The delegates at Big Data Congress 2017 on Monday were advised to get used to the idea of “predapting” to changing technologies and economic conditions.

Predapting – according to BDC keynote speaker Rebecca Costa – is preparing to adapt. And the socio-biology from Silicon Valley told the Congress that we all better get ready to predapt because information is flooding over us in unprecedented volumes, speed and diversity. We have to adapt to change before the change takes place.

Now in its fifth year, the Big Data Congress brings together tech and business executives to discuss the onslaught of data analytics and how it is changing the way we live. As well as specialists like Costa, the congress in Halifax featured several startups that are using data to “predapt” and improve outcomes in such fields as food productions.

“We can’t wait to adapt,” Costa told the audience. “We have to ‘predapt’ and this is a revolutionary idea because if you can’t get our ahead of it . . .  the train will have left the station.”

Costa applies lessons learned from data to the disruption many industries face: from healthcare, finance, manufacturing, food processing, energy and social services to education, governance, transportation, technology and retail. Her book, The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse, was published in 26 countries and has remained in the top 1 percent of Amazon book sales for five straight years.

Her central message on Monday was that we’re so overwhelmed by data that we need to learn how to take it all on board. Bamboozled by the complexity of the modern world, many people ignore facts and base decisions on their beliefs, which leads to bad policy or business decisions.

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The good news is that we now have more predictive tools than ever before and can use data to avoid catastrophes before they happen. For example, she said examining the gait of senior citizens can predict whether they are in danger of falling and injuring themselves. By monitoring their gait, it’s possible to extend their time living independently at home by two to three years.

There is no cure for addiction, she said, but questionnaires now exist that can identify whether someone is predisposed to addition. These surveys should be given to anyone receiving opioids for pain relief, because preventing addiction is easier than trying to cure it.

At various workshops at the Congress, various Atlantic Canadian startups were showing how they are using data for predictive analytics – or what you might call predapting.

In one room, Gregg Curwin, the CEO of vertical farming outfit TruLeaf Sustainable Agriculture, explained that his company is getting more into analytics to improve the production of food. “The lightbulb that’s going off for us is all about machine learning and data,” said Curwin, whose company is selling GoodLeaf Farm brand greens in the Maritimes.

The company is now building a state-of-the-art plant in Guelph to serve the Toronto market. It will be fully automated, and Halifax-based TruLeaf is digging into the data it will produce. Curwin said in the controlled environment of its growing facilities, the company can monitor data produced over time from the creation of the seed to shipping grown food to the supermarket. Outdoors, a farmer can get 40 points of data in the life of a plant; TruLeaf can get 10,000 data points in 10 days at its indoor farms.

Speaking after Curwin, Chris Baker, the CEO of Saint John-based IPSNP Computing, outlined how his Hydra product can use semantic-based searches of accessible databases to help agriculture in developing nations.

IPSNP has been working with the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition initiative, or GODAN, to use data to help farmers understand what products will bring them the best return.

Hydra can tell farmers in real time what crops they can grow most effectively and profitably. What’s more, he said accessible data can even tell farmers what pesticides the crop would need and whether these chemicals could jeopardize other agricultural pursuits, such as keeping honey bees.

The Big Data Congress continues today and Wednesday.