Tech’s moonshots: highlights from Elevate Main Stage


Elevate arrived at Meridian Hall on Tuesday, featuring a diverse lineup of speakers from tech companies, government, and entertainment, all the way to outer space. Here are BetaKit’s highlights from Elevate Main Stage.

Chris Hadfield talks exploration, innovation

Canadian astronaut and Elevate co-chair Chris Hadfield took to the Main Stage to talk about how the history of human exploration and how it has always driven innovation.

Hadfield, a highly-decorated astronaut, engineer, and pilot, and author of three bestselling books took the audience through the “moonshots” of history, from the first civilizations all the way up to landing on the moon.

“If you’re willing to give yourself a goal, and then fail regularly along the way … you can accomplish incredible things,” Hadfield said. “As we want to continue to prove things not just within our family, but across every circle, what really drives my mind is the underpinning of technology.”

chris hadfield
Chris Hadfield making his keynote address at Elevate Main Stage Courtesy Elevate Tech Fest

Hadfield also mesmerized the audience with a performance of his now-famous version of David Bowie’s space oddity, that he originally recorded on the International Space Station.

Bill Morneau: digital ‘foundational to virtually every business’

In the afternoon, Finance Minister of Canada Bill Morneau sat down with journalist Vicky Mochama to discuss how the federal government is planning to address some Canadian tech’s top challenges.

“So thinking about this sector is very much about thinking about opportunities.”

The minister, whose government is currently on the campaign trail ahead of the federal election, said one of the most important challenges faced by the government was that of wealth distribution, but that focusing on entrepreneurship was a key way to address wealth inequality and poverty.

“Thinking about this sector is very much about thinking about opportunities, giving people hope that the new emerging economy is going to be an opportunity for people to be successful,” Morneau said. “They’re not going to be left behind because they’re waiting.”

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He also discussed how the government has invested in artificial intelligence research, including the Toronto-based Vector Institute as well as a number of research organizations in Montreal, which is minting a strong reputation in the sector. The minister said his view is that investment in these initiatives like these is critical to advancing Canada’s reputation on a global stage.

“The reason we invested significantly in [AI] is that we see this as a fundamental building block for our economy going forward,” the minister said. “We see ‘digital’ as foundational to virtually every business.”

Replicability is Dan Doctoroff’s measure of success for Quayside

Toward the end of the day, Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff spoke with BNN Bloomberg’s Amanda Lang about what’s on the horizon for the Alphabet company’s plans to redevelop Toronto’s Quayside neighbourhood.

Doctoroff said the project has been “long” and “drawn-out,” which is to be expected from such an unprecedented undertaking.

“The ultimate measure of success will be whether what we do here is replicable in other places.”
– Dan Doctoroff

“We have to find ways of making cities fairer, making them more affordable, making them easier to get around in making them more sustainable,” he said.”The best way to demonstrate that is by literally building some district or neighbourhood in which you can combine all of the different elements that go into making city mobility, the infrastructure system, buildings, the way the public realm functions, even social infrastructure, and demonstrate what’s actually possible.”

It was discovered earlier this year that Sidewalk was planning to develop an area much larger than originally alloted. The company’s master plan, released this summer, spurred criticism from former privacy commissioner of Ontario Ann Cavoukian and Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory Panel, particularly on how data will be dealt with. Doctoroff reiterated, yet, again, at Elevate that open data was a cornerstone of the Quayside project, poitning to Sidewalk’s urban data trust.

RELATED: Waterfront Toronto raises concerns as Sidewalk Labs releases Quayside master plan

“We don’t really need very much personal data,” Doctoroff said. “What we’ve actually proposed is that we don’t want it. We’ve said, let’s invest control of that data in government-sanctioned independent urban data trust, and if there are types of personally identifiable information that we think could add value and help improve quality of life, we have to apply for it.”

“The ultimate measure of success will be whether what we do here is replicable in other places,” he said. “We believe we’re in this moment in time that we desperately need to figure out new ways of living in cities.”

Elevate, Design Exchange partner with UNDP

It was also announced on Tuesday that Elevate and the Design Exchange (DX) are partnering with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),to become the Canadian Headquarters of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

As the Canadian headquarters of the Sustainable Development Goals, Elevate DX will be responsible for facilitating year-round programming and interactive spaces to create actionable solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges, using design and technology.

This partnership comes after an agreement made by world leaders in 2015, committing to 17 sustainable development goals aimed at building a brighter future by the year 2030, some of which include ending poverty, reducing inequality, and tackling climate change.

The Main Stage also saw speakers like #Movethedial’s Jod Kovitz speaking about bridging the gender gap in the tech industry, Kickstarter founder Yancey Strickler also spoke about social inequality, Garrick Tiplady managing director of Facebook and Instagram Canada spoke to rebuilding trust in technology, with Martha Stewart also making an appearance on stage.

Image courtesy Elevate via Twitter

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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