On Wednesday October 18, the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship hosted its third workshop of the fall season, centered on the upcoming technological revolutions shaking the business world. Our two speakers of the evening, Matthew Boerum from Audible Reality, winner of the 2017 McGill Dobson Cup, and Yves Guillaume A. Messy, founder of insurance startup QGS Technologies Ltd., both led fascinating discussions on the opportunities unleashed by technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain.
Editor’s Note: A short glossary of all technical terms is featured at the bottom of the article, with some essential links to learn more about each of them.
After greeting the audience and presenting the activities of the McGill Dobson Center for Entrepreneurship, Nicolas Briner, the President of the Student Executive Team, introduced and Matthew Boerum from Audible Reality, winner of the 2017 Dobson Cup’s Innovation-driven enterprise track, and Yves Guillaume A. Messy, our speakers for the evening. Yves Guillaume is the founder of London-based insurance technology startup QGS Technologies Ltd., which combines Artificial Intelligence-driven Blockchain Apps (DAOs) and virtual reality technology to eliminate political risks to investment assets. He is also the author of Sustainable Finance: Investment Strategies for the Social and Environmental Purpose Investor, a book that covers investment management approaches to financing the transition towards a carbon-neutral global economy.
Matthew Boerum from Audible Reality: Reinventing the audio experience
With a background as a professional musician and recording engineer, Matthew Boerum has always been immersed in the music and audio industry. “Big gigs taught me a lot, but small gigs taught me a lot more: how to hustle”, he says. It is this drive that prompted him to come to Canada and apply for Ph.D. at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, and to join forces with Bryan Martin to create Audible Reality, a startup that seeks to redefine the experience of anyone listening to audio through headphones.
After a quick throwback across the history of the audio user experience, from the phonograph to streaming music on your smartphone, Matthew’s presentation focused on his company and how it harnesses technology to reinvent the way people listen to music – and more. Imagine putting on your headphones in the metro, pressing play, and having your favorite band playing in front of you. Imagine streaming a big game of your favorite hockey team, and hearing the buzzing arena all around you. That’s the kind of feeling Audible Reality wants you to experience, by adding a 3D layer to the audio track you listen to. Matthew and his cofounder Bryan invented a set of tools to replicate how we perceive sound in reality, and embedded their technology in a software that they then share with interested developers, in exchange for royalties.
How do they do it? That’s a secret of course, but they leverage artificial intelligence to do what Matthew called “music information retrieval”, which is essentially matching features of the sound and associating the right 3D sound models to your track in order to give you more than that left-right audio balancing you are used to. Matthew also mentioned the way music streaming companies are starting incorporating AI in their operations, for instance with AI software learning to aggregate songs into playlists. But the possibilities are much bigger. While the company is only into software now, Audible Reality is set out to propose immersive hardware in the future.
He ended the presentation of Audible Reality’s revolutionary approach to audio experience by thanking the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship for giving Audible Reality the chance to move forward with their idea through the McGill Dobson Cup, something he called a “life-changing experience”, and our friends at Centech for welcoming them. We wish Audible Reality all the best and thank them for allowing the audience to try out their software during the networking session that closed this week’s event.
Yves Guillaume A. Messy: Keeping us in the know about what is coming
Our second speaker of the evening was Yves Messy. A 26-years old self-taught artificial intelligence programmer, founder of insurtech startup QGS Technologies Ltd. and political science graduate from the University of Toronto, Yves joined us to discuss the wave of technologies threatening to dramatically alter the way we do business in the world right now.
A political refugee from Cameroon, Yves arrived to Canada with his parents while he was still a child. Growing up, he set out to understand how and why political risk remained amongst the hardest type of risks to predict. Introducing QGS Technologies Ltd., his London-based venture that leverages AI technology to answer the question: “how to get politics to fit into a number?”, and aims at making international due diligence processes simpler through the use of virtual reality.
AI and technology are the “two hippest words” out there. But what do they really mean, and what are their implications? That’s what Yves aimed to explain to our audience throughout his presentation.
From blockchain making transactions cheaper and faster, thanks to the trust the system inherently carriers, to reminding everyone that AI has been around for decades – if not centuries, we touched on too many subjects for them to fit in a recap. Here are some focal points of the discussion:
- What’s new in AI? Artificial intelligence is essentially trying to get machines to mimic (or even exceed) human-like reasoning with a series of statistical models. While many scientists have worked on the subject for long, what’s new is the enhanced computing and data storage capabilities that make the creation of ever more sophisticated models possible.
- Cognitive business: The business world has always tried to benefit from technology-related advancements and has huge information needs. With artificial intelligence, companies are able to make sense of information easily, and possibly with less people than before, thereby increasing the speed of business decisions.
- Blockchain: It’s essentially the “best database” in recent human history. The distributed ledger technology makes it possible to reduce tremendously the transaction costs on sensitive exchanges, thanks to shared, encrypted knowledge that is co-trusted by blockchain participants. Like so many technology-driven organizations today (Facebook, Uber…), blockchain is subject to network effects, meaning that the worth of the network grows exponentially with the number of participants.
- Smart contracts: The lifeblood of blockchain, which are peer-to-peer contracts that are run automatically by the blockchain code, and thus cannot be broken. However, because they allow you to enforce contracts, they could potentially somewhat take on the role of traditional institutions, with tremendous implications for our societies.
- Decentralized autonomous organization (DAO): With AI, it is now possible to have systems running on their own, without needing someone to speak for it. Yves mentioned Bitcoin, which doesn’t have a CEO, as an example.
Finally, we also went over some of the consequences of those revolutions on the world, and their implications on things like human resource management, ethics, legal frameworks, or self-managing corporations, and how to keep it human. As an end note for his presentation, Yves replied to a question from one attendant about AI threatening to destroying jobs with the following answer: “In developed economies, AI is seen as a canceler, but in the developing world, they are excited about the jobs that AI will enable”. He also stressed that we are the ones writing the code, and thus have a degree of control and responsibility over it.
The evening’s discussions were both captivating, enlightening, a little frightening, and overall a lot of fun. It allowed many to get a better understanding of the nature and caliber of changes affecting the business world, and of the wide range of opportunities they unlock.
The McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship holds weekly events that address a variety of topics, from tonight’s focus on technology, to last week’s workshop on Social Entrepreneurship. The complete schedule for the fall 2017 and winter 2018 seasons is available here.
Disclaimer: The following definitions and sources are only there in an attempt to help potential readers struggling with some concepts. You are encouraged to consult other authoritative, trusted sources for more information.
- Cryptocurrency: A cryptocurrency (or crypto currency) is a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange using cryptography to secure the transactions and to control the creation of additional units of the currency. (Source: Wikipedia)
- Blockchain: The technology at the heart of bitcoin and other virtual currencies, blockchain is an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. The ledger itself can also be programmed to trigger transactions automatically. (Source: Harvard Business Review)
- Artificial Intelligence: the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings. The term is frequently applied to the project of developing systems endowed with the intellectual processes characteristic of humans, such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from past experience. (Source: Britannica)
- Fintech: Financial technology—FinTech for short— describes the evolving intersection of financial services and technology. The term can refer to startups, technology companies, or even legacy providers. The lines are blurring, and it’s getting harder to know where technology ends and financial services begin. (Source: PwC)
- Decentralized Autonomous Organization: A decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), sometimes labeled a decentralized autonomous corporation (DAC), is an organization that is run through rules encoded as computer programs called smart contracts. A DAO’s financial transaction record and program rules are maintained on a blockchain. (Source: Wikipedia)
- Virtual reality: A computer technology that uses virtual reality headsets, sometimes in combination with physical spaces or multi-projected environments, to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual or imaginary environment. A person using virtual reality equipment is able to “look around” the artificial world, and with high quality VR move around in it and interact with virtual features or items. (Source: Wikipedia)
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