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A group representing more than 150 Canadian tech companies is calling on the country to take a sensitive but speedy approach to artificial intelligence. A metal head made of gears symbolizes artificial intelligence, or AI, at the Essen Motor Show in Essen, Germany on Nov. 29, 2019.Martin Meissner/The Associated Press

Nicole Janssen is co-chief executive officer of AltaML, Mike Murchison is CEO of Ada Support, Louis Tetu is CEO of Coveo and Laurent Carbonneau is director of policy and research at the Council of Canadian Innovators. They have been collaborating on CCI’s policy report: A Roadmap for Responsible AI Leadership in Canada.

In the past year, companies across the Canadian economy have invested hundreds of billions of dollars into developing new artificial-intelligence tools and shifted their strategy to embrace the potential of this technology. So what should we make of the landmark Artificial Intelligence and Data Act, which was first introduced into the House of Commons in June, 2022, and will face detailed parliamentary committee scrutiny this fall?

Technology, which is constantly evolving, can move quickly and can “fail fast.” Legislation, which once passed needs to stand for years, doesn’t usually have that luxury. We have a system where the best move is to measure twice and cut once.

Over the summer, we’ve come together with other technology leaders and policy experts to develop a suite of recommendations for AIDA to ensure that Canada maintains a leadership role in AI. And our No. 1 call for the bill is that Parliament should give itself – and the public – a dedicated legislative officer to improve tech governance for the long term.

As it currently stands, AIDA creates an AI and data commissioner housed within the public service to advise the government and enforce the law. This is a positive step, but it is not enough. Such a commissioner won’t be able to pursue a broad mandate of promoting better governance and understanding in Parliament and in public dialogue around tech governance issues.

To get the most out of this bill, the government needs to create a new parliamentary science and technology officer, modelled on the sadly defunct Office of Technology Assessment that was once housed in the U.S. Congress. This new officer of Parliament would give MPs and the public a direct, trusted source of timely information and analysis about science and technology, at a time when thoughtful study is desperately needed – and allow legislators to move more quickly and decisively when they need to.

There are real concerns from the industry about the scope and approach of AIDA, which we view as too restrictive on development. We’re hoping that this fall, Parliament will make substantial amendments to the bill, including highlighting what the industry can expect in terms of regulations, and then move swiftly to pass it. Ideally, the final AIDA, would protect Canadians and curtail the abuses of a disruptive new technology, while also giving companies room to develop new products and services.

But even if Parliament could somehow knock AIDA out of the park and leave us with an excellent law that makes everyone happy, that wouldn’t be the end of the story. The technology continues to grow and change, with new capabilities and new business models being developed every week. That’s why we need a dedicated parliamentary science and technology officer.

The worst thing for Canada, and certainly for Canadian AI innovators, is to find ourselves back at square one in a few years because technology has evolved and the government’s model proved too controversial or unwieldy. We believe that a parliamentary officer would itself lay a strong, trusted foundation upon which to build AIDA and future attempts to govern the innovation economy.

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