According to a report from the University of Toronto, Canada’s AI private sector has attracted $3 billion in new investment and birthed 50,000 jobs at 670 active AI-focused firms across the country since 2010. Canada hasn’t shied away from AI innovation: The country produces the most AI patents per million people among G7 nations, and Toronto has attracted the densest cluster of AI startups in the world.
Deloitte Canada recently announced its intentions to keep that momentum going.
During a March 3 webinar, Deloitte Canada announced the Canadian launch of the Deloitte AI Institute, part of a global initiative with partner AI Institutes in the U.S., UK, Australia, Japan, Singapore, China, and European member firms.
“Our vision is to be Canada’s preeminent AI forum, collaborating with organizations both public and private, and AI ecosystem collaborators to generate smart demand for AI in Canada and globally,” said Jas Jaaj, managing partner, AI and data at Deloitte Canada. “We see our role as bridging the gap between research from academia and its application in enterprises who create differentiated solutions that are powered by AI. The AI Institute is playing an important role with regards to upskilling our own practitioners within Deloitte to make sure that AI is a part of the DNA of everything we do at the firm while ensuring that we can foster trust and manage any associated risks.”
The panel speaks
During the webinar, Audrey Ancion, AI Institute Canada lead, moderated a panel highlighting real-world artificial intelligence technology applications. She asked panellists to define AI and to describe its impact on their business.
Panellists Paul Ballew, chief data and analytics officer at Loblaw Companies Limited and Peter Xotta, vice-president of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s planning and operations, shared their takes.
Ballew said that Loblaw defines AI “very conventionally,” using machine learning across its analytic workstreams. It supports forecasting, business planning, and risk management and is increasingly moving into the company’s health and wellness business. “So, broad applications, and more to come,” he said. “The advantages now that the science is affording us across our decisioning environments are very comprehensive.”
At the Port of Vancouver, which handles one-third (by revenue) of Canada’s trade in goods outside of North America, Xotta noted, AI gives them a series competitive edge.
He sees AI used across the business, but the big issue is accessing better information at a lower cost to make more effective and timely decisions in today’s dynamic environment. To that end, the Port has built digital representations of its road and rail networks and uses them to test scenarios. It’s also experimenting with vision systems that can recognize whether a container truck is empty or loaded.
The impetus for starting with AI was similar for both panellists. Ballew said that Loblaw had committed to using data and analytics as a transformational element in all of its businesses. The key, he said, is data management. “We spend as much time on data management as we do with regards to our AI capabilities or the development of advanced analytic solutions,” he said. “Our approach has been build the ecosystem, so it’s truly an end-to-end approach. Because otherwise, it turns into a science experiment, or a one-off project, which is not what this is all about.”
Xotta said it helps if you start with a modest goal. “And as we did that digital representation, we identified particular challenges that needed to be resolved before broader optimization opportunities might be realized.”
Anthony Viel, chief executive officer, Deloitte Canada, echoed what many have claimed about Canada: It has the AI research and development talent but a lack of use cases in the enterprise and the public sector.
“(In Canada), we have the talent, we have the talent development powerhouses, and research. And now, all we lack is the smart demand for AI. Most Canadian organizations public and private have not yet started making use of the transformative technologies for business outcomes as widely as they can be applied, whether you’re reducing costs, improving customer experiences, or mitigating risks, just to name a few applications,” he said. “This is precisely the reason for the launch of the Institute here in Canada. Now is the time not to sit on the sidelines, particularly given the advantage that the pandemic has given us, that advantage being that it has accelerated the need for digital and AI applications by maybe five, or in some industries, maybe 10 years. We all use AI in our personal lives, but most Canadian businesses don’t yet understand and apply the scope and importance of this technology to its fullest, and therein lies the opportunity. The Institute will play a pivotal role in making sure that we can do that through a greater level of understanding and a greater level of collaboration to capitalize on this potential, and most importantly, to build trust in AI technology.”
The webinar also featured pioneering neural network researcher Professor Geoffrey Hinton, who discussed his work on new methods of image recognition. The Vector Institute’s chief commercialization officer and VP of industry innovation Cameron Schuler also made an appearance to break down the Institute’s report on the state of Ontario’s AI ecosystem.
The report says that between $97 million and $824 million was spent on AI research and development in Ontario in 2019/20 and that more than half (53 per cent) of Ontario companies have commercialized AI products or services or use AI to sell their core products or services.