Artificial intelligence (A.I.) could become a game-changer for multiple industries. Powerful algorithms may soon be able to quickly sift through reams of data and information, delivering quantifiable insights for tasks such as enhancing guidance systems for self-driving cars, assisting physicians in diagnosing patients, or helping farmers implement plans that simplify the management and protection of their crops. Technology giants in the U.S. like IBM and Microsoft are exploring business opportunities where A.I. could have the most impact, but an ecosystem for this type of R&D is already thriving in Canada. Our neighbor to the north has produced several pioneers in A.I. Prominent computer scientists like Geoffrey Hinton, Ph.D., and Yoshua Bengio, Ph.D., started their careers in Toronto laying the groundwork for various A.I. oriented fields. Hinton, an engineering fellow at Google and professor emeritus of computer science at the University of Toronto, is considered a pioneer in training neural networks with multiple layers, a computing technique that provides A.I. with greater recognition capabilities.
Canada, with nine percent of the world's forests, is a land of plenty. As well as an enviable array of natural resources, Canada also boasts incredible support for entrepreneurs, both homegrown and international. Many household names, such as Slack, Hootsuite and Shopify -- which may be mistakenly considered as U.S. products -- hail from north of the border. This proves Canada is capable of delivering on startup success. And it's no surprise that startups excel in the country. Sure, there is less access to VC funding and the persuasive call of Canada's southern neighbor, but the Canadian government is working hard to build and keep successful startup ecosystems. There is a huge selection of government aid available to small businesses, some of which includes grants that don't have to be paid back.
Two summers ago, Magna International Inc. and Royal Bank of Canada brought together some of Canada's brightest entrepreneurs and innovators to brainstorm what Canada needs to foster the development of emerging technologies and tech companies. Fast forward to today and we are on the cusp of the next great technological revolution, driven by artificial intelligence (AI). The term may conjure up visions of science-fiction movies with apocalyptic outcomes, but the reality is we are already living in a world infused with AI, from music and movie recommendation services, to driver assistance systems in cars, to virtual personal assistants in our phone or in our home. Over the past few years, the pace of technological innovation and exploration of AI has increased exponentially, with futuristic ideas such as self-driving cars becoming tangible products of today. At the recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, one of the major themes centred on AI as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Jordan Jacobs and Tomi Poutanen are co-founders and co-CEOs of Layer 6 AI. Richard Zemel is a machine learning professor at the University of Toronto. Geoffrey Hinton is a University of Toronto professor emeritus and VP engineering fellow at Google. Ed Clark is a former TD Bank CEO and is business adviser to the Premier of Ontario.Jordan Jacobs and Tomi Poutanen are co-founders and co-CEOs of Layer 6 AI. Richard Zemel is a machine learning professor at the University of Toronto.
Canada's rankings in innovation has lagged that of other peer nations for decades despite government efforts to address this issue. Considering its success in developing research programs at its universities, its mediocre rankings overall in technology development is disappointing. Those programs alone have not been enough to translate into entrepreneurial innovation. A 2017 C.D. Howe Institute study points out that, even though Canadians have been at the forefront of breakthroughs in emerging technologies, in many cases, the chief beneficiaries of those breakthroughs have been other nations' economies. Canada needs to take a stronger role in building an environment in which Canadian know-how spurs Canadian business growth. According to a 2017 PwC global survey, Canadian companies stand significantly ahead of their global counterparts in having a dedicated team for digital innovation, with 54% of Canadian respondents reporting that their company does, as opposed to 43% of global respondents. Looking deeper, though, shows a far less innovative spirit, as 47% of respondents said that their pursuit of digital innovation takes the form of seeking to copy others' innovations rather than pursuing their own. Already a decade ago, experts recognized factors that constrain Canadian innovation growth. A 2009 study by the Council of Canadian Academies pointed to two key issues that have held Canadian businesses back from prioritizing innovation in their business strategies. The first issue deals with what has been called "the resource curse." Canada is largely "upstream" in the international supply chain, providing raw materials for other businesses that create products that are in turn passed down the value chain until they reach the stage of finished products sold to end customers. That places Canada in a position far distant from end customers, whose evolving needs spur businesses at the downstream end of the supply chain to adapt, which, in turn, spurs innovation.