AI & Society Animated Illustration

AI & Society

The AI & Society program, a key pillar of the CIFAR Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, develops global thought leadership on the economic, ethical, political and legal implications of advances in AI.

Our programs bring together global experts from across sectors, including academia, industry, law, ethics, healthcare, and government, to engage in in-depth discussion and action on some of the most important and timely challenges that AI is posing to society. These dialogues and solution-oriented approaches deliver new ways of thinking about issues and drive positive changes in the development and deployment of successful, beneficial and socially responsible AI technologies. 

Three streams of programming:

  • Solution Networks

  • AI Futures Policy Labs

  • AI & Society Workshops

CIFAR Solution Networks:
Design Governance Solutions for Responsible AI

The Solution Networks provide collaborative opportunities for a global team of cross-sectoral, interdisciplinary experts to design and develop responsible and beneficial AI solutions. 

For this Solution Network Call, CIFAR’s AI & Society Program, in partnership with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), is seeking EOIs for a team to develop AI governance solutions to support responsible AI in low-middle income countries.   


AI Futures Policy Labs

CIFAR’s AI Futures Policy Labs engage the public policy community in in-depth conversations with experts from other sectors to help them understand, navigate and respond to the policy opportunities and challenges that are coming from the rapid growth of AI across all aspects of society. These labs ensure AI technologies are developed, implemented and governed in ways that are aligned with public interest objectives. 

AI Futures Policy Toolkit

In September 2020, CIFAR launched the AI Futures Policy Toolkit, a virtual toolkit designed to help policy innovators host and facilitate their own AI Policy Lab. The toolkit enables virtual learning for individuals and groups, and includes a facilitation guide and a four-part video series explaining the basics of AI and what implications it may have for our future.

AI Futures Policy Labs in partnership with the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship

CIFAR, in partnership with BII+E, held five labs across five Canadian cities which culminated in a final report, Exploring the Future of AI Policy in Canada. Some of the priority areas where key policy recommendations were made included:  

  • Addressing the future of work

  • AI anti-trust mechanism

  • Data governance

  • Public education

  • Consultation

  • Encouraging responsible innovation

  • AI regulation and legislation.

Each lab incorporated foresight exercises with brainstorming activities to develop contemporary AI policy approaches for a variety of domains, including housing, justice, education, immigration and hiring.


AI Futures & Health Policy Lab

On February 26, 2020, CIFAR, in partnership with the British Columbia Ministry of Health, held its first AI Futures Policy Lab in Victoria, B.C., with a focus on its application to the health sector. The Lab, developed with expertise from the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, brought together 21 policymakers, academics, health practitioners, and patient advocates with the aim to:
  • Develop a clearer understanding of current AI capabilities;

  • Raise awareness of how AI is deployed in real-world health applications;

  • Discuss the benefits of AI, as well as the social, ethical, economic, and political challenges associated with AI-driven health applications; and

  • Identify immediate next steps policymakers need to take in order to support effective deployment and adoption of AI in the health sector in the next five years.

AI & Society Workshops

CIFAR’s AI & Society workshops bring together diverse experts from across disciplines, sectors and borders to address some of the most fundamental challenges posed by AI. Some examples include:

  • The practice of ethical medicine in AI;

  • The use of AI to address the climate crisis; and

  • The role of AI as an amplifier of inequality for vulnerable populations.


The AI & Society workshops generate deeper understanding of how AI is impacting society, from health to security to culture, and identify opportunities for future research and action. Each workshop team produces a publication that supports the dissemination of insights to the broader community.

Two calls for proposals for international AI & Society workshops were initiated in 2018:

AI & Society Workshops - Call One (March 2018 - October 2019)
The first international call was completed in October 2018 and resulted in four successful applications. Each of the workshops brought together a diverse group of 20-25 international experts that explored issues including the role of AI as an amplifier of inequality for vulnerable groups such as children, the potential risks AI poses to democratic institutions, and how AI might be informed by the insights and knowledge of Indigenous groups.

AI & Society Workshops - Call Two (June 2019 - December 2020)
In August 2018, CIFAR launched an international call for proposals in partnership with the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and U.K. Research and Innovation (UKRI). The partnership funded eight proposal led by experts in Canada, France and the U.K. on important societal questions arising from AI. These proposals addressed topics such as trust in AI systems, the impact of algorithms and digital recommendation systems on culture, and, fairness, interpretability & privacy for algorithmic systems.

CIFAR logo 2020 RGB

More details about the workshops and their associated publications are available here.

Canada-U.S. AI Symposium on Economic Innovation

On January 15-16, 2020 CIFAR’s AI & Society Program partnered with Innovation, Science & Economic Development Canada and the U.S. Consul General in Toronto to host the Canada-U.S. AI Symposium on Economic Innovation. The two day event consisted of a full-day private workshop and a half day public symposium, bringing together Canadian and American experts from across industry, government, civil society and academia to explore innovative approaches to public policy that could support the development of competitive AI strategies, while mitigating potential societal risks. CIFAR published the Report on the Symposium summarizes the discussions and recommendations made over the course of the two days.

Building an AI World

Report on National and Regional AI Strategies — Second Edition

Building an AI World: Report on National and Regional AI Strategies (second edition) aims to provide a snapshot of the rapidly evolving area of technological policy, highlighting the variety of approaches taken by different countries, and providing policymakers with a reference and a toolkit of potential measures to shape the development of the field in their own countries. 

In November 2018, CIFAR published the first edition of Building an AI World: Report on National and Regional AI Strategies. Since that time, a number of countries have further developed or finalized their own national AI strategies, and more have taken steps towards creating such strategies to ensure that they, too, can capitalize on AI to drive growth and remain competitive. This second edition provides an updated overview of the global landscape of AI strategies as of January 2020.