

It is their job (and mine) to sift through all of the false claims, tall tales, and outlandish stories that exist on the Internet. A journalist will confirm facts with numerous, legitimate and reliable sources. Their work is then edited by a number of people, including fact-checkers. If, in some cases, those sources and fact-checkers are not available, a news organization may use the word “unverified” or “alleged” until such time where the facts can be confirmed. This ensures transparency. This does NOT mean the information is falsified by the media with a nefarious purpose.

Cue President-Elect, Donald Trump.

At a press conference on Jan 11, Trump refused to answer a question by CNN veteran reporter Jim Acosta.  This happened after CNN reported that intelligence officials briefed Trump on an unverified dossier alleging Russian officials had compromising information about Trump.

“Your organization is terrible,” he yelled when Acosta tried to ask him a question. “You are fake news.”

And that was it. The term was redefined.

Since then, Trump has used the term “fake news” to describe every story he’s had an issue with. Most recently, on Jan. 18, he tweeted a news story from NBC.

 

Essentially, the term “fake news,” once used to describe a false story on the Internet that suddenly started trending to the point of believability, is now used to label a media organization is wrong and untrustworthy.

What Trump hopes to do is perpetuate this myth that the media is out to get everyone — that they would do anything or say anything for a headline and a few clicks. This is outrageously insulting, not to mention a dangerous sentiment for the future President of the United States to make. The job of the media is to keep people of authority accountable; to inform the public about what is happening in the world; and to shed light on important issues that require attention.

Just because you don’t agree with a story, or you don’t like what it says, doesn’t make a story, or a news organization, “fake.” It also doesn’t mean it’s wrong — unless you can show the data and prove it.

To throw this phrase around haphazardly, without forethought or understanding, creates real problems for the media and destroys its essential purpose.  I’m guessing this is exactly what Trump wants — but the public should be wary.

It’s good to be critical. It’s smart to question whether something described as fact is, in actuality, true. However, it’s just as important to question the way politicians attack the press and the real message they are trying to send stop from spreading. The President-Elect’s use and abuse of “fake news” is another of his bullying tactic to deflect and suppress non-Trump generated news. The public should not allow this abuse to continue.

Freedom of the press is an essential part of a democracy. As Barack Obama, soon to be former President of the United States, said to the media in his last press conference Wednesday, “You’re not supposed to be sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics. You’re supposed to ask me tough questions.”

“Democracy doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry, and you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what’s taking place in the halls of power. So America needs you and our democracy needs you.”

The use of the term “fake news” to delegitimize the media is an affront to that very concept — and it’s up to every single citizen of North America to ensure politicians don’t take advantage of this term for their own gain.

What do you define as “fake news”? Let us know in the comments below.

Self-automated vehicles: progressive or downright creepy?

Self-automated cars are one of the most exciting developments in the automotive industry, perhaps since the invention of the car itself. Imagine a vehicle that drives itself, and the once autonomous driver becomes simply the passenger?

The positive and negative aspects of self-driving cars are being hotly debated, but car manufacturers are plowing ahead fearlessly despite any criticism. The idea of a car driving itself is just too tempting for inventive and forward thinking companies such as Tesla, a company that has arguably made some of the best electric cars on the market. All of the vehicles sold from Tesla since October 2016 are already equipped with self-automation, though it is running in shadow mode until further notice.

The self-driving cars from Google are a huge competitor for Tesla. They have been testing their vehicles for over a year now and is hoping to release the vehicle in 2018. The best part? The Google Car looks like an adorable marshmallow bot (see image above). It has a maximum speed of 50 km per hour and is made for moderate distant driving rather than large roadways. This vehicle has been a favourite in the auto-world so far and is set to become the most popular self-automated driving option once it hits market.

Self-automated cars will become widespread in the next few years, but is the world necessarily ready for such a change? Most countries haven’t even started the process of changing legislation to include self-automated cars. On the other hand, the government of the United States has a different agenda. The U.S. Federal Department of Transportation has embraced the future of self-automated cars and has started taking steps to create a series of regulations surrounding the new technology. They recently released the “The Federal Automated Vehicles Policy”, which listed rules such as securing the vehicles from cyber-attacks and that the cars must adapt to local laws.

The Ontario government recently approved the testing of three self-automated vehicles in November 2016, which is exciting. The University of Waterloo is testing on the aptly named ‘the Autonomoose’; the Erwin Hymer Group, an international automaker, is testing a Mercedez-Benz Sprinter Van; and, Blackberry will test a 2017 Lincoln. It’s great to see the Ontario government taking such a keen interest in self-automated cars.

One of the more high-tech and outlandish versions of the self-driving car is the Volkswagen Bus, proving that these cars can be made for multiple demographics. Volkswagen is coming out with a self-automated hippie van, which is due to be released in 2025. The vehicle will include a self-automation option and includes swivel front seats that allow the driver and passenger seat to turn around while driving so that they can hang out with their friends. The VW Bus also includes a touchscreen instead of a steering wheel and will control a number of functions, including ambient lighting and sound for ultimate enjoyment. Is this a good idea or a creepy futuristic play on the classic hippie van of the 1960’s?

The self-automated element of the car evolution goes even further with the Honda NeuV, a self-driving car that will use an AI system called Yui to control the vehicle and feel the driver’s mood and preferences. It includes mood lighting, massage beads in the seats and with eye-tracking sensors, would be able to adjust music depending on the person’s perceived mood. It appears the future of the robot takeover is imminent ladies and gentlemen.

On one hand, self-automated cars would lower the rate of accidents caused by human error. They would also allow for greater efficiency of travel of roads. Alternatively, there are many kinks in this type of technology, including the threat of cyber-hacking, the risk of technological malfunctions, and the question of ethics. It is has been suggested that self-automated cars wouldn’t react in an ethical manner if a child were crossing the road for example, and without being able to swerve may hit the small human. The vehicle may be able to stop more quickly if it is programmed for the child, but it is probable that the vehicle wouldn’t swerve out of the way to avoid the accident. Tesla also reported a fatality that occurred in early 2016 when a self-automated car crashed into a white lorry crossing the street, failing to differentiate its white colour from the bright sky above.

The self-automated car is a fascinating example of the future of the vehicle. It would allow for more shared use of vehicles (the vehicle could act as an Uber or taxi while you work) and it eradicates the rate of human error on the road. There still remains something uncomfortable about these vehicles though. It seems the future is drawing closer to technological dependence when considering self-driving vehicles and smartphones. There is also something beautiful about driving standard, hand on the stick with complete control over a roaring machine (electric though of course is preferred, environmental concerns must be considered a first priority!). What happens next with automated cars remains to be seen, but it appears we have entered into the futuristic world. What does that mean for us measly humans? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Why you should unplug this year

Are you rolling your eyes yet? Have you closed this window? Please, before you leave to read something else, hear me out!

It’s true that every year someone makes a claim for a tech-free existence. As a reporter, that very thought terrifies me. Technology has become such a critical part of not only my life, but society as a whole. There is, quite literally, no way to live a digital-free life, which in itself is a pretty scary thought.

What I am arguing is the benefits of a short-term unplugging, or rather the importance of limiting your digital intake this year.

In this digital age, it’s nearly impossible to go a day without technology. For example, personally, I wake up in the morning and look at my phone — what time is it? What’s the weather? Did someone comment on my Facebook page? I then travel to work, listening to a podcast and checking my Twitter feed as I go. Once I get to work, I’m on the computer for all but my bathroom breaks. Then, I travel home and sit myself down in front of the television to unwind. If I feel like it, I’ll check my emails after dinner and my social networks. Maybe I’ll play a game or watch Netflix in bed? All of this is to say that technology has, quite literally, become my life.

This is what led me to this realization: every once in a while we have to unplug, get rid of the temptation to check social media or the need to be up to date with our work 24/7. By unplugging from the digital world, it gives you the opportunity to live in the REAL world — not one that is judged by hashtags and filters.

According to Forbes, 61 per cent of people feel depressed after checking social media and 71 per cent say their devices contribute to their overall stress. This doesn’t shock me. Every time I pick up my phone, I see friends and colleagues succeeding in their workplace and/or messages from people upset with their life. Both scenarios evoke strong emotions in me, and that’s before I read all of the heartbreaking news posted in my feeds.

Technology also makes it incredibly difficult to separate your business and personal life. If you are always checking your emails on your phone, you’ll never get to experience anything else. Do your work at work, and when you get home, make sure to spend time with your family or on yourself.

An easy way to start this new chapter of your unplugged life is to remove all technology from your view an hour before you go to bed. Instead, do the dishes, read a book, or go for a walk. The artificial lights in your television or cell phones can actually trick your brain into thinking it should be awake. You may find you sleep better if you don’t check your devices in the middle of the night.

In the morning, instead of checking your phone first thing, make yourself a cup of tea and/or coffee first. Take that 10 minutes for yourself and think about what you are doing that day. Maybe do a short yoga practice or meditation. Starting the day with presence of mind, deciding what YOU want rather than what Twitter tells you to want, will help set the tone for the rest of the day.

Resist the temptation to take a photo of your food at a restaurant. Keep that phone in your purse! Unless your job is in food photography, no one really cares! Why not enjoy what’s in front of you, as well as the conversation happening around the table?

And finally, try to spend one day a week away from the television and/or computer. Go out of the city, meet up with friends, or simply run some errands. Find a hobby that doesn’t involve technology — knitting, writing, painting, or a sport! The entire goal of this unplugged time is to allow yourself to be present and aware of what is happening around you, without interruption or distraction.

I know unplugging can be hard — I myself suffer from withdrawal if I don’t check my phone after an hour or so. But, this year, my plan is to be more present. I want to try more things, be more alive, and that is not something I can do if I’m constantly glued to my computer or my phone.

Ultimately, remember this: living life is much more important than documenting it. With this kind of mentality, you can’t go wrong!

Woman of the Week: Miriam Verburg

Do you remember those teenage years — all of the confusion, the expectations, and the social awkwardness?

That’s one of the reasons why Miriam Verburg helped to create the LongStory Game, a dating sim, choose-your-own-adventure type game that helps pre-teens and teenagers learn the ins-and-outs of dating. Users get to pick a character —boy, girl, or trans — and must solve a mystery while navigating social scenarios. Some examples include, bullying, backstabbing friends, alienation and immigration, and experimentation with their own sexuality.

“I made it as a response to other dating sims, which follow boring storylines – you buy enough nice clothing and people will like you,” Verburg said. “LongStory is less appearance based and more ‘if I was 13 playing a game about relationships, what would I want to practice doing’.”

Verburg is modest to a fault. She is a self-affirmed feminist who wants to be a force of change and social good, but would rather work behind the scenes than in front of a camera.  She considers some aspects of business like advertising and monetization a challenge, as she wants her work to retain it’s authenticity and accessibility — something many other businesses can’t claim.

Verburg became interested in technology at a young age. Her father worked for the Bloorview Macmillan Centre in Toronto as a researcher, developing rehabilitation programs for kids. He often brought home weird-looking laptops and would let the kids play with them. Verburg caught the creative bug, and studied art in school, primarily print-making and digitization.

After graduating, she worked at Studio XX, an “explicitly feminist art studio” in Montreal, where self-taught women in technology could teach others. After a while, her interests changed to web development. She completed her Master’s in Communications and Media Studies at Concordia and got a job teaching kids digital literacy at a library in Montreal, something that inspired her to continue to work with kids and technology.

While doing all of this, Verburg started her own website development company with some friends called 3scoDesign, which focused on helping non-profits design and integrate their digital footprints. Verburg has maintained that entrepreneurial spirit and is now the founder and CEO of Bloom Digital Media, a “boutique gaming company” that specializes in user experience and project management.

LongStory launched two years ago through Bloom Digital Media and it’s quite the success. Verburg’s target audience at the beginning was young girls; she wanted to create a game that taught consent and allowed girls to experiment with their desires.

“It was 2012 — Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd — I found those stories sad and surprising,” she said. “It seemed to me, as a teenager, I was pretty convinced that the dating world was not constructed in a way girls can experience themselves fully with power and freedom.”

LongStory has since grown into a phenomenon that transcends gender, a game that appeals to young people across the board. Users can choose a character that accurately represents how they choose to be identified — “he”, “she”, or “they” — and can try things they may be embarrassed to try in public.  The challenge, Verburg says, is to keep the game authentic and available, so that teenagers are comfortable using it and parents don’t mind them doing so.

“There has been lots of pressure to make this educational and put it in schools, which is something I’ve resisted,” she said. Teenagers see devices as a place where they can be free to be themselves, and if you introduce it into classrooms, that whole idea changes.

Her team is also made up of an equal number of men and women — something Verburg says should be the norm no matter the company.

“The team is fairly evenly split and we also try to have a lot of LGBTQ members to represent that idea authentically,” she says. “People say it’s hard to have diversity in a company, but it’s not.”

One of the things Verburg hopes will change is the perception issue regarding male-dominated industries like hers. People say that more women should be involved in gaming or web development, but they don’t actually speak with women to find out what kind of games they would be interested in. That’s something Verburg has actively been trying to change.

“We spoke with a lot of girls during market research,” she said. “I want to explore how to create a community around that idea of gaming – how to help [girls] find better games and enjoy the experience more. There is such a strong community around building games and it makes me sad to see that if you ask girls if they want to get involved, they say ‘it’s still not meant for me’.”

Verburg was also involved with Dames Making Games, a not-for-profit feminist organization that runs events and programs for “women, non-binary, gender nonconforming, trans and queer folks interested in games.”  When she isn’t working or involved in the gaming community, Verburg enjoys doing circuit training, going for a walk outdoors, or playing a board game — anything that doesn’t involve analytical thinking.

Season two of LongStory was released a few months ago, and Verburg is excited to see where it will lead. “It’s like an Archie comic,” she said. “It can only go on.”