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Canada’s Lagging AI Adoption Needs to Accelerate to Compete

AI | Feb 29, 2024

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Canada's tech sector voices concern over slow AI adoption, risking its global AI leadership status

Canada's reputation as a frontrunner in artificial intelligence (AI) is under threat due to its sluggish pace in adopting AI technologies, according to voices within the country's tech community. At the MaRS Impact AI conference in Toronto, experts discussed the critical need for Canada to embrace AI more rapidly to sustain its position as a leader in this innovative field. Krista Jones, Chief Delivery Officer at MaRS Discovery District, highlighted the slow adoption of Canadian-made AI technologies as a significant challenge, potentially jeopardizing Canada's leadership in AI.  Note, Canada ranked 5th on last year's Global AI Index and Deloitte reported that there were 670 Canadian AI startups with good potential.

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  • A KPMG study revealed that only 35% of Canadian companies had adopted AI by last February, compared to 72% of U.S. businesses, underscoring the urgency for Canada to close this gap.
  • Canadian companies face several obstacles in embracing AI, including funding shortages, risk aversion, and a lack of clear starting points for implementing AI technologies.
  • Catherine Fortin LeFaivre from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce advocates for starting with small, manageable AI applications to overcome the paralysis caused by aiming for large-scale AI strategies.
  • Tomi Poutanen, head of AI health company Signal 1, pointed out the difficulties in AI adoption within healthcare due to regulatory hurdles and funding constraints, emphasizing the need for innovation-friendly policies.
  • Elissa Strome of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research called for government action as procurers or first customers of AI technologies and suggested incentives for domestic companies purchasing Canadian AI to stimulate the local market.

Ways Canada Can Help Accelerate AI Adoption

To streamline the approach for Canada to increase AI adoption and enhance its global competitiveness, Canada is advised to focus on a few areas to move the needle forward including (1) Government Leadership and Support, (2) Education and Workforce Development, and (3) Innovation and Industry Collaboration.

1. Government Leadership and Support

Create a more conducive environment for AI development and adoption through strategic investments, regulatory frameworks, and international partnerships.

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  • Increase allocations in the national budget for direct investments in AI research, development, and adoption. Offer financial incentives such as tax breaks, grants, and subsidies to businesses implementing AI technologies, with a focus on startups and SMEs.
  • Develop clear, adaptive regulations that encourage innovation while ensuring ethical use of AI. This includes privacy protections, data security, and guidelines for responsible AI that can build public trust in AI technologies.
  • Foster global partnerships to share knowledge, research, and best practices in AI. This also involves creating policies that attract global AI talent and encourage them to contribute to Canada's AI ecosystem.

2. Education and Workforce Development

Build a talent pipeline with the skills necessary for an AI-driven future through comprehensive education and training programs.

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  • Integrate AI and machine learning into curricula across levels of education, from primary through post-secondary, to build foundational knowledge from an early age.
  • Develop programs and incentives for continuous learning, reskilling, and upskilling for the existing workforce. This includes partnerships with private sector entities to provide practical, hands-on training in AI applications.
  • Increase public awareness and understanding of AI's benefits and challenges. Encourage engagement with AI technologies through community programs, workshops, and open-access resources.

3. Innovation and Industry Collaboration

Stimulate AI innovation and practical application through collaboration between academia, industry, and government.

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  • Encourage public-private collaborations that leverage the strengths of academia for research, industry for application, and government for support and funding. This includes creating innovation hubs and clusters that serve as centers for AI excellence.
  • Identify and target sectors where AI can have a transformative impact, such as fintech (financial services), healthcare, and manufacturing. Develop sector-specific strategies and support demonstration projects that showcase AI's potential to improve efficiency and productivity.
  • Invest in data infrastructure that ensures access to high-quality, diverse datasets necessary for AI training. Implement policies that balance data accessibility with privacy and security considerations.

By focusing on these three categories, Canada can create a holistic strategy that accelerates AI adoption, fosters innovation, and continues to position the country as a global leader in the AI revolution.

Why It Matters

The urgency for Canada to enhance its AI adoption is about securing a future where innovation, economic growth, and societal well-being are intrinsically linked to technological advancement. Canada's ability to keep pace will determine its role on the global stage, impacting everything from job creation to healthcare, and beyond.  As Canada faces the risk of falling behind, the call to action is clear: embrace AI more broadly and swiftly, or risk losing its esteemed position on the global AI stage.

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