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TedxMontreal 2016 defines, inspires, and changes perspectives

TEDxMontreal, which had Perspectives as its theme in 2016, aims to stimulate curiosity by showcasing a diversity of viewpoints from the Montreal community. It is among the TEDx program of self-organized events, designed to bring a TED-like experience to local cities. This year, the conference was held on Nov. 12 at Espace DCMTL, located in Parc-Extension. This neighbourhood is away from the spotlight of downtown, and was chosen to represent the uncovering of underground ideas and culture in Montreal. 

Created in 2008, TEDx is a global event in which communities worldwide self-organize day-long TED conferences, all with a common mission to foster innovation and spread ideas. The format is simple and effective: Experts in many different spheres–from artists to entrepreneurs–give 10- to 20-minute speeches that engender thoughtful conversation among the speakers and attendees.

Katy Yam, coordinator for the conference, shares TEDxMontreal’s goal to enlighten and strengthen the Montreal community by shedding light upon all of the innovation and creativity happening within the city. 

 “We’re all about discovering and showcasing, and finding those hidden pearls of what’s happening in Montreal,” Yam said. “We want people to change [their] perspectives.”  

Half of the 12 total speakers conducted their talks in French, while the other half spoke in English. All of the presentations were focused on either ideas originating from Montreal or inspiring feats and works by Montrealers. 

One of these innovators was Doctor Yoshua Bengio. Bengio is the head of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms and a professor in Computer Science at the University of Montreal. Bengio is best known for his contributions to biologically-inspired machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). During his speech, Bengio spoke about the steady integration of AI into everyday life. 

“This new revolution, this second machine age, is going to expand our cognitive abilities, our mental power,” Bengio said. “Computers are not just going to replace manual labour, but also mental labour.” 

On top of a research grant of $213 million given to various Montreal universities to push the boundaries of the AI industry and data science innovation, Montreal has become home to the largest concentration of academic researchers of deep learning in the world. This project is just one among a multitude of remarkable projects occurring in Montreal of which many people may not be aware. 

While more than half of the speakers were scientists, there were also presenters from the arts and social sciences. Speaker Alexis Charpentier, is a music archaeologist; he is among the small community of individuals who dedicate their lives and careers to discovering and refurbishing lost vinyl records. By searching the world for unique records—what he calls his “holy grail”—he gives forgotten music a second chance to thrive. 

 “Beautiful art deserves to be cherished, shared, and rediscovered,” Charpentier  said. “Embrace curators, we are alternative voices to the mainstream music channels.”

In addition to speeches about scientific advancements and creative passions, there were speakers who told stories about their personal experiences. Susan Wener was a crowd favourite, earning a standing ovation at the end of her talk. Wener is not only the author of a national bestseller, Resilience, she is also a therapist with a teaching degree from McGill, as well asa two-time survivor of cancer. Wener told her tale of recovery, and discussed the power of using stories to change perspectives. Wener hoped that people would take away the central messages of strength and finding hope in difficult times.

“It’s not about the things that happen to you […] it’s what you do with what happens to you […] that determines your quality of life,” Wener  said. “The word ‘impossible’ simply means that it hasn’t been done yet.”

The attendees of TEDxMontreal came from a broad variety of backgrounds, professions, nationalities, ages, and talents, showcasing Montreal’s diversity. This speaks to the event’s role as a platform to bring people together expose them to a multitude of unique Montreal-born ideas, all while encouraging creativity and innovation. 

“It’s great for the community, for people to connect, […] and for innovation,” Matthieu Favre, a guest of TEDxMontreal, said.

Yam believed that TEDxMontreal accomplished its goal of showcasing the success and talent from around the Montreal community, along with reinforcing the general importance of diversity. 

“We have so much to be proud of in this city,” Yam said. “I want more success, more Montrealers and Quebecers on the worldwide stage, and TED is a great platform for that."

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