Artificial Intelligence has reached a tipping point. Hailed as “the next big thing” for the past few years, AI is poised to fundamentally change businesses and people’s lives—a shift described as the “fourth industrial revolution.”
Fortunately, Canada is at the forefront of the AI revolution. One key development was the 2017 opening of the Vector Institute – an independent facility for AI – in Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District. The facility’s aim is to produce, attract and retain top talent in AI.
This year, two major developments further cemented Canada’s reputation as a hotspot for AI research and investment. First, Radical Ventures, a venture capital firm investing in entrepreneurs applying deep tech to transform massive industries, launched a $471 million fund primarily focused on AI. Secondly, the University of Toronto received a landmark $100 millionfrom Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman to fund AI research and build an innovation centre.
Canada is also set to produce more graduates in the field of AI. Last fall, the University of Toronto introduced a machine intelligence major in Engineering Science—a first of its kind in the country. In January 2019, the university launched a new minor and certificate in AI engineering.
In a communications piece, U of T Professor and Director of the new AI minor, Jason Anderson, said: “Canada has long stood at the forefront of AI research, and has recently drawn multinationals such as Facebook, Uber and Samsung to establish labs with an AI focus. Many startups and larger enterprises in Toronto apply AI techniques for myriad purposes, making [graduates] highly sought after.”
Companies operating in Canada are in the enviable position of having top AI talent right in their backyard. The problem is, outside of the high-tech industry, most organizations are not prepared to implement AI – if adoption lags, talent will go elsewhere, and companies will miss out on the many opportunities and efficiencies that AI can bring.
To help companies embrace and prepare for AI, Bedford Group and Dr. Cindy Gordon, CEO and founder of SalesChoice, held two roundtable discussions attended by a select group of CEOs and CHROs. Based on the discussions, we produced a whitepaper, “Staying Relevant: What Every C-Suite Leader Must Know About AI Readiness.”
As stated in the report, it is always a challenge to successfully adopt new technology, but AI is a strategic market that cannot be ignored. The challenge is no longer realizing the importance of AI, but in applying and sustaining it.
Getting started with AI can seem daunting, and there are many facets to assessing readiness, including governance and strategy practices, process and data practices, technology enablement practices and talent management practices. On the talent-readiness side, CEOs and CHROs can look within the organization, asking questions such as: Do we have communication and training programs to develop AI skills for all employees? Do we have a skills re-training framework in anticipation of the impacts of AI? Do we have reward and recognition incentives for those who innovate with AI?
Of course, a key piece of the puzzle is recruiting top AI talent from outside the organization. With a global shortage of AI expertise, the time is now to take advantage of the world-class talent emerging from our universities and research centres.
While the change won’t happen overnight, businesses can become AI ready and remain competitive by recruiting the leaders of tomorrow. Their future may depend on it.