Ninety-one per cent of subscribers think Canada will be able to attract and retain top global talent in artificial intelligence


As the war for artificial intelligence talent heats up across the world, The Logic subscribers are confident Canada will be able to attract and retain top global talent.

Ninety-one per cent of subscribers who responded to the September survey are optimistic about Canada’s prospects as the demand for talent in the AI sector increases. Sixty-eight per cent of readers said they were somewhat optimistic, and 23 per cent said they were extremely optimistic.

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The results are from The Logic’s second subscriber survey. A private link was sent to subscribers by email and the survey was conducted online. All respondents were kept anonymous and duplicates were removed as needed. Our subscribers were asked to provide responses to a series of questions through a rating scale. The full text of this question was: “As the war for artificial intelligence talent heats up, what is your outlook on Canada’s ability to attract and retain top global talent?”

Canada has established itself as an emerging leader in the space. Among other developments, in 2017, Ottawa set aside $125 million over the following five years for the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. That amount funded academic centres in Montreal, Alberta and Toronto, including the Vector Institute, helmed by Geoffrey Hinton, known as “the godfather of AI.”  

The money will allow Canadian firms to create more jobs in the sector—but they’ll have to compete, especially with the top salaries of places like southern California. One reader said, “We have an opportunity, but the world will also be competing. Without clear HQ jobs, the more compelling offers will invariably be elsewhere.”

One reader mentioned Canada’s relatively favourable political climate, saying it may attract those “who want to work in the field, but live in a country that makes better social choices than others.” Another pointed toward Canada’s “inferiority complex,” saying that it pushes Canadians to perform.

The confidence readers expressed in Canada’s AI talent follows a wave of U.S. Big Tech companies setting up AI outposts in the country. In 2017, Google’s DeepMind opened its first non-U.K. lab in Edmonton. CEO and co-founder Demis Hassabis wrote in a blog post that the expansion was a sign of the “deep admiration and respect we have for the Canadian research community.” Later that year, Facebook opened an artificial intelligence lab in Montreal, joining Microsoft, Adobe, Nvidia, Alphabet, Thales SA, Samsung, Fujitsu and LG in opening AI labs in Canada since 2017. And, in addition to the AI team it began building last year, this September, Uber announced a $200-million investment into autonomous vehicle research in Toronto.

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Although the growing U.S. presence in Canada shows good faith in the latter’s burgeoning AI sector, it can also stifle homegrown companies. One subscriber noted, “Major corporations can make it more challenging for scaling companies to access talent in the long term,” but conceded that “they’re key to long-term attraction, retention and training.” In spite of continued competition, they said, “The investments made in Canada are a good sign in that regard.”

“I think we always need to be looking over our shoulders,” wrote another reader. However, they concluded that as Big Tech continues to expand and plant roots into Canada, being in the Valley itself will become less important. “At the end of the day,” they said, “people want to be where the outputs are and Canada is getting an opportunity to be that place.”