In his commencement address to graduands of the Faculty of Health at York University during spring convocation ceremonies on Monday, June 15, John Abele, tech visionary and the co-founder and a director of the medical device company Boston Scientific, spoke of his concerns for our planet and his vision for the future.
Abele was on the convocation stage to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University in recognition of his role as a health care innovator and long-time friend of York University.
“Your parents, government, myself and in fact, all of adult society, have bequeathed to you an incredible collection of complex and challenging problems to solve if you wish to keep this planet livable,” said Abele.
In a lively speech, Abele adroitly displayed his immense knowledge of the digital world, technology and smartphones.
He noted that in our current digital age, those with access to a computer have more information available to them than the world’s leaders of 20 years ago. “We have access to experts and there are amazing tools that allow us to collaborate with anybody in the world,” he said. “There are better materials for modelling and analysis, and these are new materials that did not exist a short time ago.
“The result is we all have more access to knowledge, more capability and more capacity to invent, create and build, or improve, and unfortunately, to destroy, than anyone since the beginning of time. And it keeps getting greater,” said Abele. “These trends are going to accelerate and evolve. Hyper connectedness is something we certainly hear a lot about. There is the democratization of knowledge, the globalization of everything, the shared economy, [including] UBER, Air B&B, crowdsourcing and collective intelligence. How do we learn how to harness this in ways that can truly advance thinking?”
Accompanying the dramatic changes in technology, said Abele, is the fact that it is easier to gain new knowledge and skills through innovations such as the Khan Academy and free Massive Open Online University Courses (MOOUCs) and this has the potential to change postsecondary education. He described the rapid advance of MOOUCS as a necessary form of disruptive innovation.
“What is being disrupted? Education! Watch what is going on around the world. Massive Open Online University Courses [MOOUCs], Khan Academy, and totally new schools are offering ways to keep learning until you die,” he said.
The disruption is also being felt in health care and business. “I like to talk about the ‘UBERization’ of business, education and health care,” he said, in reference to the new and popular ride sharing service. “Government and governance is being disrupted. Research is being disrupted because more people are doing research that while it is very informal, is also profound.”
These are the challenges that the graduands will face, said Abele. “The accelerating progress of technology requires that you are going to have to learn more and learn it faster.”
He ended his address with the quote: “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times,” from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, in reference to the digital age, which he said the graduands had the opportunity to determine the “kind of times” it was going to be. “You have a phenomenal start from York University, and I hope you use it to take care of this jewel that is our planet.”
For more than five decades, Abele has devoted himself to innovation in health care, business and solving social problems. He is widely regarded as a pioneer in the field of minimally invasive medicine, which has profoundly improved patient outcomes worldwide. Locally, Abele is the creator and owner of the Kingbridge Centre, a residential conference centre in York Region.
York’s 2015 spring convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. Abele’s convocation address will be archived at the conclusion of spring convocation ceremonies. To view his address, visit the Convocation webcast archive.