Element AI partners with Mozilla on R&D for data trusts, ethical AI projects


Montreal-based Element AI, is partnering with Mozilla, the nonprofit behind the free and open-source web browser, to explore data trusts, a tool that can give consumers more control over the use of their personal information.

“Working with Mozilla will support our work to address the pressing needs to ensure that AI products and solutions are deployed responsibly.”

The two companies will fund and support policy and legal research, along with the technical and design components necessary to make data trusts a practical reality, looking to offer an alternative model to, what the two companies called, the current broken consent-based system of data collection. The partnership will also support the development of creative projects using AI as a medium, and both organizations will explore opportunities that deploy ethical AI solutions.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms show great promises for our day-to-day lives, from more efficient services to better health care,” said Marc-Etienne Ouimette, head of policy and government relations at Element AI. “As Element AI operationalizes AI for these purposes, we’re also dedicated to the ethical governance of the massive amounts of data accessed by these algorithms.”

In the same way a fiduciary trust functions, a data trust can direct and manage how data is used and shared, including who can access it, under what terms, and who gets to define the terms. Data trusts have the potential to be a new mechanism for data governance and consumer protection. However, the concept is still very much in its infancy.

The concept of a data trust has also been proposed by Alphabet Inc. Sidewalk Labs, whose proposal to develop a smart city of Toronto’s Quayside neighbourhood has drawn concern over how personal data will be used and distributed amongst third parties. To mitigate these concerns, the company outlined in its master proposal an ‘urban data trust’ to store personally-identifiable data, that would manage data collected from the public and make “anonymized data” open-source and publicly accessible. Experts have expressed concern that such data could be re-identified by third parties.

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Element AI has been working on its own suite of AI-enabled products, services, and tools that help enterprises leverage AI. Founded in 2016 by a group of entrepreneurs including, JF Gagné, Nicolas Chapados, and Yoshua Bengio, the company is hoping to inject research and industry expertise into enterprise software solutions. After many months of anticipation, the company came out of stealth phase in February when it announced it would be launching its first product with National Bank.

After publicly announcing a number of partnerships, the Canadian startup revealed a much anticipated $200 million CAD venture round, among the largest in Canada’s history. Element AI has also been working to further Quebec’s AI sector and working with the federal government and global organizations to promote ethical AI policies on an international stage.

“Element AI has cultivated a bold reputation as a leading responsible AI products and advisory services company,” said Mark Surman, executive director of Mozilla. “Their exemplary policy work and technical research capacity makes Element AI a natural partner for Mozilla to advance its goal of promoting internet health in the age of AI. We look forward to working together, and taking concrete steps for advancement.”

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“We take great pride in being selected to work with the Mozilla Foundation as its responsible AI corporate partner, and we are excited about what our collaboration can bring to advance responsible AI,” said Gagné, CEO of Element AI. “From the very inception of our company, we have taken the solemn responsibility to build responsible AI products, accompanying our clients and governments in understanding and deploying responsible AI. We look forward to continuing this mission in partnership with the Mozilla Foundation.”

“Working in collaboration with the Mozilla will support our work to address the pressing needs to ensure that AI products and solutions are deployed responsibly, with the appropriate tools and guidance necessary to support companies, governments and citizens,” Ouimette added.

Image courtesy Unsplash

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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