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We have reached a unique point in time when the pace of technological change is emerging at an unprecedented rate. A time when rising technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cloud Computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) are placing more power at our fingertips than entire generations that came before us. The best part of this is that Canada is uniquely positioned to be a leader in this new AI revolution.

AI advances are driving breakthroughs which are offering truly life-changing possibilities. Take for example the Seeing AI app, an app derived from a hackathon and built by a team of Microsoft interns in Vancouver that leverages AI to assist the visually impaired with a variety of different tasks. Through the app, users can scan their surroundings to recognize text, objects, product barcodes and even people to provide various audio descriptions. The visually impaired can now read a handwritten Holiday card from a friend, grocery shop without assistance or choose their meal from a standard menu – routine tasks that you and I probably take for granted each day.

Innovations in cognitive computing inspire ideas. Similar to other technological revolutions, the growth of AI also raises some important considerations: How do we ensure that AI is designed and used responsibly? How will AI impact employment and jobs? And, how can we ensure Canada truly capitalizes on this opportunity?

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It is at this early stage in our AI journey that we need to drive the conversation and collaboration among technologists, government, academics, researchers and business leaders to ensure these questions are addressed head on.

At Microsoft, we participate in a number of organizations alongside industry leaders, academics, nonprofits and specialists to develop AI best practices, advance public awareness and provide an open platform for discussion. We also have developed the Fairness, Accountability, Transparency and Ethics in AI (FATE) program that is led by a group of Microsoft researchers who work to understand the complex social implications of AI. The better we understand these issues, the better served the world will be.

And then comes the question of employment. While there is understandable concern about whether AI and automation will lead to workforce displacement at some future point, we believe technological change represents a huge opportunity for professionals. If you think about the impact of technology on jobs over the last 250 years, we have seen the nature of work shift, the creation of new jobs, the elimination of existing jobs and the evolution of job tasks and content. McKinsey recently shared insights on this very topic in their 'Technology, jobs and the future of work' report. The evolution of the workforce will certainly continue, but one thing is clear: companies – and countries – that embrace these changes, rapidly and effectively, will fare best. New jobs and economic growth will come to those who embrace technology, not those who resist it.

So how can Canada capitalize on this opportunity? We are already seeing some incredible homegrown companies evolve that are powered by the Microsoft Cloud. For example, InDro Robotics, a company in located on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, is leveraging AI technology to revolutionize search and rescue capabilities. Search drones can now scan waterways for signs of peril like a lifejacket or a capsized boat and alert human searchers to the pinpointed location – saving valuable time when lives are at stake and reducing the risk for search teams in the process.

AI is also changing the way we do business. The retail industry is undergoing a massive disruption in Canada and Toronto-based Rubikloud uses AI and machine learning to change the way retailers look at mass promotional planning to maximize customer lifetime value. With millions of factors influencing these types of decisions, we are working with Rubikloud to provide a scalable means for computations and are helping them change the way global enterprise retailers grow their business.

These are just a few examples of the amazing work that is starting to blossom in Canada and this is just the beginning. AI is no longer a concept of future-based science fiction; AI is being utilized today across a wide range of industries.  Transformation requires will and skill.  There is a lot of work ahead of us with tremendous benefits – the reward for our efforts. In order for Canada to continue to play a leading role in amplifying human ingenuity with AI, we must continue to develop strong IT talent, support local homegrown Canadian companies and strengthen partnerships with government.   With collaboration and stewardship, I believe that Canada will not only succeed in the AI era, we will play a leading role in the digital world.

Kevin Peesker is the President of Microsoft Canada. He works closely with organizations in the private and public sector to harness the power of digital transformation and artificial intelligence and stimulate business results. Click here to learn more about how Microsoft is helping companies amplify human ingenuity with AI. 

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This content was produced by Microsoft. The Globe and Mail was not involved in its creation.

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