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Canada Leads the Global AI Race

Artificial Intelligence – as Normal as Electricity

Carolina Bessega, chief scientific officer for Montreal’s Stradigi AI, was recently quoted in the Financial Post, saying, “In the future, AI is going to be as normal and as natural as the electricity in this room right now. Nobody is going to talk about it because everyone is going to use it and have it.”

Thanks to well-funded research and a culture of collaboration, Canada is in the lead of a global competition for dominance in technologies with immense economic, strategic and military significance: Artificial Intelligence. Becoming a world leader in the development of ground-breaking technologies that allows computers to observe, learn and adapt at mind-boggling speeds didn’t just happen by serendipity. Curious researchers, scientists whose work was supported by world-class academic institutions, a future-focused government who helped fund innovation clusters, a thriving start-up scene, and perhaps the most Canadian of all attributes: the willingness to come together for a common purpose, have all helped place Canada in the lead of the global AI race.

Aligning for a Common Purpose

In an editorial published last year by The Globe & Mail, Alan Bernstein, President and CEO of CIFAR, the Canadian Institute for Advance Research, noted: “Canada’s success in AI has depended on the willingness of all the players in this ecosystem to align for common purpose. That alignment has created the excitement that has attracted more talent, brought large firms such as Google, Google Deep Mind, Facebook, Uber and Microsoft here, unlocked significant pools of capital from Real Ventures, Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec and others and encouraged some of Canada’s largest companies such as RBC, TD and Magna to invest.” Bernstein goes on to note, “Successful scale-up companies such as Element AI have sent a signal to students, government and business that Canada is an attractive place to invest time, talent and money.”

Great Innovation Starts with Great Science

Canada is the first country to have a national AI strategy. Canadian research institutes have been developing the foundation of AI technologies for over 30 years. Early pioneers like University of Toronto’s Geoffrey Hinton, (Vector Institute), Université de Montréal’s Yoshua Bengio (MILA), and the University of Alberta’s Richard Sutton (Deep Mind), quite literally built Canada’s data-driven research capacity, the substructure of AI. This strong academic infrastructure evolved into a flourishing commercial ecosystem with Canadian start-ups implementing AI in fields as diverse as Fintech, business analytics, life sciences, autonomous vehicles, and CleanTech, creating data-driven solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Leading the way to the future; the multinational companies expanding their research facilities in Canada, including: DeepMind, Google’s AI research division, which opened its first international AI research office in Edmonton in July 2017. Facebook, Samsung, General Motors, IBM, Microsoft, Thomson Reuters, Thales, and Uber all have AI research labs in Canada. Microsoft, which first developed its Canadian AI presence by acquiring deep learning start-up Maluuba in 2016, recently doubled its research centre in Montréal

Attracting Tech Talent

Key to the success of these innovative enterprises, Bernstein noted, is “The presence of a vibrant scientific community. [That] means that the private sector has the young talent nearby that is critical to understand, adapt and use new science,” which makes an enormous difference to an organization choosing to invest in new technology. Canada’s Global Skills Strategy, the country’s fast-track immigration program, is also key to swiftly reversing a decades-long brain-drain that saw much of the country’s top tech talent seek jobs in the US. No more. Compared to the high cost of living in US tech hubs, Montréal,  Edmonton, Toronto and Waterloo are much more affordable, and attractive with plenty of high-value jobs in science and tech.

Using AI for Good

Beyond focusing on innovative research and commercialization of AI technologies, Canada is also taking the lead regarding the ethical use of Artificial Intelligence. The Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy provides “global thought leadership on the economic, ethical, policy and legal implications of advances in Artificial Intelligence.” There has also been an explosion in training opportunities for young people interested in applying AI to advance social innovation, with institutes such as MILA and McGill University’s 2018 AI for Social Good Summer Lab and the University of British Columbia’s Data Science for Social Good Fellowship Program. Not to be missed? True North tech for good conference hosted in Waterloo, June 19 - 20, 2019, which convenes 2,500 of the best and brightest minds in tech to tackle the biggest problems confronting the digital age. 

There’s a reason organizations like the Collision Conference chose to relocate North America’s largest tech conference to Toronto, or why the North American version of World Summit AI chose Montréal for its landmark event. Canada is not only home to some of the world’s best technologists, but it has a welcoming innovation culture with global reach.