Last week Collision descended on Toronto for the first time. Weber Shandwick was there – Chief Digital Office Chris Perry led a panel, and I joined my colleagues and clients to attend many sessions. Our partners at IBM were on hand as well, with Chief Digital Officer Bob Lord

If you weren’t among the 27,000 attendees over four days, here are six takeaways to consider in our rapidly-changing landscape.

  1. AI, AI, AI. Speakers in virtually every session were using terms like “machine learning” as they were debating opportunities and fears around AI. Our client IBM’s Bob Lord shared how technologies like AI and Open Source are the biggest drivers of innovation in business today. While the general feeling was that AI is making a positive difference and is enhancing products and services, many questions arose around ethics. How do we ensure human biases are not transmitted to AI? What does the future of work look like with AI? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What’s exciting is that some of the most interesting advancements in AI are made in Canada. There’s Thena, an AI that helps entrepreneurs with bookkeeping, payroll and analytics. And Oscar from intuitive.ai, that empowers buildings and spaces towards zero waste. Another standout AI assistant born in Canada is Lisa, the first autonomous lifeguard robot that detects drowning and rescues the person in distress.
  2. Looking at viability of media, Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith summed it up perfectly: “There’s never been a better time to be a reporter…if you can get a job.” Consensus among speakers from Vox and The Guardian is that media have figured out the new model. Rather than relying on ad revenue, it’s about finding the audience who values what you do and then enabling them to subscribe and direct what you cover.
  3. There was some green among the grey. Standing out among the overwhelming number of martech exhibitors and presenters is key. Some highlights included Startup Edmonton’s donut wall to engage passersby, and plant-based dairy startup Spero’s simple pitch: “There are a lot of you, and only one food company here. Come visit our booth.”
  4. While this was a technology conference, doing the basics well is still important. A lot of speakers touched on the implications of talent, ethics and privacy, while GE CMO Linda Boff said that during its recent troubles she’s focused more on culture and internal engagement than running marketing campaigns.
  5. Women to the front! I was thrilled to see more women here than at usual tech events. Collision reports that 45 per cent of the Toronto event’s attendees were female. With discounted tickets and onsite networking and mentoring areas for women, it’s heartening to see the tech industry do something about gender disparity.
  6. That’s (business) entertainment – Sure, this conference has opportunities to learn and network, but to me this was really about entertainment. Collision is catering to a need for people to follow the latest drama with tech titans like Google and Facebook. They want to see what small characters may become future stars. Audiences want to applaud the heroes and boo the villains. With the future of business in the balance, the scale and production value of these events will only get bigger and slicker.

Missed Collision? Not to worry. There are plenty of video recordings of the sessions, and it’s set to return to Toronto for 2020 and 2021. See you there?