The SingularityU (SU) Canada community is focused on encouraging people to think BIG, consider what could be, and what their role is in our rapidly changing society. 

Looking back on 2019, here are three of the top areas of conversation we had this year, and that we see continuing into 2020 and beyond. 

The blockchain revolution continues

There have been some arguments that blockchain is becoming over-hyped, yet continued investment in blockchain by companies such as Walmart, FedEx, and Mastercard prove the technology is still going strong. For instance, this year Mastercard announced a partnership with enterprise blockchain technology company R3 to develop a new cross-border payment system, while Walmart is utilizing blockchain technology to create a food traceability system. 

Deloitte Insight’s Annual Tech Trends report pointed out that, while previously mostly associated with cryptocurrencies, “today, blockchain is to trust what the web was to communication: a profoundly disruptive technology that transforms not only business but the way humans transact and engage.” 

2020 is shaping up to be a momentous year for blockchain technology and digital assets ecosystems, with developments such as the launching of China’s Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), and the growth of lightning network adoption worldwide. 

SU Canada Blockchain Faculty Anne Connelly posits that decentralization is going to transform our society. By disintermediating centralized trust providers, blockchain technology is enabling this societal change to occur. 

“A blockchain is a single source of truth for every person on the planet,” she explained during her session at the 2019 SU Canada Summit. “It enables us to go back to transacting at a peer-to-peer level the way we used to, but at a scale that has never been possible before.” 

Similarly, SU Canada Blockchain Faculty Matthew Spoke believes in the transformative power of blockchain technology, and in revisiting the traditional, hierarchical structures of governance. “The premise of decentralized, peer-to-peer networks as an underpinning technology is potentially a suitable alternative to hierarchies,” he said in a recent webinar. “It is a way to coordinate social institutions in a way that is beneficial for everyone and more fast-paced than the current systems of governance that we have today.” 

The food industry is moving beyond the dinner table, and off the farm

Dr. Irwin Adam at the 2019 SingularityU Canada Summit

“Everything we eat has broader implications on a global scale, said Dr. Irwin Adam, SU Canada Future of Food Faculty, at the 2019 SU Canada Summit. “By 2050, we will have grown our population by another 3 billion people, and we will need to figure out ways to not only feed them, but to feed them the best quality food, while protecting our world and our climate.” 

Dr. Adam explained that food is becoming a nexus for all of technology, and global tech experts are converging on the food supply system in order to improve it. The dinner table, he argued, is also a place where we are negotiating our future. 

The popularity of consuming more meatless and plant-based foods has dominated the industry this year. The plant-based Impossible Burger stands out as one of the best inventions of 2019, and recently, its maker, Impossible Foods, received the 2019 United Nations Global Climate Action Award for its efforts to boost awareness of food’s environmental impact.  

The traditional food chain is also being shaken up, with scientists exploring ways of bypassing animal products. Dutch startup Meatable’s OPTi-OX technology involves engineering induced pluripotent stem cells for specific cell types, and then ‘reprogramming’ them to adult stem cells, which yield consistent, homogeneous and rapid cell batches. While it takes a cow around three years to grow to full size, Meatable claims they can complete the entire operation in three weeks.

This has not come to full force just yet, as high costs present a barrier to adoption, as do wary consumer perceptions of consuming cultured meat products. 2020 is likely to see further advancements if these costs fall, as consumer interest is definitely growing.

Work is moving outside of the office

There is no doubt that technology has reshaped the world of work, from automation to robotic blacksmithing

Many professional occupations are no longer confined to a physical address, as the option to work remotely continues to become more popular. More than 26 million Americans, about 16 per cent of the total workforce, now work remotely at least part-time. Many are harnessing digital technologies, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), to create completely new business models. 

Not just the stuff of gaming, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are being used in the workplace

One instance of VR in the workplace may be found at eXp Realty, a North American VR real estate company. It has been named a best place to work in Glassdoor’s 2020 Employees’ Choice Awards for the third consecutive year and has grown to over 25,000 agents, all without any traditional, physical office space. 

How? Enter VirBELA, a VR platform that connects users in an online “campus,” so eXp Realty employees from around the world can virtually attend team meetings and training seminars.

The SU Canada team recently successfully tested out the VirBELA platform with the Fall 2019 Executive Program cohort. The takeaway? Holding live meetings no longer needs to follow the status quo, and can still allow for meaningful face-to-face contact.

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