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AI is unlikely to replace Canadian workers or change the way we do business for the foreseeable future.PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/Getty Images

Patrick Gill is Senior Director at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Business Data Lab (BDL).

The world is abuzz over ChatGPT. University students are asking the artificial intelligence tool to write essays, billion-dollar companies, like BuzzFeed BZFD-Q, are using it to create content for its news and entertainment service, and data scientists are using it to write code faster for analytics.

Regardless, AI is unlikely to replace Canadian workers or change the way we do business for the foreseeable future. Ninety-four per cent of Canadian companies say they have no plans to adopt or incorporate any software or hardware using AI in 2023. And while, at first blush, this may sound like a good thing to some, especially after three years of endless pivots and job losses, the truth is that it is not.

While AI displaces some workers, it is also a positive, disruptive force creating new jobs, new growth and new opportunities across sectors. The barrier for further adoption in this country isn’t that AI technologies aren’t good or useful, it’s Canada’s long-standing problem with innovation.

We haven’t equipped and nudged Canadian businesses to better leverage AI-based innovation. Businesses are not advancing their use of AI largely because of a lack of skilled workers, financial resources and business planning, according to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Business Data Lab’s analysis of Statistics Canada data.

It is regrettable that more Canadian businesses are not embracing AI to address enduring challenges, including labour shortages, supply-chain disruptions and global competition. This lack of innovation is not surprising in the wider context, with the Conference Board of Canada’s 2021 Innovation Report Card highlighting Canada’s relatively weak performance – ranking 11th out of 16 peer countries on a range of innovation indicators.

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Left unchanged, Canada’s low forecasted adoption of AI may result in troublesome scenarios. Canadian businesses will fall further behind global competitors that choose to embrace AI, with job-creating and growth-accelerating innovation materializing elsewhere. Simply put, AI is set to disrupt Canada’s economy no matter what we do. But if we do nothing, the beneficiaries of that disruption will most certainly not be Canadians.

Which is why Canada needs a refreshed AI strategy that is less focused on talent and research, and increasingly focused on implementation and support for businesses that want to make AI part of their operations.

It is well documented that we’ve failed to leverage our country’s early lead, with other countries finding creative ways to implement Canadian AI research and unapologetically poach Canadian AI talent. That’s a hard pill to swallow given Canada had the world’s first national AI strategy in 2017. That strategy was followed by a second AI strategy in the 2021 federal budget – a strategy once again largely focused on talent retention, with modest commitments to implementation.

Two years later, the result is that Canadian businesses – and our entire economy – are lagging, without the talent, knowledge mobilization or government leadership we need to stay competitive.

So, as university professors reconsider how to grade students, and media companies explore new ways of producing endless streams of content, we should reconsider how we can support businesses and the implementation of AI, ensuring that we aren’t left behind in our brave new world.