AI & Society


Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to usher in fundamental change in our society, affecting everything from business to government; working life to personal time. As increasingly sophisticated AI systems are created and deployed more widely, the effects on society are unclear. CIFAR’s AI & Society program aims to examine the questions AI will pose for society involving diverse topics, including the economy, ethics, policymaking, philosophy and the law.

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Improved performance of AI systems – driven by research breakthroughs, increased data availability, improved computing power and new architectures – are leading to applications that outperform human beings in certain domains. Computer vision, natural language processing, and data-driven prediction are notable areas of rapidly increasing AI capability. The  increase in both the range and accuracy of the tasks AI systems can perform has led to both excitement and concern.

Effects on labour markets and employment are popular areas of public concern and debate, but the potential societal effects of AI extend more broadly. Questions have been raised about fundamental and complex topics such as algorithmic biastransparencygovernance, and inclusion. AI has the potential to drive changes in policy and practice across many domains, from natural resources to healthcare to the arts. It also raises new questions for ethical and legal practices of all orders of government, business, and civil society.

To help advance discussions around these and other issues, CIFAR will build inclusive, international collaborations and engagements that bring together research perspectives from any discipline, including those in the social sciences, humanities, law, engineering, and the arts with policymakers and innovators. By thinking about these effects early on, engaging diverse perspectives, and communicating new knowledge and insights responsibly and broadly, we will be better able to respond to the new challenges AI presents and take full advantage of the opportunities for human advancement and understanding.

Call for proposals

CIFAR, in partnership with UK Research and Innovation and France’s Centre national de la recherche scientifique, has launched a Call for Workshops targeted at priority areas related to AI & Society. This program will provide funding and support to bring together new teams including members from Canada, France, and the UK, to explore emerging questions about how AI affects the world today and tomorrow. Each workshop will lead to a publication that helps to inform policymakers, NGOs, innovators, and others.

Applications for this Call for Workshops are now closed, and results from this competition will be available in 2019. Results from CIFAR’s previous Call for Workshops can be found here.

AI Futures Policy Labs

In partnership with the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E), CIFAR has launched the AI Futures Policy Labs series, a Canada-wide series of workshops aimed at engaging future policy leaders in deep conversations about the future of AI. Bringing together small groups of early-career professionals from the public, private, non-profit, and academic sectors, these workshops will engage participants in capacity-building and thought-provoking foresight activities in a collaborative, intimate space.

The purpose of these workshops is to promote informed and thoughtful discussions across Canada about the future of AI technology, its impact on society, and potential public policy actions that can be taken to mitigate risks and maximize benefits.

Read more about the AI Futures Policy Labs


CIFAR’s AI & Society programming is guided by an Advisory Council of respected researchers from a wide variety of disciplines that blend technical expertise with a deep commitment to promoting human well-being.

Prof. Ian Kerr (Chair)
Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law & Tech.; Full Professor, University of Ottawa

Dr. Joanna Bryson
Reader, Department of Computer Science, University of Bath

Dr. Mario Mariniello
Digital Adviser to the European Political Strategy Centre, European Commission

Prof. Doina Precup
CCAI Chair; CIFAR Senior Fellow; Mila faculty member; Assoc. Professor of Computer Science, McGill University; Research Team Lead, DeepMind Montreal

Ms. Meredith Whittaker
Co-Director, AI Now Institute, New York University

Additional Reports and Resources

Global interest in this topic is growing. The following is a selection of reports and initiatives that might be of interest.

AI Now 2017 Symposium Report

Building on the inaugural 2016 report, the AI Now 2017 Report addresses the most recent scholarly literature in order to raise critical social questions that will shape our present and near future. This report focuses on new developments in four areas: labor and automation, bias and inclusion, rights and liberties, and ethics and governance. We identify emerging challenges in each of these areas and make recommendations to ensure that the benefits of AI will be shared broadly, and that risks can be identified and mitigated.

Learn more about AI Now 2017

DeepMind Ethics and Society

DeepMind Ethics & Society is a research unit that aims to explore the key ethical challenges facing the field of AI, through interdisciplinary work that brings together the technical insights of our team at DeepMind and the diverse range of people who will be affected by it.

Learn more about DeepMind

Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems

Ethically Aligned Design will provide insights and recommendations that provide a key reference for the work of technologists in the related fields of science and technology in the coming years. 

Learn more about Ethically Aligned Design

The Belfer Center for Science andn International Affairs Artificial Intelligence and National Security

The report proposes three goals for developing future policy on AI and national security: preserving U.S. technological leadership, supporting peaceful and commercial use, and mitigating catastrophic risk. By looking at four prior cases of transformative military technology—nuclear, aerospace, cyber, and biotech—the authors develop lessons learned and recommendations for national security policy toward AI.

Learn more about the Belfer Center

For more information, please contact Brent Barron