Canada is betting on the promise of artificial intelligence to expand its tech economy by investing $91.5 million to bolster its leadership in AI development and to attract and retain more academic researchers and experts who will further contribute to the country’s work in the field.
The initiative, which is being funded by the Canadian government, aims to promote collaboration on AI in three of the nation’s high-tech hubs in Montreal, Toronto-Waterloo and Edmonton. The program, called the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy , is being administered by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).
“For all countries, AI has amazing potential in terms of changing how business does business,” Dr. Alan Bernstein, the president and CEO of CIFAR, told ITPro. Around the world, the AI marketplace is expected to grow to some $47 billion a year by 2020 and Canada wants to grab its own share of that lucrative marketplace, he added.
“The government was concerned we would lose talent [to places like California’s Silicon Valley] and it also realizes the huge innovation potential surrounding AI for Canada,” said Bernstein. “Canada has acknowledged strength in AI research. Deep learning started here. I think it’s a really exciting field of science.”
The program, which got underway in March, also aims to further expand and develop academic and business discussions about AI and its possibilities across a wide range of industries in Canada. It is being funded with $125 million in Canadian dollars, which is equal to $91.5 million in American dollars.
“We also want to look into the disruption potential of AI and we want to have an ongoing discussion with experts about the effects of AI,” said Bernstein. “We want Canada to convene these conversations.”
That means looking at what its effects could be on society as a whole, he said. “It’s hard to predict where the impact of these new technologies will be on how we actually do things. I think it’s clear it will be disruptive.”
With all that potential, that’s why Canada wants to invest to take on a major role in AI around the world, he said. “The overarching goal is to position Canada and to maintain its lead in the emerging field of AI and its research and its implications in the economy.”
Canada already has held key roles in deep learning research over the last 10 years, said Bernstein. An earlier CIFAR project centered on neural computation and adaptive perception, which sought to develop an algorithm that could be used by computers to recreate how humans learn, he said.
Additional money for AI research and collaboration is also being contributed by other governments across Canada, including $100 million Canadian from Quebec and $50 million Canadian from Ontario, according to Bernstein. “I expect the province of Alberta will also put money in as well for similar purposes. We’re getting close to half a billion dollars Canadian ($366 million in U.S. dollars).”
Within the next six months, Bernstein said he expects that Canada will be announcing additional AI investments that will likely raise the total amount for AI research and collaboration to about $1 billion Canadian.
“As a country, we are really committed to this area,” he said. “We think it has amazing potential in applications in everything from renewable energy to banking, agriculture, education and so on.”
Canada’s AI contributions so far include work by researchers including Geoff Hinton at the University of Toronto, Yoshua Bengio of the University of Montreal, and Richard Sutton of the University of Alberta, according to CIFAR. The researchers have made fundamental advances in artificial intelligence so far, including techniques which made computers better at seeing patterns and making accurate predictions based on those patterns.