Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

Dr. Peter Diamandis, Singularity University's Executive Director & Founder

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

1. Meta-trends are Transforming our World

Create the future. This was the theme of the 2019 Singularity University Global Summit, held on August 19-21 in San Francisco. Singularity University’s (SU) global community of leaders and changemakers gathered for three full days of inspirational talks concerning the future of our world, and the technologies that will shape it. 

In his opening keynote, Peter Diamandis, SU Executive Director and Founder, spoke about a series of meta-trends, and the convergence of various technologies (such as robotics, 3D printing and synthetic biology). 

“It’s the convergence of these technologies that is really transforming our world,” he said. “It’s how two, three or four of these are coming together and creating new business models.”

“As entrepreneurs, I think that’s the most important thing that we should be looking at – what are the new business models?” 

Of the 20 meta-trends, Diamandis is tracking 10 of them: 

  1. Increasing global abundance (what people have access to is more abundant than ever before) 
  2. Accelerating demonetization and democratization
  3. Everyone, everywhere is connected at gigabit speeds
  4. Everything, everywhere is connected 
  5. You can know anything, anytime, anywhere 
  6. Autonomous personalized transport that is fast and cheap
  7. Increasing human intelligence
  8. Increasing human longevity “healthspan”
  9. Capital abundance: access to capital everywhere (more capital is available to invest in companies, crowdfunding is hitting all-time highs, and is expected to reach $300 B by 2025)
  10. Globally abundant cheap renewable energy 
“Technology is the force that takes what used to be scarce and makes it abundant.”  – Peter Diamandis

Citing evidence of progress and hope, such as global death rates from natural catastrophes decreasing, global literacy increasing and the decreasing cost of food, Diamandis demonstrated that the “world is quietly becoming more abundant.” 

“One of the reasons why the world is getting better is that you as entrepreneurs are trying more and more startups, more and more crazy ideas,” he said. “The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.” 

We are also witnessing a global expansion in connectivity – within four to six years, we will move from half of the world being connected (3.8 billion people), to the entire globe being connected. “What happens when 4.2 billion new minds enter the global conversation?” he questioned. “If you thought the world was going fast, wait until 4 billion new inventors come online.” 

The SU Canada team was on the ground for the event and has created a series of blogs highlighting some of the most poignant and thought-provoking sessions. 

Spatial Computing will Transform Smart Cities

AI Can be Used for Good  

Human Work is Changing, and is Exponential

Mothers in the Workplace = Superheroes

Mothers in the Workplace = Superheroes

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

4. Mothers in the Workplace = Superheroes

Amy Nelson, CEO & Founder of The Riveter, delivered a riveting (pun intended), and inspirational talk on the power that women bring to the workforce, and to the future of work. A mother with four young daughters, Amy previously worked as a corporate litigator on Wall Street before founding The Riveter, a modern day union for working women that offers content, community and coworking spaces in various cities across the United States. 

Amy highlighted some poignant statistics: women with children are 79 per cent less likely to be hired than those without children. Women with children are also 100 per cent less likely to be promoted than those without children. 

Amy Nelson

The solution, she said, it to provide mandated maternity and paternity leave, lean into the new way of work (providing employees with flexibility), and unbundle jobs to capture the skills and expertise of those who crave autonomy. Because, she noted, the wage gap is “not just a women’s issue, it’s an everyone issue.” 

“We know that 43 per cent of mothers with college degrees still leave the workforce after they have kids. If you could solve that problem, you would change the American GDP. And I think that’s something worth solving for.” – Amy Nelson 


Amy encouraged us all to tap into the superpower that is motherhood in the workplace. “There are some things that technology can’t fix for us, and won’t be able to,” she said. “No algorithm can fix bias in the American workplace, it’s rooted too deeply. So it’s truly up to you and up to me to do this work, do it together and do it for everyone.”

AI Can be Used for Good

Leila Toplic, Lead for Emerging Technologies at NetHope

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

3. AI Can be Used for Good

Amir Banifatemi, General Manager at XPRIZE, Cameron Birge, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft and Tess Posner, CEO of AI4ALL, joined moderator Leila Toplic, Lead for Emerging Technologies at NetHope for a panel discussion on day two.

Kicking off their discussion of ways we can use Artificial Intelligence (AI) for good, Toplic began with some examples. AI can help us make decisions faster, in the event of an emergency. It can help us to reach more people with information and services, such as refugees, and can help us predict and prevent outbreaks, such as ebola.

“Young people are hungry to make a difference, and AI is a rocketfuel for that.” – Tess Posner


“AI for good is about using AI to solve some of society’s toughest problems,” Toplic said. “It can help us move the needle on all of these different challenges.” In fact, it applies to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

Tess Posner explained that AI4ALL is focused on increasing the diversity and inclusion in AI. “Young people are hungry to make a difference, and AI is a rocketfuel for that.” Working with high school students, she sees them using the technology to solve problems they care deeply about, such as addressing water quality issues.

While AI may be tempting to use, it is important to consider the implications of the technology, and whether it is actually needed. “AI has become such a shiny buzzword, that it’s often touted as the solution to anything. In reality, it’s a great tool, but you have to make sure it’s actually needed.”

Microsoft’s Cameron Birge agreed, adding that “in this space, if you go wrong, you can really harm a lot of people.”

Birge pointed to AI’s opportunity to free up resources. “It’s not necessarily that AI tools are going to replace a person, it’s about coming in and supporting and freeing up those resources,” he noted. “Nonprofits don’t have a lot of resources.”

All panelists agreed that is is crucial to include key stakeholders in the development of the project, and ensure diversity of expertise in the room. “It’s not only important to build diverse teams, but also consider diversity in the product development process,” said Posner. “Are you including the voices and stakeholders who are going to be impacted by the solutions?”

Spatial Computing will Transform Smart Cities

Jasmin Rohman, Research Lead and Systems Designer at MagicLeap Imagination Propulsion Lab

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

2. Spatial Computing will Transform Smart Cities

What will the smart cities of the future look like, and how can they be designed to best serve the needs of their residents? 

Jasmin Rohman, Research Lead and Systems Designer at MagicLeap Imagination Propulsion Lab, described the evolution of smart cities, explaining that this journey has been fraught with unsuccessful pilot projects – the first round was technology driven, the next was technology-enabled and city-driven. Now, we are seeing cities take a more collaborative and holistic approach, one that is technology-enabled as well as stakeholder-driven. 

Spatial computing refers to having content live in a 3D environment – it is the use of space as a medium to interact with technology. Rohman explained how a digital twin is created, which includes both the physical infrastructure, but also other data, such as mapping, IOT sensors and drone information. 

“I think that having a digital layer and allowing for dynamic interactivity with a city can make cities more human-centric and showcase our shared humanity,” she said. “Having the digital and physical blend more seamlessly allows people to have cities that are tailored to them, it will democratize space and locations and be able to tap into the distributed collective intelligence of a city’s residents.” 

Using storyboards, Naomi Yee, Innovation R & D Lead at Magic Leap, demonstrated some of the applications of spatial computing, and how it could integrate with autonomous vehicles, ambulance pathways, city traffic sensors and emergency response systems. 

Using storyboards, Naomi Yee demonstrated spatial computing’s applications in the real world

“One of the most powerful advantages of spatial computing for cities is its ability to provide 3D visualization tools that give you full control of scale and time,” said Yee. 

The “ultimate rapid prototyping tool,” it allows one to conceive, design, plan and run simulations from inside a room, scale it, take it outside and iterate. 

Human Work is Changing, and is Exponential

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Global Summit

3. Human Work is Changing, and is Exponential

There are three potential futures of work, explained Gary Bolles, Chair for the Future of Work at Singularity University. 

There is the one most often depicted in today’s headlines: of technology overtaking our jobs, resulting in a shrinking circle of jobs for today’s workers. 

There is Singularity University Co-Founder & Chancellor Ray Kurzweil’s view, which is the idea of taking exponential/disruptive technologies, and turning them on ourselves to “help us all develop superpowers.” 

The third future is not completely dystopian or utopian, but one in which the two exist simultaneously. 

“It’s a process,” said Bolles. “We need to discuss the ways in which we continually adapt, the strategies that we need to use today that allow us to build a more positive future tomorrow.” 

Kelley Steven-Waiss, EVP & Chief HR Officer of HERE

For a panel discussion, Gary was joined by Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork and Kelley Steven-Waiss, EVP & Chief HR Officer of HERE. The trio examined how, today, work is shifting away from the traditional 9 to 5. 

“What I’m most excited about is that we really have an opportunity to create the future, and live in this abundant mindset,” said Steven-Waiss. “We can point human beings towards work that is more meaningful by leveraging the technology we have today for some of the insights about their skills and aspirations.” 

She stressed the importance of “getting leaders out of a mindset that command, control and hierarchy is the way forward.” The way forward, rather, is teams, and working together towards one mission. 

“If we’re really going to make exponential change in the future of work, we’re going to have to adopt this way of working, and this mindset.” 

A freelancing website, Upwork connects businesses with independent professionals. Stephane Kasriel explained Upwork’s business model, one in which the company makes more money when freelancers make more money. The strategy that works best is one that is bottom-up, he said, where there is a clear strategy at the top, but humans are left to figure out what they need in order to be successful.

Kasriel hopes that we will put the human at the centre – allowing people to do the things in which they excel, outsourcing the dangerous, dirty and demeaning jobs to the machines. 

“What’s driving the change in the workforce today, at least in the freelancer movement, is not big companies, it’s small startups that see a need to operate very differently, and it’s individuals themselves,” he said. 

Individuals today are realizing they want more flexibility, he said, pointing out that Americans spend more time in their cars driving to the office than on vacation.  

“The companies that embrace that will get the best talent, and companies that resist the change and don’t want to experiment are ultimately going to be at a competitive disadvantage,” said Kasriel. 

Business on Purpose with Social Impact Faculty Allyson Hewitt


Faculty Q + A

Business on Purpose with Social Impact Faculty Allyson Hewitt

Allyson Hewitt SingularityU Canada’s Social Impact Faculty, is the Senior Fellow, Social Innovation at the MaRS Discovery District – North America’s largest urban innovation hub. A global leader in social innovation and impact, Allyson works with social ventures, corporate innovators, and ecosystem partners to drive economic, social, and environmental sustainability.  Beyond her work at MaRS, Allyson is also a McConnell Foundation, Senior Fellow; the University of Waterloo Social Entrepreneur in Residence, and the Thinker in Residence for Australia’s Don Dunstan Foundation. A change leader at heart, Allyson has helped develop and led the national initiative Social Innovation Generation (SiG); the social finance programs of the Centre for Impact Investing; the MaRS Solutions Lab, a change lab designed to tackle complex challenges; and Studio Y, an initiative designed to support youth in thriving in the new economy.

In the latest SingularityU Canada Meet the Faculty webinar, Allyson discussed how purpose is the future of business, a topic that generated so many questions that we did not have time to respond to all of them on the webinar. So, as promised, Allyson has responded to the outstanding questions and provided additional insight into how you can (and must) combine profit and purpose to create organizations that will thrive in an exponential world.

What roles, skills or people are needed or are being recruited by businesses to transition to a more impactful economy? How do people outside of the business sector influence or contribute?

There are certainly people making transitions between sectors. In fact, we are encouraging the development of tri-sector leaders, but more often than not, we see the not-for-profit sector hiring those with business skills, especially at the senior levels instead of the other way around.  

We need to create a “business case” for why corporates could benefit by hiring those from outside the business sector. 

There are lots of ways people outside the business sector can influence or contribute to any sector. In the webinar, we discussed the opportunity to influence decisions as both consumers and shareholders. Other ways include linking corporates to meaningful pro bono opportunities in the social impact sector (going beyond “painting a wall”); to helping change the perspective of other sectors which are currently defined by what they are instead of the impact they make. Finally, we need to create opportunities for cross-sector collaboration to solve our tough challenges and create spaces for the various perspectives each sector brings to bear.

How has the move towards purpose changed or influenced traditional philanthropy (i.e. corporate giving, founding foundations)? 

Philanthropy (like most sectors) is experiencing significant change,  including the desire of high-net-worth donors to become more engaged – beyond (but always including) cheque writing.

Philanthropy used to be the primary way certain groups of people “did good” alongside volunteering. Today, there are more ways to leverage your funds, through efforts like impact investing, which will help you achieve both financial and social impact. 

The philanthropic sector is best advised to be aware of these trends, to determine how efforts such as layered financing (starting with a grant and then moving to a loan for programs that have the capacity to generate income) can get us to new levels of impact. 

Can you share any suggestions on resources for the impact of purpose-driven business on traditional philanthropy? 

A book recommendation is Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas. This book is getting a lot of attention and is worth reading as a challenge to some of the dominant trends exercised by high net worth philanthropists in particular. For more on that topic, see how they are setting up companies to invest (instead of foundations) to approach the issues they choose differently. Here is one such article on that topic.

“We are in a war for talent, but you can win by putting purpose first.”- Allyson Hewitt

In your opinion, where would purpose sit within a company’s business model? Should it be coupled with the value proposition (proposition to be seen through the lens of purpose)? 

Purpose should be at the core of a business model. Since 2011, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer have been working on a “Creating Shared Value” approach that addresses this concept (in a way that resonates with many), and in a recent speaking event I attended in Sydney, the dominant narrative was that if “purpose is the why – creating shared value is the how.” You are advised to decide for yourself how best to position purpose in your organization based on the state of readiness for adoption.

Are you aware of any organizations or investment firms doing ROP (Return of Purpose) evaluation? Business case for the purpose and social impact movement? 

I have not been doing work in this area using this language, but it all seems related. The dominant theme still seems to be “Social Return on Investment” analysis.  But it appears the Centre for Executive Excellence has been exploring this concept, and Ketchum and Carol Cone have completed this work. All are very interesting contributions to the field.

It’s clear that CSR (corporate social responsibility) and 3BL (triple bottom line) need to evolve, and purpose seems to be the way forward. In your opinion, where did the 3BL model fall short in addressing sustainable development issues? 

I’m not sure if the model fell short in as much as I think it evolved, as all these movements do. 

It is, however, a great question worth exploring more fully and I’d be keen to hear the input of others. If I had to guess, it would be that it did not hold these activities at the core of the business but as adjuncts, or ‘nice to do’s,’ instead of the social and business imperatives that they are. 

Allyson, you were instrumental in bringing BCorps to Canada. How do you see this fitting into the “Business on Purpose” space?

B Corps are a growing global movement and they are certainly worth exploring, if only to take their free online assessment to determine areas for improvement. There is real leadership coming from this movement and I’d suggest people read their response to the Business Roundtable latest doctrine on the purpose of a corporation

You were on the Steering Group that developed the Social Innovation and Social Finance strategy for Canada with the federal government – are corporates playing a role at this level?

Yes, but it is marginal. Interestingly, I’m hearing more about the Task Force on Sustainable Finance, and our goals should be to integrate the work on this group and that of the SISF Strategy. We definitely have room for more engagement here. 

Watch the full recording of Allyson’s webinar – Business on Purpose!

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Canada Summit – Pt. 2

Dr. Frederik G. Pferdt

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Canada Summit - Pt. 2

At the 2019 Summit, more than 40 speakers tackled the most pressing grand challenges of our time: health, energy, prosperity and citizenship. What are some of the most disruptive forces? What are the key questions we need to consider? How can we work together to create a better world?

Here are some of the top takeaways (see Part 1 of this series for more learnings).

We need to reinvent our education system

Dr. Taddy Blecher, part of the Singularity University South Africa faculty, spoke about creating a world where literacy and knowledge are available to all. South Africa has the third highest unemployment rate in the world, and over 7 million unemployed youth, all of whom have gone through the school system. “The education system has failed them, because it’s rote-based, they’ve learned to just memorize stuff and write exams.” With rising inequality around the world, how are we going to make education work for everyone? How are we going to educate people for the future, to be relevant? What if we could disrupt universities, making them low-cost?

Dr. Taddy Blecher

Traditionally, education has been content-dominant and exam-driven. “We tell students what to think, we don’t teach them how to think, we don’t awaken their passions,” he said. “It’s an industrial revolution-based system from the 19th century, like an old shoe that probably never fit properly in the first place and it definitely does not fit in the 21st century.” We need to reinvent school systems, Taddy stressed, because “it’s easier to build strong children than to mend broken men and women.”

…and rethink how we produce and consume food, in order to feed the future

By 2050, we will need to feed 1o billion people globally, as our population grows by another three billion people. How will we feed all these people, while also protecting our world and our climate? Dr. Irwin Adam, SingularityU Canada’s Future of Food Faculty, emphasized that everything we eat has broader implications, on a global scale. “Food has become a nexus for all of technology. We’re seeing world leaders in fields such as AI, robotics, blockchain, all converging on the food supply and the food system in order to make it better,” he said.   

Aside from food production, we also have to consider what we grow. What might an ideal plant look like? “What would be the best possible thing to put in the ground in order to feed our future?” he asked.

But the biggest impact starts with us. “When we start to re-examine how we consume on a daily basis, and we actually make those changes, we can transform what our tomorrow looks like,” Irwin said.

Our future may be uncertain, but with the right mindset, we can prepare for it

Dr. Frederik G. Pferdt, Chief Innovation Evangelist at Google, asked the audience to imagine the future. “An optimistic mindset helps us to recognize that there are possibilities,” he said. “We can imagine the future by asking very powerful questions, questions that show a healthy disregard for the impossible.”

As children, we asked many questions (hundreds per day), but as adults, we do not often do so. Asking questions shows our curiosity, and can challenge the status quo. “The wildest questions can create the biggest opportunities,” he said.

Dr. Irwin Adam

Experiment, take risks, and have an open mindset. One of the most important skillsets of the future is empathy: putting yourself into someone else’s shoes, which “helps you to shift your perspective and helps you to see something new.” Return to the ‘explorer’ mindset that we had in our youth, and having this mindset also helps us explore the future.

You’re never too young to change the world

A panel discussion featuring three young innovators left the crowd inspired and optimistic about the younger generations – feeling confident that the future is in good hands.

“These are three of the most interesting people that I have met at this Summit…this is a trio of complex and creative problem solvers who I think really exemplify and embody the mindset and the thinking that we have been talking about this week,” said moderator Jeffrey Rogers, as he introduced the panellists.

The high school students, trained by human accelerator the Knowledge Society, spoke about their passions for machine learning, cellular agriculture and gene editing.

Teens from the Knowledge Society

“There are not enough smart people working on these problems…there are a lot of amazing resources out there that I have been able to go through and make connections with and develop my ideas,” said Anupra Chandran. “Imagine if a million more people could do this, we could crowdsource all of that knowledge and be able to make a huge impact.”

“I think you all can do anything, and I genuinely believe that,” said Ananya Chadha. “It’s never too late to get started, because you have so much life ahead of you.”

Disruptive change is the new norm, but we can make decisions that affect the greater good

In a closing session, Pascal Finette, Chair for Entrepreneurship and Open Innovation at Singularity University, helped the audience wrap their heads around all of the concepts explored over the past several days.

As technology is building upon technology, this is creating true exponential change. As Ray Kurzweil said: the change we are seeing in the next 100 years equals the change we have seen in the last 20,000 years.

Despite the massive changes, disruption and the element of dystopia, Pascal also reiterated the enormous opportunity that new technologies offer, and reminded us of all the good in the world.

“I believe that we become Gods,” he said. “We are getting the power to change lives, in really interesting ways. If we become gods, we better get good at it.”

Pascal highlighted some notable individuals who are creating large-scale impact, such as Mark Moore, co-founder and CEO of MANA Nutrition, an organization that works to tackle malnutrition. MANA therapeutic food packets (RUTF) are composed of peanut paste, milk, and vitamins and minerals, and three servings a day for six weeks can save the life of a starving child.

At the Summit, MANA food packets were available for attendees to take, and attendees were challenged to make an impact by participating in the Active For Good Challenge – and even kickstart the challenge by hopping on one of the stationary bikes onsite. Active for Good challenges users to burn calories; which are donated through the Active for Good App and converted into MANA food packets. Together Summit participants donated enough calories to save 34 lives.

SingularityU Canada is all about making a cross-Canada impact. “I believe we are at an intersection between opportunity and capability,” said Oren Berkovich. “If we are engaged, smart and work collectively and creatively in the same direction, we truly have the potential to create a spectacular future.”

Canada’s Digital Charter: Adapting with the Changing Times

Canada's Digital Charter: Adapting with the Changing Times

This past Tuesday May 21st, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduced elements of Canada’s new laws governing the internet and digital privacy in a Digital Charter. With technologies advancing daily and regulations and policies remaining unchanged for decades at a time, it’s a positive step to more closely align industry advancements with public sector governance.

For SingularityU Canada, a community that embraces innovation, and encourages people to consider the exponential trends, topics, and challenges that are most important to our country, the Charter is a step forward in shaping our collective future.

The Digital Charter is founded on ten principles that reflect key areas of concern voiced by Canadians during open sessions, such as the National Digital and Data Consultations (the Consultations). Among the principles listed are inspiring, but unsurprising priorities such as: open and modern government, control and consent, and data and digital for good.

In a society where exponential change is rampant, and one that is increasingly data-reliant, revisiting the federal privacy laws is welcome and necessary. Key themes that emerged from the Consultations highlight the extent to which technologies are reshaping the way people live and connect and the new concerns people must navigate online. Considerations reflected in the principles, like “safety and security”, take on a new meaning in the digital age and they will continue to evolve. For context, it’s estimated that cybercrime will cost $6 trillion annually by 2021 and there will be 80 billion connected devices by 2025.

At SingularityU Canada, we believe that exponential technologies are the key to unlocking global solutions. Furthermore, leveraging the convergence of exponential technologies will set us on the path to solve our global grand challenges. Learning, governance and security are among the global grand challenges – and are recognized and addressed by the Charter.  

The past few years have seen several initiatives undertaken by the government to boost the digital economy and to ensure all Canadians are poised for success in the digital age – the Computers for Schools program gave 7,500 refurbished computers to Syrian refugees in Canada, while the new National Cyber Security Strategy helps protect citizens and businesses from cyber threats. The Government is committed to strengthening Canada’s innovation ecosystem, through investments in initiatives such as the Innovative Superclusters and Innovative Solutions Canada.

Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), has not been substantially updated since the early 2000s

Most importantly, at the heart of the Charter is the importance of building trust in a digital world.

The Charter includes proposed changes to modernize Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), focusing on issues such as meaningful enforcement of regulations and enhanced oversight, consent, and data mobility. PIPEDA has not been substantially updated since the early 2000s.

“We need to get serious about rebuilding trust because people are currently losing it,” said Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains. “In the 21st century, either we build that trust and compete in the data-driven digital economy, or we don’t compete at all.”

Also recently announced by Minister Bains: the launch of the Advisory Council on Artificial Intelligence. Comprised of 15 members, the council will advise the federal government on “how best to build on Canada’s AI strengths, identify opportunities to create economic growth that benefits all Canadians and ensure that AI advancements reflect Canadian values.” Various Canadian scientific experts and entrepreneurs are on the panel, including Dr. Geoffrey Hinton, and University of Alberta Professor Richard Sutton.

In the wake of the March terrorist attacks in New Zealand, and the violent content that was live streamed and distributed on platforms such as Facebook and Youtube, Canada and 18 other countries as well as eight major tech companies have signed the Christchurch Call, a pledge to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

The pledge demonstrates how a broader conversation around tech governance is needed. As pointed out in a Globe and Mail article, “We don’t need to militarize the problem or play Whac-A-Mole with extremists: We need to govern platforms.” in Ottawa this week, representatives from nine countries, including Canada, participated in the second International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News. The group discussed how they can protect citizen rights in the age of big data, examining the role of internet giants, such as Facebook, in safeguarding privacy and democratic rights.

“What we’re seeing now is a digital sphere that’s turned into the Wild West,” said Justin Trudeau, speaking at a technology conference in Paris last week. “And it’s because we – as governments and as industry leaders – haven’t made it a real priority.”

Such actions demonstrate that Canada is taking concrete steps to adapt to the changes of tomorrow, and positions Canada as a leader in the global economy, and our ever-changing world.

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Canada Summit – Pt. 1

Lisa Kay Solomon, co-host of the 2019 Summit

Top Takeaways from the 2019 SingularityU Canada Summit - Pt. 1

On April 23 & 24, Edmonton, Alberta, got a taste of the future.

“Get engaged. Suspend your disbelief, truly immerse yourself in what’s happening here, and most importantly, share your ideas, because you don’t know how fast they can scale and the impact they can have,” urged Oren Berkovich, CEO of SingularityU Canada, at the start of the 2019 Summit.

And engaged they were. More than 1,100 participants gathered for two full days of conversation about disruption, innovation, and exploration of the (possible) future. The Summit featured over 40 speakers, hailing from Canada and around the world, focusing on the themes of energy, health, prosperity and citizenship.

In this two-part series, we will share the top takeaways and ideas that inspired us to think bigger and look ahead.

The future of health is in your hands (literally)

Dr. Tiffany Vora, Faculty Director and Vice Chair, Digital Biology and Medicine, spoke about moving from sick care (which involves a lot of waiting for things to go wrong or improve), to healthcare, moving away from the current doctor-centric model to one that is more patient-centric. “We’re moving away from this reactive paradigm towards a proactive future, in which I think every person’s genomes will be sequenced at birth, if not before.” Dr. Vora spoke of the idea of abundant information that gives us personalized insights. What if everyone was born with a risk portfolio? “If you knew that you could half your child’s risk of colon cancer as an adult by raising them vegetarian now, would you do it?” she asked. Healthcare solutions are going to be more personalized and digitized, with new technologies such as wearables, and a handheld DNA sequencer from MinION.

Dr. Tiffany Vora

The future of health is proactive, predictive, precise, personalized, and, most importantly, people-powered, said Zayna Khayat, Future Strategist at SE Health. “Healthcare systems haven’t changed for 150 years on that sick care model, and we’re asking them to re-architect themselves on this predictive model.” She noted that we are witnessing a patient revolution, as patients are taking matters into their own hands, becoming ‘patient-preneurs.’ Employers are becoming healthcare organizations themselves (eg. Walmart offering in-store clinics for its staff), and numerous startups are entering the healthcare space.

Babylon Health, now offered in Canada in partnership with TELUS Health, is a mobile app that serves as a ‘doctor in your pocket.’ “I think this has huge opportunity for our First Nations populations or any of our rural Canadians,” said Zayna.

Dr. Philip Edgcumbe

Dr. Philip Edgcumbe, Medicine Faculty at SingularityU Canada, discussed the doctor’s challenge – which is to adapt and stay relevant in an era of digitized and exponential health. We must move from an era of healthcare scarcity to healthcare abundance – which consists of timely, high quality and efficient access to care for all Canadians. If doctors embrace AI, they will succeed, but they must retain interaction on a human-to-human level.

Our energy system is in transition, and we all have a role to play

Speaking on the topic of energy, three speakers participated in a panel conversation about Canada’s energy future, moderated by Bill Whitelaw, CEO of JWN Energy. “What is your agency in the energy conversation?” Bill asked the audience.

Jane Kearns, SingularityU Canada Cleantech Faculty, challenged the audience to find the opportunity in this energy transition, rather than thinking of it as a threat. “These are massive problems that we have to solve, and this is a significant change that we are talking about. We need every brain on this, we’re talking about the future of our planet.”

“Alberta will be a leader in the transition to a low-carbon emissions future, not in spite of, but because of our fossil fuels,” said Chad Park, Chief Innovation Officer of The Natural Step Canada and the Director of the Energy Futures Lab. He pointed out that social innovation is just as important as technological innovation. “The challenge isn’t just in finding new technologies and deploying them… we need new stories, new policies, new business models, these are all opportunities where we can take some responsibility based on our own expertise and capabilities.”  

“A crisis is an opportunity, and this is a massive opportunity,” said Arash Aazami, founder of Kamangir, in a presentation about energy in an interconnected world. “First you envision the future you want, and then you backcast from there, rather than forecasting from the sub-optimal realities of today. It’s only that way that we allow ourselves to be agents of change.”

Technology helps to build an inclusive future for all

Gabrielle Scrimshaw, an Indigenous professional passionate about creating social impact, spoke about the intersection of technology and Indigenous communities. “Technology is a tool that we now have that is new to us…I am both excited and also a little bit terrified, what’s going to happen to our diverse array of Indigenous languages? Traditional ways of life? In a world that’s moving a million miles a minute, are Indigenous groups going to be swept aside, or do as we’ve always done, and adapt?”

Jack Sim

Technology can play a role in reconciliation – both for and by Indigenous communities. For instance, on the website FirstVoices, users can learn 13 different Indigenous languages. Technology also offers a “glimmer of hope,” as artists are selling their work on Etsy and accepting digital payments.  

Across the world, 2.4 billion people do not have access to toilets. Jack Sim, Founder of the World Toilet Organization, uses humor to spark conversation about the sanitation crisis, and is making an impact on a global scale. “When it’s very funny, people listen… the leverage model of humor becomes very successful, and the media writes about it. Every year, we get between two to three billion outreach, without paying a single cent on media.” After the movement garners attention from the media, politicians start to listen, then public policy, then public figures such as celebrities (actor Matt Damon has become involved). The group lobbied to have November 19 declared by the UN General Assembly as official World Toilet Day.

In other inspiring adaptations, thirteen year-old Tilly Lockey showed the Summit her hero arms, developed in collaboration with UK-based Open Bionics. The prosthetic arms are 3D printed, and bespoke to her. “They managed to develop these hands in five years… just imagine in another five years what they can achieve,” she said.   

Tilly Lockey

The conversations left people eager to learn more and inspired to take action. In diverse industries and emerging fields, numerous opportunities for Canadians to lead and shape the future were illuminated. Seeing the global impact intersect with personal responsibility and meaning led to rich discussions on and off the stage. Check out #SUCanSummit and our Part 2 of the summary to learn more about the big ideas and exponential technology that are resonating with Canadians and inspiring them to act.

Citizenship in an Exponential Era – David Bray

Speaker: Dr. David Bray

Dr. David Bray

Dr. David Bray

Executive Director, People-Centered Internet and Senior Fellow, Institute for Human-Machine Cognition

Dr. David A. Bray has served in a variety of leadership roles in turbulent environments, including bioterrorism preparedness and response from 2000-2005...

Dr. David Bray

Executive Director, People-Centered Internet and Senior Fellow, Institute for Human-Machine Cognition

The session focused on what the future looks like if exponential trends continue their impact on governance, security and stability in a networked era and what new strategies private and public sector leaders will need to employ to be effective.

  • Living in open societies, we are increasingly fragmented and polarized and are dealing with challenges regarding cybersecurity and misinformation.
  • We need to recognize that we will see more change in the next 7 years than the last 20 combined. Having so much data will challenge questions on security, privacy, and civil liberty.
  • Autocratic societies will be able to set laws to deal with the data age much quicker, which will put democratic societies at risk. Will exponential changes empower new governments? Or will nation state governments fade?
  • Democratic countries will need to build bridges across sectors; no one sector will be able to tackle our approach to data and AI. Our openness and plurality can be a liability if we don’t figure out how to come together to shape the future.

View slides from the presentation.