Five Canadian tech leaders on what they’re most excited for in 2017

From social media to renewable energy, the country’s leading technology execs told us what they see as most promising trends for the year ahead

Computer science professor Yoshua Bengio poses at his home in Montreal, Saturday, November 19, 2016.

Computer science professor Yoshua Bengio poses at his home in Montreal, Saturday, November 19, 2016. (Graham Hughes/CP)

You can make the case that, at the outset of 2017, no business can afford not to be a technology company. Technology has so pervaded the day-to-day operations of virtually any company—not to mention the behaviour of its customers—that very few leaders can afford to ignore the prevailing trends. So, we asked five of Canada’s top tech executives to reveal the trends they’re most excited to witness—and participate in—over the year ahead:

1. Canada will become an AI leader

“I’m a technology optimist. We’re entering a new era in which people will experience computing more naturally and seamlessly in the context of their lives, powered by intelligent assistance and the cloud. This transition is as significant as the move over the last decade from desktops to mobile devices.

“I’m particularly excited to see how advances in artificial intelligence and deep learning research in 2017 will make a material impact on the consumer products we interact with every day. I also expect to see indications of AI making positive contributions to health sciences.

“This is a particularly exciting moment for Canada, which is fast becoming a global powerhouse in AI. The pioneering work of Yoshua Bengio at the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms and Geoffrey Hinton, who splits his time between Google Toronto and his lab at University of Toronto, has fostered a rich culture of academic research in Canada. And what we’re seeing right now is academic institutions, large companies, startups, incubators and federal investment coming together to support a shared vision: To make Canada the global leader in AI research. It’s really exciting to see this kind of focus in Canada on a technology that will define innovation for years to ”

Sam Sebastian, managing director, Google Canada

2. Every business will undergo digital transformation

“I’m excited to see what’s possible in this new world of digital transformation. Businesses and organizations are now recognizing the essential role technology will play in their ability to not only thrive, but to simply survive in this new digital world. Digital transformation is changing every industry – and we expect 2017 to be a hallmark year for innovation in the areas of clean energy, improved health care, better customer interactions and operational efficiencies. Disruptive technologies such as blockchain, virtual reality and mixed reality, AI and the Internet of Things will have increased demonstrable applications in Canada and around the world. Canadian entrepreneurs and startups have a leading role to play here, keeping our brilliant minds and new graduates here at home in Canada. ”

—Bernadette Wightman, president, Cisco Canada

3. Social media will pervade all facets of customer behaviour

“Social media is playing a bigger role in every phase of the customer lifecycle: not just as a marketing tool, but for everything from sales to customer service, too. The surge of chatbots on platforms like Facebook Messenger shows just how scalable social customer service can be, and I think we’ll see major progress here in 2017. At the same time, we’re suddenly seeing CEOs and top leadership taking the lead in championing social media for their companies. This all points to a kind of emerging consciousness that social media is the best—and maybe the only—place to reach customers, employees and stakeholders right now.”

—Ryan Holmes, founder and CEO, Hootsuite

4. Fintech disruption will be the new media disruption

“I’m excited about the change I’m seeing with fintech. Ten years ago is when we disrupted the media industry [at Buytopia, where Romanow was co-founder]. With the recent U.S. election, you can see that the way that we consume media is fundamentally different than the way we did 10 years ago. Now I see that transformation in financial world. I think that the way that we manage, control and invest our money is going to really change in the next 10 years, and a lot of that innovation is happening right now and is coming from Canada. That’s what’s making me excited going into 2017.”

Michele Romanow, entrepreneur and investor on CBC’s Dragons’ Den

5. Wearables will integrate more seamlessly into daily life

Wearables continued to fight and make traction in 2016, but new form factors will open up new possibilities in 2017.

“Now that we have the investments and R&D in place [Thalmic raised US$120 million in venture capital in October 2016], I’m most excited for 2017 to be the year that we further push the boundaries of human-computer interaction bringing new technologies to market, and become one year closer to our vision of a more seamless future.”

Stephen Lake, co-founder and CEO, Thalmic Labs