Understanding Artificial Intelligence – Canadian Perspectives

(Disponible en français : Comprendre l’intelligence artificielle – Perspectives canadiennes)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the way we live, work, and play. This transformative technology can affect manufacturing, transportation, national security, the delivery of health care and other public or private services.

Stemming from ongoing AI research, current developments include predictive analytics, natural language processing (understanding and generating “human” speech and text), image recognition, and advanced robotics. It is even being used by some media outlets to write news stories.

AI is everywhere, from social media newsfeeds to navigation devices to online shopping.  Other familiar examples include:

  • targeted ads based on search engine use;
  • personalized suggestions from online video and shopping platforms; and
  • smart device virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa.

What is Artificial Intelligence ?

Artificial Intelligence—a term coined in 1955 by Dartmouth professor John McCarthy—refers to replicating human cognitive and predictive abilities by artificial means. Canada has contributed to AI’s advancement since the 1970s and today, is leading in several aspects of AI research.

A key type of AI is “machine learning,” which “enables computer systems to learn and make predictions based on historical data” with minimal human intervention. That is, such a system is “able to improve its performance over time by training itself using methods of data analysis and analytical modelling.”

The Role of Quantum Computing

Traditional computing uses information stored as either ones or zeros; in contrast, quantum computing uses ones, zeros, and “superpositions” of the two (since quantum systems can be in multiple states simultaneously). If realized, this could translate into exponentially superior processing power that could significantly advance AI development.

Although the amount of information produced, collected and catalogued is rapidly expanding, current data processing technologies are increasingly limited in their ability to analyze the full scope of this data (and thus “learn” from it). However, the immense computational power of quantum computing combined with AI could provide new solutions to hyper-complex problems in multiple areas, far beyond the scope of today’s IT capabilities.

Economic Impacts

Given its potential, AI could have a substantial impact on many aspects of Canada’s economy and society. For example, it could lead to improved transportation logistics, tailored medical treatments, advanced weather pattern predictions, and precisely targeted marketing, etc. Globally, its impact could be between $7 and $13 trillion by 2025.

Conversely, AI could also expose the Canadian economy and its workforce to risk. For decades, stakeholders have feared that automation could eliminate many of today’s jobs. Experts cannot agree on the scale of this impact, creating a wide range of analysis and opinion surrounding this issue.  Some have also cautioned that AI could lead to negative outcomes through malicious use.

This infographic shows that artificial intelligence could have implications on multiple areas, such as national security, transportation, health services, and entertainment.

Government of Canada Investments

In 2016, the federal government invested in AI research under the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. Budget 2017 announced the $125 million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. In 2018, Canada’s three granting councils announced a $6 million special call for research into the impacts of AI on the health sector. The federal government also helps fund the Perimeter Institute for Quantum Computing, along with other scientific research in Canada.

Role of the Parliament of Canada

AI will have implications across several areas of Canadian federal legislation and governance, and Canada’s Parliament has begun to take notice. In October 2017, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology presented a report entitled Challenge Ahead: Integrating Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and 3D Printing Technologies into Canada’s Healthcare Systems. Similarly, in January 2018, the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications published a report entitled, Driving Change: Technology and the Future of the Automated Vehicle.

Going forward, several federal policy areas and related legislation could be affected by AI, including:

  • national security – terrorism, cyber-attacks (National Defence Act, Canadian Security Intelligence Act, Communications Security Establishment Act (pending));
  • domestic law and order (Criminal Code, Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act, Canada Evidence Act);
  • personal security – safeguards against personal harm, design/manufacturing standards (Criminal Code, Medical Devices Regulations);
  • privacy – protection/use of personal information (Security of Information Act, Privacy Act, Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act);
  • health care – personal information, fair access to services (Canada Health Act);
  • transportation – fair access to corridors, equitable treatment of passengers (Canada Transportation Act, Motor Vehicle Safety Act); and
  • commerce – ensuring competition, fair access to market/prices (Competition Act).

Like the way in which railroads, the industrial revolution, and the Internet profoundly changed Canada and the world, AI is very likely to be transformative. And, as AI continues to advance and become more commonplace, its accountability, accessibility (costs, digital literacy), and ethical implications, in addition to economic, security and legal aspects may also have to be considered. In so doing, Canada will be better prepared to adapt to the benefits and challenges that artificial intelligence can create.

Suggested Reading

Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, et al, AI + Public Policy: Understanding the Shift, March 2018.

HEC Montréal, Canada’s impending AI revolution and the opportunity for Canadian business, PowerPoint presentation, February 2017.

Information and Communications Technology Council, Artificial Intelligence in Canada – Where do we stand?, April 2015.

NB – The Library of Parliament will be publishing other papers pertaining to AI.

Author: Dillan Theckedath, Library of Parliament