While Montreal has emerged in the past five years as a global hub for artificial intelligence (AI) research and talent recruitment, Ottawa is where Canadian policy in the revolutionary realm is being generated, and that makes it a hot topic for politicians, public servants, journalists and consultants in the capital. In March of 2017, the Trudeau government announced $125 million in funding for a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy with a goal of making Canada a world leader in the field. And when the Innovation Superclusters Initiative unveiled its five winning bids earlier this year, the SCALE AI supercluster was among them. While AI — the replication of intelligent outcome optimization once the exclusive domain of humans now shared by machines — has the potential to offer undisputed real-world benefits, there remain many public policy, implementation, and ethical questions around the technology. Before the Bell hosts Catherine Clark and David Akin each hosted a panel of experts and stakeholders to discuss those very questions.
During the Pulse segment of the event, hosted by Akin, Chantal Bernier, counsel and head of Dentons’ Canadian privacy and cybersecurity practice, said that the current legislation may not be able to keep up with the consent implications for AI.
“The AI takes in data, for example my name, address, and purchase history, and creates a profile on me that I’ve never granted my consent for,” said Bernier. “The consent and transparency implications of artificial intelligence would require the modernization of the legal framework.”
Marc-Etienne Ouimette is director of public policy and government relations at Element AI, the Montreal company co-founded by globally recognized AI pioneer Yoshua Bengio. Ouimette said that Canada has been ahead of the curve when it comes to investing in the development of AI.
“The story of the development of AI itself is a microcosm of this false divide between fundamental research and applied research, and the need to fund research in the first place,” said Ouimette. “We wouldn’t have this AI breakthrough in Canada were it not for the fact that the government invested over a twenty or thirty-year period into what led to the breakthroughs in deep learning and neural networks.”
Dan Duguay, principal at Tactix, said that there is a gap between government and industry based on the difference in level of understanding of where technology is and any government’s ability to keep up with the head-spinning pace of innovation.
“That’s a gap that’s difficult to bridge, if industry and government aren’t talking the right way and understanding each other,” said Duguay. “The second problem that AI is demonstrating is the rate at which that technology evolves and changes, and the rate at which government stays on top of it. There’s an asynchronous nature to that which is even worse in AI.”
Duguay worried that the gap may become unmanageable without principles-based legislation.
During the Policy segment hosted by Clark, Sigfried Usal, managing director of cortAIx at the Thales’ Centre of Research and Technology in Artificial Intelligence expertise in Montreal, said that the greater connectivity of systems is producing a lot more data than it used to.
“You have to deal with that massive data while still applying some human rules, because we’re still living in a human world,” said Usal. “If you apply [those rules] with the new AI, you go faster, you deal with more data, and you’re more efficient and safer.”
Usal said that while AI helps to solve human problems, there needs to be more transparency in how AI is created in order to ensure that centralized companies don’t own all of the data and the power that is implied with it.
Mary Van Buren, president of the Canadian Construction Association, said that while the industry is still seen as being “old school,” it is employing AI in order to solve the problems of productivity and life-cycle management. One way is through 3D printing.
“In the Netherlands, they’ve actually printed concrete and steel bridges, which helps to reduce waste,” said Van Buren. “There’s also new software for building information modeling, and that allows people to collaborate on large projects with real-time information.”
Van Buren said that with data gathered by one system, like the new LRT system in Ottawa, it can help not only with maintenance, but can be used to improve other, similar systems. Van Buren says that with the industry entering a labour crunch while the government has made $180 million in infrastructure investments, there is an opportunity to use AI to help close the gap.
David Lametti, MP for LaSalle-Émard-Verdun, QC, and parliamentary secretary to the minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, said the government feels that it has a role in developing AI, which is why it’s working with private sector partners.
“We want to be a powerhouse, we want to invest and work with the kinds of partners at basic research and applied research in order to make that happen, and we have to create the normative frameworks – have the right privacy laws, security laws, and ensure that we can build trust in the system,” said Lametti. “And we can’t forget the ethical implications to ensure that we respect human beings in all of this, and not create a digital divide of AI haves and AI have-nots.”