(L-R) Ian Morton of Scout Environmental, Gail Carmichael of Shopify, Minister Bardish Chagger, NAO the Robot & Brian Loveys of IBM, Lauren Friese of TalentEgg & Don Newman at IGNITE, an evening of lightning talks presented by Ensight, at ARC the Hotel in Ottawa. May 11, 2016.
NAO the robot is a fan of the Trudeau government’s campaign slogan about sunny ways.
“I’ve been hearing a lot about sunny ways—this is very exciting,” the humanoid robot, powered by IBM Watson, said in response to human companion and IGNITE co-presenter Brian Loveys of IBM Canada. “I’m getting solar panels installed next week.”
Minister Bardish Chagger high-fiving NAO the Robot at IGNITE.
Drawing laughs from the audience and answering questions ranging from politics, artificial intelligence and the Stanley Cup playoffs (not to mention high-fiving Minister of Small Business and Tourism Bardish Chagger) NAO the robot was certainly a crowd favourite at IGNITE, an evening of lightning talks presented by Ensight.
From providing concierge and retail services to harnessing cognitive capabilities to detect security issues and perhaps most impactful, the stages of melanoma cancer, artificial intelligence has come a long way in recent years and NAO is a prime example of what the future holds.
“From all the market evidence and everything that we’re seeing at IBM, this is a key area of investment for us and we see this exploding in the future,” Loveys said in his presentation.
NAO and Loveys gave one of four powerful lightning talks at the May 11 event, which took place at ARC the Hotel in Ottawa and was also livestreamed on Periscope. Three other speakers took the stage to speak on a wide-range of current topics and how innovation in their sector and their ideas can inspire a shift in thought on public policy.
Gail Carmichael, Manager of External Education Programs at Shopify, focused her talk on computer science, coding and women in technology. As more Canadians understand at least some computer science, Carmichael believes there is a major potential for innovation to increase in Canada.
An important part of this growth, she says, will be introducing computer science earlier on in education, putting an emphasis on problem solving over complex programming, and creating a more inclusive environment in the tech sector.
“It’s really difficult to recruit women and other underrepresented groups and truthfully, it’s even harder to retain them,” Carmichael said, adding that members of these groups face issues like stereotypes and low confidence in their ability. “Ensuring students get insight into what computer science is when they’re in K-12—understanding it’s all about solving problems and not programming per say, is a huge help. Curriculum and pedagogy at all levels has to be carefully redesigned to be inclusive and engaging to a much broader range of students.”
Like Carmichael, fellow speaker Lauren Friese, founder of student and graduate-focused career website TalentEgg, has seen a shift in education—particularly in the millennial generation. Her focus was centred on the challenges post-secondary students and graduates face when transitioning into the workforce.
The Liberals promised to invest $1.3 billion over three years to create jobs and opportunity for young Canadians, while creating 40,000 youth jobs each year for the next three years through a new, annual investment of $300 million into the renewed Youth Employment Strategy.
“Of course it’s important to increase the total number of jobs available or open to youth in this country,” Friese said.
But in order to truly level the playing field and reward the investment many young Canadians make after high school, Friese says school-like training programs must be made viable for companies that don’t currently have the size or corporate responsibility budgets.
“By creating programs that subsidize the risk of hiring these inexperienced grads and incentivizing their training for employers, by disrupting a system that relies so heavily on the decision-making ability of a high school student, we can promote, instead of discourage, their innovation potential.”
Scout Environmental CEO Ian Morton touched on a completely different set of areas that have been prioritized by the current government—the environment, climate change and indigenous communities.
His company is using innovation to address groundwater contamination issues in northern Canada. He cited the $409 million commitment in the federal budget to invest in waste management issues in indigenous communities and emphasized the need to focus on how to design infrastructure to withstand extreme and changing climates.
“Climate is changing rapidly in these communities and we do not have the infrastructure to support a circular economy—roads, rail and engineered sites,” Morton said. “We need new ideas on waste management, including how to fund programs in the north. Let’s think about how we measure and monitor health in a lot of these contaminated sites.”
Ensight is looking forward to hosting IGNITE again in the future to continue this type of free-flowing policy discussion with government and stakeholders.
Jeff Blay, Enterprise Canada