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Emerging from the Birthplace of Deep Learning Breakthroughs to Global Leadership in Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia

Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia

Senior Director of Digital Economy, Technology, and Innovation, Canadian Chamber of Commerce

Jodie Wallis

Jodie Wallis

Global Chief Analytics Officer, Manulife


AI has emerged substantially in the past years, ranging from voice, speech, and facial recognition to chatbots, among countless other deployments. AI is increasingly part of everyday life, and every organization is examining the use of AI at some stage. However, this begs the question: is AI an opportunity or risk, or is it both? Given this “two-dimensional outlook”, people are curious about what the future development and deployment of AI — in particular, responsible, trustworthy AI — will look like. These are the questions industry thought leaders, observers, and end-users have raised.

In an interview with Jodie Wallis, Global Chief Analytics Officer at Manulife, Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia, Senior Director of Digital Economy, Technology, and Innovation at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, dives deeper into this topic with a closer look at the future role of AI and a focus on Canadian industrial business development.

Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia: Let’s start high level. What do you see as the future role of AI in Canada’s economy?
Jodie Wallis: Canada is the birthplace of many deep learning breakthroughs. Early investment decades ago made Canada a leader in AI, ranking fourth in investment, innovation, and implementation in the Global AI Index.

Canada is the birthplace of many deep learning breakthroughs. Early investment decades ago made Canada a leader in AI, ranking fourth in investment, innovation, and implementation in the Global AI Index.

This head start creates a huge competitive advantage for Canada’s economy, where we can build on existing infrastructure and talent pool. If we can leverage this opportunity, Canada can play a major role in guiding future AI development, creating thousands of sustainable, forward-looking jobs.

In the past decade, we’ve already seen rapid development and application of it across industries. Today it is already used across Canada’s economy, from customer service to manufacturing to transportation and health care.

Bahr-Gedalia: You mentioned recent massive growth. Where do you see AI going in the next decade?
Wallis: Over the past decade, an effort has centred on proving AI’s value to businesses. However, we’re quickly coming to a point where we will see the focus shifting to expanding and scaling up its use. Ten years from now, we will see AI increasingly play a role in everyday business across industries.

That expansion is already underway in some places. For example, while we are all familiar with AI use by tech firms, large companies like Manulife have also been inspired to use AI to create new ways to better serve customers and improve productivity.

More broadly, AI will improve productivity and quality of life if we can achieve a balanced combination of advanced academic research, scaled industry use, and rigorous governance to improve customer experience.

Bahr-Gedalia: How can Canadian businesses capitalize on this opportunity while mitigating potential risk and acknowledging that there is a stark difference between risk and risky.
Wallis: The first step is to shift your mindset. AI is no longer an interesting innovation but a critical component to success in today’s economy and part of your overall business strategy. Therefore, your AI strategy should be tied to business outcomes that are meaningful to your organization.

Companies should be accountable to ensure consumer data and privacy are protected, there is transparency about how AI is used, and decisions can be explained in clear and easy to understand language.

At Manulife, AI not only optimizes what we already do, such as improving fraud detection, but it also allows us to do things we had never imagined before. For example, it has assisted us in transforming a large amount of complex raw data into insight to enhance business decisions.

Secondly, talent is crucial. While recruiting external expertise is important, companies should also prepare for the future by building the skills of existing employees.

To truly capitalize on the AI opportunity, business leaders need to understand what it can bring to the table and how to leverage it to transform objectives and growth. This is an area Manulife has invested in substantially in recent years.

Bahr-Gedalia: Going back to the idea of shifting our mindset, what do we need to ensure Canada remains an AI leader?
Wallis: AI development is moving fast, and other countries are quickly recognizing its potential. AI is an important economic driver and creates employment across industries. Canada needs to move quickly but thoughtfully to create a responsible policy environment that makes sure we maintain our lead in both research and business adoption, not just in technology but across all industries.
This will include:

  • Continued open exchange of knowledge, ideas, and practices, which have driven Canada’s current AI success
  • Silo reduction by encouraging cross-discipline and academic-industry collaboration
  • Comprehensive governance practices to protect Canadian consumers
  • Data and AI literacy across Canadian society to ensure our economy is ready for the future.
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