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Why I'm joining the Journalism Fellowship

I’ve been invited to be a Fellow for Global Journalism at UofT starting this Fall – and my focus will be to write about the societal impact of AI. At the start of this year, I promised myself to do less. Why, then, take on an extra commitment?

In short: it felt important. My personal statement below explains why.

“Cognify everything!” said the Managing Partner of a global consulting company on an all-hands call. With the practised self-confidence of a management consultant, he almost gave the impression that he knew what that meant. There were about 600 consultants on the call, with academic degrees from well-ranked universities and Fortune 500 work experience. This wasn’t a layperson audience. And yet, almost everyone stood ready to answer the siren call.

That was my last year in consulting.

Management consulting thrives on information asymmetry. As that asymmetry collapses in traditional business, the delta is growing in tech. Charlatans of numerous varieties now exploit this knowledge gap, and their victims are consumers and executives alike.

In the business world, consulting companies have set up practices ranging from AI to blockchain, selling corporate executives on a vision of boundless growth. I was often in the room where it happened; sometimes, it was my colleagues making the pitch, and sometimes it was strategy consulting firms armed with waterfall charts and EBITA projections.  The future seemed certain in their PowerPoints, but only their consulting engagement could unlock it. At one mining company, I saw management consultants take hold of executive leadership, funding an AI program based on performance improvements that were technically infeasible. I saw similar dynamics play out across industries and boardrooms.

The crucible for emerging tech is no longer the R&D centre but society – where it creates opportunities and, at the same time, exacerbates social dislocations. Here again, there is an information asymmetry as journalists and politicians often do not understand the subject well enough to safeguard the public interest. In the absence of expertise, hard questions are supplanted by hero worship. The role of Buy Now Pay Later fintechs in eroding the financial well-being of younger consumers throws this abdication of responsibility into sharp relief. As these firms plied Millennials and GenZs with easy credit, most media coverage centred on their stratospheric valuations and the AI whizzbangs  – not on the societal impact of arbitrating future financial welling for current consumption.

I want to play a role in helping tilt the scale back in favour of the public good.

I’m an engineer, a builder of things.  I believe AI can propel us toward financial wellbeing and inclusion. But having also been a (reluctant) consultant, I’ve seen corporate dysfunctions firsthand, where decisions are often guided by optics and boardroom intrigue – not the long-term interest of the company, or the customers they serve.

I want to shine a light on the interstices between technology and finance and apply my expertise to ask the hard questions. In these corners, where glib salesmen peddle simplistic solutions to complex problems, I want my writing to be an antidote to their snake oil.