Extraordinary Future 18, held September 19–20 in Vancouver by Cambridge House International, billed itself as a “cornerstone event showcasing Canadian technology.” The event was designed to connect the most cutting-edge businesses with the capital they need to create tangible, lasting change. Indeed, by bringing blockchain entrepreneurs, eSports enthusiasts, cannabis pioneers, and others together under one roof, Cambridge House delivered on their promise to show the diversity and quality of Canada’s technology scene. The unique collection of individuals and organizations in attendance made for a rich and informative event, and the inclusion of dedicated meeting space on the show floor facilitated many investment conversations that may not have otherwise happened.
Though I approached this conference as an entrepreneur in a different field—I’m building a caregiver-oriented technology company—I still found value in meeting others from across Canada’s tech scene. As an onlooker not steeped in the technologies and markets mentioned above, however, I found the highlight of the show had to be the back-to-back sessions featuring Hamilton Morris of VICELAND and Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica.
What was most impressive about Morris, beyond his expertise, was the balance he brought to the delicate subject of psychedelics in medicine. In his years examining the topic, he had clearly become convinced of the value of the approach. “There’s a medicinal use for every drug,” he explained. “If there isn’t, we simply haven’t discovered it yet.” Though he was clearly open to the use of psychedelics, he was also pragmatic about it. He recounted, for example, the story of one physician who had seen phenomenal results in patients given psychedelics, yet had discontinued the approach due to the impracticality of personally monitoring a patient who could be “tripping” for up to 48 hours. This was simply emotionally, practically, and financially not possible for the physician. Stories like this make it clear that to realize any value from these substances, a huge amount of cultural and structural change will need to occur within the healthcare system.
Following Morris’s riveting session, Christopher Wylie took the stage for his highly anticipated talk. Wylie, with his signature pink hair, was everything the audience wanted him to be—razor sharp, with a sense of humor to match, it was immediately clear why his voice has played such a powerful part in the Cambridge Analytica story. After taking the audience through the events leading up to the 2018 data scandal, Wylie deconstructed the different ways that Cambridge Analytica’s data could be used instead to effect cultural change that might range from the trivial to the more significant. Using a series of metaphors spanning a variety of themes, from fashion trends to military insurgency, he skillfully deepened the crowd’s understanding of how insidious the modern-day political toolkit actually is. He drew raucous laughter from the largely Canadian crowd by likening Donald Trump to Crocs, noting that in fashion, ugly trends briefly go mainstream all the time (Crocs, shoulder pads, bad haircuts, etc). What’s fascinating about these trends, he explained, is that many of their most vocal supporters look back at pictures with regret years later. Whether this assessment is correct or not remains to be seen, but it was an amusing anecdote that made a serious topic more palatable.
In short, while Extraordinary Future 18 had a strong investment focus, the event also had something for everybody. Whether your interest in the future is technological or social, political or economic, or something entirely different, engaging with others through events like Extraordinary Future 18 is crucial for expanding your understanding of the possibilities ahead—and for learning which companies and individuals are working to transform those possibilities into realities.