Artificial intelligence systems are poised to have a significant impact on the lives of people all over the world, including Canada. Over the last ten years, the capabilities of AI systems have advanced significantly, accelerating over the last few months with the wide-scale deployment of generative AI systems. Today, AI technologies can generate written content, compile research, make recommendations and decisions, identify and modify images, perform translations, and much more. If it is done responsibly, a variety of industries, ranging from agriculture to healthcare to marketing, could benefit from this technology.
At the same time, we have a collective duty – as industry and governments – to look not only at the potential and vast benefits of AI but also at the potential risks and harms engendered by AI technologies, if left unchecked. That collective responsibility extends to continuing to build trust in these new technologies, which fuels adoption and innovation, and places further emphasis on confronting and mitigating harms.
Regulation for Trustworthy AI
The large-scale deployment of generative AI systems has only intensified discussions on the responsible use of AI. It’s important to recognize that this is a new field and that the landscape is likely to continue to evolve rapidly in the coming weeks, months, and years.
“We are now at an inflection point where clear guardrails are needed to build trust and safety as the technology spreads throughout the economy.”
The Government of Canada takes the risks arising from AI systems very seriously. We are now at an inflection point where clear guardrails are needed to build trust and safety as the technology spreads throughout the economy.
That’s why the government has proposed a legislative framework to guide AI innovation in a positive direction and to support the adoption of trustworthy AI by Canadians and Canadian businesses. The government is introducing requirements on industry that protect safety and fairness in sensitive applications of the technology.
The Impact of the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA) and Bill C-27
The Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA), part of Bill C-27, also known as the Digital Charter Implementation Act 2022, sets a foundation for regulating the design, development, and deployment of AI systems. For businesses, this means clear rules to help them innovate and realize the full potential of AI. For Canadians, this means that AI systems built or used in Canada will be subject to rigorous requirements designed to mitigate the risk of harm. The AIDA builds on the positive work of industry and academics to further promote and support responsible AI development and is consistent with approaches taken in international proposals on AI regulation, including the European Union’s upcoming Artificial Intelligence Act.
“The AIDA requires organizations to actively mitigate the risk of discrimination or bias as they design and develop AI systems.”
Specifically, the AIDA focuses on regulating the development and deployment of high-impact AI technologies – such as those impacting health, safety, and human rights, or systems perpetuating social harms. This Act is designed to allow regulatory requirements to adapt and evolve over time and to keep pace as the technology itself evolves. It would set out expectations and create clear guidelines right now that protect the public against the most egregious misconduct while enabling a space for collaboration and innovation with civil society and industry on the best approaches to governing high-impact uses of AI. This part of the Act requires that organizations consider the impacts of the system they use and also put in place measures to identify, assess, and mitigate harms to the health, safety and well-being of Canadians. In addition, the AIDA requires organizations to actively mitigate the risk of discrimination or bias as they design and develop AI systems.
“Under the AIDA, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry would be empowered to request information, order third-party audits or additional mitigation measures, and share information with other federal regulators.”
Furthermore, the government intends to set out specific requirements in regulations regarding how companies must assess and mitigate risk and monitor the effectiveness of those risk management measures. To support compliance and enforcement, under the AIDA, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry would be empowered to request information, order third-party audits or additional mitigation measures, and share information with other federal regulators. The AIDA also sets out clear criminal prohibitions and penalties against the malicious or reckless deployment of AI that causes serious harm. The AIDA is a solid foundation for Canada, not only for today, but also for our future.
Canada’s Global Leadership on Trustworthy AI
As most AI systems are deployed across borders, we have a vested interest in being at the global forefront of the development and adoption of trustworthy AI. To this end, Canada has been involved in international discussions on AI governance for several years and has contributed to the global norms and principles from which current frameworks have drawn. This includes Canada’s work with France and other countries in launching the Global Partnership on AI to ensure AI technologies are developed and used internationally in line with our democratic values. The Government of Canada is also fully engaged in the Hiroshima AI Process, which emerged from the recent G7 Meeting in Japan, and is committed to working with like-minded countries on efforts to tackle the challenges arising from generative AI and provide appropriate safeguards.
“Building the future of Canada’s AI ecosystem around a vision of responsible and trustworthy AI will position Canadian firms as purveyors of world-class AI products.”
If Canada’s advanced digital economy is to thrive, it needs a corresponding framework to support trust in digital commerce, encourage responsible innovation, and remain interoperable with international markets. Building the future of Canada’s AI ecosystem around a vision of responsible and trustworthy AI will position Canadian firms as purveyors of world-class AI products. Canada will also continue to work towards common standards as it develops the regulations under the AIDA. Standards are an important harmonization tool, especially for borderless digital technologies such as AI.
“It’s a good idea for companies to develop an overall strategy for AI and embrace the benefits the technology has to offer, as well as the necessary controls to govern its responsible use.”
Companies should pay attention to:
- Ensuring there are suitable processes for privacy and consent
- Assessing data sources and models from the perspective of diversity, non-discrimination, and fairness
- Prioritizing societal and environmental well-being
- Taking accountability for system outputs and outcomes
As we have done at the federal level, it’s a good idea for companies to develop an overall strategy for AI and embrace the benefits the technology has to offer, as well as the necessary controls to govern its responsible use.
Making the Most of Canada’s AI Advantage
While Canada undertakes these efforts to ensure there are appropriate guardrails in place to mitigate the potential risks of generative AI, we have also been making targeted, strategic investments to ensure Canada can capitalize on the potential benefits of this technology and on our incredible and unique early advantages in the global AI ecosystem. Our internationally renowned strengths in AI emerged from investments over several decades in fundamental research. A sustained focus on promising subfields of AI, such as machine learning, deep learning, and neural networks has placed Canadian researchers on the vanguard of academic AI. We rank fourth in the world for the impact of our academic AI publications, Montreal has the highest concentration of researchers and students of deep learning in the world, and the Toronto-Waterloo corridor has the highest concentration of AI start-ups in the world.
“Canada’s National Artificial Intelligence Institutes – Amii, the Vector Institute, and Mila – have trained over 1,500 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom are international students.”
With combined government investments of nearly $570 million, our Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy has been designed to take advantage of these strengths. Launched in 2017 in partnership with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), the Strategy is the world’s first fully funded national AI strategy. The Strategy is helping Canada secure a growing base of academic talent and maintain a globally competitive position in AI research. There are now over 100 active Canada CIFAR AI Chairholders, including over 50 leading international researchers attracted to Canada by the strategy and its investments. Canada’s National Artificial Intelligence Institutes – Amii, the Vector Institute, and Mila – have trained over 1,500 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom are international students who have come to Canada because of the recognized strengths of each institute.
As more and more applications come online in virtually every field of business and industry, Canada can become a leader in AI commercialization. This is why, last year, the government announced the AI Strategy for Phase Two, which focuses on commercialization, standardization, talent, and research. The Strategy leverages the potential of trustworthy AI to grow our economy and improve standards of living while continuing to develop, retain, and attract academic talent and deepen Canada’s research base.
The government also supports basic and applied research in AI and has made targeted investments in both large and smaller companies – including major investments through our five Global Innovation Clusters. The Scale AI cluster, for example, acts as a nationwide nexus fostering the entire AI ecosystem by encouraging and funding collaborations between academia, industry players, startups, and small and medium-sized enterprises across Canada. Scale AI focuses on stimulating both the demand and supply side of AI, enabling startups to reach their first customers and helping SMEs to commercialize their services and solutions and leverage their intellectual property.
As this emerging technology continues to affect more and more aspects of modern life, the Government of Canada is committed to working with industry and civil society to ensure AI is commercialized responsibly. Furthermore, we will continue to ensure that the development and use of AI are governed by clear rules, in a manner that supports Canadian innovation and economic growth and aligns with Canada’s values on human rights, inclusion, and diversity.