Why Canada Believes It Can Lead Global AI Innovation

October 17, 2018, 3:46 PM UTC

While Americans tend to think of Silicon Valley as the de facto hub for technology, neighbors to the north believe it can lead the charge of one of the most promising advancements in years: artificial intelligence.

Canada has already emerged as one of the global leaders in AI with millions of dollars in investment, but its success also comes down to the country’s openness and diversity, according to the Canadian federal government’s minister of innovation for science and economic development.

Speaking during an A.I. panel at the Fortune Global Forum in Toronto on Wednesday, the Honorable Navdeep Bains noted how Canada has relaxed its immigration policies to accommodate top thinkers and developers from around the world.

“If you’re a company, and you need someone, and if you can’t find that individual in Canada—which is possible, we recognize we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas—you can access that talent from anywhere around the world, and you can bring that individual to Canada in a matter of two weeks,” Bains said, noting the visa processing time through the country’s Global Skills Strategy program.

“This is an area where we strategically focus not only on the research side of it, but also access to global talent,” the minister said.

Similarly, Integrate.ai founder and CEO Steve Irvine said that “it’s never been easier to bring top international talent to the country. With everything that’s happening geopolitically, we’ve noticed a big difference. There’s a lot of top notch talent that normally would be on their way to Silicon Valley right now that have changed their minds.

“This is a really great alternative for them,” Irvine added. “It gets them over to North America, gets them into a big hub that they are close to all the other hubs that they would care about on this continent, but they can live in a city that they feel comfortable that gives them the same level of opportunity.”

Raquel Urtasun, head of Uber’s advanced technology group in Toronto, said Canadian business needs to continue thinking globally and locally at once.

“It’s important that we think about how we’re going to grow our Canadian companies and our startups, how we’re going to form legal systems so that they can actually flourish,” she said. “And at the same time it’s very important to have investments in companies that open shops in Canada and work with the legal system so that we are not just taking talent, we’re actually helping to attract more talent to come to the country.”

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