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.