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In Memoriam: Ian Kerr (1965-2019)

by Jon Farrow Aug 28 / 19

Leader on the ethical and legal implications of technology leaves legacy of thoughtful advice, mentorship, and compassion.

Ian Kerr, chair of CIFAR’s AI & Society Advisory Council, professor, and Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law, and Technology at the University of Ottawa, passed away on August 26, 2019 at the age of 54. His extraordinary scholarship, deep commitment to promoting human well-being, and generosity were foundational to the development of CIFAR’s AI & Society program.

ian-kerrKerr’s integrity, intelligence, and insight brought him to the forefront of many critical questions facing society, long before discussions of the implications of artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, robotics, or human enhancement became mainstream. His ability to reach across disciplinary boundaries was prodigious, reflected in his unique four-way appointment to the departments of medicine, information studies, philosophy, and law at the University of Ottawa. 

Kerr is remembered fondly for his leadership at the local, national, and international levels. He has addressed the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, and the White House. His work has been quoted by the Supreme Court of Canada and on the floor of the House of Commons. He helped launch the first We Robot conference, the University of Ottawa’s LL.M. in Law and Technology, and the Techno-Rico course with the University of Puerto Rico. 

Kerr inspired students, collaborators and colleagues alike with his warmth, compassion, and generosity.

“Ian Kerr’s influence on our community was immense,” says Rebecca Finlay, CIFAR’s vice-president of engagement & public policy. “As well as serving as a chair of our AI & Society Advisory Council, he was also a kind, wise and generous guide and mentor. He will be sorely missed and his legacy will be felt for many years to come.”