For the 3rd year running, Elevate Tech Fest brought to Toronto 30,000 entrepreneurs, start-up talents, innovators, students and corporations to talk about the Future of Tech. From September 23rd to 26th 2019, The Meridian Hall (former Sony Centre) stage hosted over 300 speakers including Chris Hadfield, Michelle Obama, Martha Stewart, Akon, Sophia Amoruso and Guy Kawasaki to share their insights on the theme of Moonshots. Alternate stages at MaRS Discovery District, The Design Exchange, and the St Lawrence Centre, offered a more intimate settings to discuss tech hot topics such as AI, digital transformation, new media, business, talent…

We were there and got some insights to share with you.

Day 1 – Digital Transformation Stage at MaRS Discovery District

What we learned about
  • The mindset of disruption from Charlene Li (Altimeter)
  • Digital fluency from Mike Mason (ThoughtWorks)
  • How AI can help cure cancer from Alexandre Le Bouthillier (Imagia)
  • The future of work with opportunities brought on by machine learning from 16 years old Zaynah Bhanji (The Knowledge Society)
  • Beyond digital transformation with a responsible and sustainable approach to technology and change from Eva Appelbaum (ARC)
  • Design with (not for) users from Hillary Hartley (Ontario Public Service)
Main takeaways

The main takeaways from that day are that digital transformation is shaping the future of the global economy, but that reaching positive outcomes requires an alignment of vision, risk taking, a culture of change, engaged leadership and technical skills.

More nuggets of wisdom from Day 1

Charlene Li talked about the relationship between growth and disruption, and how growth creates disruption, not the other way around. While growth is hard, disruptive growth is even harder as it demands a combination of bold leadership, high comfort level with risk, and cultural transformation with a carefully developed strategy focused on your future customers (not the current customer you are working with now).

Mike Mason pointed out that organizations undertaking a digital transformation often make two common mistakes: they restrict their transformation effort to the IT department, and over or under invest in different parts of their transformation. He demonstrated how digital transformation can be a holistic, organization-wide effort with clearly defined benefits and outcomes.

Alexandre Le Bouthillier shared his personal journey of dealing with the pain of losing his father to cancer, pain that could have been avoided with an earlier diagnosis and adequate treatment. This journey sparked the idea of leveraging AI to empower doctors to improve patient outcomes. By leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, he has developed an algorithm that analyzes medical data to flag early stages cancer and risk factors more accurately.

Zaynah Bhanji, a 16 years-old alumni of The Knowledge Society who has already worked for CIBC, Deloitte and Google, presented a compelling case on how artificial intelligence and machine learning will transform the nature of work in industries like Manufacturing, Agriculture, Education, Healthcare, Law, Finance, Marketing and Retail with computer vision, natural language processing and deep learning.

Eva Appelbaum discussed how to move on from the narrative of ‘digital disruption for the sake of disruption’, and how to instead focus on leading digital transformation sustainably, responsibly and inclusively. Her vision of digital transformation is one that doesn’t make people feel like they’ve been left behind or induce fear. She suggests ‘leading today towards the future we want to see tomorrow’.

During her session, Hillary Hartley, Ontario’s first Digital and Data Officer, posed and gave an answer to the question: how might we scale user-centred design to meet the diverse needs of almost 14 million Ontarians? Her answer was by designing with, not for, users. She introduced a new way of approaching User Design called compassing. Instead of mapping out the experience prior to the technology build, she uses a compassing method where a direction is defined, a minimum viable product is launched and tested to identify what the actual user outcome is.

Day 2 – Main Stage at Meridian Hall

What we learned about
  • How Commander Chris Hadfield got to the Moon
  • Using social influence for good from Akon (Akoin)
  • Yancey Strickler (Kickstarter)’s manifesto for a more generous world
  • Canada’s competitiveness on the global stage from Mary Ann Yule (HP Canada)
  • What Facebook is doing to mitigate techlash from Garrick Tiplady (Facebook and Instagram Canada)
  • Leading the video revolution without selling ads from Anjali Sud (Vimeo)
  • Cannabis and tech from Martha Stewart and Mark Zekulin (Canopy Growth)
Nuggets of wisdom from Day 2

Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to become commander of the International Space Station, took the stage to cover the history of technology, how far it enabled us to reach and how future technology advancement will create unlimited possibilities for future generations. He made a flat earther joke “The world is round by the way”, and took the time to advocate for tech education, especially that of girls, pointing out that we need not be afraid of showing examples of what we were unable to do, as it may inspire future generations to solve it. He even performed his version of Space Oddity singing and playing guitar alongside a piano player.

Akon took the stage to share some of his insights on how to use social influence to make a positive impact in the world by supporting a cause. He talked about his crypto currency project Akoin, which launch will bring growth opportunities across Africa to support and empower youth entrepreneurship and economic stability in the region.

Yancey Strickler delivered a powerful session on the pursuit of wealth and how it produced innovation and prosperity, that used to be shared by all, but has dramatically declined since 1973 (US wages increased by 91% between 1948 and 1973, but only by 9% since 1973). He explained how we came to the implicit belief that the rational choice in any decision is whichever option makes the most money. And how as profits soared, so have carbon emissions, substance addiction, and social disconnection. To course correct, he suggests we reintroduce community, purpose and sustainability in our decision making.

Mary Ann Yule presented about Canada and how competitive we are on the global stage thanks to our infrastructures, education, openness to welcome talents from abroad, our research capacity and our leadership in the tech industry. She pointed out that Canadians are too nice when it comes to monetizing innovation, even as we are a leader in tech research, we are giving away the monetization opportunities to foreign companies.

Garrick Tiplady introduced the term techlash, which is the backlash a company can suffer when its innovations are misused, or ethical questions are posed. He presented some of the measures Facebook is taking to prevent foreign entities to launch ad campaigns on the platform to manipulate voters, it now requires that a person who wishes to post a political ad provide a copy of their passport to prove they are citizen of that country, and that they submit to a double code verification sent to the address they provide.

Another great session was that of Anjali Sud, who talked about the Vimeo’s vision of a video platform completely ad free. During her session, she stood reinforcing the trend of building technology responsibly, with a user focused model. She presented the new, completely free, marketplace Vimeo has created to connect people who need a video made with companies and freelancers who can make that video.

Day 3 – AI Stage at MaRS Discovery District

What we learned about
  • How Uber build their smart car program in Toronto from Raquel Urtasun
  • Responsible AI in Financial Services from Michael Rhodes (TD)
  • The risks and rewards of responsible AI from Tomi Poutanen (TD), Marzyeh Ghassemi (Vector Institute) and Elissa Strome (CIFAR)
  • Mapping AI commercialization from Christian Weedbrook (Xanadu), Jessica Yip (A&K Robotics), Candice Faktor (Faktory Ventures) and JF Gagne (Element AI)
  • IP strategy to protect your AI innovation and data rights from Carole Piovesan (INQ Data Law) and Natalie Raffoul (Brion Raffoul)
Main takeaways

The main takeaways from that day are that AI is here to stay and will transform how we interact with the world from smart cars to banking to shopping. All the sessions highlighted how developers and founders should carefully consider the impact and the potential use of their innovation, incorporating ethics into their decision making.

More nuggets of wisdom from Day 3

Raquel Urtasun went into details to present how Uber ATG has been developing, testing and refining the AI for their self-driving cars in Toronto. She discussed how the individual successful performance of each module needed for the overall system to work did not guarantee an overall successful performance of the system. The challenge was the impact of changes made to one module (sensors, maps, detector, tracker, prediction, planning…) on all the other modules, and the extend of tweaking it required for the engineers to adjust the entire system (very sensitive operations considering the consequences of a bad decision on the road during a busy morning or evening commute). The smart cars have already been tested in the streets of Toronto, we got to see the test drives, it was impressive. Urtasun went a step further by showing us what Uber ATG is envisioning as the very ambitious future of shared commute: remotely piloted helicopters/drones!

Michael Rhodes, the Group Head of Innovation, Technology and Shared Services at TD Bank, had a session about the responsible use of AI in the Financial Services. Where the mantra of the tech industry has been to ‘go fast and break things’, financial services organizations have had to find a different way, in line with the secure and sensitive nature of their activity. Trust is crucial for financial institutions, so going fast is important, but there is a need to do so without breaking trust. Along with its challenges, AI brings opportunities, the main one is to act as a data aggregating tool of the interactions a client has with the institution over multiple platforms and locations (online, mobile, in branch, ATMs…) to shape the conversation between the institution and the customer.

During their panel discussion, Tomi Poutanen (TD), Marzyeh Ghassemi (Vector Institute) and Elissa Strome (CIFAR) went deeper into the discussion on the ethical and responsible use of AI. They explained how AI was reliant on the integrity of the data that is fed into the algorithm (feed biased data to an AI, and it will get very good at being biased with Machine Learning), how it was important for developers to be aware of ethical principles, and have them question the potential uses of their innovations before releasing them into the world. They also spoke at length about how Canada being a world leader in the field is shaping the future of AI for the better on the global scale by infusing AI with the building blocks and values of the Canadian society (democracy, respect of privacy, inclusion…).

Christian Weedbrook (Xanadu), Jessica Yip (A&K Robotics), Candice Faktor (Faktory Ventures) and JF Gagne (Element AI) discussed the opportunities and challenges of commercializing AI technology. The conversation revolved around the challenges that AI innovators encounter when monetizing their innovation to build a profitable business. The first challenge is to drive value from complex data by efficiently generating insights, challenge made more difficult by the lack of current infrastructure to scale AI models, such as data annotation and monitoring. Then comes the Intellectual property challenge, when developing the technology with a partner, long conversations and back and forth are involved to come up with terms that will satisfy both parties.

Talking about Intellectual Property and Data Law was the hot topic of the next session with Carole Piovesan (INQ Data Law) and Natalie Raffoul (Brion Raffoul). The conversation gravitated towards the need to have an IP strategy to protect the technology developed, and towards how to comply with data protection, data privacy and data ownership regulations when leveraging your client data in your AI model. Natalie Raffoul presented staggering statistics on how Canadian AI innovations are rarely commercialized by Canadian companies and end up getting bought by foreign owned companies.

Day 4 – Talent Stage at MaRS Discovery District

What we learned about
  • What are the digital skills and infrastructure Investments required to create prosperity in the digital age from Sabrina Geremia (Google Canada)
  • The tools and mindset that will shape the future of work with Caitlin MacGregor (Plum), Janet Bannister (Real Ventures), Sabrina Geremia (Google Canada) and Yung Wu (MaRS)
  • Whether AI will help decrease bias in the recruiting process from Genevieve Jurvetson (Fetcher)
  • How AI will shape the future of work from Armughan Ahmad (KPMG Canada)
  • How diverse teams are driving technology innovation with Jodi Kovitz (#movethedial)
Main takeaways

The main takeaways from all the talent stage sessions is that technology, especially AI, is shaping the future of work whether we want it or not. Repetitive, mechanical jobs will be fulfilled by machines, but it doesn’t mean jobs will be destroyed, it means new skills will be needed to maintain, oversee, adjust and operate that technology, and employees need to be informed and trained for this shift right now.

More nuggets of wisdom from Day 4

Caitlin MacGregor (Plum), Janet Bannister (Real Ventures), Sabrina Geremia (Google Canada) and Yung Wu (MaRS) discussed how their respective companies are preparing their workforce, HR department and infrastructures for the evolving demands of digital transformation with training programs for new skills to redeploy their employees, as well as investments in technology and infrastructures to support that shift of needs. They point out that change can generate anxiety and fear for workers, and that leadership’s role is to inform and reassure them. Amid the anxiety surrounding the future of work, Yung Wu (CEO of MaRS) points out that “The only thing that is permanent is impermanence.”

Genevieve Jurvetson reinforced that an AI model is as good as the build of the program and the data that is fed into the program. If a company wants to fulfill its diverse recruitment mandate, there needs to be a will to eliminate bias during the recruitment process, no tool or technology can do that job alone. She highlighted with a simple google search starting with ‘why are recruiters’ the frustration of job candidates.

Armughan Ahmad advocated for the digital up-skilling of the workforce to prepare for the business functions transformation brought on by AI. He predicts that AI, through Intelligent Automation, will come to support in an advisory capacity doctors, lawyers, salespeople… And that human skills like empathy and creativity will be in higher demand, as technology can’t provide a dimension of EQ. According to a study executed by KPMG, AI is expected to create 58 million new jobs by 2022, the jobs of the future include drone manager, digital tailor, medical mentor, human technology specialist, self-driving car mechanic or ethical sourcing officer.

Finally, Jodi Kovitz highlighted the growing need for a diverse workforce, not only of gender and minorities, but also of different educational backgrounds such as arts and psychology. To attract and retain those diverse talents, Kovitz emphasized the need for companies to create an inclusive environment, and to work on ensuring diverse employees feel a sense of belonging within the company.

We hope you got some good takeaways from our summary of Elevate Tech Fest 2019. If you want to discuss how you can apply some of the concepts and programs, we are happy to schedule a call with one of our experts.