By Alan Murray and David Meyer
June 25, 2018

Good morning.

The competition to develop A.I. is usually portrayed as a battle among Goliaths–Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, IBM in the U.S.; Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent in China. But that storyline overlooks the critical role a group of researchers with ties to Canadian universities has played in A.I.’s development. Their efforts have spawned a Montreal company that’s a would-be David in the coming fight: Element AI.

The overwhelming advantage the tech giants have in A.I., aside from money and talent, is data. Developing A.I. requires massive amounts of it, and it’s hard to compete with the millions of terabytes in the hands of the behemoths. But that’s largely consumer data. Vast amounts of proprietary corporate data lie outside the giants’ reach, and Element AI is aimed at helping companies make smart use of it. The company is also attempting to present itself as a less predatory, more ethical alternative to its outsized competitors.

Vauhini Vara profiled Element AI for the July issue of Fortune magazine. It’s today’s must read, available here. The CEO of Element AI–Jean-François Gagné—will be joining us at the Fortune Global Forum in Toronto in October. (More information here.)

Vara’s story is part of Fortune’s special report on the A.I. explosion, which Fortune editor Cliff Leaf calls “Springtime for A.I.” in his introduction to the package, here. Also worth reading: Jonathan Vanian on tackling bias in A.I., and Clay Chandler on why China has an edge in the A.I. race—in part because it doesn’t worry about the ethics of things like using facial recognition to nab miscreants.

I’m on my way to San Francisco this morning, where our CEO Initiative gets underway tonight—beginning with interviews with Apple CEO Tim Cook and author Steven Pinker. More news below.

Alan Murray


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