Canada’s AI Boom A Foreign Free-For-All

By Ben Hamill - February 07 2020
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Canada’s AI Boom A Foreign Free-For-All

Artificial Intelligence is without a doubt the next big creator of wealth. So much so that Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban famously pointed out that in his opinion, the world’s first trillionaires are bound to be those who master the commercial world of AI. And at face value, this is really good news for a country like Canada, currently a receiving pot for the channeling of massive sums of money by some of the world’s largest tech giants.

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But the real picture is very different from what seems to be the case at first, many now fear. Worst case scenario is that cities like Quebec, Alberta and Ontario; each home to one or more million-dollar AI research hubs funded by the likes of Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Huawei, are no more than wholesale hubs at best. Outside investments will remain exactly that: outside money at no point permitted to shoot roots in the country’s own economy.

Talent Mostly Benefits Outsiders

From here the notion that Canadian doors may be too open. Experts estimate that more than half of all AI-related patents developed on Canadian soil end up in the hands of foreign investors, and in turn, owned by foreign companies. What Canada is doing is basically selling off its own lunch, says Jim Hinton, who is an IP lawyer and also the founder of a consultancy firm by the name of Own Innovation.

Canadian ideas need to stay at home, points out Hinton, failing which “we’ll never have a Canadian champion”. Or in plain English, we need to quit giving it all away for free; or in return for cash for research only. Our ideas must remain our property if any positive outcome will be had on the part of the local economy.

Better Systems Are Needed

Hinton suggests that the only way to effectively ensure that Canadian talent benefits Canada is to implement systems providing strict oversight over foreign involvement whenever local talent and expertise are involved; case in point being the safeguards and controls implemented by the French government.

But there appears to be another side to the story also, as pointed out by Vector Institute CEO Garth Gibson. Not only is local talent being developed full-scale thanks to outside monetary investments, but Toronto’s job market hasn’t looked as strong as at present in many years. In 2017, Toronto added a total of 30,000 tech jobs to its existing market tally. This was more than Washington, Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area combined.

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