2017 SOC Visiting Speaker Lecture

Faculty of Arts


Dr. Howard Ramos is a political sociologist who addresses issues of social justice and equity. He was in Winnipeg on October 30, 2017 and gave the Department of Sociology's Annual Visiting Lecture.

The use of social media to interfere in the 2016 American Presidential election is just one example of the ways in which technology is outpacing our social institutions and processes. So, who is thinking about these types of issues? There hasn’t been much formal study in Sociology along these lines, according to Dr. Howard Ramos. Dr. Ramos is Associate Dean Research in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and was recently in Winnipeg to deliver the annual Sociology Visiting Speaker Lecture on Oct. 30, 2017 entitled "The Social and Cultural Implications of AI and Robotics".

Dr. Ramos is a political sociologist who addresses issues of social justice and equity. A self-described “newshound”, Ramos has been interested by the media coverage about advances being made in the use of robots and artificial intelligence (AI)--e.g., headlines, such as “The Robots are Coming”--and for good reason, where some projections have robots replacing as many as 35-42% of jobs over the next 10-20 years.*

Ramos did a review of the literature in Sociology and found some interesting areas of study in the field of robots and AI, such as the following:

  • robots and AI as labourers, care workers, and in the health sciences;
  • human/robot interaction;
  • ethics of robots, e.g., automated cars and ethics;
  • warfare and space travels;
  • futurology, i.e., robot culture or robot/android culture.               

And, while these are interesting areas of study to be sure, they really only cover a very narrow part of the social world. What then about the other elements of our social and cultural life, such as social policy, demography, and methods, Ramos asks.

If the study of Sociology is a reaction to the first industrial revolution, Ramos asks what does the study of Sociology of the age of robots and AI, i.e., the 4th industrial revolution, look like? Government, he says, is behind in creating legislation and policy to accommodate change. These are but a few of the questions that will need to be addressed:

  • Where will power reside in the robot or AI age?
  • Is there social bias in algorithms? Where, for example, is there gender bias if these are created by men?
  • What is or is not a robot? What is or is not a human? The line between what is a robot and what is a human is likely to become more and more blurred over time.
  • Should robots have rights? What are fair labour practices with respect to robots?
  • How do we create socially just regulation? How could AI be used to achieve equality?

Click on the link to the video below and hear Ramos as he considers these issues and questions. The lecture is interesting and engaging and you don’t have to have a technical background to follow his line of thinking.


* While many people use the terms interchangeably, robots are the “nuts and bolts” and the term “artificial intelligence” refers to the software used to manage the processes.