We stand at a precipice, overlooking the dawn of a new Industrial Age, where powerful machine intelligence will uncover solutions to complex problems that currently lie well beyond our reach. By augmenting human intelligence, AI will usher in the era of safer, cleaner and connected transportation and lead to a world where we can cure and even prevent deadly diseases.

While some fear the impending wave of technological change, in Canada, we're stepping forward, ready to apply our knowledge, energy and values to shape AI into a force for good. Because we understand that only by embracing the larger trend can we steer these technologies toward a path to a brighter future. It's our responsibility as pioneers of AI and besides, it's the perfectly Canadian thing to do.

Historic investment into Ontario's IT sector

Since Canada became the first country in the world to adopt a national strategy for artificial intelligence, cities across the country, including Toronto, Waterloo and Ottawa, have attracted global attention and major investments to our AI ecosystem. In fact, in September 2018 alone, Ontario attracted over $1 billion dollars in investment into its AI sector by tech giants that include Intel, Microsoft and Uber, all while tech job creation in Toronto continues to outpace the Bay Area, Seattle and Washington D.C. combined.

Of course, Canada remaining at the forefront of AI is not inevitable. In order to continue to be a driving force that shapes our AI-enabled future, we must concentrate our efforts on supporting commercialization and implementation and according to Steve Holder, National Strategy Executive, Analytics & AI at SAS, that will be a challenge. "Canada's business culture is a little more pragmatic, a little more conservative when diving into a new technology," says Holder.

SAS, a leader in enterprise analytics and artificial intelligence solutions released joint research commissioned by Forbes Insights, Accenture and Intel called Critical Mass: Managing AI's unstoppable progress. The survey of 305 company executives, most of which were chief information officers, chief technology officers and chief analytics officers from large firms, found that Canadian businesses currently trail those of its nine closest competing countries when it comes to AI adoption, with only 31 percent of Canadian businesses claiming to have successfully implemented AI.

Leveraging Canada's AI moment

But while the report brings to light challenges lying ahead, there's also evidence of Canada's opportunity to leverage its ‘AI moment' to ensure the technology is applied ethically around the globe. The survey found that Canadian businesses lead in establishing ethics committees to review the use of AI (73 percent) while 67 percent have ethics training for technologists. Considering the AI revolution involves adding cognitive abilities to everything, few would downplay the importance of the field of ethics in artificial intelligence – and it's an area that Canada can own.

"The challenge for companies who are embracing AI is to ensure that it's done in a responsible and ethical way with no bias in the AI outcome," says Cameron Dow, President of SAS Institute (Canada). That's why SAS itself layers in interpretability techniques to help businesses understand what parameters drive a given outcome. "We want to be an open AI and analytics platform. We focus on creating openness and offering choice and control in our AI system and building a trusted AI system. It's not about the algorithms anymore, it's about how do I deploy and apply them in an ethical way?" adds Holder.

From its corporate headquarters in Toronto, SAS Canada can also attest to Canada's status as a global AI hub – especially when it comes to attracting and developing highly-skilled talent, a key ingredient to any AI ecosystem's enduring success. “Toronto is one of the most highly educated and diverse cities in the world, offering a large educated population with international business experience and connections which will benefit Canada as it looks to become a leader in Artificial Intelligence,” says SAS Canada's president.

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March 25, 2019

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