PUTTING EDMONTON ON THE GLOBAL INNOVATION MAP: SINGULARITYU CANADA, GOOGLE AND BOREALIS AI HEAD WEST

The 2019 SingularityU Canada Summit is devoted to reinforcing Canada’s global role as a key technological innovator. Attendees will gain a deeper understanding of how exponential technology will benefit nearly every aspect of our daily lives.

By Doug Johnson

San Francisco, Bangkok, Sao Paulo: These global innovation hubs come to mind easily. Omitted from this list almost as a rule, Edmonton is something of a hidden gem in the tech world. However, increasingly, high-profile innovators are taking notice. The city is still a “story that needs to be shared,” not one that’s already told across the world, says Oren Berkovich, CEO and Founder of SingularityU Cana- da (the national branch of the lauded Silicon Val- ley-based think tank). Edmonton has been quietly paving the way in AI, big data and healthcare over the past few years. In 2017, Google’s AI company DeepMind opened its first international office in Edmonton. Richard Sutton, one of the fathers of modern AI, works as a computer science professor at the University of Alberta, where he leads the Reinforcement Learning and Artificial Intelligence research program (RLAI) — the university itself is recognized as a leader in the field. “Edmonton is a global hotspot for AI. Yet I don’t think, globally, people know it, and I don’t think enough Canadians know it,” Berkovich says. “It feels like there’s something unique here.” In October, Berkovich, accompanied by Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and leaders from ATB, EPCOR the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, Deloitte, and Suncor announced that Edmonton has been selected to host the 2019 SingularityU Canada Summit. The Summit will take place at the Edmonton Convention Centre (Shaw Conference Centre) on Apr. 23 and 24.

According to Berkovich, when the organization began sharing the news with staff in the Valley, the general response was “Where’s Edmonton?” Edmonton, on the other hand, had a very different reaction to the news. Leaders from the public, private, and social sectors — the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, EPCOR, ATB Financial, Health City, NAIT and CompuVision, for instance — signed on to work with the non-pro t organization for the event. This enthusiasm was part of why SingularityU chose Edmonton, Berkovich says. “Edmonton, Alberta, and Canada have an incredible story of innovation and leadership to share — with Canada and with the world,” added Berkovich. “Like Google and Borealis AI, we saw that Edmonton had the energy, talent, and drive to be a global innovation hub and we — like our summit partners — felt that it was time to really put Edmonton on the global stage.”

As a country, Canada has a rich history of innovation. Montreal and Toronto are other cities that have been applauded for their innovative approaches in the tech sector. A strong network of post-secondary institutions, including the U of A and the University of Waterloo, have helped position the country as a leader for producing STEM talent. Yet, on the business side of things, Canadians lack courage, found a 2016 report from Deloitte. Ac- cording to the report, in 2015, only 11 percent of the Canadian businesses surveyed were considered truly courageous, only 30 percent were evolving to become more courageous, and 15 percent of the businesses studied were deemed to be fearful. Also, according to the report, 69 percent of courageous businesses saw revenues rise in 2015 — compared to 46 percent of fearful businesses, 34 percent of which reported falling revenues.

SingularityU faculty focus on emerging technologies such as AI, robotics and blockchain. As experts in their fields, faculty educate and encourage others to develop an exponential mindset.

Convening more than 1,000 people in Edmonton and thousands more through satellite events across the country, The Summit aims to catalyze conversations about the future of technology, innovation, leadership and impact. With the mission to enable Canadians to think big, take risks and drive global impact — The Summit’s end goal is to enlighten and inspire. It will encourage attendees to embrace anew mindset that will allow them to build a stronger awareness of what the future could possibly look like.

SingularityU Summits take place in major cities around the world — in 2019 alone, there will be 25of them in cities including Tokyo, Sao Paulo and Berlin. The first Canadian event took place in 2017 in Toronto and presented bold ideas about the future to a crowd of around 1,400. From its earliest stages, SingularityU was designed with the hopes of bringing the brightest minds together and, through lessons and conversation, positively impacting the lives of one billion people in one or more of the world’s 12 “global grand challenges” — energy, environment, food, shelter, space travel, water, disaster resilience, governance, health, education, prosperity and security. Health, energy, prosperity and citizenship are the chosen challenges that will be the focus of the 2019 Summit.

“It comes back to this realization that we live in this unique point in time when individuals have access to technology, to capital, to talent that before only governments or large companies had,” Berkovich says. “At the same time, it looks like the challenges we’re facing as a society are only becoming more global and more challenging.” SingularityU began 10 years ago at the NASA Re- search Park in California when Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil wanted to create an organization whose sole focus was the future of humanity and exponential technologies (technologies with rapid growth). It began offering just a single 10-week summer program to help develop potentially world-changing ideas, and it saw around 6,000 applications come in for the 50 spots it had available. The non-pro t has since expanded to include conferences, a one-week executive program, classes and business incubators for fledgling start-ups.

After five or six years, there’s been this massive push from the global community to take [SingularityU] out of the U.S., and bring it to more local audiences,” he says. SingularityU Canada was established more recently — eight years after its parent group. Much of itswork is with larger organizations and companies in Canada, but it also hosts events such as The Summit, which brings together these larger partners with entrepreneurs, smaller businesses, students, researchers, and policymakers from all levels of government. Though there are around 150 SingularityU alumni in Canada —according to Berkovich — it was the aforementioned Deloitte report that sparked the organization’s expansion into the country. “The report … really highlighted the need to wake people up,” Berkovich says. “We’ve been sort of comfortably numb as a country, and we have a bigger role to play globally … It was almost like shock therapy, to get people out of their comfort zone.”

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