Canada’s Emerging Artificial Intelligence Leadership and the Need for Good Policy
Research Assistant, Windsor Law LTEC Lab
Artificial intelligence is a significant and growing part of our daily lives. Artificial intelligence is a field of computer science research that studies and develops intelligent machines that act and work like humans through the use of techniques like machine learning (providing computers with the ability to learn patters from data, rather than being directly programmed with those patterns). Today, not only is artificial intelligence prevalent across many prominent industries (manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, and customer service), but artificial intelligence already possesses the generic powers of creation and destruction. Google’s Deep Dream creates its own art using its machine learning algorithms, while autonomous weapons could use artificial intelligence to select and attack military targets. Artificial intelligence is at our fingertips, with the most iconic example being iPhone’s Siri, a feature described as an intelligent personal assistant that answers questions and provides responses while simultaneously adapting to the user by learning the user’s searches to determine their preferences.
Artificial intelligence is expected to advance well beyond these contemporary capabilities. The Canadian Government’s policies and initiatives this year demonstrate that it has not neglected the powerful potential of artificial intelligence. In 2017, the federal government implemented various policies and initiatives to bolster Canada’s position as a global leader in artificial intelligence research.
In March, 2017, the Government of Canada announced its Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy for the advancement of artificial intelligence research in Canada to cement Canada’s position as a global leader in artificial intelligence. The federal government devoted $125 million to this initiative. The Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy has four major goals:
- Increase the number of outstanding artificial intelligence researchers and skilled graduates in Canada.
- Establish interconnected nodes of scientific intelligence in Canada’s three major centres for artificial intelligence in Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto.
- Develop global thought leadership on the economic, ethical, policy, and legal implications of advances in artificial intelligence.
- Support a national research community on artificial intelligence.
There are also four primary initiatives of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy:
- Increase funding for academic chairs in artificial intelligence programs to ensure Canada recruits and retains top academic researchers.
- Funding for policy-relevant working groups to examine the implication of artificial intelligence on the economy and society to inform the public and policy-makers.
- The creation of a National Artificial Intelligence Program to engage all researchers across Canada.
- Funding for three artificial intelligence institutes in Canada’s three major cities for artificial intelligence research (Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto) to facilitate research and innovation in artificial intelligence in Canada.
The federal government’s largest funding contribution to artificial intelligence in 2017 is its $50 million contribution to the creation of the Vector Institute, a new artificial intelligence center affiliated with the University of Toronto. The Vector Institute is meant to be a place for leading and cutting-edge artificial intelligence research. It aims to attract and retain artificial intelligence talent in Canada, curbing the loss of top Canadian talent to major corporations in the United States, like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. In fact, several of these corporations have begun opening offices in Canadian cities – further entrenching Canada’s artificial intelligence research leadership.
A portion of the $125 million in funding will also be used to support the University of Alberta’s research on artificial intelligence. The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research will also receive $35 million over the next five years to support a number of national artificial intelligence initiatives and projects.
Provincial governments have also contributed to the advancement of Canadian artificial intelligence research. The Ontario government has devoted $50 million to the construction of the Vector Institute, and the province of Alberta will provide the University of Alberta with funding over the next few years to promote its artificial intelligence research. In March, 2017, Quebec announced a delivery of $100 million to the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, led by another one of Canada’s artificial intelligence pioneers, Yoshua Bengio. In May, the Quebec government also announced that it will launch a committee composed of academics and business leaders to guide the creation of an artificial intelligence research hub in Quebec. Quebec’s goal is to produce a hub that will promote research and innovation in the domain of artificial intelligence.
Ultimately, these efforts of both the federal and provincial governments suggest that Canada is primarily concerned with facilitating artificial intelligence research, advancing the technological state of artificial intelligence, and placing Canada at the forefront of artificial intelligence applications. The focus so far has been primarily on the development of artificial intelligence technology; though it’s important to note that the federal government has paid some attention to the legal and social implications of artificial intelligence by addressing some policy concerns related to the proliferation of artificial intelligence in Canada. First, the 2017 Federal Budget outlines the Canada Innovation and Skills Plan, which in part attempts to address the anxiety that is caused by future employment displacement as a consequence of automation and technological innovation. Second, the Senate Liberals have hosted an Open Caucus on the policy implications associated with artificial intelligence. However, given the potentially powerful and widespread uses of artificial intelligence, law and policy advances must go hand in hand with technological advances.
The promotion of artificial intelligence research and innovation is a great feat for Canada. Artificial intelligence has the power to improve our lives. Canada is seeking to benefit from this innovation. However, Canada’s goal to be a leader in artificial intelligence research can only be accomplished if governments also consider the social and legal implications of artificial intelligence. We cannot truly reap the benefits of artificial intelligence if we are unaware or unprepared to respond to its potential negative social consequences and legal ramifications.
There are at least four considerations that need to be front and center while we are developing the artificial intelligence technology:
- Artificial intelligence research and innovation requires clear ethical guidance. Governments, as the central rule-making bodies in our society, are ideally positioned to develop a set of ethical considerations for researchers and scientists. Beneficial artificial intelligence innovation could be halted as innovators may take longer to implement their innovations due to unresolved ethical tensions.
- Innovation must be regulated to some degree. Artificial intelligence applications have the potential to have tremendous, disruptive, and destructive implications. Governments have a role to play in regulating any potentially dangerous applications and outcomes to ensure safety and to provide guidance to innovators. Artificial intelligence is already having dangerous consequences and Canadian governments should begin to take its powers into consideration.
- An advancement in artificial intelligence innovation means an increase in intellectual property. Governments must ensure that the intellectual property that is produced by Canadian innovations remains in the country Many of the machine-learning related patents developed in Canada have already been bought up by foreign companies from various countries over the past 10 years. Canada needs to better retain the intellectual property benefits derived from its domestic investments.
- Overall, artificial intelligence is likely to dramatically alter many aspects of our lives and society. One of the greatest impacts artificial intelligence can have is on job displacement. Some studies focused on the labour force in the United States of America have predicted that nearly half of American jobs currently performed by humans could be automated by the 2030’s. A major rethinking of our social infrastructure will be necessary if artificial intelligence innovation leads to significant job displacement. Such major disruptions impacting current policies require early consideration.
Canadian governments need to consult artificial intelligence researchers, including those focused on the law and policy issues associated with artificial intelligence, to ensure we are prepared for the long and short-term effects of artificial intelligence. We cannot reap the benefits of artificial intelligence if we are unprepared to address the societal consequences.
This blog shares Joanna Pawlowski’s reflections on some of her research work undertaken in the summer 2017 for Professor Kristen Thomasen.
 Cade Metz, “Google’s Artificial Brain is Pumping out Trippy – and Pricey Art” (2 February 2016), online: <https://www.wired.com/2016/02/googles-artificial-intelligence-gets-first-art-show/> ; Senate, Liberal Senate Forum, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, Part 2: Military Applications (3 May 2017), online: <http://liberalsenateforum.ca/open-caucus/may-3-2017-robotics-artificial-intelligence-part-2-military-applications/>.
 Apple. “Use Siri”, online: <https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT204389>.
 Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. “Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy Overview” (30 March 2017), online: <https://www.cifar.ca/assets/pan-canadian-artificial-intelligence-strategy-overview/>.
 “Federal and Ontario Governments Invest up to $100 Million in New Artificial Intelligence ‘Vector Institute’”, Financial Post (30 March 2017), online: <http://business.financialpost.com/technology/federal-and-ontario-governments-invest-up-to-100-million-in-new-artificial-intelligence-vector-institute/wcm/ceb9218f-cbaf-4968-a6a6-cceff5ec3754>.
 “Microsoft Opens State of the Art Technology Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia”, Newswire (17 June 2016), online: <http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/microsoft-opens-state-of-the-art-technology-centre-in-vancouver-british-columbia-583428321.html>.
 Supra, note 3.
 Jennifer Pascoe, “UAlberta to Play Prominent Role in Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy” (30 March 2017), online: < https://www.ualberta.ca/news-and-events/newsarticles/2017/march/ualberta-to-play-prominent-role-in-pan-canadian-ai-strategy>.
 Kate Allen, “New Institute Aims to Make Toronto an ‘Intellectual Centre’ of Artificial Intelligence Capability”, Toronto Star (28 March 2017), online: <https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/03/28/new-toronto-institute-aims-to-be-worldwide-supplier-of-artificial-intelligence-capability.html> ; Ava Chisling, “Meet Canada, the Queen of Artificial Intelligence” (17 April 2017), Ross Intelligence (blog), online: < https://blog.rossintelligence.com/meet-canada-the-queen-of-ai-e1aa3c39b180> ; “Committee Will Guide $100 Million Artificial Intelligence Hub in Quebec”, Montreal Gazette (15 May 2017), online: <http://montrealgazette.com/technology/committee-will-guide-100-million-artificial-intelligence-hub-in-quebec>.
 See Kate Crawford and Ryan Calo, “There is a Blind Spot in Artificial Intelligence Research”, Nature (13 October 2016), online: < http://www.nature.com/news/there-is-a-blind-spot-in-ai-research-1.20805>.
 Dangerous and discriminatory software used to predict future criminals in the United States demonstrated bias against African-Americans ; see Julia Angwin, et al “Machine Bias”, ProPublica (23 May 2016), online: < https://www.propublica.org/article/machine-bias-risk-assessments-in-criminal-sentencing>.
 Joe Castaldo, “Why Does Canada Give Away Its Best Ideas in Artificial Intelligence?”, Macleans (13 April 2017), online: <http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/why-does-canada-give-away-its-best-ideas-in-ai/>.
 Carl Benedikt Frey & Michael A Osborne, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization? (2013) University of Oxford, Oxford Martin School, Working Paper.