Benoit-Antoine Bacon is President and Vice-Chancellor of Carleton University, an innovative and socially minded institution that is at the forefront of technological and social change for a better future. A Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, he previously served as Vice-President, Academic, at Queen’s University and at Concordia University in his hometown of Montreal.
In the beginning, there was darkness, ignorance and fear. Slowly over time, bright points of knowledge emerged and developed into rich conceptions of reality and of existence. Philosophy. Mathematics. Chemistry. The Arts. It was a time of growth and optimism. The sky was the limit.
It has been a shock to realize over the past 40 years that these new conceptions of the world unleashed chain reactions that, if left unchecked, can lead to our own destruction. The limit, it turns out, might be much closer than previously anticipated. Signs of duress are evident at every level, from the individual to the global: mental health issues, climate change, conflicts and migration crises.
Einstein famously observed that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them. The way that we approach research and innovation is in need of a significant mindset shift. The research of tomorrow will be (1) collaborative and inclusive on a large scale, (2) multidisciplinary by definition, and (3) intentionally and explicitly taking into account social impact from its inception.
At Carleton University, we are investing in our research infrastructure to create space for large research networks that bring together multi-disciplinary teams of experts from academia, government, industry, and NGOs. This vision takes form, for example, in the new Advanced Research in Innovation in Smart Environments (ARISE) building. It was designed from the ground up for collaborative research in emerging technologies for social change, including clean tech, health tech, smart cities, information and communication technologies, the Internet of Things, and water and energy efficiency.
A university’s vision needs to be bigger than itself. It must serve as a hub for partnerships where great ideas collide and lead to game changing new paradigms for individuals, societies and the planet. We must not fall prey to cynicism and despair but rally around the societal issues we face with renewed purpose, collaboration and multidisciplinary creativity. There are answers to the problems that we face, but they will not be solved with the same thinking that created them in the first place.