Get over your inferiority complex, Ottawa: tech visionary

Innovators in Ottawa are just as likely to create the next world-changing technology as their competitors in Silicon Valley, a world-renowned innovation expert told a local conference on Friday.

Speaking at Invest Ottawa’s AccelerateOTT event, Vivek Wadhwa said innovation in Silicon Valley is almost dead. Today, he said, innovation is thought to be social media startups, not the transformative technologies of the past, such as home computing and mobile devices.

Mr. Wadhwa is the vice-president of innovation and research at Singularity University, a California-based organization that provides programs to assist startups. He predicts many of the world’s largest problems, including energy, water and education, will soon be solved by technology.

For example, he said there is clear evidence that solar power generation is becoming so efficient that energy will be cheap, renewable and plentiful within the next couple of decades.

And if green energy is solved, he added, it will allow for affordable technology to desalinate and purify ocean water, providing an abundance of clean water. He cited a South American company that has developed a system that can purify 35 litres of dirty water in five minutes, using only the electricity it takes to power a lightbulb.

And what of the millions of poor children around the world who can’t access education to improve their lives? Forget teachers, said Mr. Wadhwa – the solution is tablet computers as another three billion people come online.

His keynote included many bold predictions about technology that will change the world.

The digitalization of medicine could make doctors mostly redundant, he said, as the cost of monitors, such as those in smart phones, drops to mere dollars, wearable devices will constantly monitor our health and suggest remedies; the five-minute doctor’s visit cannot compare to 24/7 monitoring, he added.

Artificial intelligence is just around the corner, Mr. Wadhwa said, pointing to IBM’s Watson computer, made famous on the television show Jeopardy; he said Watson hasn’t only learned human language, he has now learned oncology.

He also predicted traffic congestion and delivery costs will drop as automated drones take the skies to deliver packages; further evidence of that is Google’s self-driven cars, which he argued are safer than human drivers.

“You have a chance to build world-changing technology right here in Ottawa,” said Mr. Wadhwa. “Get over your inferiority complex.”

Mr. Wadhwa was brought to Ottawa by The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), which is an example of the mentorship needed to tap into global innovation.