Federal investment in artificial intelligence touted as good for Canada, and Edmonton – Edmonton Journal

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Edmonton AI industry reaction to federal money

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The CEO of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute says the federal government’s budget commitments to artificial intelligence should help to reinforce Canada’s and Edmonton’s leadership in the growing field.

On April 7, the federal government announced a $2.4-billion injection into Canada’s AI industry. The money is aimed at helping six specific areas including capacity, protection and enforcement. Cam Linke, who heads up the Alberta institute, known as Amii for short, said the money is a welcome reinforcement of federal support for the industry.

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“As a country, we’re punching way above our weight class,” said Linke.

Since its rollout, Linke said the federal government’s pan-Canadian AI strategy, of which Amii is a part, has helped make Canada a world leader in the industry. The efforts began in 2017 and are headquartered in three places: Amii in Edmonton, Vector in Toronto, and Mila in Montreal.

The money announced earlier in the month, Linke said, is part of Canada’s ongoing commitment to maintaining the national status carved out by the three hubs and continuing to stay at the forefront of AI.

The money is earmarked to assist six efforts within the industry.

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• $2 billion toward building and providing access to computing capabilities;

• $200 million toward AI startups and broader adoption;

• $100 million to the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program for AI assistance;

• $50 million to workers impacted by the growth of AI;

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• $50 million to start a national AI safety institute; and

• $5.1 million to help enforce the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act.

The first priority is for greater “compute” power, which Linke said is the mechanism used to train AI to solve complex problems.

In beefing up the compute power, Canada can have greater access to capable AI, which can be used by people, businesses and governments of all sizes.

“Compute has been a challenge. We’ve seen that from startups and from companies who have raised money,” said Linke.

Nicole Janssen, co-founder of AltaML, an Edmonton-based AI-powered solutions developer, had a similarly positive reaction to the investment into national compute ability, but voiced concern over ensuring it is allotted to Canadian companies. She suggested a potential redirection of $1 billion from compute to adoption efforts that would address Canada’s labour shortages and optimization.

This reallocation to drive greater adoption would further our capabilities and ensure investments truly benefit Canadian innovation and industry,” Janssen wrote in a post on the company’s website.

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Linke echoed Janssen’s point on national adoption of AI.

“Canada is definitely behind in adoption compared to other places like the United States, but we’ve seen a big push over the last year to start to close that,” he said.

Despite the slower national uptake, last year Amii worked with more than 170 companies to expand their use of AI.

While the rollout of federal money will be important, Linke said the overall need for investment was of more concern. Whether the money is used to foster national talent, innovation or expanding local opportunities, Linke said there wasn’t one specific area that ought to be prioritized.

“We’re trying to create a certain amount of gravity in the country that attracts the world here, that keeps incredible people here because they want to be here. You have to kind of push on a number of fronts at once to be able to succeed at that.”

Amii will be hosting an AI summit called Upper Bound in May to give Edmontonians a chance to meet members of the industry and to learn more about it.

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