Bruce MacLellan is CEO of Proof Inc.
A long list of multinational tech giants have opened artificial-intelligence (AI) research facilities in Canada. Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal are among the cities currently benefiting from this investment. Canadian companies are also stepping up activity in AI, which is most simply described as the science of making machines intelligent.
While this is certainly good news for new jobs and investment in our economy, our research shows that many Canadians still don’t trust AI – neither to benefit Canadian consumers, nor to improve the overall economic situation of our country. AI has a trust deficit that needs to be addressed.
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According to our 2018 research, only 37 per cent of Canadians trust that artificial intelligence will improve their experience as consumers, and this trust is even lower among women, at 34 per cent. Only 39 per cent of Canadians trust that artificial intelligence will contribute positively to the Canadian economy, and again, even fewer females believe this to be true, at 36 per cent.
It is troubling that an area of massive economic expansion and investment should be trusted by barely more than a third of the population.
Many citizens perceive the accelerated and continuous pace of change in our society as a threat. When people feel the economy is not working for them, the corresponding breakdown of trust begets fear-based decision-making and creates further challenges. A prime example: the frustration and anger of disaffected U.S. heartland workers that manifested in the 2016 presidential election, which could soon have a new impact, this time on families on either side of our border who may be faced with tariff-priced groceries.
Artificial intelligence is emerging as a new threat to trust. There is an urgent need to educate, demonstrate and communicate to Canadians the many benefits of investment in AI.
While reports from Accenture and PwC suggest the global economic impact of AI could top US$14-trillion to US$15 trillion, there are other factors at play beyond potential commercial opportunities. Among critical consumers, there has been a rise in fear of surveillance or security breaches of personal data. For many workers, too, there is a feeling of insecurity and a belief that technology will take away their jobs. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and McKinsey estimate that more than 40 per cent of Canadian jobs are vulnerable to automation. This has frightened many people.
These concerns are very real, and exist alongside organizations’ continuing efforts to adopt and incorporate AI into their everyday work and services. To avoid a consumer/citizen-led backlash, leaders in all sectors need to ensure Canadians fully understand and appreciate the benefits of AI.
Currently, the public sector is the trust leader in Canada. Companies focus on sales, growth and profit, but too often forget to build trust. For this reason, a coalition of private and public partners would be an ideal bridge to building Canadian trust in AI.
Governments, universities and businesses should work together to build trust in artificial intelligence, and directly address the following:
AI’s contributions to the public good: Front-load a public conversation that clearly communicates the ways AI will enhance services and the public’s access to them, such as faster healthcare, better service delivery and distance learning, among others.
New employment opportunities: We know that Canada is already attracting AI investment, but we can’t have enough. Growing coordination of federal and provincial policies, sustained effort to attract AI employers and creating the corresponding labour force alignment is essential for showing Canadians how they can benefit personally.
Transparency: Industry and government should openly communicate how AI is being used for the benefit of customers, patients, students, employees and others.
Accessibility: Trust with consumers and workers can be built by giving them the tools, access and opportunities to experience and learn about AI. We need a massive and coordinated effort to help the public become more educated about AI, with supporting measures such as career planning, relocation support and skills-development assistance.
Canada and other countries are being transformed by intelligent machines that will make our world almost unrecognizable. The cost of not building trust will be transformative for the worse. We cannot afford to be complacent about AI’s disruption and resulting anxieties. Canada has the foundation and the necessary constituencies to build a powerful coalition to tackle the urgent need to build trust in this new world.