Experts and leaders in the technology community are throwing their support behind the federal government’s proposed bill to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) in Canada.
The open letter in support of Bill C-27 comes just as a new survey has shown that adoption of the technology is growing among Canadian companies. More than one third (37 percent) are now using AI.
As market hype grows over the emerging technology, sizable Canadian tech firms such as Unbounce, Hootsuite, Alayacare and Ada have all rolled out new AI innovations in recent weeks.
A KPMG survey found one-third of Canadian companies leveraging AI, which is less than half of that in the United States.
The startups are using AI to assist with everything from content creation to customer service to staff scheduling. AlayaCare senior vice president of data and intelligence, Naomi Goldapple, explained that the decision to use AI is about making things quicker and easier for customers. That sentiment appears to inform a lot of the reasoning behind the companies’ use of AI.
The letter was coordinated by Mila, the Montreal-based AI research institute headed by Yoshua Bengio, the scientific director of Mila and IVADO and a professor at the Université de Montréal. In addition to Bengio, signatories include Julien Billot, CEO of Scale AI and Next AI, Sam Ramadori, CEO of Brainbox, and Valentine Goddard, the founder and executive director of the AI Impact Alliance.
The Liberal government introduced Bill C-27 in 2022. The proposed Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA) is meant to protect Canadians by ensuring high-impact AI systems are developed and deployed in a way that identifies, assesses, and mitigates the risks of harm and bias.
The act outlines criminal prohibitions and penalties regarding the use of data obtained unlawfully for AI development. It also sets out a framework for prohibiting the reckless deployment of AI to cause harm or perpetrate fraud.
“Unless parties work collaboratively to move AIDA forward before the summer, we are looking at significant delays before we have a regulatory framework that guides companies and protects Canadians,” the signatories wrote. “In short, the window is rapidly closing, and further postponing of action would be out-of-sync with the speed at which the technology is being developed and deployed.”
The 76 signatories affirm AI offers the potential for positive developments. The letter writers said, “There is no doubt that AI offers great potential for economic growth and societal opportunities, including in addressing some of the most pressing challenges of our time in health and the environment.”
But they tempered that with a warning: “While these developments are impressive, it is important to recognize that AI systems pose risks that must be taken seriously and rapidly tackled.”
The signatories identified the potential harms associated with AI as discrimination, bias, misinformation, impacts on mental health (particularly children’s mental health), and disruptions to the labour market.
“And at the pace at which powerful AI systems continue being developed, other critical risks will most likely arise, while current ones may significantly increase,” the signatories added.
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The letter writers strongly recommended that political representatives support the bill. They also expressed concern over the length of time it’s taken for the bill to make its way through the House. They acknowledged that parliamentary processes take time, but called for timely action on the bill.
Adoption of the technology has indeed been swiftly growing in Canada – and it is only likely to increase. While one-third of Canadian companies are already leveraging AI, according to a new KPMG survey, that is less than half of that in the United States, where 72 percent of companies are using the technology.
Canadian organizations are trailing behind their US counterparts, particularly when it comes to generative AI, said Benjie Thomas, Canadian Managing Partner, Advisory Services at KPMG in Canada.
The findings are based on a survey of senior business and technology leaders at large Canadian and US companies. The survey assessed their use of AI, which KPMG claims is increasingly becoming a competitive advantage for businesses. While generative AI is a specific type of artificial intelligence that uses algorithms to produce content quickly, artificial intelligence is much broader in scope.
The survey echoed the tech leaders and academics’ letter in its call for responsible AI. The survey found only 43 percent of Canadian organizations using AI have instituted responsible AI frameworks (compared to 72 percent in the US), while half of those believe that their organization strictly adheres to them (70 percent in the US).
“Generative AI can be powerful if used correctly and responsibly, and it enables businesses to be more efficient, productive and competitive,” Thomas said. “Canadian businesses that aren’t adopting AI today might be putting themselves at risk of falling behind, especially as competitors south of the border continue to advance in this field.”
However, the signs point to Canadian companies integrating the new technology into their products and platforms, with AI carrying out everything from content creation to employee scheduling.
Unbounce, a landing page and AI-powered conversion optimization software startup, has launched URL to Ads, what it calls a first-of-its-kind AI tool that allows marketers to generate relevant ad copy for multiple platforms simply by inserting a URL from a website or landing page.
Unbounce CEO Felicia Bochicchio told BetaKit in 2021 that 2022 would be a pivotal year for the company, with a focus on building AI-powered solutions that will be accessible to small and medium-sized businesses.
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For its part, Hootsuite launched an AI-powered content generator it has dubbed OwlyWriter AI. The tool leverages Generative Pre-trained Transformer technology (GPT) and prompt engineering. The latter is one of a number of AI large language learning models, like the one underlying Chat-GPT, that are now available. Hootsuite claims its content generator is meant to inspire social content ideas, generate brand-new, formula-driven text, turn web content into social posts, and rewrite top-performing posts with a few simple prompts.
Ada has added a new suite of generative AI tools to help companies resolve complex customer inquiries across channels instantly. The AI-powered customer service automation startup says that phone support continues to be the most popular and expensive customer channel. Notwithstanding, Ada has expanded its platform to include generative AI and voice capabilities to ensure its clients have automation across the entire suite of channels.
Home care software company AlayaCare said its new Visit Optimizer will help home care organizations increase workforce efficiency and enhance caregiver scheduling for better client care and outcomes. Visit Optimizer is a feature developed by the AlayaLabs team, a research and development arm of the startup, that uses algorithms, machine learning, and AI for the AlayaCare Cloud platform.
The Visit Optimizer application automates scheduling caregivers with vacant client visits, removes manual guesswork in scheduling, and reduces mileage, travel time, and wait times to improve patient experience, according to AlayaCare.
As the pace for AI integration into businesses picks up, the signatories supporting Bill C-27 noted: “It is worth emphasizing that regulating AI supports innovation and economic growth. Providing a practical and robust legal framework will enable Canadian businesses to operate in alignment with forthcoming requirements in many other jurisdictions including Europe, the UK, and the US.”
Added the letter writers: “And should Canada be amongst the first countries to adopt its legislation, it will send a strong signal to businesses across the world that they can and should turn to Canada and to Canadian companies if they want to develop or procure trustworthy and responsible AI systems that uphold human rights.”