Interzone intersecting tech talk with bleeding-edge politics

Interzone aims to put on this planet’s ‘most thought-provoking technology conference’ – and it’s happening this April at the Sheraton Wall Center in Vancouver. From the speaker list of 40 innovators and global CEOs, with stalwarts like SAP CEO Bill McDermott, Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes, Lavalife Founder Bruce Croxon and Code 20140 CEO Laura Weidman Powers, you might get the impression it’s yet another big tech-apalooza along the lines of Vancouver Startup Week or the recent BC Tech Summit – but this one’s a bit different.

Perusing the Script section of the conference website, you get a very different sense of what it’s all about from this bit, just for starters:

“April 11 and 12, 2016 is Year Zero for a new socioeconomic construct; where ideas trump inheritance, and where innovation can be achieved with next to no financial or human capital investment.”

Looking further down, you get a sense that the theme of the panels and speakers is about no less than up-ending our systems of corporate governance, investment and how we do innovation. Some topics up for discussion flirt with contentious conspiracy theory. For instance:

“But what happens when the same games are played today over monetary policies and international trade agreements, concentrating wealth in the hands of the already wealthy? When innovations that could benefit humankind are used to concentrate profits into the hands of a select few? When technology advances lock billions into spending ever-increasing monies they do not have on technologies they do not need? When the very act of participation in the digital economy marks one as a candidate for surveillance, imprisonment and death at the whim of unknown agencies?”

Is this a tech conference bridging startups and enterprise, or Occupy Wall Street West Coast? From my most recent Fallout 3 playthrough, recursive loops of Liberty Prime’s reassuring anti-Red words of wisdom start echoing in my brain…

At which point, I remind myself that this event is sponsored by the likes of IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. And that nominally straight-edge folks like BC Minister of Technology Amrik Virk, CBC’s Dragon’s Den star Bruce Coxon and TELUS Chief Data and Trust Officer Pamela Snively, along with the above-mentioned all-star lineup are all headlining this gig (not to mention myself – full disclosure, I’ll be moderating the panel, ‘American History in Binary Code’).

This is also the point at which I begin my chat with organizer Robert Brennan Hart, recognized as one of Canada’s most influential entrepreneurs by the Globe and Mail and also a self-described “manic purveyor of anti-establishment socio-techno economics.”

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Innovation meets revolution

Why are attendees coming out to Interzone this year – and what’s the deal with the conference’s unique mix of technology and politics?

“We’ve been doing Interzone about 5 years now and I can say it’s unusual because it’s purposely provocative, looking at the future of humanity, not just startups or tech in enterprise,” Brennan Hart says. “It’s looking at positive and negative outcomes of technology… These are more controversial discussions. Some discussions in the past have nearly instigated riots. This conference talks about a conundrum between trying to create technology that allows us to collaborate, versus being about monetizing and giving up privacy.”

Even the biggest technology companies coming out of Silicon Valley are seemingly not able (or interested) to change that system, Hart adds. “Uber claims to be one of the biggest sharing economy companies out there, but they’re not changing the user experience fundamentally. They’ve created more of a collaborated, democratized system – but the profits are not distributed any differently than other kinds of companies. This doesn’t allow human equality to be affected.”

Reaching out to a different kind of audience

It’s not common to put the startup and enterprise audience in the same room – but that both will have something to learn here, Brennan Hart says. “We don’t get deep into the technology or startups, but it’s more about the future of the Internet and how it’s driving the human race.”

Of course, for those looking to do some more traditional business networking, it won’t hurt that every speaker is a C-level executive.

A no-holds barred format

“We’ve been called the TEDx of tech conferences,” Hart says. “Fifteen minutes and you’re cut off. We force people to go on stage and deliver a keynote right there, off the cuff. It’s less contrived than through a corporate filter. There’s no Power Point on panel discussions. It’s all live and unfiltered.”

A diverse slate of speakers

Getting out to a lot of technology events for my BetaKit coverage, I can’t help but notice (“in 2016”, as our country’s PM might put it) that most events tend to have pretty skewed gender imbalances – with speaker slots of either mostly/all men, or entire panels of women where the moderator introduces the panelists by loudly and proudly noting their gender. Not so at Interzone.

“This is the only event that’s not a novelty event that has a 100 percent gender balance” with a 50/50 split of female and male speakers, Hart says. “This touches on what I was talking about before – Silicon Valley white men building things to make money. A lot of events that are more novelty-focused, we’re not talking about diversity from beyond a novelty perspective. It’s just about finding very intelligent people.”

BetaKit readers – we’re hooking you up with Interzone

Register for Interzone for only $395 using discount code BETAKIT395.  That’s $100 off the price of admission. Tell ‘em we sent you – and we’ll see you at the event!

Jonathon Narvey

Jonathon Narvey

Jonathon Narvey is a content marketing strategist and BetaKit Senior Editor. Living and working in the heart of downtown Vancouver, he's watched this city's tech hub grow and start to compete on a world-class level. He has learned most of what he knows about tech startups and entrepreneurial spirit by interviewing some of the most innovative thought leaders here and abroad. He's always up for learning something new about the startups, leaders and technologies that are changing our world.