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The innovator’s mindset and the battle between Batman-v-Superman: mesh conference day 2

From a tech founder working with underserved communities to a unique teaching assistant, here’s the scoop from the final day of the mesh conference.



Alison Pidskalny and Bobbie Racette
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“The reason I’m so outspoken about being an Indigenous entrepreneur is because…if I’m not out there being loud and proud, who else is going to be?” Bobbie Racette asks the mesh conference audience.

The second day of mesh opened with a tech founder that inspired everyone in the audience (some to the point of tears), and closed with the crowd posing ethical questions to an AI that fields any question in just about any language.

mesh Calgary day 2

Here are just some of the highlights from the jam-packed second day of the conference.

(And if you missed it, read about day one right here.)

Bobbie Racette keeps her ‘why’ and culture central to the growth of Virtual Gurus

As Bobbie Racette’s Virtual Gurus scales up, she’s mindful of protecting the ‘why’ at the heart of the business that enabled the scaling to begin with – and the culture she’s built around it. 

“Protecting culture has been the hardest thing for me,” said Racette, in the Keynote Fireside Conversation that opened day two. “The one thing that I’ve realized is that I have to not put myself first. When I walk into the room, I do not expect the team to ask me how I’m doing or how my day is. It’s me asking them. I put my stuff in my office, [and] do what I call the ‘lion hunt.’ I walk around and I say hi to every single employee whether they’re a customer service rep, salesperson, or someone [in the C-suite]. I treat them all the same.”

Bobbie Racette

The Virtual Gurus origin story has been well publicized by now. Racette built the company to provide meaningful work to underrepresented people who have been traditionally told no, as she once was. 

And as she scales, her ‘why’ isn’t just an attractor for talent in her business but clients as well – especially at the enterprise level.

“While we’re still going to take SMBs (small and medium size businesses), we’re really focusing on enterprise accounts,” said Racette. “The reason they want to use our service is because they can hit their ESG numbers by using a platform like ours and by choosing a company that’s done all the vetting of the people. A large client could come in and if they want 400 virtual assistants – that could [positively] impact their carbon footprint and DEI numbers.”  

Racette’s story of founding her company as a queer, Indigenous woman — the first Indigenous woman in Canadian tech to close a Series A round – inspired many in her community and, at mesh, in the audience.

During the Q&A portion of the keynote, one executive in the audience, in lieu of a question, told Racette that, at age 45, after years of feeling like she couldn’t be ‘out’ in the workplace in Alberta, read Racette’s story. She said it gave her the courage to walk into her company and say ‘this is who I am.’ 

In two days filled with powerful, provocative discussions, this was perhaps the signature moment of the conference.

Who would win a fight between Batman and Superman?

This question from the audience in the conference-closing keynote session “Intelligence Augmentation: The Ethical Implications of Human-AI Teaming” was directed not to a person but to Maria Bot Digital, an AI-powered strategic avatar who teaches alongside Dr. William Barry. Barry is an adjunct faculty member and Executive GovCon SME for Emerging Technologies at the US Army War College.

But, what’s a strategic avatar, you may be asking? Barry coined the term to describe a decision-support digital assistant that uses conversational AI and intelligence augmentation (IA) technologies to enhance a human being’s decision-making process by integrating data analytics, AI capabilities, and human insights. 

Asking Maria Bot questions

During the session, audience members threw live questions at Maria Bot Digital covering everything from how to rid the planet of nuclear weapons to how to stop the war in Ukraine to the best flight route from Calgary to Toronto. She provided unscripted answers and follow-ups when pressed for details. Even more impressive, she can field questions in up to 100 languages and Barry often directs her to read ‘every book ever written’ on one topic or another. 

Clearly the future is coming faster than we all think.

And as to the Batman vs. Superman question? The utilitarian-ethics of Maria Bot Digital led her to hedge her bets just a bit, but ultimately she argued that Batman’s tendency towards vigilantism was less valuable than Superman’s willingness to protect all people with his great power.

Advantage: Superman.

Three ways to help you create an ‘innovator’s mindset’

On a panel focused on tapping into the innovator’s mindset, Sabrina Sullivan (FORD/SAIT), Mary Jane Dykeman (INQ Law), Christine Gillies (Blackline Safety), and Deborah Yedlin (Calgary Chamber of Commerce) shared productive ways to think about innovation. 

Mary Jane Dykeman, Christine Gillies (speaking)

Here are three that stood out, paraphrased:

  • Sullivan: Think about the future and visualize what it might be, in order to plan for potential scenarios that are five years down the road.”
  • Gillies: For companies behind in digital transformation, adopting technology from innovators in the space can help them catch up, compete, and become more innovative themselves.   
  • Dykeman: In a data-rich but data-siloed space like healthcare, the needed mindset shift may need to come from patients and staff who have to agree to enable tech innovators to use their data as a resource.

Virtual reality, ChatGPT, and marketing in the age of distraction

With so many valuable insights zooming back and forth between mesh presenters and attendees, everyone was sure to leave all the more galvanized and ready to inspire transformation in their own organizations. 

And sometimes the best pieces of wisdom come in small nuggets.

Here are three takeaways from mesh day two, that can fit in your back pocket:

On Virtual Reality

“Virtual Reality is just the next step in our development of media,” said Dr. Andreas Fraunberger, the Managing Director and XR Producer at Junge Romer, on an exclusive livestream conversation from Vienna, Austria. “Think back to the first photographs, for instance, and look how far we’ve come.”

“We’re probably the last generation that will differentiate between real and virtual,” said Amy Peck of EndeavourXR as part of that same conversation. “VR is just an extension of our human attraction to storytelling and the evolution of our reality.”

On AI & ChatGPT

For people concerned about generative AI taking human jobs, it’s simply an incredibly advanced tool according to Iman Bashir of Craftly.AI

“It won’t replace you, but a person using Chat GPT will replace you.” 

On Marketing & Sales

In a panel discussion called ‘Marketing and Sales in The Age of Distraction,’ Amrita Gurney, the Head of Marketing at Float, offered up a useful insight on the value of sharing your point of view, not just your product, in the B2B sales process. 

Tracey Bodnarchuk, Amrita Gurney (speaking)

“With B2B marketing, often you’re selling something that is more complex than B2C. The decision to buy is often a multi-month process. So, sharing not just information about your product, but your insight as a brand, can make all the difference.”

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The Northern Lights Technology & Innovation Forum navigates AI, economic concerns and upskilling in Alberta

Panelists dive into how innovation and collaboration may help navigate the changing industry landscapes



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While rapid advancements in AI are reshaping industries worldwide, they’ve sparked discussions about innovation and community resilience through ongoing economic challenges. At this year’s Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum, panelists explored how technology could drive positive adaptation.

​​Moderated by the Calgary Economic Development’s Geraldine Anderson, the panel featured:

  • Mark Little, co-founder and CEO Jotson Inc, and board member of General Fusion
  • Anna Baird, culture and innovation evangelist at Google
  • Dan Semmens, SVP and head of data and IT at ATB Financial
  • Arthur Kent, Canadian journalist and author
  • Joy Romero, executive advisor innovation at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL)

Approximately 250 attendees gathered for the forum at the Calgary Petroleum Club on Feb. 8. Filled with industry leaders and burgeoning entrepreneurs, the forum focused on collaboration and knowledge sharing in the tech sector.

Over the past five years, Calgary has seen a 22 per cent increase in tech talent and total tech jobs, emerging as one of North America’s top markets for young tech professionals.

“The talent pool here is amazing,” said ​​John Givens, vice president of sales at C3 AI and one of the event’s organizers. “So how do we leverage our talent here? How do we share that knowledge?”

In response, this year’s forum included the inaugural “Mentors and Makers” initiative, where a dozen industry experts pinned green buttons to their lapels, signaling to anyone in the crowd that they’re open to a conversation.

Shawn Mahoney, another event organizer and co-founder of Spare Parts & Gasoline, said in his opening remarks that the initiative speaks to “creating the new innovators that we need to solve tomorrow’s problems.”

And with that, the panel took the stage to dig into the big questions: What are the challenges and opportunities for Alberta as a growing tech market? How will AI continue to change industries across the board? And if it does, will that be a bad thing?

The Alberta advantage

The panel conversation was kicked off by the first question asked by moderator Geraldine Anderson: “What is the Alberta mindset, or the ‘Alberta advantage?’” 

Mark Little. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

Mark Little, co-founder and CEO Jotson Inc, said Alberta has a lot going for it — including having the highest GDP in Canada, a younger population, and high education levels — but those aren’t the advantages that stand out to him.

“There’s a resilience and an entrepreneurial spirit here,” he said. “As a result of that, we’re seeing innovation … I think 10 to 15 years from now we’re going to lead this country in innovation and it’ll be every sector you could imagine.”

Hailing from Vancouver and the only panelist not based in Calgary, Google’s Anna Baird said she considers herself an honorary Albertan based on the “sheer grittiness and roll up your sleeves and work together” attitude she’s witnessed. 

“The grittiness takes us into innovation,” said Baird. “We’re willing to try new things, we’re willing to fail — hopefully fast and cheaply, as is Google’s ethos. But we’re also willing to borrow with pride and give kudos to the people we’re borrowing the pride from so we can have building blocks.” 

The panelists’ discussion kept coming back to the importance of adaptability, innovation, and collaboration. While the province faces significant hurdles, including global market fluctuations and environmental concerns, they spoke with optimism about the potential to emerge stronger by investing in the future.

Dan Semmens, SVP and head of data and IT at ATB Financial, calls it an “opportunity” for both the province and country to focus on investing in the next generation.

“I think the opportunity there is continuing to invest in our most precious resource, which is our young people,” he said. 

When it comes to AI, “it’s on all of us” to level up our own skills

Joy Romero. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

AI is already impacting most industries globally, and it shows no signs of slowing down. But it’s not new either.

Joy Romero, executive advisor of innovation at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), said she was using AI neural networks 20 years ago to take ecological data and process it through oil sands facilities. 

“Why?” she asked. “Because that would allow us to improve our processing and our productivity … So for me, digital is our world. That’s productivity.”

The day of the panel, Google announced that Gemini Ultra 1.0, the largest version of their large language model, is being released to the public. 

Baird was asked about the implications of the new AI model, and while she acknowledged there will be challenges, she maintained that “the train has left the station.”

“It’s on all of us here in the room to level up our own skills,” she says. “With an announcement like Gemini, like you have to get in there, you have to play, you have to try.”

Anna Baird. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

Transitioning to the realm of media and journalism, Canadian journalist Arthur Kent highlighted the increasing role of AI in newsrooms. From assisting journalists in gathering and analyzing data to content creation, journalists are experimenting with AI for efficiency and detecting false information.

“We can become even better if we harness artificial intelligence to do that,” said Kent. “So we constantly have to be developing and pushing ourselves forward, to keep pace with this.”

However, he emphasized the critical role of journalists in maintaining integrity and discerning between fact and fiction in an era of AI-generated content. 

“Journalism is always going to be a human process, because journalism is based on their location, and verification, verifying leads, tips, and figuring out rumour from fact,” said Kent. “So far, none of the machines that I’ve seen associated with artificial intelligence, have those human characteristics. However, there is also that human aspect called temptation.”

Arthur Kent. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

In the financial services industry, Semmens said the impact of generative AI “poses an existential risk” to the relationship banks have with their clients. 

Despite this, he says incorporating AI technology into banking is “an incredible opportunity” to personalize experiences for customers more effectively and efficiently, and he expects to see a lot of changes in open banking in the next three to five years. 

“With all the disinformation that is out there, a trusted source is going to be a high commodity,” he said. “And so I think in banking, being a heavily regulated industry, there is an opportunity for us to really show up from that standpoint.”

Dan Semmens. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

An innovation forum’s charitable roots

The Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum’s story begins over a decade ago. The organizers, including Givens, first banded together for the Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Hockey Pro-Am Tournament in support of Alzheimer’s research and education. 

As the cause drew more attention they opted to expand the tournament into the forum as a way to expand their reach. All of the event proceeds go to Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Centre for the Alzheimer’s Research and Education Society — and this year they broke their record, raising a minimum of $40,000 thanks in part to a funding match made by Google. 

“It’s amazing,” Givens said at the end of the night. “I always knew the potential of our community. And I explained to people that the community is the draw … It’s about education. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about just finding ways for other people to get involved in doing the same thing. There’s enough energy there. Now we just have to harness it.”

DX Journal is an official media partner of the Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum.

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The Northern Lights Technology & Innovation Forum comes to Calgary next month

Panellists from Google, ATB, Jotson and Canadian media will join the the second annual Northern Lights Technology & Innovation Forum in Calgary on Feb. 8



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In a world increasingly dominated by global competition and technological advancement, the Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum focuses on the power of knowledge-sharing and collaboration in the tech community. 

Coming to Calgary Feb. 8, the forum places a spotlight on critical issues impacting the community. Last year’s focus was on enabling net-zero carbon emissions and this year the focus shifts to economic challenges and what solutions can be found through innovation.

As the past year has seen heavy inflation, layoffs, volatile energy prices and geopolitical instability, this year’s panel discussion is designed to  provide a “360-degree view” of how these challenges impact Alberta’s economy and community.  

Moderated by the Calgary Economic Development’s Geraldine Anderson, the panel includes:

  • Mark Little, co-founder and CEO Jotson Inc, and board member of General Fusion
  • Anna Baird, culture and innovation evangelist at Google
  • Dan Semmens, SVP and head of data and IT at ATB Financial
  • Arthur Kent, Canadian journalist and author
  • Joy Romero, executive advisor innovation at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL)

Panellists will explore how governments, large companies, and startups can work together to navigate changes to come, and which technologies have the potential to positively disrupt the status quo. 

“Mark brings a massive amount of background, and he’s led thousands of folks in our community, and to see what he’s doing now in the global economy is going to be really exciting,” says John Givens, vice president of sales at C3 AI and one of the event’s organizers. “And to have somebody who comes from a leadership position at Google in Canada — we’re crazy excited about that.”

Givens adds that he expects artificial intelligence to be a focus, with panellists like Semmens likely to focus on what’s happening in financial markets, and how technology will continue to impact that sector.

And with a packed career including working as a foreign correspondent at NBC, Kent has been “involved in more things than I can keep track of,” says Givens. Kent is expected to discuss cybercrime and the political and military impacts of technology.

Transforming from a hockey tournament to an innovation forum

Givens and his fellow organizers launched the first forum last year as a way to expand their decade-long history with the Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Hockey Pro-Am Tournament in support of Alzheimer’s research and education.

Taking it back to the hockey tournament where it all began, 100% of the proceeds of this event go to Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Centre for the Alzheimer’s Research and Education Society. 

More than $300,000 has been raised by the team since its inception, and they commit an annual $25,000 to Alzheimer’s Society from the event. However, Givens emphasizes the importance of education and awareness in their campaign.

“It’s about education, not just the money,” he says. “It’s about creating awareness.”

John Givens and the C3 AI team for the Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Hockey Pro-Am Tournament. Photo courtesy of John Givens

Outside of the charitable support, the event is meant to support the growing business community and tech sector in the province. Technological advancements are impacting all sectors, and Givens says it’s important to “mindshare” across disciplines and open avenues for new innovations to emerge.

“It’s called the Northern Lights for a reason — it represents Alberta,” says Givens in an interview with DX Journal. Givens notes that the convergence of technology, innovation, resilience, and charitable giving is central to the theme and purpose of this year’s event.

“What I’m really proud of when I think about the Calgary ecosystem is we have an enormous amount of talent in this community,” says Givens. “We’re competing on a global market now, so our customers are hiring globally, and they’re competing on wages globally. We need to bring our talent together and lift them all up and share the best of the best and let everybody know what the best looks like.”

More than 250 people are expected to gather at the Petroleum Club for the forum’s lively discussion and networking opportunities. The event is sponsored by Spare Parts & Gasoline (Presenting Sponsor), and the mesh conference (Platinum Sponsor), with DX Journal being this year’s media partner.

DX Journal is an official media partner of the Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum. To learn more and get tickets to the event, happening February 8, visit the event page

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COP28 points to AI for climate change solutions in developing countries

Examining AI initiatives brought up at the COP28 climate conference



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Need company data insights? AI can help. 

Better efficiency in healthcare? AI is there, too. 

It’s no surprise really, as AI paves its way into almost every industry. But the recent COP28 climate conference invited entire governments to consider AI as a solution to climate challenges in developing countries. 

Currently, governments already use AI to prepare for hurricanes, reduce water usage, and predict general climate patterns. It’s also been estimated that AI could help mitigate as as much as one-tenth of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

During COP28, which ran from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, Omar Sultan Al Olama, the United Arab Emirates Minister of State for AI, digital economy, and remote work applications, urged the entire world to integrate AI into climate policies.

“Harnessing artificial intelligence as a strategic asset to mitigate climate change involves integrating it into national policies and plans,” he said. “These measures and policies should not be viewed in isolation, but rather as a unified global initiative, acknowledging that climate change transcends geographical boundaries and requires concerted global efforts.”

Some examples of AI-inspired climate change initiatives include: 

  • Designs for low-emission technologies (advanced batteries)
  • Reduce emissions in food production and manufacturing
  • Balance electricity during extreme climate events like tropical storms
  • Identify renewable energy projects
  • Identify tropical disease with machine learning
  • Design hurricane-resistant buildings

Here are some highlights from other countries pledging to introduce AI into their climate policies: 


“We are partnering with international tech companies to test their ideas in Barbados whilst contributing to the island’s development. Some ideas include using machine learning and AI to check for the presence of tropical diseases, design hurricane resistant buildings and plan infrastructure investment. Collaboration, training and technology transfer are key to ensuring that AI contributes effectively to climate mitigation and adaptation for small island developing states.”


“It is important to adapt the technology to take account of the digital divide, especially among those most vulnerable to climate change. Integration of chatbot voice with local languages in these emerging technology tools is one solution that would ensure the existing digital divide is taken into account.”

  • Moussa Bocar Thiam, Minister of Communications, Telecommunications and the Digital Economy, Senegal


“We must manage the risks and seize the promise of artificial intelligence. The United States is committed to doing so, as President Biden’s recent Executive Order on AI demonstrates. By working together, we can responsibly harness the power of this emerging technology to develop AI tools that help mitigate climate change risks, make our communities more sustainable and resilient, and build an equitable clean energy future for all.”

  • Ali Zaidi, Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor, United States of America

Learn more about COP28 here

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