June 24, 2020

Alberta Innovates seeks to secure Alberta’s AI advantage

A robot playing a keyboard

From Alberta Innovates CEO Laura Kilcrease

More and more, we use artificial intelligence (AI) as part of our everyday routines without thinking about it or even knowing it. Things like spam filters, suggested playlists, voice to text apps, face recognition in social media posts, personalized newsfeeds, traffic flow maps and mobile banking all use artificial intelligence to enable amazing experiences and functionality from our hand-held devices and computers. AI ceased to be science fiction some time ago. Now, it helps us to find opportunities and solutions previously hidden to us.

Alberta Innovates sees AI as an essential tool that allows us to transform data into information that can be used to make better decisions. AI provides us with new ways of solving complex problems needing smart and creative solutions.

By adopting AI in health, agriculture, energy, financial services, logistics, construction and engineering, Alberta can create a knowledge-based economy that’s built on its traditional economic drivers.  

For example, we can use AI to:  

  • Analyze x-rays and MRIs and other medical imaging to improve diagnoses; develop predictive modelling to provide personalized health care; 
  • Optimize water treatment processes;  
  • Analyze wood-chip quality using AI and deep learning to improve oriented strand board production and quality;
  • Enhance or simulate industrial control room operations for greater efficiency and safety;
  • Make rail and truck transportation systems more efficient so we can get Alberta products to customers;  
  • Improve agriculture productivity through autonomous vehicles, precision irrigation, drones, soil sensors, and image recognition analytics.  

Alberta Innovates and the provincial government have been supporting AI research for nearly two decades. Now, Alberta is home to some to not just a top ranked institute, but also some of the world’s top talent in AI and machine learning at the UofA and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii).  The presence of these key researchers has attracted companies like Google DeepMind, Google Brain, Mitsubishi, Royal Bank and others to set up offices in Alberta to leverage the existing expertise and talent pool.

If we can continue to grow our AI capability, it will lead to the creation of new companies and will also make existing industries more productive and globally competitive. Technologies that employ artificial intelligence will create over $50 trillion in economic impact by the year 2025 and have the potential to increase productivity by 40 per cent or more (McKinsey & Company; Accenture).

And there’s all the data that is an untapped resource. The world produces 2.6 quintillion bytes of data daily. Right now, the datasets are too generic, they’re stripped down beyond use, or aren’t applicable to an industry challenge. But what if the data could be refined and curated and accessible, so that it’s useful?

For example, Alberta’s integrated provincial health-care system creates unprecedented amounts of data. Digital health platforms including AI and machine learning can lead to better quality patient care and cost-savings to the health care system

You may be noticing a pattern here – improved efficiency, optimized processes, cost savings, better outcomes – all with the help of artificial intelligence. 

AI can be an economic driver as well as an economic enabler.

What makes this such an opportunity for Alberta is that in a digital economy, you can be competitive in markets from anywhere in the world. Many Alberta businesses responded to the limits imposed by Covid-19 precautions by rapidly transforming their sales delivery to a digital model and remote delivery. Instead of taking years, this digital shift happened overnight, and now Alberta is ready for the next step.

However, as much as the digital economy allows Alberta to compete anywhere, it also allows others to take our advantages if we don’t and maintain and nurture them.

That’s why Alberta Innovates will continue to advocate for and support the development of new AI products, knowledge transfer and commercialization, and we will seek ways to help Alberta businesses adopt AI to improve their core businesses, and we will continue to advance the awareness and the connections to build on the momentum that has been created here.

I want Alberta to be seen as a centre of innovation excellence – where companies, capital and people come to seek cutting edge solutions and applications of the newest ideas. I want people to be thinking “Alberta is the place we need to be.”

This is a future that is possible for Albertans – Alberta Innovates is here to help seize it.