Canada is at risk of being left behind by AI

Canada flag

Canada is experiencing a tech boom.

Annual venture capital funding in the country has doubled since 2014. Montreal has attracted cloud-computing facilities from Google and Amazon. Twitter, Microsoft, AirBnB, and Apple purchased Canadian startups. The Toronto-Waterloo corridor welcomed Uber and General Motor’s autonomous vehicle development programs, and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs recently announced the development of its 12-acre smart city in Toronto.

Governments should be doing more to ensure the work of these pioneering researchers benefits Canadians.

Growth shows no signs of slowing down as many more opportunities are in the pipeline. The Virgin Hyperloop One shortlisted Canada as a location for its first hyperloop, and Toronto is expected to make the Amazon HQ2 shortlist. It is unclear whether Canada will secure these, but it is reasonable to assume that Canada’s lower costs relative to the US, excellent quality of living, and highly-educated workforce will continue to attract tech investments.

While the rapid growth of the Canadian technology ecosystem is impressive, Canada’s pioneering activity in the realm of artificial intelligence is remarkable. Armed with government support and world leading researchers, Canada has received hundreds of millions in additional foreign direct investment destined toward artificial intelligence. Facebook, Thompson Reuters, Samsung, IBM, and Thames are recent examples of companies which came to Canada to access the country’s AI talent. Even Edmonton, which is not always top of mind when it comes to tech, was selected for the first foreign location for Google’s world-leading DeepMind – famous for creating AlphaGo.

Artificial Intelligence has become a source of national pride for Canada’s tech community. Canadian jobs in AI are up 500% since 2004 levels according to job-site Indeed. Element AI secured a record-breaking $137 million in Series A financing, and the Toronto-based Vector institute raised its goal to producing 1,000 new AI-related professionals per year within the next five years.

However, contrary to widespread belief, artificial intelligence is still at risk of being a missed opportunity for Canada. A recent report from the Royal Bank of Canada found that most major Canadian companies are not implementing artificial intelligence. Such failure to implement AI technology is putting the country’s economy at risk and should be of concern to Canadians.

Canada has a lot to gain by intertwining its AI researchers with Canadian businesses.
 

By failing to adopt artificial intelligence, Canadian corporations are overlooking an important growth engine. A widespread implementation of AI across industries would increase Canadian competitiveness and growth across economic sectors. According to research on 12 developed economies by Accenture, such countries have the potential to double their annual economic growth rates by 2035 if they implement AI.

If many developed economies have the potential to double their economic growth by implementing artificial intelligence, imagine what Canada could achieve by getting a head start and leading the research component as well.

The federal and Ontario governments are aware of this potential, and have invested $100 million in a multi-year pledge to fund the Vector institute to attract and retain AI professionals. Canada has benefitred from AI pioneers like Geoff Hinton, Yoshua Bengio, and Richard Sutton remaining in Canadian higher education. However, many of their Canadian peers have left to head AI divisions of foreign firms. The same is to be expected of many of the students they will train at the taxpayers’ expense.

Nonetheless, for the time being, Canada is in a unique position to leverage this talent. Governments should be doing more to ensure the work of these pioneering researchers benefits Canadians. Canada has a lot to gain by intertwining its AI researchers with Canadian businesses. Not only will it boost the country’s AI capabilities, it will also strengthen Canadian companies and spur growth in the national economy.

Many companies see artificial intelligence as the key to their future success. Amazon alone spends on average $227.8 million annually on AI and its competitors are just as interested in the technology. It is in Canada’s best interest to encourage its companies not to fall behind in innovation. Whether it is through partnerships with Canadian researchers or Canadian AI startups, Canadian corporations must implement AI.

Canadian researchers are pioneering the field of machine learning, and creating many well-paid positions in the process. However, foreign countries will be the ones to benefit from this technology, unless more Canadian companies begin to implement it.

Joshuah Lebacq

Joshuah Lebacq

Josh is a dual-master candidate at Ivey Business School and CEMS. He is a tech-enthusiast with previous experience in venture capital, entrepreneurship, and business development.