British Columbia Shows Real Intelligence in AI Innovation

British Columbia Shows Real Intelligence in AI Innovation

May 31, 2018 Posted by Abby Pollen

British Columbia’s artificial intelligence (AI) industry has applications in the sectors of ICT and wireless, film and digital effects, and data analysis. While some B.C. companies focus on developing these applications, others are addressing ethical concerns of implementing the new technology, or tracking the pros and cons of AI.

Vancouver’s burgeoning AI industry has attracted a lot of female engineers and company leaders. The city’s chapter of Women Who Code, a global non-profit organization supporting women in technology, has over 1,600 members. Vancouver AI companies include Sanctuary AI, a recent spinoff of Kindred Systems Inc. run by CEO Suzanne Gildert and her co-founder and chief technology officer Olivia Norton; Mobify, a leader in mobile commerce and engagement; and, which is applying the power of artificial intelligence to day-to-day banking. Another B.C. company, Vision Critical, has acquired assets from Aida Software Corp., a Vancouver-based startup in artificial intelligence for customer support. The new assets will help create better customer experiences for Vision Critical’s Sparq 3 platform, which helps large companies understand their clients’ evolving needs.

Generation R Consulting, based at the University of British Columbia, has pioneered AI ethics with a plan it developed for Technical Safety BC. The plan identifies ethical risks of AI-powered software and recommends ways to mitigate those risks. Technical Safety BC oversees the installation and operation of technical equipment in the province, and has been developing an AI-powered system to more accurately predict technical safety hazards based on real time safety inspection and other data. CEO of Generation R Consulting Ajung Moon says her team interviewed stakeholders to determine how the use of predictive AI in a safety application would affect trust, public perception and staff independence, and ensure that, prior to implementation, the system be designed with this kind of ethical consideration.

AI has applications in the creative industries as well. Currently, computer-generated characters require incredibly detailed, choreographed scripts, but AI researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of California Berkeley have created virtual characters that “practice” moves until they get them right. This means game developers and film animators can feed real footage into a program and have their characters master the actions themselves. It seems like the start of digital learning that could lead to Matrix-style plug-and-learn software. For now, only CGI characters can learn this way, but maybe one day people will be able to plug in to a system and learn kung-fu instantly. The researchers also expect that robots may learn this way soon too.

British Columbia has a highly educated workforce in AI, with institutions like the University of British Columbia making great strides in sector research and development. UBC’s research cluster involves over 50 researchers across five faculties. UBC researchers are leaders in AI, with three of their computer science professors recently involved in documenting the progress and the perils of AI. Professors Holger Hoos, Kevin Leyton-Brown and Alan Mackworth started the AI Index project to track, collate, distill and visualize data relating to AI. The first AI Index Annual Report has just been published. The Government of B.C. has added computer coding to the curriculum for public school as well, so the future is looking strong for B.C. AI expertise.

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