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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.”