Technology Outlook 2016: Artificial intelligence, workforce diversity, major growth in store this year for tech sector

Technology leaders expect Canada’s transition from resource-based to knowledge-based economy to accelerate in 2016 

From left, Highline CEO Marcus Daniels, Launch Academy CEO Ray Walia and B.C. Technology Industry Association Bill Tam

Marcus Daniels

CEO, Highline

A new year is an opportunity for a fresh start, which is great news for Canada’s startup ecosystem. There’s a chance here to build on the successes of 2015 while changing direction for 2016. Much is still to be done to make our ecosystem really flourish and be competitive globally.

Thankfully, there are some good signs on the horizon that suggest 2016 is going to be a great year for Canada and Canadian startups.

Here are four things to look for in the coming year:

1) Increasing interface between corporations and startups:

Canadians have spoken about the need for more corporate/startup collaboration. We started to see this finally take on serious shape in 2015 with MaRS’ move to create a financial technology cluster in Toronto and the BC Technology Industry Association taking the initiative in the Vancouver ecosystem. Expect this trend to increase in quantity and quality across several new sectors in 2016.

2) A more unified voice:

The new Canadian Council of Innovators and others have been investing huge effort to bring the Canadian startup community together. These initiatives are laudable, and I think in 2016 we will see closer collaboration between government and business regarding setting the policy agenda and a startup community that increasingly speaks with one voice.

3) More female funders and emphasis on women’s role as investors:

Thankfully, Katherine Hague of Female Funders and organizations like Open Angel have helped bring this issue to prominence. I think in 2016 there’ll be more women getting involved in investments. 

4) Evolution in the accelerator landscape:

We’ve now got so many accelerators and incubators in this country that the market is very saturated, and I think we’ll see a different take on what the role of an accelerator should be in coming year. Clear metrics around what “success” looks like for incubators and accelerators are desperately needed. Hopefully, the Justin Trudeau government is open to discuss these metrics before it starts lavishing money around as per its election pledge.

Ray Walia

CEO, Launch Academy

Innovations involving artificial intelligence (AI) is a trend to watch for 2016. For the most part in 2015, bleeding-edge technology companies have been working with AI and pushing it to new limits and implementations. The general public will see the fruits of those labours in 2016 with an abundance of large-scale use cases being hypothesized as well as a large number of early-stage startups implementing AI to solve problems and create new innovative ways to interact with the world around us. A prime example is a new startup called Aipoly that helps visually impaired individuals interact with the world around them through an AI-powered mobile app.

From a tech industries perspective, trends in development with AI in 2016 will start to revolve around scaling back the AI and trying to add back elements of human interactions into the AI experience.

Some of the outcomes of the experimentation with AI in 2015 have proven that most AI experiences are not user-friendly and the technology will struggle to attain mass adoption. In 2016, tech companies will experiment with finding the right mix of AI technology and human interactions needed to create ideal user experiences. With the general public and the tech industry enamoured of AI and its implications, 2016 will be the year of artificial intelligence.

Bill Tam

CEO, BC Technology Industry Association

This was another banner year for tech in B.C. Not only did the growth in new startups continue unabated, but 2015 saw more homegrown successes and the arrival of more multinationals. B.C.-grown Avigilon (TSX:AVO), Slack and Hootsuite all surpassed $1 billion in market valuation.

One of Hollywood’s biggest visual effects and animation studios, Sony Pictures Imageworks, moved its headquarters from California to Vancouver, and major firms like Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT), Animal Logic and Amazon (Nasdaq:AMZN) set up their “second home” in Vancouver.

In a province traditionally known for its natural resources, the technology industry has grown beyond its niche beginnings – and British Columbians have taken notice.

In a recent Canadian OmniPoll conducted by Vision Critical, British Columbians overwhelmingly ranked tech as the fastest-growing industry, and it rated the highest in terms of overall sentiment. It speaks volumes about the recognition that British Columbians now bestow on the tech industry in terms of economic contribution, job creation and overall importance.

Here were some of the study’s findings:

•Tech has a higher overall recognition than that of other industries.

•Tech is viewed as being a top contributor to the economy over the next five years.

•Across Canada, tech is viewed as a job creation engine.

There’s little doubt in the minds of British Columbians that the tech industry will underwrite the opportunities for the next generation and will continue to be a major catalyst in the transformation of B.C. into a knowledge-based economy in 2016.