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The new afterlife: How tech is helping people live forever

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The new afterlife: How tech is helping people live forever

Technology has transformed everything from what we eat, to international currency and even how we fall in love. Now today’s best entrepreneurial minds have set their sights on disrupting a far more challenging (and taboo) subject: Death.

Earlier this week a Silicon Valley-based startup called Nectome went public with a high-tech embalming process it says can preserve a human brain so it can later be uploaded to a digital cloud. The idea is that an individual’s consciousness — complete with quirks and memories — could then live forever. The downside? The fatal “treatment” is only possible through euthanasia because it requires a fresh, healthy brain for the procedure to work.

“If the brain is dead, it’s like your computer is off, but that doesn’t mean the information isn’t there” says @KennethHayworth, president of @Lets_Upgrade, in MIT Review. ‏

Right now the startup is still years away from commercialization, but the industry seems to be backing it nonetheless. Up to this point, it’s been awarded a $960,000 from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and raised $1 million in funding (with some of that amount from Y Combinator).

Of course, Nectome’s current success and ability to top news reports around the world isn’t shocking. The death market is a booming billion-dollar industry. It’s also one more reason analysts see it as a sector on the rise not just in North America, but also in influential markets like China.

In Canada, death services is a $1.6 billion industry, according to a report by the Toronto Star. The same story found Ontarians invested approximately $2 billion in funeral arrangements.

Is the ‘death market’ the next gold mine?

 
Everyone passes away at some point. In fact, death is a universal constant that impacts every person regardless of ethnicity, occupation or nationality. This makes it ripe for disruption and a slew of new startups are ready to do just that.

Entrepreneurs are creating new ways that either preserve a person’s life or make the death process easier.

Jevin Maltais, co-founder of a legal will generator called Willowbee, is one of those forward-thinking innovators. His startup helps consumers create wills that spell out everything from marriage to end-of-life care. Kevin Oulds, the founder of Willfull, another online legal will startup sees the digitification of services like estate planning become more and more popular.

“End-of-life and estate planning is just starting to move online, and it’s an industry that has a lot of potential for growth in the online space,” he explains. “Already I’ve seen everything from online memorial sites, to Facebook’s Legacy tool, which allows you to assign a contact who will convert your profile to a memorial account after you pass away, and of course online wills.”

For consumers hoping to use death services or industry-affiliated ones, it’s important to do your own extensive research first. “There are services online now that didn’t exist five years ago where you can talk with a therapist, invest your money and make an estate plan for an affordable price compared to traditional lawyers,” Oulds explains. “The key with services like [this] is trust, ease-of-use, cost, and time commitment. Users want to know they can trust that the documents created as legally-sound – we worked with several estate lawyers to create ours.”

The money behind living forever

 
Of course, eternal life comes with a price. Willful charges as little as $99 for its services while Nectome’s deadly procedure comes with a refundable $10,000 deposit.

Death-defying startups

  • Alcor: The Scottsdale company will freeze your dead body for $200,000 US (plus another $10,000 surcharge for users outside of North America or China) so it can be revived in the future.
  • Unity biotechnology: This biotech startup is focused on extending life through medicine that halts or reverses ageing so humans can live longer, fuller lives.
  • Calico: This Google-backed venture is still top secret but it’s working on creating a way to bring people back from major illnesses.

For tech enthusiasts looking at other digital alternatives, Eternime may be able to help. The startup, currently in beta testing, saves an individual’s online activity. It later uses that information to create a digital ghost that can interact with loved ones.

So far, the company has signed up almost 40,000 users. “This isn’t technology that is decades away,” founder Marius Ursache says in an interview with TechCrunch. “Building lifelike avatars is an iterative process. Think of it like search results; they’ll just get better and better, more and more accurate as time goes on.”

While the future is unknowable, the desire to live forever is an existential issue that has fascinated scholars for centuries. It’s only now that technology may be able to solve this complex problem once and for all.

Smart cities: Good or bad?

In recent years, both technology giants and entrepreneurs have set their sights on turning today’s biggest cities into self-sustaining metropolises.

For many, the city of Toronto is ground zero for future innovation and represents real smart city potential. For example, Sidewalk Labs, Google’s innovation arm dedicated to urban innovation, recently signed a deal with Waterfront Toronto to build a tech-focused neighbourhood on its shores. The revitalization project would use data-driven technology to transform the area and improve everything from transit to connectivity.

From science fiction to science fact

 
Of course, Google isn’t the first company to see smart city potential in one of Canada’s biggest cities. Entrepreneurs over the years have worked hard to create made-in-Canada tech to fuel future smart cities around the world. 

“The global smart city market is expected to reach $88.7 billion by 2025, according to market research company @NavigantRSRCH.”

In response to increased interest, the federal government launched its Smart Cities Challenge last year. The initiative gives municipalities and Canadian firms up to $50 million to come up with high-tech solutions. Meanwhile, Montreal’s Surveyor is building cloud-based software that optimizes how much energy-smart buildings utilize and Kitchener’s Miovision has discovered how to reduce commute times in large urban centres through public data.

Using cellular technology, Miovision adjusts traffic lights in real time. This means drivers are able to get from point A to B safer and quicker.  

“We’re basically putting …. an industrial cellphone into the little grey boxes that you see on the side of the road, and all we have to do is drill a hole in the side of the little cabinet, put an antenna on it and then we’re connected,” explained CEO Kurtis McBride in an interview with CBC.

The problem with smart cities

 
For tech’s early adopters and forward-thinking businesses, a focus on smart city technology could end up being a huge boon. While on the other hand, better-connected cities have the potential to widen the already growing gap between the rich and poor.

When it comes to regulation, not enough people are talking about the balance between innovation and inclusivity, explains Pamela Robinson. The associate professor, from the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University, recently participated in a panel that broke down how smart technology could impact Toronto. “We need to understand how this kind of technology maps itself on all of the people of Toronto and we need to start asking more people what they desire from this technology and what their fears are,” she adds.

Smart city issues entrepreneurs should be wary of:

  • Privacy: Cities create and improve smart services by collecting vast amounts of personal data. Safeguarding personal information will be crucial and necessary as connectivity grows.
  • Government: Public-private partnerships have emerged as one of the most popular ways to help finance big infrastructure projects. Learning how to navigate these tricky relationships is crucial. Entrepreneurs looking for national guidance an look to the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships or locally to Civic Tech TO.

Building smarter cities also mean dealing with new technology that can disrupt and threaten livelihoods. Just like how Uber and Airbnb transformed the taxi industry, smart cities can do the same for other traditional sectors. With disruption comes potential labour upheavals that can leave the disenfranchised in a vulnerable position.

The future is here

 
It’s too early to know how Sidewalk Labs and other smart city technology will impact the city of Toronto. However, it is clear that interest and potential aren’t going away anytime soon. According to the National League of Cities, a U.S.-based advocacy group,  66 per cent of cities plan to invest in smart city technology.

Best of both worlds: The non-profits that act like a startup

Technology influences everything we do. It affects how our economy runs, the way we vote and even the medical care we access. In fact, tech (and the startups that create it) are behind some of today’s most successful social breakthroughs and nonprofits are taking notice.

The new nonprofit model

 
In an effort to emulate their success, more not-for-profit companies are choosing to run their organizations like a lean startup. For Rumie founder Tariq Fancy the startup model has proven incredibly successful. 

Since launching in 2003, Rumie has provided its low-cost tablets — that hold up to 10,000 textbooks — to youth around the world. Through its technology students can learn about a variety of topics, which include science, math and history.

By adopting a scrappy can-do attitude and implementing new technological resources, they’re making a difference in the lives of those who need it most. Just recently the company was awarded the Google Impact Challenge award for their ongoing efforts while Fancy, himself, was named one of BNN’s Top 40 under 40.

According to Fast Forward, a U.S.-based nonprofit accelerator, the number of nonprofit startups has more than tripled since 2000. A figure that proves just how popular the concept has become over the years. More investors and wealthy benefactors are opting to invest in hybrid companies (like Rumie) with a social mandate. 

To learn more about how nonprofit startups are changing the world listen to  Robert Gold, host of BusinessCast, interview Fancy . Make sure to also visit our official iTunes page.

Two startup community champions you should know

Helping those in need is no easy feat for Canada’s gamechangers. Across the country, a network of organizations and partners work hard to make a difference in underserved communities.

In recent years, a better understanding about how crucial social services are and the unique role they play has made their job even more important. And, while some believe new technology is helping exacerbate inequality, a new generation of entrepreneurs are using it to make a difference in their own backyard. Meet two Canadian entrepreneurs working hard to help Canadians from coast to coast in innovative ways.

Janelle Hinds

Founder of HelpingHands, an application that matches students with volunteer opportunities in their community.

Janelle Hinds is on a mission to boost community engagement in Canada, especially in diverse communities. The app, recently awarded $210,000 by Ontario Trillium Foundation, comes a crucial time in the country since volunteering rates across the country are on the decline. Through it, students are matched with unique volunteer experiences based on their skills. Meanwhile, it also acts as a platform for students to showcase work to future employees and find organizations in their area.

Nadia Hamilton

Founder of Magnusmode, a digital platform that supports Canadians with cognitive special needs.

The company’s digital cards help break down everyday tasks into manageable steps and come complete with instructions. Each card features unique pictures and instructions to help individuals in their day-to-day life. As a result, users learn everything from how to go shopping to personal hygiene.

“What started with my brother as a spark has become something that literally I could not have imagined,” Hamilton said. “We have users from all over the world who are signing on.” Hamilton told The Record

Three black founders you should know

It’s no secret that Canada’s growing tech ecosystem suffers from a lack of diversity. For the country’s minority entrepreneurs, it can be challenging to find the right talent and even the resources needed to grow a business.

A 2017 report by Pitchbook, a U.S.-based investment firm, found that access to startup capital was one of the biggest impediments to black entrepreneurial success. What’s more, not-for-profit group Project Diane found black women, in particular, had a hard time raising upfront money. Between 2014 and 2017 black women founders made up less than 0.2 per cent of all venture deals during that time.

Despite these sobering facts,  Toronto’s black entrepreneurs are having a big impact on the local tech scene. Here are three local entrepreneurs who are transforming their respective industries.

Aisha Addo

Founder of DriveHer, a ride-share service that provides safe rides for women

Aisha Addo, a serial entrepreneur on a mission, is no stranger to hard work. Before launching DriveHer she created Power to Girls Foundation. The Canadian organization helps marginalized young women of colour find valuable mentorship and leadership opportunities.

Over the years her hard work has earned her a slew of impressive awards. However, it’s her most recent venture that has landed her on our list of top tech entrepreneurs. Last year she launched DriveHer, a new car service that offers women safe transportation around the city. The Uber-like company only hires female drivers and picks up female passengers.

DriveHer comes at a crucial time in the industry; several ridesharing companies are grappling with how to deal with sexual assault and domestic violence that primarily impacts female passengers.

Andray Domise

Founder of Techsdale, a community tech program for youth in Etobicoke

Andray Domise may not be known to Torontonians outside of tech, but his impact can be felt across the city.

“It’s really important to get young people exposed to this early. This the direction the economy is going. a lot of the jobs that are now going to be phased out.” @AndrayDomise

The communication director for The Black Business Association founded Techsdale, a community program that teaches at-risk youth how to code. The initiative started as a way to diversify Toronto’s tech scene but has slowly grown into a much-needed resource for at-risk teens in the area. The goal is to provide black youth new career paths and make a difference in an industry sorely lacking in diveristy. “We do this because we see how much potential exists in these areas,” he says.

Manu Kabahizi

Co-founder and CTO of Ulula, an analytics platform that provides companies with tools to monitor human rights risks

Manu Kabaizi, co-founder of Toronto-based Ulula, is helping make the world a better place through tech. His company’s platform is tackling a pervasive problem that impacts both big and small businesses: forced labour.

A recent report estimates that over 40 million people are victims of forced labour or modern slavery. In fact, forced labour has quickly become a global challenge, which the UN contributes to $150 billion in illicit profits and primarily impacts women, children, persons with disabilities and minorities around the world.

Ulula’s mobile platform helps combat forced labour overseas by letting businesses monitor human rights risks, and measure social and governance risks. It also helps employees share their insights instantly to help companies improve working conditions.

 

With the rise of Toronto comes greater responsibility

Toronto is one of the top tech cities in the world. Our influence is felt around the globe and for good reason. The city of 6.2 million is the largest in Canada and home to a long list of successful companies that range from artificial intelligence startups to fintech firms.

Our secret asset

Although, what sets us apart from our international competitors goes far beyond just our award-winning tech hubs and multi-million dollar trade pacts. Our secret weapon lies in our diversity and generous welfare system. It’s these feature that give founders behind tomorrow’s game-changing companies a chance to pursue their dreams and recently helped attract top talent and companies from south of the border.

“We’re in jeopardy of losing out to other megacities that can offer the one thing we can’t: meaningful collaboration” @asnobar

But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. We need to learn how to better collaborate and create lasting partnerships with other Canadian tech institutions. Through this, we can ensure our startups benefit from any new innovation taking place within our borders. The beauty of Toronto lies in the fact that we’re not Silicon Valley North or a replacement for San Francisco. We are Toronto and proud of it.

To read the full story, visit Huffington Post by clicking here.

The best techy holidays gifts for entrepreneurs

Finding the right gifts for loved ones can be tough. If you’re stuck on a budget, buying the perfect present — that’s both useful and functional — can seem almost impossible. Thankfully, we’re here to help.

Whether you’re shopping for a banking billionaire or a teenage mogul in the making, these gifts are bound to please. Take a look at our list of top suggestions for $50 or less below.

Camkix universal 3-in-1 camera lens kit
Gift guide lens_kit

This affordable kit is the perfect present for entrepreneurs who rely on their camera for professional-looking pictures for both work and play. It’s high-tech band and lenses are compatible with smartphones and tablets and easily sync to Bluetooth so users can share photos wherever they are.

Price: $12.49/Amazon

Satechi desk charging hub

gift-guide_satechi
If you’re in need of a fashion-friendly USB port look no further. The Satechi charging hub can accommodate up to seven devices at one time and includes velcro straps to prevent cable clutter. It’s sturdy enough for even the clumsiest entrepreneur and comes with surge protection, anti-scratch silicone pads and a five-year warranty to guarantee you’ll only be one outlet away from a full charge.

Price: $29.99/Amazon

Flic

gift-guide_flic
This Bluetooth-enabled button may look unimpressive at first glance but can automate almost any function or device in the office and home. Once placed on a wall or hard surface it can be programmed to regulate everything from control temperatures to dim lights and even send texts using the device’s mobile app. Bonus: It’s weather-resistant exterior and comes with a two-year battery life. 

Price: $34/Amazon

Amazon Fire 7 tablet

gift-guide_fire-tablet
Looking for a cheap tablet that does it all? Enter: Amazon’s Fire 7 tablet. The device is thin and lightweight making it more than suitable for busy entrepreneurs on the go. It also boasts a 1.3GHz quad-core processor, eight hours of battery life and access to Alexa, the company’s digital assistant.

Price: $49.99/ Amazon

Seagate 1TB external hard drive 

gift-guide_seagate
It’s never been easier or cheaper to find dependable external storage for your computer. If you’re willing to spend a bit more this season, the Seagate 1TB external hard drive is a gift any entrepreneur will appreciate and works with both PCs and Macs. It features a solid-state drive (or SSD), which uses flash memory to store data faster, and provides 1 terabyte of space for all-important documents, movies and other media.

Price: *$49.99 /Amazon

*limited-time holiday offer

The future of Journalism: Tech and news collide

Layoffs have become fairly common in the Canadian journalism industry.

Last month approximately 290 journalism jobs were eliminated and more than two dozen community papers across the province shuttered. That’s in addition to the dozens of other layoffs that took place at prominent outlets — Maclean’s magazine, BNN,  Ottawa CitizenMontreal Gazette and more —  this year.

Since 2010, the news industry has seen a steady decline in print newspapers and local journalism. A 2017 Public Policy Forum report found that last year fewer than one in five Canadian households purchased a newspaper and television news revenue has dropped about 10 percent every year. Meanwhile, in the last seven years, approximately one-third of all Canadian journalism jobs have disappeared. 

As news organizations continue to fight for survival, many are looking outside of the industry for new opportunities. Some of the industry’s biggest brands are betting on journalism-tech hybrids and media entrepreneurs to help it adjust to the changing marketplace.

Death by 1,000 papercuts

Today’s downsizing, even at some of the country’s largest publications, isn’t unusual. Legacy news organizations are grappling with falling ad content, increased online competition and an unsustainable revenue model.

In order to reverse the industry’s failing economics a new business model is needed. Some of journalism’s top influencers agree. They’re working hard to instil the same type of Silicon Valley spirit that transformed the tech industry within journalism. For example, the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship program encourages its students to develop new “digital media products.” City University of New York‘s Entrepreneurial Journalism certificate program gives students hands-on journalism and tech training they need to start a successful media business.

“Front-end media entrepreneurs are creating news content — from comics-journalism apps and digital voter guides to state watchdog initiatives. Back-end entrepreneurs are building mobile apps, scraping data, and automating tasks.” @janjlab of J-Lab.

In Canada, tech and news stakeholders are doing the same. This week, the DMZ — the number one university-based incubator in the North America — launched the Digital News Challenge Innovation ChallengeThe initiative is a joint partnership with the Ryerson  School of Journalism at FCAD and the Facebook Journalism Project. It will provide early-stage tech companies with the tools they need to push their startup to new levels. It’s hopefully a telling sign of more positive changes to come in an industry still trying to find its footing.

Can (Canadian) journalism survive?

The financial troubles facing Canada’s journalism landscape aren’t unique. Journalism outlets around the world are encountering the same difficulties. Even longstanding institutions, like the New York Times, have seen a decline if not outright collapse over the years.

For instance, this year the NYT added 308,000 new digital subscribers in its first quarter, likely buoyed by the Trump presidency. It also saw its digital revenue rise by a whopping 18.9 per cent. Despite these bright spots, its print revenue advertising — the company’s biggest money-making metric — fell by 17.9 percent.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. If newspapers can support emerging media startups, media companies in Canada can flourish and avoid a similar fate. A 2017 journalism report found Canada’s  ingenuity and adaptability in face of strong U.S. competition is its secret strength.  

So, what does this mean for the future? Mediapreneurs that create a product that gives readers access to more online opportunities are set up to win. Thankfully, it’s never been easier for small firms to enter the media space. Digital startups that have found multimillion-dollar success, like Canadaland and Buzzfeed, prove that journalism startups can win if given the chance.

The future is female: How women are redefining A.I.

There’s no shortage of new stories about artificial intelligence (also known as A.I.) these days. The cutting-edge technology is driving billion-dollar investments, turning founders into millionaires overnight and increasing competition amongst the biggest businesses around the world.  

As the industry matures, A.I. will revolutionize how humans interact with the world. Interestingly, some of today’s new breakthroughs are fueled by women. It’s hopefully a telling sign of what’s to come when women are making important moves behind the scenes.  

The drivers of change

 
Despite significant gains made in the last decades, women still remain underrepresented in STEM, and the A.I. field is no different. Given the preponderance of men working in the industry, the achievements made by just a few women end up making their success all that more impressive.

“AI is a technology that gets so close to everything we care about. It’s going to carry the values that matter to our lives, be it the ethics, the bias, the justice, or the access…” @drfeifei

Megan Anderson, business development director at Integrate.ai, is one of a growing number of female leaders working in the industry. Her role, which focuses on driving and implementing new growth opportunities, has helped grow the company (more than $9 million raised in 2017 so far). That accomplishment, including being named to the Top 25 Women of Influence, has put her in the spotlight. It’s also highlighted the impact women like Anderson are having in A.I.

“I would love for more women to make the leap into careers in tech, even if they don’t have STEM backgrounds,” she says. My background is in management consulting, but I am an analytical person with intense curiosity so I took the leap into tech.”

While more women are needed, Anderson points to industry leaders —  like McGill University professor Joelle Pineau and Fast Forward Labs CEO Hilary Mason — who are showing a new path forward.

“AI companies need lots of skills and talents in addition to engineering, like sales, customer success, operations, etc. As long as you learn quickly, stay curious and leverage skills that you have built in other sectors, it is never too late to jump into tech.”

Education is key

 
Dr. Inmar Givoni, Autonomy Engineering Manager at Uber ATG (the company’s self-driving division), is also blazing a new trail. Her company is on the frontline of driverless car technology. Last year, the company famously launched a fleet of self-driving cars in San Francisco.

These days the technologist is used to being the only woman in the room. While she’s not surprised that women are now being recognized, more needs to be done. The key, she says, is to focus on introducing tech to the next generation as soon as possible.

“There’s no point in trying to get more women into A.I. specifically. I think the effort should be towards getting women into STEM,” she explains. “From my perspective, it basically starts as soon as the baby’s born. When a girl is given a shirt that reads ‘I’m a princess’ and the boy gets one that reads ‘I’m a hero’ it already sets a mindset of expectations for [the child] from society.”

Other leaders in the industry agree. Stanford professor and A.I. researcher Fei-Fei Li’s organization, AI4All, is partnering with universities to inject much-needed diversity into the field. “We need to get them young,” she shared with Wired magazine earlier this year.

Making a difference

 
Even though men right now outnumber women, there is hope at the end of the tunnel.

Influencers and stakeholders are now making a dedicated effort to improve those numbers. The Women in Machine Learning Conference, launched in 2006, is doing its part. Through it, entrepreneurs can network, find connections to mentors and learn more about the field.

A little closer to home, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) is helping in as well. The organization, probably best known these days for its role leading the $125 million Pan-Canadian A.I. strategy, is championing women at all levels.

Dr. Alan Bernstein, president and CEO of CIFAR, is keen to see change since diversity is crucial for innovation.

“Diversity is our strength. At CIFAR, we’ve known that since we started. We have a strong view that for the advancement of knowledge you need diversity,” Dr. Alan Bernstein, president of @CIFAR_News

As part of their efforts to increase opportunities for women, CIFAR is putting in place ways to increase diversity. “You don’t make as much progress having 10 of the same person in the same room. When you have people with different perspectives sitting around the table, you end up with different questions being asked, and better results.” While change takes time, Bernstein is optimistic. “We’re going to see a big difference in the coming future,” he explains.

 

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