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Meet the Team: Talk Time's Panelist Thomas Keenan

Professor Keenan has won the national NSERC Award for Science Promotion (2013), along with writing awards such as the McBain Award for Medical Journalism.
Thomas Keenan / Panelist on Talk Time with Sean & Shawna

Talk Time is a weekly online TV talk show co-hosted by Shawna Randolph and Sean Burke. Together they, along with guests, cover a variety of topics, from pop culture to healthy living. This series introduces the team. Today, meet panelist Thomas Keenan.

Professor Keenan teaches at the University of Calgary’s school of architecture, planning and landscape. He is also a speaker, science/tech writer, and a futurist. His book, Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy, is available on Amazon.

The Professor is a member of the Government of Canada’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Smart Communities, participates in the New York City-based Intelligent Community Forum, and taught Canada’s first computer security course in 1974. He is the creative mind behind CBC’s Crimes of the Future, which won a Canadian Science Writers award in 1984.

Professor Keenan has won the national NSERC Award for Science Promotion (2013), along with writing awards such as the McBain Award for Medical Journalism. He cites his most treasured recognition as the Students’ Union Teaching Excellence Award, since it was chosen for him by his students.

As an expert witness in computer forensics qualified by the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, and as a and regular columnist and guest speaker for some of the nation’s most recognizable media outlets, Professor Keenan is always on the go. You can catch up with him on Twitter.

What is a futurist?

A futurist is someone who can extrapolate intelligent from current trends, but can also see the "black swan events" when they start to raise their heads.

What are some of the contributing factors to your success?

I have long and deep roots in technology, so it's pretty hard to snow me. I wrote my first computer program in 1965, basically sneaking computer time from Princeton University where I was on a summer program for highly gifted kids. I then went on to be trained as a FORTRAN programmer under a U.S. Atomic Energy Commission sponsored program at New York University. The idea was that the Russians had launched Sputnik and there was a feeling that the U.S. needed to catch up fast. Training kids in computer programming was one of the strategies, and hey, it worked. By the age of 16 I was training middle aged engineers, and I've been teaching ever since.

What is your greatest challenge at the moment?

I'm writing a sequel to my 2004 book Technocreep about how biology and medicine are about to become very creepy. It's a lot of fun but I find that I keep needing to go off and study. For Technocreep, I pretty much knew all about the subject matter. But to talk authoritatively about biology, I have to do some advanced studying.  I just took a genetics course so I can explain how genetic engineering will soon bring some creepy ethical choices.

What do you love the most about what you do overall; and, what do you enjoy about teaching?

I love getting up each day, learning new things, and sharing them with other people. My students are mainly highly motivated graduate students and they amaze me with their energy and love of their disciplines. And, of course, they teach me a lot too!

How important is it going to be for future generations to fully embrace technology?

It's going to be virtually impossible not to embrace some sort of technology. For example, I used to have a 1968 VW camper that I could basically disassemble with pliers and a screwdriver. Try that on a 2021 Tesla!  It's definitely true that some people will embrace it more fully and they will have good and bad things happen. The same smart building technology that allows building management to know who's in the building in case of an emergency can also be used to snoop on when employees arrive and depart.

What’s next for you?

I'm keen to finish my new book and start talking about some of the ways biology and medicine will soon become creepy. In the meantime, I write, give speeches, and even testify in court cases where my expertise in relevant.

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