Artificial intelligence is no longer just the stuff of Philip K. Dick novels and 70s sci-fi films. The robots are coming. In fact, they’re already here. And Canada is poised to be the next global leader in AI innovation and AI ethics.Last month Geoffrey Hinton from the University of Toronto and Yoshua Bengio from the University of Montreal made headlines when they were named co-winners of the prestigious Turing Award for their decades of work developing the principles of machine learning — research that has fuelled the global AI boom.
Dr. Hinton and Dr. Bengio became the first Canadian-based researchers to be awarded the prize in 30 years, sending a signal to the international community that Canada is already a leader in AI.
In fact, the Canadian government has consistently made AI an investment priority, even before it was such a hot topic in the tech ecosystem. And with Canadian companies like MindBridge Ai, Integrate.ai, Element AI, Zoom.ai, and Rubikloud leading the way, Canada finds itself in the ideal position to build the future.
Putting the Emphasis on Ethical
However, with AI’s imminent presence in almost everything we do — and Canada’s influential role within the AI ecosystem — come questions about the ethics surrounding AI.
Last fall it was reported that Amazon scrapped its AI recruiting tool after discovering that it showed bis against women. And just last week Google made headlines when its AI ethics board was dissolved just a week after it was formed — proving that even implementing discussion around AI ethics is harder than it seems.
The good news is that Canada is ahead of the game and already preparing for inevitable (and understandable) concerns about AI ethics.
Last year, Canada and France teamed up to form the International Panel on Artificial Intelligence (IPAI), a platform to discuss "responsible adoption of AI that is human-centric and grounded in human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation and economic growth.”
And the private sector in Canada has followed closely with its own ethics measures. Montreal-based software company Element AI, where Dr. Bengio is a co-founder, has been a strong advocate for developing an ethical framework that’s focused on regulating not just machine behaviour, but the human behaviour that builds said machines.
Getting Businesses Ready for AI
Despite the strides taken to make Canada a global leader in AI, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently acknowledged that more must be done to build better commercial infrastructure so we can keep up with the speed of AI innovation.
“We need to make sure there is a business ecosystem, supporting and drawing on this world-class talent we have. We need to be keener on recognizing and taking advantage of [the] extraordinary resource we have right here, that we should do a better job of leading on.” — Prime Minister Trudeau, Toronto Region Board of Trade Dinner
To ensure that Canada is AI-ready, the federal government is investing up to $230 million in the AI-Powered Supply Chains Supercluster (SCALE.AI). Based in Quebec, SCALE.AI is expected to create more than 16,000 jobs and add more than $16 billion to the economy over 10 years.
The supercluster is part of the government’s five-year $950 million Innovation Superclusters Initiative — a high-tech collaborative strategy that aims to foster innovation, spur economic growth and create jobs.
SCALE.AI will focus on positioning Canada as a global export leader. It will be dedicated to retail, manufacturing, transportation, infrastructure, and information and communications technology sectors to build intelligent supply chains through AI and robotics.
The Next Step
As Canada takes this next step, there are still industry challenges that must be addressed — including talent drain and a lack of gender diversity in the field.
The second annual Global AI Talent Report found that when it comes to gender representation, Canada ranked lower than average, with women making up 14 per cent of Canadian conference authors.
The report also found that although Canada is a leader in top-tier talent, with the fifth-highest number of authors who have published high-impact research, there is a higher number of talent leaving Canada compared to talent coming into Canada.
How Canada’s AI ecosystem handles this next big push in AI innovation will determine exactly where we place on the world stage. Right now, our AI future looks bright.
Editor's note: This blog was written by a human.