Entrepreneurship Alumni Award
Schulich School of Engineering presents the recipients of the
Entrepreneurship Alumni Award
Olivia Norton, BSc (Eng) ’11
Olivia is the Chief Technical Officer of a company with one of the most relevant, ambitious and controversial mission statements imaginable: to build synthetic humans nearly indistinguishable from us.
In January 2018, at 29 years old, Olivia Norton co-founded Sanctuary AI, an artificial intelligence company with the mission to build robots with human-like intelligence. Sanctuary AI was born from Kindred System’s Inc., where Olivia worked in their artificial general intelligence division, and explored the development of AI systems that could understand and participate in our world.
Olivia was named as a Top 30 Under 30 by BCBusiness Magazine, and volunteers for the Vancouver Hub of Global Shapers: a global network of young people under the age of 30 working together to address local, regional and global challenges.
As CTO, Olivia is responsible to set the technical vision and technical future of Sanctuary AI. She manages the technical side of the work, which is primarily software engineering.
Olivia loves the challenge of working for a startup, she enjoys having many different tasks in diverse areas, being able to pick things up on the finance, marketing and networking side. In the startup space, goals and timelines change rapidly, and Olivia has learned to embrace and create opportunities from these unique challenges.
I am inspired by Olivia because she has chosen a very hard career with the hopes to have a truly meaningful and positive contribution to humankind. As Olivia sees it, “The reason I am doing this is because we, as humans, are facing a set of challenges in the near-to-medium term that are huge, and we, as individuals, have a limited ability to tackle them. AGI [artificial general intelligence] is the best way I can think of that we will be able to address these challenges.”
While Olivia believes in the value and importance of this technology, she is aware of the potential negative side effects and she is taking the initiative to proactively consider these. She pays close attention to policy, knowing that as an early expert in this technology, she is responsible to help move it in the right direction. As an engineer, she feels it is her responsibility to ensure that the technology is used in a way that benefits humans, and this motivates her. She has spoken to school groups in order to dispel myths about artificial intelligence, and regularly attends Toastmasters in order to continually develop and improve her ability to connect with the community.
She is most daunted by the openness of AI technology, “There is a wide spectrum of ways in which AI is being developed, and no one yet knows the best path,” so she has learned to always just try something instead of being paralyzed by not knowing the “best” way.
Through her actions, Olivia teaches us not to shy away from wicked, ill-defined and controversial problems. She shows us that, even when there is no obvious answer, the solution is to move forward one step at a time. Olivia is an exemplar of the brave and ambitious entrepreneurs we hope to develop here at Schulich, and is most deserving of this award.
Doug MacKenzie, BSc (Eng) ’74