As we move into a new stage of cyberpower, dominated by the U.S. and China, with the likes of Russia Israel, and India orbiting around them, many in the global AI community are hoping a new constellation of middle powers will emerge and provide a balance, not unlike whet the middle powers did in the Cold War. Canada was a key player then, using our military skills and diplomatic strength to connect with Americans and Europeans as well as a host of non-aligned countries. With artificial intelligence, we have the same opportunity, to use the scientific strength in schools like U of T, along with our strategic influence in the world, to ensure AI does not lead to catastrophe. We can do that with allies like Britain, France, and Singapore; we can do it with our expats too, who are in universities and companies in each of those countries. It would need a kind of diaspora strategy Canada has never had.
If Canada is to maintain or even build our relevance in a technology-driven world in the decades ahead, we may have no greater tool at our disposal than our expats. We can start by recognizing them, and acknowledging that after centuries of attracting diasporas, we have one of our own, – formed not out of hardship or misery but on the shoulders of opportunity. The energy and enthusiasm that took those Canadians abroad can be harnessed for the whole country, to enhance our interests, to promote our values and connect us in a more networked world. They may even help us understand what it means to be Canadian, no matter where you live.
In a way, that’s what a diaspora does. It defines a people beyond a common geography, language, or culture. Denise Helly, a scholar at L’Universite du Quebec’s Institut national de la recherche scientifique, came to grips with this when she studied the origins of the word diaspora and found it was interpreted differently in different parts of the world, especially in the anglosphere, where it’s no longer equated simply with forced displacement. She found diasporas are characterized by four motivations: a shared history; a shared narrative; a network of centres to share that narrative; and the economic and cultural means to maintain that network around the world. Wherever I went in that world, I encountered such networks and an impressive range of Canadians doing extraordinary things in this ephemeral eleventh province that was as significant to Canada as any of the other ten. Just as striking though, was the breadth of people from everywhere else also doing extraordinary things with the help of their home countries. Whether from India or Ireland, those diasporas were showing Canada what a truly global people can be, by competing locally and cooperating globally.
How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future
“As great as we are as a country, we are at risk of slowly fading in relevance to the rest of the world. We can’t reverse that by just doing the same thing and following the same strategies and hoping that greater effort will lead to different rewards. In a digital age, networks are where exponential things are happening. And that’s our opportunity.”