This Remembrance Day had me more depressed than usual.

“Usual” because a Canadian never expects to be cheerful on Nov. 11. The holiday is depressing by design; an annual self-flagellation. We remind ourselves of a horrible time in our history – a time when our world seemed to come apart at the seams – and together we stare into the abyss. We read the letters, recite the poems, and reflect in silence on the blood, bombs and mud. More than an exercise in gratitude, the ritual reminds us of the preciousness of peace.

The problem for me this year was technology. On the 100th anniversary of the First World War – a time when the tools of innovation were turned against human bodies with a savage efficiency that shocked the world – I had just accepted a role at Communitech, telling the stories of how tech is presumably improving our lives. The contrast wasn’t sitting well.

Until I met Peter Whitby. Peter is an almost painfully earnest Canadian entrepreneur, the founder and CEO of O2 Canada, a startup headquartered in the Accelerator Centre that makes a new kind of pollution mask. He has an “aw shucks” attitude rare for his station, is quick to defer credit and take blame, and when our conversation turned to the First World War, he shared none of my reservations; in fact, he was nakedly enthusiastic about the redemptive power of technology. 

It’s a difference of mentality. I was thinking about the people who make warheads, weapons and gas. Peter’s heroes have always been the people who make shelters, shields and masks. The reminder was welcome: The sword of technology cuts both ways, and it’s ours to make sure the balance favours humanity. 

Hear more from Peter, and his research partner at the University of Waterloo Dr. Zhongchao Tan, in the video featured above.

About The Author

Phil Froklage
Digital Journalist/Multimedia Producer

Phil Froklage is a writer, filmmaker and journalist in Waterloo Region obsessed with the future. Passionate about science and technology — and how it shapes our world — Phil likes nothing more than being surprised by the amazing things human beings can do.