Technology advances at a seemingly blistering pace and one of the biggest breakthroughs in the last decade has been Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). AI is a technology that is capable of mimicking human intelligence – of learning from input in order to achieve goals – giving businesses a technological advantage they never had before. ML is a sub area of AI. Cam Linke, CEO of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) describes, “Where AI is a high level building system that can achieve a goal, ML allows for that system to take in data and learn to improve its performance over time, without explicit programming.”
AI/ML has become increasingly prominent over the last few years, a trend that is becoming the norm for business. Linke explains “Companies and organizations in the province are really starting to take advantage of where AI is at. Historically the province has been incredible at AI research and The University of Alberta and Amii is at the forefront of this field. There is the opportunity to leverage ML for real business impact, creating a competitive advantage for a company. This is the reason why, over the past years, we have seen it really take hold in Alberta where we see companies in every industry leverage the tech to drive that business value. Investment in the area is taking off, and as a result, the talent that is being grown means that companies can take advantage of AI/ML in their businesses right now, while making investments as the field continues to compound and grow over the next few years due to the positive impact of ML.”
Innovate Edmonton, which includes program divisions Startup Edmonton, Scaleup Edmonton, and Accelerate Edmonton, has had a lot of experience with AI/ML in recent years. They help startups through coaching, curriculum, mentorship, and more to boost business development for companies at various stages of growth, including for commercialization, revenue generation, raising capital and international sales. Through their recent partnership with Amii, they help deliver a five-week AI/ML exploration workshop for founders.
Catherine Warren, CEO of Innovate Edmonton, underlines the importance of AI/ML investment. “AI and ML will be the baseline of most businesses going forward. In the same way that digital technology became the infrastructure for most companies over the past decade, AI/ML will undergird how businesses develop, distribute and data-mine, as well as how they interact with customers, employees and investors.”
Warren continues. “Edmonton has a global advantage in that our companies are on the frontlines of AI/ML innovation; they are creating the foundation for this future.”
AI/ML is important to the Alberta energy sector going forward, as Bryan Helfenbaum, Executive Director of Advanced Hydrocarbons in the Clean Energy division of Alberta Innovates, explains, “AI and ML are ideally applied to data-rich dynamic operational environments wherein operator decision-making is frequent and impactful. Alberta’s oil & gas industry is thus well-positioned for AI/ML testing and deployment, but work is also underway in renewable and emerging energy systems. While deployment on individual projects can have merit, the most impactful applications relate to integrated systems such as grid modernization and electricity demand forecasting.”
AI/ML even has its place in helping the environment. Linke explains Amii’s Reducing Emissions through Machine Intelligence (REMI) program, “REMI has really been an interesting program for us, focusing a lot of the activities we already do but honing in on a specific area of working with companies to use AI to reduce emissions. We meet with companies where they are at in their AI journey, discover what problems they are trying to solve and help them set up for success by determining where AI can help in reducing emissions. Together we evaluate where they are going, the targets they are after and whether their target implementation in this area needs additional expertise in their group to amplify results. We assist them through mentoring, coaching and sourcing the AI/ML talent they need.”
Warren describes the outcome of investment in AI/ML in Edmonton. “We are now seeing the commercial fruition of years of AI and ML leadership in the province, and more specifically in our own backyard at the University of Alberta. Applications of both technologies are becoming a reality. Three years ago, service providers were not seeing a lot of AI and ML companies, at least those reaching out for support to scale their businesses. Now, nearly all program cohorts have some connection to AI and ML.”
In Edmonton, the outlook for AI/ML is positive:
- Home to Amii, one of three organizations part of the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy.
- University of Alberta is ranked 3rd in AI/ML programming in the world.
- Google DeepMind set up its first international office here in Edmonton in 2017.
- AI Pathways Partnership funded by PrairiesCan is a consortium of post-secondaries coming together to advance AI/ML in Alberta. Included are Amii, Norquest, Concordia University of Edmonton, Athabasca University and BowValley College. The goal is to train or retrain graduates to be successful in the AI/ML industry, which addresses one of the key issues in the industry – access to talent. In 2021 Norquest released a Machine Learning Analyst diploma.
Warren gives us a couple examples of AI/ML companies Innovate Edmonton have recently supported.
- Ethically Aligned AI
- Founder Katrina Ingram is trailblazing the way as a BIPOC female innovator and was recently named in the top 100 Women in AI Ethics list for 2022. She’s also a former Startup Edmonton Preflight program participant.
- Areto Labs
- Areto Labs, led by Founder and Chief Executive Officer Lana Cuthbertson, is on a mission to make digital communities more positive and inclusive. They were named to the class of Launch Party 12 during Edmonton Startup Week in 2021.
Helfenbaum, gives a rundown of how Alberta Innovates has been supporting the AI/ML field in the energy sector. “Alberta Innovates has launched two programs under the Digital Innovation in Clean Energy (DICE) program; here are a few examples from the Edmonton region including both traditional oil & gas as well as emerging energy:
- Nanode Battery Technologies – Machine learning-assisted electrolyte optimization for next generation rechargeable lithium-ion batteries
- C-FER Technologies – risk software for pipelines in hydrogen and carbon dioxide service
- University of Alberta – blockchain-based smart contracts in the future smart grid
- N-Twist – artificial intelligence for process optimization and energy reduction in electric vehicle battery materials production
- PureHM – monitor cathodic protection, corrosion and interference on multiple pipelines using versatile loT telemetry solution.”
Amii has been at the forefront of AI/ML investment, and Linke describes how Amii helps businesses implement AI/ML. “Our whole goal as an organization is to build the capacity and build the expertise of the companies and groups we work with through training and hands-on courses. We work with people in the province and across the country. We’ve also offered larger international courses in which over 100,000 people have enrolled. Amii has worked with companies as coaches where we act as that external force to help them accelerate what they are doing. As well, we help companies at the intersection of something more advanced, pushing the field forward. The biggest demand in the field right now is AI/ML talent and our ability to help place that talent where it’s needed. We strive to be able to continue to mentor and grow that talent to have opportunities in the organizations we work with.”
AI/ML is the future of business and Edmonton is at the forefront of this exciting frontier that can build businesses and technology to new heights while providing a better world for all.