Canada just took AI to the next level

by: | April 12, 2017

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  

The idea of turning Canada into an AI Superpower came to life on a dock, in a lake, in Northern Ontario where a handful of entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and investors got together to discuss the long game for this country. Moving from a resource economy to one based on intellectual property. That conversation centred on making 2-3 giant bets, and landing on the global podium.

The recent announcement of Toronto’s new Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence is one of the most exciting and promising initiatives for the tech community in Canada. It’s been paired with the recent federal budget that has dedicated significant funding to advancing innovation and research in this arena.

Canada is no stranger to being an AI leader.

We are home to world-class AI centres where the modern godfathers of deep learning – Geoffrey Hinton, Richard Sutton and Yoshua Benigo – are educating the next generation of scientists and engineers. Over the last few years, we have started to see more programs and institutes being established that focus on application and commercialization: The Creative Destruction Lab, The Next 36, Element AI.

Then you have companies like Google, Microsoft, Thomson Reuters, General Motors all moving AI labs to Canada. Big plays like these are sending a strong signal that we will be a global force for the best R&D, the best talent, and the best innovations. My prediction: We will see at least 100 corporate AI labs set up shop in Canada from the US and Europe in the next year.  

The Vector Institute – of which I am honoured to have been asked to sit on the board of directors ­­– has a stated goal to develop and attract talent to Canada and fund research by postgraduates working on projects in the field. Its area of focus is in Deep Learning, pioneered by Geoff Hinton, with applications in a wide variety of fields including healthcare, financial services, manufacturing and material science.

In the next decade, we could see all aspects of our society impacted by artificial intelligence.  Those to change first will be data-rich industries like healthcare, financial services and energy.  

Deep learning algorithms are already outperforming highly trained human “knowledge workers” in a variety of industries. As one example, AI leaders have called out universities and questioned their ongoing training of radiologists, a profession that is being disrupted by algorithms that are just… better.

There is no doubt we are in the middle of an AI boom.

Every week I see new companies emerge, as well as new research and new applications of AI technology that make this an exciting time to invest in our own future.

We are at the forefront of a new era, and Canada is about to lead the charge.

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