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Alan Bernstein is a distinguished fellow, and Janice Stein the Belzberg Professor of Conflict Management, at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

We live in an age defined by science and technology.

The pace of competition between the great powers is accelerating far faster than we imagined. And this competition is focused on leading-edge science and the technologies it has created, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology. Not for the first time in history, the systems that will be built on advanced technologies will determine a country’s power and influence, its economic prosperity, the quality of its society, and its people’s health and well-being.

AI already shapes the modern battlefield – autonomous drones that swarm conflict zones in Ukraine are only the tip of the iceberg. AI is also transforming health care, accelerating drug discovery and improving disease detection. The result will be healthier lives and lower costs.

These new technologies create new risks even as they promise great benefits. Beyond autonomous weapons, AI-generated disinformation can undermine our democracy and make it difficult for citizens to judge what is true and what is not, undermining public trust. This mixture of risk and benefit, complicated by the rapid evolution of these technologies, makes them challenging to regulate. But regulate we must. This is a defining public policy challenge of our time. And we don’t have much time to get it right.

We also need to build an ecosystem to better support science and technology in Canada. Beginning in the 1990s and continuing to the present day, the federal government has started new programs and science agencies which individually made sense but were not designed to fit into a coherent and integrated framework. Not much attention was paid to how they would contribute to a broader and better science and technology ecosystem. The resulting patchwork quilt of individual components is not designed to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The weaknesses in our ecosystem are well known. Reports commissioned by the federal government, including the Naylor Report on Fundamental Research and the recent Bouchard Report on the Federal Research Support System, make important recommendations, but their mandates were restricted to only parts of the bigger picture. What will it take to build Canada’s capacity in science and tech as we face a world of deepening competition for leadership, while also addressing global warming, the inevitability of another pandemic, and AIs that will reshape our work force, our society, and our democracy?

Scientists must become part of the DNA of the federal government, with a seat at the table alongside policy-makers, the private sector, and leaders from civil society and universities. Science and tech are no longer nice-to-haves; they have become must-haves.

The British government recently announced an ambitious goal to position the country as a “superpower” in life sciences, AI, and quantum computing. By setting a goal and building an integrated policy framework, it has put down markers for progress, committing the government to significant new investments within a coherent strategy. It sends a clear signal to young people that the U.K. is the place to be to have a career in science and technology. And it sends an unambiguous signal to the private sector that the government will play a significant role in catalyzing the movement of discovery from the lab to the clinic and onto the marketplace.

What Canada urgently needs is a coherent and integrated policy framework that articulates our goals, priorities and the outcomes we expect from our investments in science and tech. All the players in the ecosystem – our universities, provinces and territories, private sector, research community, young people and Indigenous people, and every department of the federal government – need to align with this framework to achieve maximum impact. A successful policy framework would ask what elements make up a successful ecosystem. It would make tough choices about which programs and agencies should grow and which should not. Above all, we must be goal-oriented, nimble, and driven by a sense of urgency.

Canada’s future prosperity and well-being, the health of our democracy, our ability to address global warming and the next pandemic, and the credibility of our voice in the world depend on the strength of our science and technology ecosystem. If we are to be a credible voice in addressing the serious economic, environmental, and political challenges that will define the next century, we need to be known for the excellence of our scientists and social scientists, the risk-taking of our innovators and funders, the sustained commitment of our governments and our ingenuity in developing regulations that diminish risk while we reap the benefits of these powerful new technologies.