Democratizing AI Entrepreneurship for the Next Digital Wave

Whether they be for generating artificial intelligence used in data analysis, simulation, modelling, and the data sciences, advanced AI algorithms are the foundations of the Next Digital Wave. Democratizing access to AI resources and nurturing the next generation of AI talent is crucial to Canada’s success in riding that wave.

There was a time, not so long ago, when AI was for the elite: those in ivory towers and silicon campuses around the world. Now, it’s for every company. The democratization of AI starts with access: access to advanced computing platforms, job training, talent development, incubators, accelerators, and funding opportunities.  If Canada’s innovators and entrepreneurs are going to move quickly and effectively in the AI space, we need to see widespread uptake of the latest tools and methods.

Yet there are obstacles to democratizing AI tools and technologies and integrating them into existing and forward-thinking business practices. In a May 2019 publication, Sarah Villeneuve of the Brookfield Institute noted there are “a range of barriers to AI adoption— related to infrastructure, financing, cultural and organizational structures, and skills and knowledge—but available talent, in particular, is a precondition to successful AI adoption.”

The good news is that Canada has talent. Our colleges and universities rank consistently among the best in the world and our talent development pipeline has benefited from public and private investment towards teaching and training that have seen strong success. In May of this year, CIFAR’s Johnny Kung and colleagues published an insightful series of country-level reports summarizing areas of strength and weakness in AI adoption strategy. They found a lack of AI adoption in Canada in many key areas but also found that Canada’s home-grown research and talent development are considered world-class.

Canada’s strengths in nurturing the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, data scientists and researchers should come as no surprise to all of us engaged in Canada’s innovation ecosystem. Our colleges and universities are elite performers when it comes to talent development and fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs. Our innovation community is world-class – able to attract top talent from across the globe. Our culture is welcoming and competitive, built to draw out the best in us. We must continue to build on these solid foundations.

Moving forward, I see two areas of opportunity in Canada’s AI strategy. First, as we continue to develop AI talent, we must ensure that Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion remain top-of-mind. Our success will be defined in the coming years by our ability to provide opportunities for bright minds from across Canada and around the world. Second, there is great potential in how we balance questions of ethics and data governance in the innovation ecosystem. Underlying the power of advanced algorithms and supercomputing capacity is raw data. How we provide researchers access to the data they need will prove crucial as Canada’s AI strategy continues to develop and artificial intelligence becomes an increasingly prominent part of government and industrial policy.

Every company with a novel application for AI should be able to go from creation to commercialization and do it in Canada. The democratization of AI is what will determine whether we succeed or not in this regard. Every entrepreneur needs to have access to the next generation of digital tools to develop and implement their AI strategy.

The challenges we face are also opportunities. Building up our talent, providing them access to essential tools and opportunities for skills development, and emerging as a global leader in EDI, AI ethics, and sensitive data management are key areas of focus for profiting from the Next Digital Wave.

 

Tibor Turi, Ph.D. P.Eng.
Executive Director, SOSCIP Consortium

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