The series led off with John Seely Brown, interviewed remotely by Communitech CEO and President Iain Klugman and broadcast on Communitech’s YouTube channel.

“We used to think about stakeholder value; today we think about shareholder value,” said Brown, the Independent Co-Chairman of Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge and a visiting scholar and advisor to the Provost at the University of Southern California. The former chief scientist at Xerox Corporation and the director of its famed Palo Alto Research Centre, or PARC, Brown has long explored the social side of technology. PARC led the development of the graphical user interface and the mouse, both of which ultimately allowed Apple and Microsoft to popularize the personal computer. 

“We’ve been so focused on what Wall Street wants, we’re willing to kill off a lot of other things,” Brown told Klugman in Tuesday’s episode.

True North Festival's first two editions took place in 2018 and 2019 at the sprawling Lot42 event space in Kitchener and built considerable brand awareness as a tech conference with a conscience, tackling tough issues and pointing the way to better outcomes. This year’s conference was slated to build on that legacy, unfolding along the length of the ION light rail line that now winds through Kitchener and Waterloo. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the event, sparking the invention of True North TV.

Brown touched on a range of themes, including the “radical exploration that defined” technology in the 1970s and 1980s, and the human-focused spirit imbued in early tech development.

“We were encouraged to build the tools that we needed to explore the things we wanted to make the things we dreamed about,” said Brown.

“Where is the radical exploration that defined us in the 70s and 80s? There’s a radical need for radical experimentation.”

Brown touched on the differences in technology leaders today, noting that in 2015 Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates predicted the emergence of a world-wide viral outbreak, and he said the current pandemic is “a fantastic wakeup call to open our apertures,” adding that he’s been impressed by the ability of developer teams and agile teams to work effectively during the pandemic while working remotely.

True North TV episodes are slated to run every Tuesday at noon through the summer and will feature conversations with, among others, Hillary Hartley, Chief Digital Officer for the Province of Ontario; Josh Lerner, Harvard Business School economist and professor; Canadian software developer, entrepreneur and environmentalist Tim Bray, and Bryan Larkin, Chief of the Waterloo Region Police Service. The next episode will be with Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo, the NDP's anti-racism critic and chair of the NDP Black caucus.