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Two summers ago, Magna International Inc. and Royal Bank of Canada brought together some of Canada's brightest entrepreneurs and innovators to brainstorm what Canada needs to foster the development of emerging technologies and tech companies. The top answer? Build an entrepreneurial ecosystem to harness artificial intelligence and human ambition.

Fast forward to today and we are on the cusp of the next great technological revolution, driven by artificial intelligence (AI). The term may conjure up visions of science-fiction movies with apocalyptic outcomes, but the reality is we are already living in a world infused with AI, from music and movie recommendation services, to driver assistance systems in cars, to virtual personal assistants in our phone or in our home. Over the past few years, the pace of technological innovation and exploration of AI has increased exponentially, with futuristic ideas such as self-driving cars becoming tangible products of today. At the recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, one of the major themes centred on AI as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

While change of this enormity does not always unfold smoothly, there are a tremendous number of potential outcomes and opportunities to be excited about, from solving health-care problems and environmental challenges to creating the jobs of tomorrow.

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Canada has a significant history of leadership in the study and development of AI. It is important that we continue to foster and support Canada's reputation not only as a global destination for the study of AI but as a destination for AI-focused entrepreneurs and businesses.

A recent op-ed in this space called for the formation of a world-class AI Institute to ensure Canada remains a leader in this space. We support this effort to advance Canada's role in leading AI research and in developing talent – the PhD and masters students – that will propel this technological revolution and steer the businesses of today and tomorrow into the future. While fostering the academic advancement of AI is critical, we also believe there's an important role for Corporate Canada to play in advancing the entrepreneurial exploration of commercial AI applications in this country and around the world. RBC has already established RBC Research with labs in Toronto and Edmonton to advance academic research in AI and to explore potential business applications, while Magna is partnering with universities, research institutions, venture firms and startups around the world on potential breakthroughs and solutions offered by artificial intelligence.

This is why RBC and Magna in collaboration with NEXT Canada are helping to launch NextAI, a global innovation program for AI-related ventures, alongside founding partners BDC Capital and Scotiabank. The program – a result of that summer brainstorm – is the first of its kind in Canada, and will bring global AI talent and entrepreneurs to Toronto, where they'll work with corporate, academic and technology partners to create commercially viable AI ventures.

NextAI aims to solidify Canada's reputation as a global leader in innovation, reversing the brain-drain of top innovators and scientists out of the country, and to establish centres of excellence in the commercial application of AI. Since launching recruitment in late October, applications have come in from more than 20 countries including Germany, India, Israel, Mexico and Britain.

Importantly, NextAI is an initiative encompassing corporate, technology and government support, including partnerships with IBM Canada, Google and NVIDIA. Together they will provide program participants with funding, corporate mentorship, and access to industry experts, customer trials and valuable data sets.

It is critical for Canada to invest in its status as a global leader in the academic and commercial exploration of this technological revolution. This is why you will be seeing private sector and government-supported initiatives such as NextAI, the proposed AI Institute in Toronto and others continue to emerge and evolve as we open our arms to the world's AI scientists and entrepreneurs. It's all of our responsibility to ensure Canada shines as the global hub for AI, as a critical plank in underpinning the country's future prosperity and economic success.

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