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Unlocking innovation in Canada – the time to act is now!


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the defining technology of our time. Organizations that take advantage of all that it has to offer are arming themselves to compete now and in the future. A recent study of European leaders highlights how businesses that are actively implementing AI are more than twice as likely to be high-growth companies. Those that are not considering their AI strategy risk being left behind. I engage with partners and customers from across Canada daily and they regularly share with me that change can be overwhelming.  When it comes to AI, many leaders do not know where to start. Curious companies committed to success need to look no further than the companies that are doing incredible innovative work right here in Canada, demonstrating what’s possible with AI. In March we brought business leaders together from across the country to showcase, celebrate and learn what’s next at Future Now in Toronto – a focused business decision maker event where we explore innovation in action.

We started and ended the morning with amazing young Canadian talent and it is clear the future is bright. Tanisha Bassan, an ‘older and wiser’ 18-year-old former Microsoft Canada high school intern and winner of the CES 2019 Young Innovators to Watch Award for her project in quantum machine learning, opened the day with her inspiring keynote on her journey and work to fight cancer. Samin Khan, an incredible Canadian student and innovator, closed the day with a demo of his simple, inexpensive prosthetic arm, smartARM. Samin and his innovation partner Hamayal Choudhry’s ingenuity earned them the grand prize at last year’s Microsoft’s Imagine Cup – a global competition of the best and brightest innovators from 33 countries. These students drove home for me what can be achieved when you embrace technology, approach a challenge with a growth mindset and are passionate about the results.

We simply must commit to accelerating the growth of AI in Canada so students like Tanisha, Samin and Hamayal can reach their full potential here at home. Microsoft Canada is investing more than $100 million in cloud technology so Canadian organizations have the tools they need to compete in the digital age. And yet, in spite of local investments and a proliferation of AI incubators and research centres in places like Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal, Canadian businesses are not taking advantages of the enormous opportunities made possible by AI. A recent study from Gartner found that Canada is a very poor 9 out of 10 when it comes to countries adopting and deploying AI in business applications. On top of this challenge, Canadian employers are facing an enormous skills gap in the digital labour force. So how should we address this incredible challenge and ensure growth for the Canadian economy?

The solution is twofold. Not only does the Canadian workforce need the skills to work in AI, but Canadian businesses need to actively adopt AI to provide the interesting and innovative work that will keep skilled workers and innovators in Canada. We are seeing amazing innovations, life changing and life-saving, happening in every sector that will inspire our future Canadian AI workforce.  A terrific proof point is the sheer number of Canadian organizations recognized by Microsoft to receive AI for Earth grants. Many innovators stand out and we heard from several at Future Now:

Benjamin Haibe-Kains, a Senior Scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre at Toronto’s University Health Network, and his team are working to develop a shared database for clinicians to run biopsy results that leverages AI and the Microsoft Cloud to assist in determining personalized treatment plans for cancer patients. An initiative to enhance patient care and, ultimately, save lives.

And Humza Teherany, Chief Technology and Digital Officer at MLSE, is using data and the cloud to completely transform the fan experience and help Toronto sports fans get closer to the teams they love both in and outside of the arena.

We also provided a sneak peak at the amazing innovations that are possible with mixed reality with a demo of the recently launched HoloLens 2. The digital world has gone beyond two-dimensional screens and entered the three-dimensional world. We are seeing a new ecosystem of Mixed Reality Partners evolve, including partners like Kognitiv Spark who is working with the Canadian Army and Air Force to infuse Mixed Reality solutions and HoloLens into training support services, to ultimately improve operations and advance communications. The possibilities are truly endless.

Today was about showcasing these leading-edge examples and to helping others realize the value that AI and the power of cloud computing can bring to an organization. It was also about providing the insights organizations need to develop a new strategy and unlock the full potential of AI and machine learning.

For many business leaders, events like Future Now are just the start of their digital transformation journey. Because of this, we’ve recently launched AI Business School, a free comprehensive AI business training that helps organizations define an AI strategy, enable an AI-ready culture and understand the implications of responsible AI in business.

With all the innovation on display and the enthusiasm I heard from attendees about what’s in store, I know we are on the path to incredible and life changing innovation right here in Canada, but we need to act now. Our keynote speaker Futurist Jim Carroll said, “Do something. The time is now. The future is going to be here before you know it,” and he’s absolutely right.

Let’s continue to partner, to imagine and to bring our aspirations to life. Future Now is all about unlocking the art of what is possible, now lets go make it happen!

Learn more about how you can empower innovation with Microsoft AI.