Artificial Intelligence takes prominent role in Mayor’s annual address

At the Mayor’s state of the city address yesterday, Don Iveson teased an Artificial Intelligence (AI) innovation fund and creative hub space to be created by the city to support the growing technology sector.

The event, organized by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce at the Shaw Conference Centre, gathers business leaders and local companies to hear the direction or plans the mayor has for the city. Iveson pledged to bring these ideas up to city council next week.

During his recent trips to Asia and San Francisco, Iveson said businesses are aware of the development in AI research within Edmonton and at the University of Alberta.

“They are not surprised to hear that we are number two in the world, second only to Carnegie Mellon [University],” Iveson said.

While praising the AI sector in Edmonton, Iveson acknowledged the city itself does not have a direct role at this point in AI research. However, he hopes an innovation fund and hub space would be established and that the fund would not be administered by City Council, but by community leaders.

Iveson said having a creative hub would allow for existing partnerships in AI research to mesh with local talent and companies. He gave the example of the AI developer DeepMind, which has been developing a partnership with the U of A since 2017.

Iveson also said he hopes the city would be an “effective partner” to the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, an AI researching firm based at the U of A.

U of A Provost Steven Dew said he is excited at the prospects of Iveson’s proposal.

“We look forward to working with Mayor Iveson and our partners throughout Edmonton’s business and philanthropic community to realize the great potential before us,” Dew said.  

According to Dew, with increased targeted investments in AI research, the U of A is in position to quickly expand Edmonton’s emerging high tech sector. He also said AI is set to generate $50 trillion in global growth through increased productivity.

Other topics the Mayor outlined in his address included creating a stronger Edmonton business community through more exports. Iveson also announced a new partnership with LinkedIn. The job networking site will conduct a “deep dive” on Edmonton’s talent landscape to identify what skills the city is missing and how government can attract or locally grow them.

Iveson said he hopes Edmonton will be seen as a “research lab” for AI development. He said this emerging technology would create an “innovation pipeline” bolstering an emerging segment of Edmonton’s economy. He called on more private sector investment to “secure and cement” the U of A’s and the city’s reputation as a leader in AI research.

In Ontario, $80 million in private funding was invested into AI research and research chairs at Ontario universities. Iveson said that presents great opportunities for business leaders to partner with ground-breaking research.

“[This] is one of the calls for action today,” Iveson said. “We have twice the AI talent in Alberta than Ontario… We need a broader community to step up.”

Iveson said there could be a possibility for a research chair to be funded by the city that would partner with the city’s Analytics Centre of Excellence.

“I would not rule out us funding a chair,” Iveson said. “[However,] that would be one out of many that are needed to help grow the AI space.”

Iveson also said “it takes a village” to support local research and initiatives, and called for the province to continue their commitment and investments into the sector.

“This is Edmonton’s moment,” Iveson said.

Adam Lachacz

Adam Lachacz is a third-year student double majoring in history and political science. In his spare time, he likes to read, breathe, speed, and drink mead.

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