Artificial Intelligence (AI) isn’t just the future; it’s the here and now. We interact with AI daily, whether we’re asking Siri for directions, experiencing Google predicting our interests based on past queries, or having our bank anticipate a fraudulent transaction before it can happen.
As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, the transformative possibilities of AI are practically limitless, and according to the “Godfather of AI” Professor Geoff Hinton, we are only beginning to scratch the surface. One of the most exciting developments is the combination of AI and the cloud. The marriage of these technologies opens new doors to crowdsourcing and sharing data, fuelling innovations to help address some of today’s biggest challenges in areas ranging from healthcare to urban planning. So it’s no surprise that global tech giants including Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft are investing eye-watering sums in AI. These big bets have the potential for enormous rewards – one study estimates that AI has the potential to double economic growth rates by 2035.
At the centre of this AI revolution is the province of Ontario, Canada. Ontario is the second-largest IT cluster in North America, after California and Toronto is now the fourth largest city in North America. Global giants like Google, Microsoft and Uber are capitalising on Ontario’s exploding business and tech scene by investing in AI-enabled technology being built by home-grown talent.
This is happening as a direct result of a unique combination of factors vital to the advancement of AI that give Ontario an edge: talent, investment and close public-private sector partnership. On the talent front, Ontario pledged to boost the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) graduates from 40,000 to 50,000 each year, and is projecting 1,000 students a year will graduate from applied masters programmes in Artificial Intelligence by 2022. Interest in AI-related programmes is in part fuelled by Professor Hinton of the University of Toronto, who pioneered deep learning, a type of machine learning that mimics human brain function to compute massive amounts of data.
Talent is one of the reasons Facebook executive, Steve Irvine, left Silicon Valley and moved to Toronto to found Integrate.ai, a company that is focused on applied artificial intelligence. Irvine excitedly notes, “We have amazing talent here, and nobody knows it.”
More than 200 successful AI-enabled companies are getting in on the secret, having set up shop in Ontario. One is newcomer Flybits, which started out as a PhD research project and is now a fully-fledged business supported by Toronto’s MaRS innovation lab and Ryerson University. The platform allows businesses to process big data using AI to generate user insights and tailor customer services.
The financial sector is an early adopter of AI and is using it to transform how it does business. Ottawa-based start-up MindBridge Analytics, which uses AI to find irregularities in data sets, is revolutionising how audits are done. Its aim is “to bridge the gap between the failings of current statistical sampling techniques” in order to empower auditors to better anticipate and detect fraud. MindBridge’s current partners include the Bank of England and Thomson Reuters.
“Cloud-based technology is also being used in the fintech sector by Wealthsimple to achieve its mission of “bringing smarter financial services to everyone, regardless of age or net worth.” Through its digital investing platform, which uses an algorithm to match investors with a personalized investment portfolio designed to meet their goals, Wealthsimple offers top-quality advice to 50,000 investors – totalling over $1-billion in assets under management – at a much lower cost than traditional wealth managers.
Bringing such innovations to life requires focused investment in research and development, and a close partnership between the public and private sectors, which includes incentives like extremely generous tax credits to attract talent and R&D to Ontario. This year, the Ontario government invested a further $50 million in Toronto’s Vector Institute, a new public-private institute for AI with a specific focus on deep learning and machine learning. Professor Hinton is leading the institute in identifying new business models for AI to support and sustain economic growth.
The Vector Institute is a collaboration between the University of Toronto, the governments of Ontario and Canada, and private partners including Google, Accenture, and all five of Canada’s big banks. The model is focused on bridging the gap between university research and companies like Google to help commercialise research and connect companies with the best talent.
Far from a trend on the horizon, AI is already transforming how we live, work and play in Ontario. The combination of AI and the cloud will unleash even more possibilities to improve the world’s future. Ontario is harnessing its thriving tech sector, talent, research and welcoming entrepreneurial climate to lead this global AI revolution.