Artificial intelligence may not have reached its world domination moment just yet but the economic impact of AI is now being realized globally, with countries like China and the United States putting more and more efforts into research and applications.
But Canada is also poised to be a player in the AI revolution. With startup and university research cultures in places like Toronto and Montreal and with a prime minister who’s a bonafide AI cheerleader, Canada is set to punch well above its weight
Last year, the Wuzhen Institute, a Chinese think tank, issued a report on the state of the world’s artificial intelligence research, finding that while the United States is miles ahead of all other countries in terms of the number of AI companies and patents applications, China is quickly catching up. Chinese AI companies received $2.6 billion in funding over the past five years, again second only to the US, and Chinese innovation has shown a 200 per cent uptick in patent submissions over just the past two years.
“AI is developing rapidly in China,” says Zhao Ziming, analyst at the Internet consultancy company, Analysys, to the China Daily. “Especially in its applications, China is ahead of other countries. As the technology matures, there is a high possibility that China will catch up with the US and even become a world leader in the field of AI.”
But the Wuzhen report also lists Canada as being right in the mix, coming in fourth in the number of AI companies after the US, China, Britain and India. For a small population size, that high ranking is impressive, and much of the credit goes to the growing AI research hubs in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Waterloo and Montreal.
Montreal, in particular, has been the site of continued expansion in AI research. Earlier this fall, Facebook announced it was opening an AI research lab in Montreal, the fourth for the company, and would be committing $5.75 million in research funding to Montreal’s universities and AI research institutes. Facebook now joins big tech companies like Google, Microsoft and Samsung who already have research centres in Montreal.
Canada’s AI success was on notice earlier this month at Google’s Go North conference in Toronto, where Alphabet Inc. chairman Eric Schmidt sat on stage with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to sing the praises of Canada’s AI scene.
Schmidt said that his company was “enormously thankful” to Canadian AI innovations that have found their way into Google’s infrastructure. “We now use it throughout our entire business and it’s a major driver of our corporate success,” he said at Google’s Go North conference. “So we owe you, right. And we remember.”
For his part, Trudeau took the opportunity to underline the importance of Canada’s being on the forefront of the technology wave, especially when it comes to areas like AI and automation, which are set to have even further economic impact going forward. “I just think Canadians realize better than most that there is an opportunity here,” Trudeau said, pointing out that his government is going “to invest in quantum, we’re gonna invest in AI, we’re going to invest in robotics, we’re going to invest in high-value, innovative, creative, groundbreaking areas.”