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AI Futures Policy Labs engage policy leaders in understanding the future policy implications of AI

by Krista Davidson May 29 / 19

Artificial intelligence holds great promise in virtually every industry and sector. It has the capacity to enhance current processes, such as early detection and prediction of disease, reduce accidents with driverless cars and provide valuable insights into our financial spending.

But what does the widespread adoption of AI mean for education and immigration? How will facial recognition technology impact our rights and privacy? What role will government and industry play in training citizens who perform tasks that will be disrupted and possibly displaced by AI? How do we empower policy leaders to develop thoughtful and insightful policies around critical national and international issues?

These questions have inspired a new report published by CIFAR and the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E). The report provides key recommendations made following participants engaged in the AI Futures Policy Labs series. Held in collaboration between CIFAR and BII+E, the Labs aimed to generate greater awareness of the long-term policy implications of AI among emerging policy leaders. In 2018, the Labs engaged 125 policymakers in five different Canadian cities including: Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver, Ottawa and Montréal.

It’s important that we're engaging with the leaders of the future. It lets us tap into a group that is creative, interested and passionate.” - Brent Barron

“We put together groups of people from different departments, as well bringing in private sector, academic and NGO perspectives, so it really was a multisectoral conversation,” says Brent Barron, director of public policy at CIFAR. “It’s important that we're engaging with the leaders of the future. It lets us tap into a group that is creative, interested and passionate.”

CIFAR and BII+E published the recommendations and findings collected over the course of the Labs in a final report, Exploring the Future of AI Policy in Canada. The report shares recommendations made by the Labs’ participants and addresses themes clustered in the following areas:

  • Addressing the future of work
  • AI anti-trust mechanism
  • Consumer protection
  • Data governance
  • Public education
  • Consultation
  • Encouraging responsible innovation, and
  • AI regulation and legislation.

The Labs encouraged discussion around real-world scenarios using current AI applications.

“There's value in taking a step back and looking at big trends like AI and what they might mean. In the Labs, we took people from the basics of AI 101 to case studies that might be outside of their area of expertise, to developing policy proposals,” says Barron.

“Participants were able to move beyond considering legislation and regulation, and discussed many different ways to mitigate the risks and emphasize the opportunities of AI across all of the public policy domains covered by the Labs,” says Heather Russek, director of policy innovation at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

Participants had a range of scenarios from which to develop policy recommendations, including: a tenant screening app that generates risk scores and enables landlords to make smarter rental decisions; a predictive analytics system that automates activities currently conducted by immigration officials to support the evaluation of immigrant and visitor applications; and, an AI class assistant that uses machine learning algorithms and advanced facial recognition to listen to online lectures, among others.

“The partnership between CIFAR and the Brookfield Institute has been extremely collaborative,” adds Russek. “We have worked as one team to design and deliver the policy lab series, considering the experience of participants as well as the outcomes we were hoping to achieve.”

The team are also developing open-source materials that will be available as a guide so that organizations and others can run their own sessions to help prepare for future policy implications of AI.

CIFAR and the Brookfield Institute will be leading a session at this week's Open Government Partnership Summit in Ottawa to engage an international group of policy-makers, civil society and private sector leaders in the AI Futures Policy Lab series.


In 2017, the Government of Canada appointed CIFAR to develop and lead the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, the world's first national AI strategy. The AI Futures Policy Labs are a major program within the AI & Society pillar of the CIFAR Pan-Canadian AI Strategy.