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Artificial Intelligence: Canadian and International Trends

Despite the fast-paced global policy developments and respective investments in artificial intelligence (AI), Canada continues to establish itself as a world leader in AI technology-related research and training, hosting the third largest number of AI experts, compared to other national ecosystems. This has attracted an increasing number of large international players, which increased from 20 in 2018 to around 50 in 2018. The main cluster cities, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, have already become hubs for AI research and development, attracting companies like Google, Facebook, Uber, Microsoft, and Samsung. The number of active AI-related start-ups across all cluster cities has reached approximately 650, a 28% increase according to the Canadian AI Ecosystem report.

Under its 2018 G7 presidency, Canada advanced a common vision on AI. The Statement on Artificial Intelligence set out by the G7 Innovation Ministers at their meeting in Montreal in March 2018, focused on supporting economic growth from AI innovation, increasing trust and adoption and promoting inclusivity in AI development and deployment. The same commitments were included in the Charlevoix Common Vision for the Future of Artificial Intelligence during the G7 Leaders’ meeting in Charlevoix on June 8-9, 2018.

During the G7 conference on AI held on December 6, 2018 in Montreal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an investment of about $230 million for the Quebec-based SCALE.AI, the AI-Powered Supply Chains Supercluster. This investment is expected to add more than $16 billion to the Canadian economy and create more than 16,000 jobs over 10 years. The funding will be matched dollar-for-dollar by private sector partners. In total, $950 million will be spread over the five superclusters, which is expected to create more than 50,000 middle class jobs and grow Canada’s economy by $50 billion over the next 10 years. This is on top of $4 billion in government funding in science for the next several years, also expected to drive a continued influx of quality research coming from AI research labs. On a provincial level, the 2018 Ontario budget included a targeted investment of $15 million over three years in NextAI, which supports entrepreneurs in launching artificial-intelligence ventures in sectors such as healthcare, agriculture and financial services.

In terms of international collaboration, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron committed to creating the International Panel on Artificial Intelligence, which aims at establishing a global point of reference for understanding and sharing research results on AI. The Panel will support and guide the responsible development of human-centric AI and facilitate international scientific, industrial and governmental collaboration.

A survey of AI policy, innovation and regulations abroad

European Union (EU): On April 25, 2018, the EU Commission adopted the Communication on Artificial Intelligence. It lays out the EU’s approach to AI. Key initiatives include: (1) a commitment to increase the EU’s investment in AI from €500 million in 2017 to €1.5 billion by the end of 2020, (2) the creation of the European AI Alliance, and (3) a new set of AI ethics guidelines to address issues such as fairness, safety, and transparency. The High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence is tasked with establishing recommendations on future-related policy development and on ethical, legal and societal issues related to AI, and with supporting the implementation of the European AI strategy.

UK: The British government released the AI Sector Deal in April 2018, announcing the investment of over £300 million in the private sector from domestic and foreign technology companies. It also announced the launch of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, part of the UK’s initiative to lead global governance on AI ethics. In addition, the UK’s House of Lords’ Select Committee on AI published a report titled, AI in the UK: ready, willing, and able?, highlighting the opportunity for the UK to lead global governance of AI.

The Nordic-Baltic Region: The Region released its Declaration on AI in May 2018, expanding the cooperation between the respective countries. It focuses on enhancing the opportunities for skills development, strengthening access to data, developing ethical and transparent guidelines, standards, norms and principles on the use of AI programs, and establishing international standards for infrastructure, hardware, programs and data to ensure interoperability, privacy, security, trust, usability and mobility.

France: In March 2018, President Emmanuel Macron announced a €1.5 billion plan to establish France as leader in AI research, training, and industry primarily in healthcare and transportation. Key initiatives include: (1) developing an open data policy to drive the adoption and application of AI in sectors like healthcare, (2) establishing a regulatory and financial framework to support the development of domestic “AI champions,” and (3) putting in place regulation to ensure that AI developments remain transparent, explainable, and non-discriminatory.

Germany: As part of its AI strategy, Germany already has in place policies to facilitate the integration of AI technologies into its export sectors, although recently it shifted its strategic goal toward smart services. In June 2018, the government announced a new commission to investigate how AI and algorithmic decision-making will influence society.

Netherlands: Responsible Robotics (Netherlands-based) has teamed up with Deloitte to launch a certified quality mark for AI and Robotics. The broader idea is to operate as a pan-European certification by offering an out-of-three product rating with a logo confirming certification. The certification systems in an attempt to ensure that AI does not end up reinforcing the same old prejudices, pertaining namely to gender and race.

USA: In June 2018, the Pentagon announced a new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) that will maintain oversight over the majority of service and defence agency AI efforts. According to a June 27 memo, the JAIC will develop for the entire Defense Department a common set of AI standards, shared data, reusable technology, processes, and expertise.

California: A new California law requires online bots to identify themselves. The measure bans automated accounts from pretending to be real people in order to "incentivize a purchase or sale of goods or services in a commercial transaction or to influence a vote in an election". The law, effective July 1, 2019, will apply to online platforms, meaning websites or applications with 10 million or more unique monthly visitors from the US.

China: The Three-Year Action Plan for Promoting the Development of a New Generation of Artificial Intelligence Industry (2018-2020)” outlines China’s plans for the development of intelligent and networked products such as vehicles, service robots, and identification systems. It announces investment in industry training resources, standard testing, and cybersecurity. China also plans on building a $2.1 billion technology park for AI research in Beijing within the next 5 years.

Singapore: AI is a strategic priority for the Government of Singapore. In November 2018, the National Research Foundation announced $150 million in investments and the creation of AI Singapore, a body focused on developing AI products, growing knowledge, and developing tools and talent to make Singapore a world leader in AI. Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Commission has also developed a proposed Model AI Governance Framework which was released in January 2019. The Model AI Governance Framework builds on the previous Discussion Paper on AI and Personal Data, and covers internal governance, decision-making models, operations management and customer relationship management for AI.

India: Released in June 2012, India’s AI strategy aims at promoting AI inclusion, calling this approach AIforAll. India is also working to carve out a niche by establishing itself as an “AI Garage”, which allows the deployment of AI developed in India to be applicable to the rest of the developing world. This is in line with India’s focus on creating a National AI Marketplace to increase market discovery and reduce time and cost of collecting data.

Kenya: In January 2018, Kenya announced the formation of an 11-member taskforce. The taskforce will provide a roadmap to contextualize on Blockchain and AI-related technologies’ application in the areas of financial inclusion, cybersecurity, land tilting, election process, single digital identity and overall public service delivery.


As the key players strategically position themselves on the global AI chessboard, the flow of investments toward specific areas and industries highlights emerging domestic and international opportunities. Canadian start-ups continue to attract international attention, as the upward trend in acquisitions and international investment shows. However, as the AI ecosystem moves towards globalization it becomes more important to track both government initiatives as well as regulatory changes around the world. A common trend is the international focus on the development of transparent and responsible AI policy. Counsel can help stakeholders navigate the policy trends, potential new regulatory requirements and additional risk assessment challenges of this exciting sector. 

Yonida Koukio, a law student at McCarthy Tétrault's Toronto office, co-wrote this article.

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