Creators or Consumers – It’s Our Choice

By: Razor Suleman, Cofounder and CEO of Elevate

Both of my children will grow up during the most transformative time in human history. Modern homosapiens have been walking the Earth for over 200,000 years, however, we’ve made more progress in the last 200 years, than in all the previous years combined.

In 2016, the World Economic Forum in Davos declared the beginning of the 4th Industrial Revolution, known as cyber-physical systems, and it’s unlike any other era of evolution we’ve seen before. This stage is marked by the convergence of exponential technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, regenerative medicine, and autonomous vehicles, to name a few.

We are experiencing change that is unprecedented in human history.

The preceding revolutions saw us discover locomotion, electricity, artificial light, and computational power, which led us to what is now being termed, cyber-physical systems. With this shift, we are witnessing the evolution of technology as a vertical sector, growing to become pervasive and reaching across everything we now know.

The introduction of the cyber-physical during the 4th Industrial Revolution will change every system, every structure, and even what it means to be human.

So, what does this mean for Canada? How can we lead as our society re-forms using the opportunities of cyber-physical systems? I firmly believe we need to take inspired actions to shape the technology and the innovations that are created. Without action, Canada risks becoming simply a consumer of technology, rather than an active player.

With this in mind, there are three actions we can take to ensure our Canadian voice drives creation in the 4th Industrial Revolution:

1. Values-driven leadership

As we move into this new era, it’s not just the technological development that matters. It’s the values of the creators that shape how the technology is developed. Their biases unconsciously shape the algorithms that will determine the outcomes to some of the things that matter most in life.

Artificial intelligence is now programmed to determine if you qualify for a mortgage, or to assess whether your child gets into university, or to predict if you get a job. Each of these decisions is a combination of hard facts – income, grades, skills – along with softer values – i.e. are you married, does your child contribute to society in some way or do you contribute to the work culture?, etc. Sometimes, there is no true black and white between facts and values. Instead, it’s up to those who build the technology to determine how the values-based decisions are handled. These decisions will shape big factors in how technology integrates with our world.

Canadian Values

2. Investment in innovation

When it comes to cyber-physical systems, Canada can have an outsized impact by investing in innovation. Looking at the data, it’s clear; countries investing in innovation at higher levels, like Israel and Korea (each investing 4.3% of GDP), are invited to global innovation discussions. However, Canada has been falling behind; we are currently at an all-time low of investing only 1.6% of our GDP in research & development – leaving us excluded from the global conversation.

Canada has the knowledge, the skills and the people. We can amplify our voice at the table once we have the overall investment to match. It’s essential that we fire on all cylinders when it comes to building the investment, from corporate, to venture, to the government, and then we double down. One of the distinct ways we can show leadership is by investing in our technology sector.

3. The courage to be bold

As Canadians, we aren’t often described as bold, yet so many of our innovators and technologists proudly display this characteristic. The reality is that Canadians have always been bold, from investing in artificial intelligence in the 1980s, when all other countries were abandoning this nascent technology, to leading the world by introducing Universal Healthcare. These were big moves. More than ever, we need to be bold as we step into the future.

Looking ahead: what are Canada’s big bets? What are our moon shots?

Over the coming 20 years, my hope is that our children will be able to experience Canadian values reflected in the technology they use. Their generation will only know a world where technology pervades across every system and structure, but it will directly impact how they see themselves. The 4th Industrial Revolution is no longer a product of science fiction; it is here, and it is transforming our world.

For future generations, Canada must be ready to boldly be the CREATORS of new technology. If not, we will passively choose to be the CONSUMERS of someone else’s ideas – and that’s a reality I’m not ready to settle for.

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