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What’s New in Innovation, 2024.

After a few years’ hiatus, I was excited for the annual meeting/exhibition/show of all things related to the future of technology and business. Sounds a little lofty, but an organization in my province (OCI) does a good job of pulling it off. It’s called DiscoveryX (the X is a recent addition). 

I went, as I have since 2010, minus 2020 to 2023, because, you know. It was an abysmal April morning, raining sideways, at a temperature enough above freezing not to be cute and fluffy white, but numbing enough that even outdoor enthusiasts would chose indoors with a complementary espresso. What follows are impressions from my wander through the event.

Inside was inviting, the cavernous hall (think multiple football fields in several directions) resounded with the enthusiastic chat of people seeing people they knew, meeting new people, and generally remarking on new and interesting stuff. Seemed like fewer gee-whizz displays. Maybe the state of the technology (AI isn’t generally visually or tactilely exciting) doesn’t lend itself to catchy displays. Previous years have featured robotic things scurrying around the trade floor, flight simulators to try and VR trials.

I paused at the tech being used to ‘link’ attendees. Name badges had a plastic button, 1.5″ diameter, used to record entry to various sessions, and to link to someone you just met. A good replacement for exchanging business cards, which I have no current versions of, because they are so last decade, from a networking and environmental perspective. It kinda cute: if you wanted to trade contract info with someone, both parties held their buttons until their lights flashed. A metaphorical bond.

Cute as it was, it was used to follow attendees around the venue. Sure, someone had visions of analyzing the data which tracked how many people when where, had common interests etc. to make next year’s show better. I can’t remember accepting to be tracked at the conference. More transparency would be nice.

On that note, one of the best statements I heard about personal data, was from a startup1 ‘People should be able to choose if and when they sell their data, and earn appropriate rewards’. Hell, yeah. Let the ground state be that my information is mine, and let it be known that each quanta of data that I disclose will rack up value to be delivered to me. Of course, the other side of this equation is that all of what we currently consume ‘for free’, which is actually in exchange for our valuable data, we will have to pay for. But if it is transparent that payment comes from trading data, then we should be back where we are right now, except with fewr assumptions and hidden agendas.

Symposium sessions and tradeshow displays covered all the usual and current topics in innovation: housing, AI, carbon capture, AI, financing, AI, diversity and inclusion in AI, the circular economy, autonomous vehicles, AI, health tech, cybersecurity, and AI as applied to all of the above. 

Wandering down the medical innovations aisles: the majority were about information exchange. My background in experimental therapeutics may be biasing me, but I couldn’t help but think that while increased efficiency in the exchange of patient data has awesome benefits for patient care and prudent use of healthcare dollars, there are countless situations where we need new treatments. Even the most abundant data sharing is only the ultimate solution if it results in a better cure for illness. As the song goes, ‘we need a new drug’.

Part of why I attend Discovery is to ensure I am up to date with the technology mega-trends. Check. And then, there are delightful encounters with the unexpected applications of existing things. A previous year, I learned about growing almonds in Ontario – had no idea that was possible. This year, I learned about making ‘leather’ from mushroom culture2. A true circular economy business. And beautiful products too.

Discovery is inspiring and motivating, a place to see the potential in the future. For an older attendee like me, this includes appreciating the next generation – of people. The keynote speaker, Randi Zuckerberg, was a wonderful example. She had tales to tell of modern entrepreneurship (the energy and the misogyny), social activism through social media, and an integrative approach to life that includes family, society, technology, art, and the pursuit of lofty goals. Something to aspire to.

Went to a session on ‘scaling’ which focused on raising the next round of financing. Money is the factor that may support it all, but I was keen to know about how business operations scaled. I’m sure there are tricky bits related to producing 100,000 products (even if it is software) vs. 1,000 products. How about hiring people, employees that you as the CEO won’t ever know very well, rather than your four best friends and their sisters? Not rocket science but still important for growing companies.

Another session I was keen to attend was about the housing crisis in Ontario. Exciting approaches and technologies were presented for ways to build more houses. Interesting information was provided about current policies and culture that impede building. What was lacking for me was any mention of affordability of housing. Homing the homeless seems like a top priority but was only mentioned as a response to a question. Granted, the argument presented, that if there was enough housing for all, all would be housed, has support from a market-driven perspective, but misses compassion for the human side of the housing crisis.

On a personal level, I re-encountered people from my life 40, 15 and 3 years ago. It was fine to see them and affirm that the Innovation ecosystem has been alive and well for decades. 

Was there a theme? An event like this is so multifaceted, what any person takes from it is personal. It’s for young entrepreneurs, middle aged, and older ones, too. It’s for business people, academics and public service folks. Lotsa different business sectors were represented, from baby food to industrial products, because what isn’t being innovated by AI, web 3.0, robotics, information processing, and misc other stuff? But it’s also about the people, people you know, people you want to know, people who are new to you and people who are doing exciting things. 

It’s astonishing that this event can be pulled off at all. But it has been. In 2010, when I was newly arrived on the Ontario innovation scene, a few people tried to explain what Discovery was and why I should attend. I’m still not sure what it is, other that ‘all things innovation to all people’, but I definitely know why I want to attend. 

Attending was fun, affirmative, and informative, as it has always been. And back to normal normal. 



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