NextAI alum Hassan Murad discusses the future of AI in Canada

Apr 11, 2018

Do you see AI as a force for transformation within industries or as an industry in itself?

AI is a transformational force for the entire economy. It is capable of supplementing, assisting and improving computational processes in any industry. Each industry has been capturing numerous trends in its data for many years, but they have been locked away in silos. These are trends or patterns that humans have never been able to compute or see. But once we give that data to an algorithm or machine-learning systems, we are able to start finding these patterns and drive insights for a specific business. Most startups at this time are going after current, established industries. So you can sprinkle AI in any recipe or any industry and it would taste better.

Who are the key stakeholders of the Canadian AI revolution and what role should they play in it?

 I would divide the stakeholders into three categories: academic institutions, entrepreneurs, startupsand investors, which include the government. Basically, academic institutions are the fuel for Canada’s AI revolution. Most pioneersof AItoday, like Yoshua Bengio and Geoffrey Hinton, started out of academic institutions such as the University of Montreal and the University of Toronto. They would not have grown if thefederal, provincial and local governments had not backed them. The government put in place incentives, which encouraged the expansion of Canada’s AI ecosystem and the creation of institutions like CIFAR. So, Canada now has AI startupswilling to take risks and also a whole ecosystem of industries willing to support these risk-takers.

Incubators play a major role in the systematic shaping of an ecosystem and I think both, the government and academic institutionsshould fund and encourage the efforts of such incubators.

My advice to entrepreneurs would be to dream big. Reza Satchu, one of the founders of NEXT Canada, rightly believes that Canadians have extremely modest expectations compared to our counterparts that went toHarvard, MITor other places. We always try to go for bronze rather than gold. We need to dream big and aim for gold from the very beginning.

The Creative Destruction Lab founded by Ajay Agarwal at the Rotman School of Management is another pioneer in this space. It is the only platform in Canada that has managed to put seasoned entrepreneurs and investors in the same room as young startups trying to make their way through the ecosystem. This setup is a prime example of going for the gold. Ajay has brought in the best of the best throughout the world to mentor those who are just starting out to ensure the highest success rate, facilitating the rapid growth of the Canadian AI ecosystem.

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