Researchers and entrepreneurs from the University of Toronto are set to showcase their innovative work to a global audience during Elevate 2019, Canada's largest technology and innovation festival. The week-long event, which kicks off Friday, features hundreds of speakers and is expected to draw tens of thousands of attendees. U of T will play a central role thanks to its contributions to Toronto's thriving technology ecosystem and research that underpins key advances in fields like artificial intelligence (AI) and precision medicine. At this year's festival, U of T experts will be featured prominently at Elevate AI, a day-long program on Sept. 25 devoted to conversations around AI research, applications and commercialization held at the MaRS Discovery District. The scheduled speakers include Brendan Frey, the founder and CEO of Deep Genomics, which is using AI to build life-saving genetic therapies.
Today, no two letters will evoke more excitement and anxiety than A.I. Helen Kontozopoulos, a lecturer at the University of Toronto and co-founder of the Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab (DCSIL), is all-too-familiar with the emotions A.I. evokes. However, she argues that we can make A.I. work better into the future if we adopt a holistic Artificial Intelligence framework. Helen co-founded the University of Toronto's Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab "DCSIL" in 2015, an incubator and accelerator for early-stage startups in Canada. DCSIL's startups focus on artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, AR/VR and cybersecurity technologies, Helen works with these teams on their strategy, growth, industry relationships, and UX areas of their ventures. She is directing efforts at DCSIL to foster innovation and commercialization through entrepreneurship programs, curating talent development, supporting tech transfer and increasing industry collaborations.
For the second year in a row, Elevate TechFest, Canada's largest technology and innovation festival, took over downtown Toronto in September as over 10,000 members of the tech community, including investors, government, media, start-ups, talent and next generation innovators all gathered to "disrupt together, celebrate diversity and inclusiveness, and proudly showcase the best of Canadian innovation." As a community driven festival, Elevate provides a shared stage for Canada's booming high tech startup ecosystem to showcase their work, and to learn and network through numerous events, educational presentations, award ceremonies, and social gatherings. The result is an exceptionally inclusive and collaborative entrepreneurial platform which highlights Canada's greatest competitive advantage to attract talent and investment for the next generation of innovation. This is particularly relevant in the fields of AI and health/medical technology, with Canada being uniquely poised to drive AI innovation in the healthcare field as a global leader in AI technology with its universal healthcare system. Canada's strength in AI and medical technology was emphasized throughout the various Elevate events and tracks by the prevalence of growing companies developing machine learning and digital health solutions with the goal of democratizing AI powered medicine.
Thanks in part to research at the University of Toronto, Canada has emerged as an early leader in the artificial intelligence revolution – but truly reaping its rewards will require political vision, an ongoing commitment to diversity and an appetite for winning that, outside of hockey, is rather un-Canadian. That was one of the themes that emerged from this week's Elevate Toronto festival, a three-day event that was designed to showcase the city and surrounding region's growing clout in technology and innovation. "Toronto was and is at the forefront of AI," said Urtasun, who is now the head of ride-sharing giant Uber's new self-driving car lab in Toronto. "The machine learning group, for example, at the University of Toronto is one of the best groups in the world." Originally from Spain, Urtasun added that Toronto's reputation as a diverse, cosmopolitan city was also a major draw.
Toronto's tech boom – driven in part by artificial intelligence research at the University of Toronto – has prompted talk of a "Silicon Valley North." But those actually ensconced in the Bay Area instead paint a picture of a research-driven innovation hub that's collaborative, inclusive and uniquely Canadian. At this year's three-day Elevate technology "festival" in Toronto, Eric Schmidt, a Google board member and former CEO, lauded the way Canada's post-secondary sector is being used to power the country's innovation engine and said Canada should be home to "one or two" of the globally important companies that spring from the coming AI revolution. "You have strong universities and the government is actually small enough, and sane enough, to help universities," Schmidt told a packed auditorium at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts minutes before former U.S. vice-president and climate change crusader Al Gore took the stage. He added that Canada also benefits from close ties between post-secondary institutions and industry players.