Sprout Ideas Fellow: Exponential Thinking leading to Exponential Change (@ SingularityU)

November 23, 2017

By Daniel Ura, Sprout Ideas Fellow 2017/2018

This 6 month Fellowship program featured a summer intensive, bi-weekly events, mentorship, and micro-grants to support youth entrepreneurs kickstart their social ventures. Opportunities to attend events and conferences relevant to their ventures and paths as entrepreneurs were also provided. A sponsored ticket, provided by the generosity of Deloitte, to the Singularity University Canada Summit was given to Daniel as part of his involvement in the Fellowship.


On October 11 & 12, I had the opportunity to go the inaugural Singularity University Canada Summit. Held at Evergreen Brickworks, it was full of insightful talks, workshops, and exhibitions by some of the most exciting thought leaders in business, academia and research.

The Singularity University is a think tank and business incubator in Silicon Valley. It is the brainchild of Ray Kurzweil, Google’s chief Futurist and ideator of the concept of the Singularity. The Singularity is a hypothesized point in the future where technology will have become so sophisticated and widespread that machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence. Technologies like genetics, nanotechnology, and Artificial Intelligence will bring about exponential change to the world.

The theme for the summit was: "exponential", covering topics from exponential change to exponential business models. The emphasis on this word, and at times the overuse of it, made it challenging to appreciate the importance and weight of it. Ultimately, this is part of the shift in thinking that the event was striving to achieve. Overall, I felt this to be an impressive experience.

The event kicked off with an opening speech by Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the Singularity University:

Exponentials & Road to Abundance

  • Humans have evolved and think linearly (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.)
  • Technology evolves exponentially (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.)
  • Exponential growth is partially due to Moore’s Law, the idea that the amount of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years
  • Exponential growth demands new ways of thinking
  • Companies like Illumina ($100 genome in 1 hour) and new technologies like CRISPR (gene editing) need new business models to account for this exponential change

Following the opening keynote, individuals from diverse backgrounds covered the topic areas of finance and citizenship:

Andreas M. Antonopoulous - Decentralized Power

  • Modern social structures were born out of the Industrial Revolution
  • Society and organizations are subject to hierarchical structures
  • Common social institutions are now failing to scale and adapt to the digital world
  • Blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin is a P2P, flat technology. It erases hierarchy

    • Our legal structures are not equipped to understand and handle such a technology that contradicts hierarchical order. For example, in what jurisdiction does Bitcoin operate?

  • Bitcoin has the potential to scale institutions by scaling trust

Suzanne Gildert - Should Robots Have Rights?

  • Should robots have rights when it comes to testing for research purposes?
  • Protecting AI minds from hacking
  • Who supplies the training data to train AI to mimic humans? This will influence robot values and ethics
  • We must choose whether to delete AI minds and memories
  • What does identity mean for these entities?

After lunch, the topic of Health was brought into the conversation:

Zayna Kharat - The Future of Health

  • Today’s health paradigm is viewed as a System

    • Reactive
    • One size fits all
    • Silo’d, crude, analog
    • Centralized, paternalistic

  • Tomorrow’s health paradigm is Person-centric

    • Proactive, preventative, predictive, configurable, personalized
    • Decentralized, democratized

  • >30% unnecessary (government) spending on healthcare
  • Average time for medical theory to become practice is 17 years

Raymond McCauley - Programming Life

  • Writing, editing, and hacking DNA
  • Cost of human genome is decreasing
  • CRISPR allows for digital biology
  • Companies are utilizing digital agriculture

    • Okanagan Specialty Foods are able to turn down the chemical that turns apples brown - no more brown apples!

  • Hackerspaces are on the rise

Divya Chandler - Improving our Human Selves

  • Technology & accessibility
  • VR has been used in rehab therapy to help patients regain mobility
  • Computer chips implanted in paralyzed monkeys allow them to walk again
  • The Cybathon is an Olympic-style event where people with disabilities use assistive technologies to complete various tasks
  • Startups and other organizations are working at the intersection of tech and disability

As you can see for yourself, the first day of the Summit left me with a lot of information to digest. I was glad to end the day there to give my mind a rest and allow my body to stretch (after a full day of sitting through intense lectures).

I returned on Day 2, refreshed and excited. I was eager to attend workshops and I welcomed the opportunity to participate in something more interactive. The second day opened on a musical note (excuse the pun) with help from the Emerging Media Lab and the Institute for the Future. Musician Daniel Berkman demonstrated embodied computing, giving insight into the future of communication and how VR (virtual reality) might evoke empathy and presence. I highly recommend you take a look at this video of his performance.

Afterward, I went to a workshop on How to Think Like a Futurist. We played a game called The Thing From the Future where you have 3 prompt cards:

  1. In a(n) _______ future
  2. There is a _______
  3. About a _______

My group’s scenario was:

  1. In an alien future
  2. There is a law
  3. About work

Individually, we had to sketch out what we envisioned that future to look like. Then, as a group, we talked about our different futures. We then picked what we liked most out of all the scenarios to make another vision for the future. Ultimately, our shared future was a scenario where work was regulated to maximize human emotions like joy and happiness

The purpose of this game was to start a conversation about alternative futures. These futures were a fun and stimulating thought experiment. We started talking about the meaning of work and the enforceability of such a law. The point of foresight work is to develop these futures into scenarios that act as a guiding vision for organizations developing strategies. This is something I’ve worked on a lot over the past year and I’d suggest any organization of any size to give it a try.

Following this exercise, there was a brief workshop on business model generation using the Business Model Canvas. This was another tool I’ve used often, even to visualize my Sprout Ideas Fellowship project’s business model. There are other canvases you can use that are similar to this such as the Flourishing and Social BMC’s.

Before returning to the lectures, I had the opportunity to ride around in an autonomous car, courtesy of the University of Waterloo. Check out this video of my unique ride.

Once back at the lectures, I was intrigued by the impact these new technologies had on economics.

Amin Toufani - Exonomics

  • Combination of exponential and economics
  • Macroeconomics > Microeconomics > Nanoeconomics
  • Perpetuation of the parallel economy
  • Rise of Adaptability Quotient (AQ) - in an era of exponential change, how quickly and efficiently can your organization adapt?
  • Unlearning as a new core competency
  • Automation is increasing productivity and supply while replacing human capital
  • There will be a commodity oversupply
  • Exponential technologies are forcing governments to consider Universal Basic Income (UBI)
  • UBI spurs entrepreneurship

Before the end of my time at the summit I briefly went to a workshop on social innovation, in the hopes that it would be relevant to my studies and interests. It was moderated by MaRS Solutions Lab, which uses Human-Centred Design and Systems Thinking to spark innovation in FinTech, Health & Wellness, Youth Employment, and Smart Cities. While interesting, it seemed like it was straight out of my classroom like the other workshops. It was validating to know I chose the right program and direction. I look forward to continuing to pursue these ideas and exploring where exponential thinking will take us.


We would like to extend a special thank you to Deloitte for providing the ticket to attend the SingularityU Canada Summit.


Daniel Ura

Social Venture: Organon

Candidate for a Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation

OCAD University



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