As the second day of True North 18 began, the conference’s pivotal Tech for Good declaration went live.

Conference delegates on Day 1 of True North worked on the living document, which sets out to guide the Canadian tech industry’s future as it grapples with ethical concerns around artificial intelligence, and aims to build organizations that aspire to something that will benefit both people and the planet.

The declaration also took centre stage on Day 2 as David Johnston, former governor general, spoke about Canada’s history of innovation at the conference at Lot 42 in Kitchener.

“The declaration itself is an innovation. It brings the idea of a professional oath to the practice of innovation,” said Johnston, who also established the Rideau Hall Foundation, which is hosting the declaration online.

The best innovations, he said, are more than useful – they’re good.

“And this is the tipping point of this conference,” said Johnston, adding innovating for good is everyone’s responsibility.

“In this age, innovation for good needs to be more deeply fixed . . . in organizations.”

Room full of attendees working on Tech for Good Declaration

True North 2018 delegates work on the Tech for Good Declaration on Day 1 of the conference.
(Communitech photo: Harminder Phull)

The declaration – a work in progress that will evolve as Canadians weigh in – has set out six key principles so far: build trust and respect data, be transparent and give choice, reskill the future of work, leave no one behind, think inclusively at every stage and actively participate in collaborative governance.

It also outlined broad and narrow questions to guide future discussions such as how can we decide what data belongs to the individual? If we believe our businesses and technologies must “do good,” how can business leaders understand and define what “good” means? What might ethical leadership look like in practice when it comes to AI and other advanced technologies?

Those unanswered questions mean our work isn’t done, said Johnston.

Conference delegates will try to answer those questions and more as the work to build a tech declaration continues on the second day of True North.

The inaugural conference is a response to concerns about the future of technology and the industry’s organizations. It serves as a chance for the industry to refocus and set itself on a course for good.

Johnston urged those at the conference to take up the principles of the Tech for Good declaration today.

“Innovation almost always arises when people use their different experiences and expertise to make something better,” he said. “The best innovations are more than something useful – they’re good.”