“Buckle up.” The promise of AI will transform healthcare, housing, and your job

More than 250 attend BetaKit Talks: AI in Action, hosted by Intuit.

Shorter wait times in hospitals. Organs produced by 3D printers. Affordable housing built through automation.

These are some of the promises of AI that will bring tangible benefits to people’s lives, even as the world continues to grapple with the ethical and regulatory challenges associated with the technology.

“The people who have the rigour of working with AI will replace the people who don’t.”

Dr. Anna Goldenberg, SickKids Research Institute

On June 20, an audience of 250 engineers, technologists and tech leaders attended BetaKit Talks: AI in Action, hosted by Intuit Canada, a limited series event designed to convene important conversations within the technology sector.

With the city buzzing as Toronto wrapped its final Collision Conference, the exclusive event focused on real-world challenges being tackled by AI.

Featuring Dr. Anna Goldenberg, Co-Chair of AI in Medicine for Kids, SickKids Research Institute, ​Salim Teja, Partner at Radical Ventures, and ​David Thompson, Director of Engineering at Intuit, the event was moderated by BetaKit CEO Siri Agrell and included a Q&A with Julien Billot, CEO of Scale AI, Canada’s Quebec-based artificial intelligence supercluster.

“We can talk about food, we can talk about agriculture, we can talk about energy – there are multiple issues that can be solved with AI and that’s a huge opportunity we shouldn’t miss,” said Billot.

When considering the possibilities of AI, Dr. Goldenberg envisions hospitals expanding their capabilities to reduce wait times and patients consenting to tests immediately recommended by AI, rather than waiting for a doctor – two projects that will go live at SickKids in the next few months.

“For some of the tests, we can predict with very high likelihood,” said Dr. Goldenberg. “Instead of waiting between admission and seeing the doctor for the first time, they can actually get that test done and the doctor will have the results by the time they see the patient.”

Teja, who leads the Velocity Team at Radical Ventures, said he’s excited about companies that will have a positive impact on the world and can shape Canada’s response to major global challenges. 

Radical is an investor in some of Canada’s most notable AI companies, including Cohere and Waabi. But Teja highlighted two other portfolio companies that he predicts will make important impacts through AI: Toronto-based Promise Robotics, a company using automation to speed the construction of affordable housing, and Vancouver’s Aspect Biosystems, which invented a 3D printer that uses AI to advance the field of regenerative medicine. 

Teja admitted that Aspect Biosystems’ pitch was something out of Star Trek, but shared that the company was recently able to prove that they could reverse the effect of Type 1 diabetes. 

“Just last year they took this initiative out to big pharma and they landed a $2.6-billion partnership with a company called Novo Nordisk,” Teja said. “This is an entire industry that we are able to create in Canada, to help our healthcare system. Export it globally, create jobs of tomorrow – it’s a fantastic story.”

At Intuit, Thompson said he gives his engineering team “run wild” time to “try out new ideas and go after solving a problem just because the technology exists.”

Julien Billot, CEO of Scale AI.

The company, which serves approximately 100 million customers worldwide with TurboTax, QuickBooks, Credit Karma, and Mailchimp, is focused on developing applications that can democratize the benefits of AI and positively impact people’s personal finances. 

“It’s really important that we know what problem we’re solving,” Thompson said. “How can we improve on the current state, and how can we enable entirely new ways for our customers to use our products?” 

Each of the leaders spoke specifically to the disruption AI will create in technical roles, and the need for the Canadian tech sector to focus on critical thinking and skill development. 

Dr. Goldenberg initiated a new master’s program between the University of Toronto’s computer science department and school of medicine to develop the people she needs: those who can understand and solve data challenges that prevent the healthcare system from innovating. 

“There are multiple issues that can be solved with AI and that’s a huge opportunity we shouldn’t miss.”

Julien Billot, Scale AI

“The people who have the rigour of working with AI will replace the people who don’t,” she said.

Thompson said his team stopped hiring people who use a specific programming language years ago.

“You need to hire people who can flex and grow quickly,” he advised. “We have to have our customer’s best interests in mind.”

Teja believes that AI presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will create new opportunities across all fields, and suggested that the audience “buckle up” because the road to AI adoption will be long and all-consuming.

“We are about to see an entire software industry get injected with AI… that is an industrial revolution-sized opportunity that we are embarking on,” he said. “I guarantee that regardless of what job you’re in, what sector you’re in, you’re going to be leveraging tools that are powered by AI.”

The three panellists shared similar frustrations about the speed of adoption, slowed by issues related to data, security, infrastructure, and regulatory restrictions. 

“The infrastructure is not ready. We are blazing a new path. We have to build the highway, we have to build all the systems, and it takes time,” Dr. Goldenberg said. “And even though I am constantly frustrated about how long everything takes, I feel like it’s important to get it right the first time.” 

The audience, which included engineers, computer scientists, and AI-focused builders, were encouraged by Billot to engage in public consultations that will inform how the Canadian government deploys its $2.4-billion CAD investment in AI, which he said will mostly be used for infrastructure.

When given the opportunity to directly engage with the panelists throughout the event, the audience asked questions about which regulatory changes they would champion, how they would address global disparities in access to technology, and when AI will take a leadership role. The answer: it already has.

Although the evening’s discussion alternated between exploring the potential of AI and its hurdles, the overall sentiment was optimistic.

“It’s an amazing area to be in now. I love it,” said Dr. Goldenberg. “It’s really something very inspiring, it’s not easy, but then once we get there, and we are very very close, I think it’s going to be really incredible.”

Images provided by Intuit.

Jacqueline Loganathan

Jacqueline Loganathan

Jacqueline is an entrepreneur, marketing consultant, and writer. She has a unique ability to simplify complex concepts, which is apparent in her business ventures and storytelling. Her articles have been featured in publications across North America. Jacqueline is currently building Hone, a startup focused on DIY home projects.

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