Canada needs to do better on leading AI innovation says Trudeau

Toronto Region Board of Trade

In a talk about innovation and infrastructure with the Board of Trade President, Jan De Silva, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the importance of taking advantage of an “extraordinary resource” in Canada – artificial intelligence.

The talk with the Prime Minister took place at the 131st annual Toronto Region Board of Trade Dinner, held in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Thursday night. The focal points of the evening’s events were tech, innovation and the future of the Toronto region.

“Now is the time where a lot of people are seeing changes and disruption, and feel a lot of anxiety about their future and their kids’ future,” said Trudeau, who is running for re-election in October’s federal election. “We’re going to see an increasing reliance on technology, computer programming, and artificial intelligence. These are the things we need to continue to invest in and focus on.”

“We need to make sure there is a business ecosystem, supporting and drawing on this world-class talent we have.”

Trudeau said that because previous governments consistently invested in AI, Canada has managed to become a global leader in deep learning, which he called the most exciting form of AI. But he added that Toronto needs commercial infrastructure that can keep up with rapid innovation in AI.

“We need to make sure there is a business ecosystem, supporting and drawing on this world-class talent we have,” Trudeau said. “We need to be keener on recognizing and taking advantage of [the] extraordinary resource we have right here, that we should do a better job of leading on.”

In December, Trudeau announced an investment of up to nearly $230 million for the AI-Powered Supply Chains Supercluster (SCALE.AI) based in Quebec. The investment is expected to create more than 16,000 jobs and add more than $16 billion to the economy over 10 years.

Related: Canadian gov’t opens applications for $950 million ‘supercluster’ initiative

Co-founder and CEO of North American tech conference, Collision, Paddy Cosgrave also took to the stage to talk about why his company decided to move the conference from San Francisco to Toronto, crediting the city’s diversity as its greatest strength. In his speech, Cosgrave dubbed Toronto, ‘the New Silicon Valley’.

“If you’re based in Toronto already, I think there’s a good opportunity to meet with some of the most interesting companies in the world, that are growing incredibly fast,” Cosgrave said. “It really is a melting pot.”

Related: How Justin Trudeau and a former diplomat convinced Paddy Cosgrave to bring Collision to Canada (CanCon Podcast Ep. 121)

The Toronto Region Board of Trade also awarded University of Toronto professor Geoffrey Hinton the Toronto Region Builder Award, in recognition of what the board called his “visionary leadership.” Hinton, chief scientific adviser for the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and a vice-president and fellow at Google, has been dubbed the “godfather” of deep learning.

Trudeau finished his talk with De Silva by saying his government will try to allay anxieties about artificial intelligence through strategic investment in research, innovation and education in the Toronto region.

Image courtesy Toronto Region Board of Trade.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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