President & CEO, Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC)
Canada has all the characteristics of a country that can lead the world in artificial intelligence (AI) innovation. We have among the most educated and highly-connected populations in the world and are home to leading academics and experts of AI technologies.
We’ve made strategic investments. The Government of Canada provided over $1.3 billion in funding for AI research and development in 2016 to 2017 and invested a further $253 million in December 2018 for the AI Supercluster (SCALE.AI), an investment expected to create more than 16,000 jobs and add more than $16 billion to the economy over 10 years. Toronto is home to the highest concentration of AI startups of anywhere in the world, and Deloitte estimates that Canada houses more than 800 AI companies.
However, Canadian businesses fare poorly when it comes to investment in and adoption of AI. In a Forbes Insights report published in late 2018, Canada ranked tenth out of 10 countries in successful deployment of technologies such as machine learning and deep learning. Worse, a Deloitte report found that in 2018, a mere 14% of companies reported the use of AI technologies over the course of that year, a number which matches rates from 2014.
Only one of our homegrown firms, Element AI, recently cracked the listing of the top 100 AI companies in the world. Investment and fostering the establishment of AI startups may be our strength, but supporting the broader commercialization of one of our growth industries is our shortfall.
We have the capability and the capacity to lead the world in AI, with over 800 innovative companies ready to drive Canada’s AI needs.
Although a few sectors are leading the AI adoption wave, namely financial services, information, PS&T (professional services), manufacturing, and retail, many industry sectors and our public sectors lag. To address this delay in adoption and to support a return on our investments in AI, Canada needs a two-pronged approach.
First, governments at all levels need to make a concerted effort to become early and strong adopters of AI technologies. AI could improve public sector efficiency, making it easier for Canadians to access key services, from pension benefits to precision health services. Instead of focusing efforts on dialogue about how to address concerns about AI, our public sector should be piloting the technology and evaluating the outcomes and lessons learned from early trials.
Second, there should be investment in driving education and awareness to business. With a significant part of our economy driven by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), it’s critical that business leaders understand the competitive advantage and productivity improvements that AI could provide their company — from driving improved customer service to automating operational IT support.
We have the capability and the capacity to lead the world in AI, with over 800 innovative companies ready to drive Canada’s AI needs. Canada requires an immediate industry-public sector approach that will rapidly increase AI understanding, leveraging a nation-wide education and awareness campaign across business communities. Bolstered with an aggressive public sector investment strategy and ongoing growth of our accelerators and incubators, Canada will then be in a position to become an AI leader globally.