The Government of Alberta is creating an artificial intelligence (AI) lab within government that is meant to create technology and provide work experience to graduates.
Called GovLab.AI, the lab will be powered by AltaML and is set to be the first public AI lab within the province.
The announcement was made Tuesday by Nate Glubish, minister of Service Alberta, who noted that the goal of the lab is to find practical ways to use AI within government.
Led by AltaML, with support from Mitacs, the lab will create pilot programs that could potentially be commercialized and turned into internal government products or products that can then be sold or exported.
One example that Minister Glubish gave is work that the province has been doing to use AI to predict where wildfires will start. He expressed hope that the provincial government will be able to produce more such technologies through the lab, as well as create opportunities to develop and retain AI talent locally.
The lab will run in four-month cohorts and include a talent accelerator.
Cory Janssen, co-founder and co-CEO, AltaML, said the lab has the potential to be a “game-changer” across Alberta, and help to create more AI jobs.
The province did not share a dollar amount it plans to invest in this lab, though the announcement follows the province revealing plans last week to allocate $30 million over the next three years towards AI. Details on how the $30 million was going to be spent were vague, with a government spokesperson noting plans to announce specific initiatives in the near future.
Edmonton has grown to become a recognized hub for artificial intelligence over the last decade or so. To the point that distinguished AI expert and pioneer Richard S. Sutton chose to make Edmonton home for his work. Edmonton is also home to the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), which is one of the three institutions that are part of the federal government’s Pan-Canadian AI Strategy.
AltaML is one of many AI companies in Alberta. It is a software company that partners with organizations to co-develop AI-focused solutions. AltaML’s customers are primarily enterprise-level organizations undergoing digital transformation, but the company is also developing AI software products it plans to launch into “large markets.”
Some work AltaML does with companies results in spinoffs or joint ventures. AltaML then provides resources to accelerate those companies. Ventures the company claims to have helped launch to date include AlphaLayer, BlueMarvel.AI, System3, Sylvester.ai, and Jurisage; with AltaML claiming there are several more underway.
Among its many partnerships, AltaML teamed up with Montréal health-focused Amplitude Ventures want to fuel more Canadian AI and biotech companies.
The province’s overall Alberta Technology and Innovation Strategy (ATIS), is also heavily focused on bringing and creating tech talent in the province. Through ATIS, Alberta hopes to create 20,000 new jobs and help Alberta tech companies generate $5 billion more in annual revenue by 2030. ATIS is also focused on attracting more capital to the province, commercialization support, and generally promoting Alberta as a tech destination to the rest of the world.
Part of that work has included bringing internationally-renowned accelerators to the province, including Plug and Play, Alchemist Accelerator, and 500 Global.
While it’s not clear how successful these government initiatives will be, there has been significant momentum and the Alberta tech sector has been quickly maturing. Last year was an impressive one for Alberta’s tech companies, which raised a total of $356.7 million. The sector also showed new signs of maturity in the first quarter of this year with a new record for quarterly venture funding.
Even with this growth, Alberta – like many regions – still faces challenges in funding early-stage startups and might endure a downturn in the public and private markets.
Speaking with BetaKit earlier this year, James Lochrie, partner at Calgary-based Thin Air Labs, noted “In Alberta, we have a very pragmatic, problem-solving economy and ventures that are solving difficult and important problems,” Lochrie said. “I would expect Alberta to weather any slowdown quite well.”