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article image10th anniversary of CIX summit puts focus on AI

By Jack Derricourt     Oct 23, 2017 in Business
This year’s Canadian Innovation Exchange brought together business leaders and innovators to celebrate the unique opportunities present in Canada. Unsurprisingly, artificial intelligence was at the forefront of a lot of the conversations that took place
This year’s CIX started on a high note. “It’s really starting to happen for our country,” said co-chair Michael Hyatt. He also spoke of the shift towards innovation that has occurred since CIX began ten years ago. “The high paid jobs of the future are technology jobs.”
Many of those new positions are being complemented or otherwise innovated through the use of artificial intelligence — a technology that Canada and its technology companies are proudly championing.
A large part of that energy and excitement in the Canadian technology sector is coming from AI. Federal funding and key research programs at Canadian universities are fuelling the enthusiasm surrounding machine learning. And the market for AI-related products is expected to reach $47 billion by 2020.
Prominent institutions such as the Vector Institute and AIM in Toronto, and now Kindred in Vancouver, are working to keep the AI talent in Canada, and prevent them from fleeing to the major tech companies in the U.S. as soon as they’ve graduated from Canada’s AI research programs.
Watson and Ivy
Mark Teerlink, Chief Business Strategist for IBM Watson presented at CIX on the wide-ranging work that IBM’s artificial intelligence is currently undertaking. As Teerlink pointed out, AI is far more than just a moonshot solution for the big questions affecting human society. The technology is having an increasingly large impact upon different facets of our daily lives.
Mark Teerlink Chief Business Strategist for IBM Watson Group.
Mark Teerlink Chief Business Strategist for IBM Watson Group.
As Teerlink and many others emphasized over the course of the summit, Watson and other AI are being directed towards the augmentation of professionals, rather than their replacement. Whether this is just spin for the very volatile shift in the labour market sure to come with the increased rise in AI services remains to be seen, but Teerlink did provide an example of this augmentation at work.
For the hospitality sector, Waston is powering a front staff tool called Ivy. The guest engagement platform allows hotel customers the ability to access a range of information or leave feedback without occupying the front staff over the phone or in person. The speed of feedback also allows hotels to respond to customer experiences in order to maintain the quality of their online ratings. The adoption of Ivy led to a 34 percent uptick in positive reviews on Trip Advisor.
The augmentation of the front staff with Ivy’s technology allowed staff to focus on the human side of the equation — taking care of situations requiring a personable touch, or improving the experiences of customers based on their feedback to Ivy. Ideally, Teerlink said, in the future AI will process information and humans will do the thinking.
Pressures of AI businesses
While the AI companies that are growing rapidly in Canada have a lot to offer, the mix of business and research can sometimes lead to interesting problems for those companies. These companies have a passionate, devoted group of researchers building and working with AI, which allows these businesses to remain a part of the quickly shifting world of AI R&D. But as panelist Kathryn Hume, VP Product & Strategy at Integrate AI, pointed out, this can often lead to tension.
Helen Kontozopoulos leads a panel discussion on opportunities in AI.
Helen Kontozopoulos leads a panel discussion on opportunities in AI.
The researchers and product engineers must subscribe to the “grandeur” of the overall vision of AI R&D, while also remaining focussed on the need to produce a keenly specialized tool to bring to market. Hume noted that researchers entrenched in the world of AI science often focus too much to the larger project of study, slightly downgrading the importance of a tool that can be made readily available. This is where leaders from business and guidance from VCs can help form a practical, actionable path forward.
As Hume put it, there are a lot of AI companies that are building amazing protoypes that will never make it to production. If Canada’s AI sector is to grow, the industry needs to see the fruits of researchers’ labor
Social side
Adding to this back-and-forth tension between the different elements of the AI business are the increasing social concerns that stem from AI’s impact upon the economy and society at large.
Suzanne Gildert, co-founder and CSO of Vancouver-based AI company Kindred didn’t pull punches when discussing the upcoming changes that artificial intelligence, coupled with greater automation, will bring to the labor market.
Asked how Kindred is approaching the question of how AI will impact society, Gildert said, “It’s a really hard question to answer. It’s going to be really disruptive. But it’s going to happen anyway. You don’t really need (just) AI for this. Even automation in itself is taking away a lot of jobs. AI is just adding to that.”
And Gildert is seeing that happen through Kindred’s work with e-commerce companies in the U.S.
“AI is just automating more and more. I think all the jobs are going to go away in that sector. I think that’s going to affect the economy.
“It seems weird talking about it now, but you can see it’s just going to happen... No human is going to have a job, if you look out twenty, thirty years into the future. AI is going to be eating into not just manual labor jobs, but into accounting, law, doctors, teachers. It’s just going to be one after the other.”
Integrate AI builds tools for B2C companies. CEO Steve Irvine emphasized the augmentation of professionals during his talk at CIX, pushing away from a larger discussion of massive labor market shifts. But Irvine did note that another real social risk inherent to AI comes from algorithms being used to manipulate customers. Irvine did not suggest a way that this danger could be entirely prevented, merely noting the importance of moral engineers and business leaders taking the reins of AI.
CIX captured everything that’s captivating about the wave of AI technologies and companies that are shaping the future of Canada. While there are great shifts on the horizon, the business of artificial intelligence remains one of the most promising areas of growth and innovation Canada has to offer.
More about CIX, Canada, Artificial intelligence, Ai, Kindred
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