Illustration of a brain and electrical circuits

Canada-U.S. AI Symposium on Economic Innovation


Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled technologies are poised to make a global impact. AI technologies today are being used to predict and diagnose diseases, accelerate the discovery of new materials, and streamline organizational processes such as hiring, production, and distribution. The introduction of such technologies, and their rapid deployment across all sectors, invites significant societal challenges that must be addressed in a way that fosters economic innovation and protects the interests of Canadians and Americans.

Canada and the United States (U.S.), in addition to sharing a border, have many shared interests and values that bind the two countries together, creating natural opportunities for collaboration on issues that impact both their citizens and economies. In the spirit of collaboration, CIFAR forged a partnership with Innovation, Science & Economic Development Canada and the U.S. State Department to explore innovative approaches to public policy that could support the development of competitive AI strategies, while mitigating potential societal risks.

As a result of the partnership, CIFAR convened a private workshop and public symposium on January 15-16, 2020. At a time when new regional initiatives in both the east and the west are emerging to promote cross-border trade and economic development, this first-of-its-kind symposium was timely. It convened an impressive group of cross-sector experts to explore the unique opportunities and challenges of AI-supported technologies, and to identify areas for actionable Canada-US collaboration moving forward. The event also brought together Canadian and U.S. experts from industry, government, civil society, and academia to examine opportunities and to address solutions for potential issues such as privacy, safety, and equity.

Panelists examine the role of policy in promoting economic growth between Canada and the U.S.  Pictured: Jennifer Miller (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada) with panelist  John Weigelt  (Microsoft Canada).

Panelists examine the role of policy in promoting economic growth between Canada and the U.S.

Pictured: Jennifer Miller (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada) with panelist John Weigelt (Microsoft Canada).

This report summarizes the discussions and recommendations that took place over the course of  two days.

On the first day, January 15, 2020, a private, in-person workshop was held at CIFAR. Participants attended plenary sessions designed to enhance their understanding of socially responsible AI technologies and the strategies used to support economic growth and regional development.

On the second day, January 16, 2020, a public half-day symposium was held in Toronto, Ont. It invited students, researchers, policymakers, government, and industry members to stimulate a broader conversation and to share the outcomes of the workshop with a cross-sectoral audience.

Three themes emerged from the closed workshop that were particularly relevant to the cross-border nature of this unique Canada-U.S. gathering: the future of work, data governance, and regulatory innovation. When discussing these themes, participants agreed that Canada and the U.S. were at a critical juncture requiring immediate action. The group set out to test out and develop innovative new approaches to stimulate economic innovation while protecting the citizens of both countries.

Across all three themes, it was agreed that there was a need for the private sector, government, academia, and civil society to work together to stimulate new ways of thinking, and challenge the “business as usual” approach. Participants noted that high-level discussions of ethical frameworks, while previously useful, do not address sector-specific cases. The consensus was  clear that sectors should develop sandboxes, or isolated testing environments, that enable leaders to experiment and take small, calculated risks. Experimenting with sandboxes would provide government and industries the ability to safely explore best practices and strategies that could be implemented. Actionable projects that involve cross-border collaboration would ensure that these applications are suitable in the Canadian and U.S. contexts.

Participants developed the following recommendations to address these concerns:


Illustration of a brain and electrical circuits

Future of Work

Both countries have a high demand for talented and skilled AI professionals while also sharing concerns about labour market disruption. Private firms have found effective ways of upskilling their staff, and opportunities exist to share these programs more. Approaches to address these challenges include:

  • Establishing social safety nets to protect workers who face labour disruption; providing incentives for workers pursuing retraining programs that are made available through subsidies and EI support.
  • To address the skills gap and ensure greater consideration for ethics, academic institutions can update standard curricula to include ethical values for software engineers and data scientists, and include basic AI skills in other programs, like business administration.
  • Public agencies and small companies can work with large technology corporations to make educational and certification programs available to all workers to promote upskilling and retraining for technical competencies.


Illustration of a brain and electrical circuits

Data Governance

Data governance plays an important role in harnessing the opportunities that new technologies bring. How firms and governments collect, use and deploy data will need to be considered carefully with respect to ethical principles, including privacy and equity. The ideal state of data governance was characterized by open data, accessible at different levels of detail for a wide range of groups, and underpinned by a framework of trust.

  • Governments and public agencies can begin by establishing data trusts for sectors that do not collect personal data, such as natural resources and agriculture. This can demonstrate the gains from AI applications without compromising on privacy, and develop best practices for applying these methods to more sensitive sectors, like healthcare.


Illustration of a brain and electrical circuits

Regulatory Innovation

Coordinated regulatory frameworks need to be established to help both countries manage the risks and harness the opportunities that AI presents.

  • Governments should experiment with regulatory options in simulated environments, or “sandboxes”, to assess practical risks before implementing them in practice.
  • Regulatory regimes tend to be slow-moving, rigid, and overly complex for the current pace of technological advances. New models for regulatory reform should be considered to address these shortcomings in the longer term.

We must cultivate public trust in technological advancements and the ability to address societal concerns, while enabling innovation and market potential. In order to achieve this, policymakers were encouraged to continue working together with civil society, industry, technical experts, and members of the public in addressing the complex considerations that technological advances raise. This report outlines the main challenges, strengths, opportunities, and solutions that were discussed in each of the three main themes over the course of the private workshop and public symposium.

Greg Stanford (U.S. Consulate General in Toronto), Dr. Alan Bernstein (CIFAR) and Jordan Zed (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada).

Canada and the United States have many opportunities for collaboration in AI that could have a positive impact on the citizens and economies of both countries.

Greg Stanford (U.S. Consulate General in Toronto), Dr. Alan Bernstein (CIFAR) and Jordan Zed (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada).


The Canada-U.S. AI Workshop & Symposium was held in partnership with:

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada

U.S. Consulate General in Toronto