A Look at What’s Next: AI in Canada and Around the World

2017 was a breakout year for Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Despite repeated attempts to sensationalize AI over the past year, we have witnessed unprecedented gains in our everyday understanding of AI-driven technologies. People have begun to grasp the impact AI-powered applications has on their everyday digital lives. Building upon this progress, AI is poised to continue the journey into the mainstream throughout 2018.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done. For many, the mechanics and decision-making processes behind these groundbreaking technologies remain a mystery. Here’s how I predict AI will evolve and excel over the next year:

Prediction #1: The AI industry will start to prioritize solving the world’s biggest problems

In 2018, the industry will shift toward deploying AI to solve the right problems. We’re not currently using AI to solve the biggest problems facing the world today. Instead, the majority of AI’s current enterprise and consumer applications focus on small-scale, niche problems.

Sure, a search algorithm can direct you to the best dentist in Vancouver. A smart assistant may be able to help you to book a meeting room. A voice assistant might help you to discover a music genre you never knew existed. But is this really the most effective use of AI?

Today’s AI technologies already possess the potential to address much more complex problems, such as managing an entire workforce and solving climate change. Throughout 2018, I predict companies across industries will begin to deploy AI technologies to solve the world’s most complex and significant problems.

Prediction #2: AI and humans will realize that working together produces the best results

Too often reports covering AI and its impact on the job market provoke needless panic. Many fear how advancements in AI will impact future job opportunities, talent and workplaces. Although some jobs will inevitably be replaced by AI technologies, the reality is that most will evolve to incorporate—and coexist with—AI in order to maximize benefits to companies.

As a result, we will see companies begin to establish retaining programs to educate their non-technical employees on how to effectively work with AI throughout 2018.

Prediction #3: The regulatory landscape of AI will move forward

We will see an increase in both regulating AI as an industry and as data, which will result in heightened accountability throughout the industry. As governments around the world seek to learn more about the AI industry, major industry players will start to unveil how they self-regulate AI-driven enterprise applications. This increased self-regulation in the industry will help to address additional business and public safety concerns about data privacy and protection.

Throughout 2018, we will see continued pressure on the industry to increase accountability and transparency. The AI industry will now be expected to clearly explain how companies use data–particularly consumer information–to build and inform AI applications.

Prediction #4: AI development training and tools will become available to a wider talent pool

Just a few years ago, developing AI technologies required advanced degrees in data science and engineering. Today, the industry is much more accessible. Developer tools, training programs, and more attainable career opportunities now enable non-technical people to break into this once impenetrable industry.

In 2018 the industry will grow even more accessible through the introduction of additional tools, resources and educational opportunities. Moving forward, people without advanced technical skills will emerge as the future leaders of AI, building solutions to address problems in industries ranging from finance to healthcare to transportation. We will see technical experts collaborate with creative professionals to harness the power of AI to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Prediction #5: Conversations around AI will turn to action

In 2018, I believe the AI industry will continue to evolve and make significant strides toward reaching the mainstream. More people will become familiar with the nuances and intricacies of AI technologies. AI-powered applications will continue to both increase in number across the enterprise and expand to new industries. Meanwhile, the AI industry will be pushed to assume responsibility for increasing transparency and accountability around these applications. We will see more robust partnerships forming within the AI industry, as well as between the private, public and academic sectors.

The AI industry launched a global conversation around the importance of developing ethical, unbiased and responsible AI last year. 2018 is the time for us to convert these discussions into tangible action. Industry leaders will now prioritize deploying AI technologies to tackle the most pressing business and societal problems, democratizing AI development tools, spearheading self-regulation strategies and effectively communicating AI’s unparalleled potential to the everyday consumer.

Investment in AI: Canada and worldwide

By the year 2020, spending on AI is expected to reach $46 billion according to IDC. In Canada, the federal government’s 2017 budget proposed to set aside $125 million in funding to launch a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, with the aim of promoting collaboration between three major academic centres of AI expertise–Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (AMII) and Vector Institute.

A majority of this funding, along with $50 million from the Ontario government and $80 million from the private sector, helped establish the new Vector Institute, an independent research facility for AI located at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. The Quebec government has also invested $100 million in Montreal’s AI community, while the Canada First Research Excellence Fund donated $93.6 million to Université de Montréal, Polytechnique Montréal and HEC Montréal for cutting-edge research in deep learning. The Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy is designed to attract, train, and retain the world’s leading thinkers in Canada and position the country as a first-class destination for companies looking to invest in AI.

It’s evident that the public sector, academic community and private sector in Canada are working together to advance the possibilities of AI–they are boldly recognizing AI as the future of technology across industries, and a worthwhile investment in Canadian innovation.

Kriti Sharma is the Vice President of AI at Sage Group.