Moses Znaimer’s annual ideacity conference, known as Canada’s
“Premier Meeting of the Minds,” took centre stage last week at Toronto’s Koerner Hall. The legendary think-fest, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, featured a roster of world-renowned influencers, revolutionary iconoclasts, cutting-edge entrepreneurs, popular performers, and intriguing activists, agitators, dreamers and eccentrics.
In case you missed it, scroll down for our ideacity2019 highlight reel.
Privacy vs. convenience: Roger McNamee
A Silicon Valley investor for 35 years and cofounder of venture capital and private equity funds, Roger McNamee is the author of the bestseller Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.
He appeared at ideacity via live video to warn that “it’s not just about Facebook. It’s about a business model, what Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism — collecting all the data that is out there.
“The mass of surveillance creates a data voodoo doll that is not only a representation of us but a way to manipulate our behaviour.”
He also had a special warning for Toronto and the city’s plans to host Google’s Sidewalk Labs high-tech mini-city on the waterfront.
“Toronto is ground zero for what is the equivalent of the moon landing for this experiment that Google is conducting, where they gather up all the data that is going through their system and monetize it.
“Whatever Google is telling you today (regarding the waterfront project) is just the first step. They’re clearly planning that the waterfront is a beachhead.”
Democracy & Freedom of Speech vs. the Age of Surveillance & Disinformation
Religion and freedom of speech: Tarek Fatah
Tarek Fatah, Toronto Sun columnist, author and founder of the moderate Canadian Muslim Congress called on the press and politicians for more complete reporting about moderate Islam in Canada and less fear about appearing to be Islamaphobic. He also mentioned his dismay about the respect for sharia law in an Ontario court of law and about how more attention was paid to the murder of 51 Muslims in Christchurch by a white nationalist than the murder of 300 Catholics in Colombo by Isis.
Is technology rebordering the world? Janice Gross Stein
Remember how the internet and the world wide web were supposed to break down barriers between nations and usher in a new era of international cooperation, to get around governments and to make democracy deeper and richer?
“Well, I’m here with bad news,” said Janice Gross Stein, University of Toronto professor and founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
She says that the 5G platform, which will be worldwide in a few years, is “at the frontier of re-bordering [and] dividing our world.”
“It’s going to be so fast and so powerful, it’s going to connect everything to everything — all electricity systems, nuclear power stations, hospitals, transportation systems, air control systems, everything will be connected to and based on the 5G platform.
“And there is all out competition between China and the U.S. as to who builds that 5G platform.
“Huawei is the current world leader. They are the world’s most efficient maker and provider of 5G technology. They have the huge advantage of scale. And this all out competition,” predicts Stein, will be “the end of the world wide web.”
Good governance: Hazel McCallion
Zoomer‘s very own cover star, Hazel McCallion, 98, strode onto the stage and proceeded to deliver, without notes, a fact-and date-filled recap of her career which, she was pleased to say, included a stint as a professional ice hockey player in Montreal “way back in the 1940s.” Elected mayor of Mississauga 12 times, Hurricane Hazel spoke about how good government “is all about listening to the people, involving the people to keep them well informed. I believe that’s what democracy is all about.”
Rule of law: Marie Henein
Toronto Life dubbed her the “smartest, toughest, most sought-after defence lawyer in the city.” Former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant said she seemed to “channel Hannibal Lecter.” Hockey coach David Frost called her “my shark.”
The rock star criminal defence lawyer captivated the audience he way she captivates and convinces judges, prosecutors and juries in many of Canada’s highest profile trials: CBC star Jian Ghomeshi, former Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.
The Transition from The analogue world to The Digital World: Wade Davis
Adventurer, anthropologist and prolific author, Wade Davis recapped the transition from the analogue world to the digital world. Now, he said “with every interaction, the user revealed something of himself: raw material that could produce predictive products — what any consumer would do now, soon, later, tomorrow — sold and bartered to companies willing to pay for your individual experience turned into behavioural data to do with what they wanted.” He also noted that “traditional media are no longer gatekeepers of information. Facebook is the primary source of news for nearly half the U.S. population, he said. “To a shocking degree people are unable to differentiate between real news and sponsored news articles.” Where any of this leads is uncertain, he said, “but if politicians can win by lying they can use lies to gain and hold onto power indefinitely.”
Beyond edibles: Bruce Linton
When it comes to pot, “Canada’s Got ‘A Guy’” says Bloomberg Businessweek.
Indeed it does.
Bruce Linton, founder of Canopy Growth Corporation and co-founder of Tweed Marijuana Inc., became the first cannabis company in North America to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange in May 2018.
Which is, of course, as Linton says, “kind of a big deal.” But, interestingly, at the same time, he and his associates weren’t allowed to ring the bell. They weren’t allowed to get anywhere near it, and certainly not allowed to take photos with it, underscoring America’s complicated and often confusing laws around marijuana.
In his ideacity talk (above), he likens it to having a weird relationship, say in university where “maybe you were that person’s boyfriend, but for some reason you couldn’t meet her friends.”
So where’s it all going? Forget those bongs of yesteryear. Linton recently met with culinary queen Martha Stewart in Saint John, New Brunswick about partnering on a new line of cannabis-related cosmetics, food products and animal care.
Among a large range of other products, Canopy is also looking to introduce a new line of alcohol-free beverages infused with cannabis.
Post-Legalization – Progress Made & What’s To Come: Cam Battley
Cam Battley, the Chief Corporate Officer at Aurora Cannabis, a producer of medical cannabis and cannabis oils talked about Canada’s cannabis industry from a global perspective.
Cannabis 2.0: How can it lead to global prosperity? John Fowler
John Fowler is Founder and President of The Supreme Cannabis Company, Inc., one of the largest and fastest growing Canadian Licensed Producers of cannabis products and brands. He gives his perspective on the state of the industry now, and how it can lead to global prosperity.
The panel gathered innovators from the fields of health, science and retail to show how they’re using all of our data to change our experiences in ways previously thought unimaginable.
But before diving into that, ideacity invited 9-year-old Toronto singer Roberta Battaglia to the stage, where she dazzled the crowd with her powerhouse vocals.
The personalization of medicine: Alexander Tsiaras
Alex Tsiaras is the founder of StoryMD, an app that collects and stores your health records and personalizes it for you. Think of it as a Facebook page that, instead of posting family photos, updates your health records. on StoryMD, Tsiaris promises: “you’ll never walk away [from a doctor’s visit] saying ‘I don’t get it.’” Imagine you are suffering form chronic arthritis. Using the StoryMD app, you start to build an arthritis story line: enter how bad the pain is, upload your latest x-rays and catalogue your prescriptions. Your doctor or specialists will have your entire health story available and he or she can add to it with his or her own notes or recommendations. From your smartphone, you can download the number of steps you’ve taken that day right onto your story platform. If you’re confused about what the problem is, there is countless spectacular videos and images and related articles that will guide you through. And if you’re travelling and need to see a doctor, he or she will be immediately and thoroughly up-to-speed by viewing your StoryMD records.
The big downside of this hi-tech venture, (which has become a theme at ideacity2019) is that StoryMD, like other social media sites, will capture your data and sell it.
Cutting-edge cancer treatment: Anna Van Acker
Anna Van Acker, the president of Merck Canada, spoke on how our extended lifespans mean that one out of every two Canadians will experience some form of cancer in their lifetimes. Her company is disrupting the field of cancer treatment by exploring alternatives to the traditional combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Not only has Merck spent billions researching treatments (including immunotherapy, which unlocks your body’s ability to fight cancer) but it is collaborating with governments, business and organizations to make sure these expensive treatments get to market and are accessible. “Imagine if the next generation doesn’t experience cancer,” Van Acker told the ideacity2019 audience.
Re-engineering the credit card: Rash Katabi
In Canada alone, there are $16 billion of loyalty rewards points sitting there unused because we can’t be bothered to redeem them. Imagine a world, says Rash Katabi, founder of BRIM Financial, where you have one credit card that collects points you can use for “hyper-personalized” experiences that reflect who you are. With BRIM, all of your rewards sit in one spot and can be used for travel, dining or lifestyle choices that are relevant to you. That’s a vision we can all get behind.
Innovation in retail: Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen, of Zero Gravity Labs, explained how the brave new world of big data is making its impact felt at the retail level. In the future, we’ll walk into a grocery or clothing store and cameras will facially recognize who we are and match that with the purchasing history profile they’ve built on us. Once they’ve scanned our faces, they’ll enhance the customer experience by delivering coupons to our smart phones that directly match what we usually buy. And if we’re looking at a digital advertisement, it will change to match who we are. So the scanner will recognize if it’s a young woman looking at the ad or an older man. And the display will change accordingly. That’s very cool but also a bit scary.
Big brother is definitely watching: Jim Harris
If you jaywalk in China, says Jim Harris (who observes and writes about digital disruption), a camera will pick you out, match your face to its digital database, and register your transgression into your personal file. Jaywalk enough and you’ll be penalized, whether it’s a fine or a minus-rating on your social score. It’s worrying to think what will happen if your social score collects too many negatives. But not all disruptive technology is being used by despotic leaders to monitor its citizens. Harris says that the exponential growth in the computing power of microchips growth in the power of digital computation will foster massive breakthroughs in health. In the future, when we go to the doctor, he will be able to scan our whole genome and biome, alerting us to diseases of which we may be prone. And feeding our health records into an artificial intelligent database, doctors will be able to predict adverse health events before they occur, and treat them accordingly.
Disrupting philanthropy: Mark Halpern
If you thought that philanthropy was immune to disruption, you haven’t met Mark Halpern. The CEO of WealthInsurance.com, Halpern spoke of a new way to give to charity that not only gives you the good vibes of supporting a worthy cause but also makes sense from a financial planning perspective. Halpern suggests that most people with sizeable savings don’t realize how much of their estate will be swallowed up by the government when they pass it on to their heirs. Using one of his clever insurance schemes, Halpern shows how people can use charitable donations to bypass the tax man and, instead, leave their money to charities or their beneficiaries. Over the course of the years, he’s managed to maintain family wealth by reducing the tax burden and support good social causes. It’s a win-win estate-planning arrangement that you wouldn’t have thought possible.
Future of Space & Tech & AI & the Whole Damn Thing
Flying Cars & Artificial Organs: Martine Rothblatt
Martine Rothblatt got a rare standing ovation after giving her talk at ideacity2019. And for good reason: her life is nothing short of remarkable.
First the attorney-entrepreneur created Sirius XM Satellite Radio. Then when her daughter became ill with what was then a deadly condition – pulmonary arterial hypertension – she founded a company, United Therapeutics, to develop a drug to save her life. (The drug was successful and the company went on to sell several FDA-approved drugs to help people with the disease.)
Now Martine has taken on the not insignificant task of finding a viable way for people to live longer, or even, dare say, forever. She is not only interested in growing transplantable organs customized to a patient’s DNA, but also on perfecting something called mind file technology, which allows for the digital upload of our memories, passions, values and beliefs. We could then, for instance, transfer these files into some sort of digital extension of ourselves like a robot or look-alike avatar.
Too sci-fi? Wishful thinking? Consider Bina 48, the robot who was created by using the mind files of Martine’s long-term partner, Bina Asten.
Day three of ideacity 2019 explored topics relating to God and nature, delved into health and longevity and closed on a funny note with talks by two Canadian comic giants — Rick Mercer and Mary Walsh.
God & (Human) Nature
A Portrait of Jesus: Joan Taylor
In the morning’s God and Nature pod, Joan Taylor asked the interesting question: What did Jesus look like? We have so many images of Christ in icons, paintings and sculptures throughout history, but these are only representations. Christian scholar Joan Taylor discussed how the real image of Jesus is likely very different from traditional representations in art.
Following the Footsteps of the Group of Seven: Jim Waddington
Speaking of art, Jim Waddington enthralled the audience describing how he and his wife Sue took a once-in-a-lifetime wilderness trip that followed in the footsteps of the famous Canadian landscape painters known as the Group of Seven. Jim and Sue canoed through Algonquin Park, though the spectacular and stunning scenery that so enraptured the Group of Seven. Using their paintings as a guide, the Waddingtons successfully located the actual areas where the painters set up their easels. Ultimately, they were able to view the landscape through the eyes of the Group of Seven.
Anti-Semitism on the Rise: Anna Porter
On a less edifying note, Anna Porter, author and founder of Key Porter Books, spoke on an alarming trend that’s once again rearing its ugly head in many parts of the world. Documenting numerous anti-Semitic attacks, Porter concluded that: “Seventy-five years after the holocaust, anti-semitism is now mainstream again”
Health & Longevity
Dr. Mark Liponis: Can Money Buy Health?
Dr. Mark Liponis spent 25 years as the chief medical officer at Canyon Ranch — an upscale wellness resort corporation based in Texas — and spoke with a fair degree of authority on the matter of whether money buys health. The answer is yes … and no. He shared observations of a much different strata of patients, those of northern Laos — a region of Asia decidedly not described as upscale.
“Money can buy some health, but only to a point,” Lipones said. “Cancer cuts across incomes.”
Oh, “And, wealth is not a requirement for happiness,” he confirmed.
Diane Francis: Surviving Cancer
And on the subject of the big C, journalist Diane Francis returned to the ideacity stage, recounting her past year, which included overcoming Stage 5 ovarian cancer. The diagnosis came just days before she was to leave on assignment to the Russian front of Ukraine with Canadian special forces. That battle would be put on hold for the battle for her life. Now cancer-free, Francis attributed it to advances in treatment, yes, but also to her own good health. “Sleep, eat and exercise well — that’s my advice.” And she finished with one other piece of advice: “Put one foot in front of the other — for the rest of your life,” to which the audience responded with a standing ovation.
Dr. Carmela Abraham: Klotho: The Key to Longevity
Dr. Carmela Abraham had us at, “Would you like to live 10 to 20 additional years?” She says the answer may be the protein Klotho, a growth factor, hormone and enzyme, discovered more than 20 years ago. It’s since been shown to be beneficial in kidney function, Alzheimer’s disease prevention, bone density, Multiple Sclerosis and, yes, cancer. Its levels in the body deteriorate with age — and in the presence of various diseases.
The good news: more than 2,000 studies already have confirmed the protein’s therapeutic benefits — including life extension — and Abraham believes Klotho-boosting therapies, and possibly daily supplements, are on the horizon.
Rick and Mary
The day ended with a round of laughs courtesy of a pair of Canadian comedy legends from Newfoundland and Labrador — Rick Mercer and Mary Walsh. Mercer, 49, took the stage first to discuss what it means to be Canadian, while Walsh, 67, followed with a discussion about “wrinkled radicals” and redefining how we think about aging. And off-stage, Mercer and Walsh helped us close out the day and ideacity by each taking part in Facebook Live interviews, which you can watch in the videos below.
Click here to watch more fascinating talks from Moses Znaimer’s annual ideacity conference at Toronto’s Koerner Hall.
-With files from Peter Muggeridge, Judy Gerstel, Mike Crisolago, Tara Losinski and Cynthia Ross Cravit