The NDP government will spend $100 million over five years to grow the artificial intelligence (AI) sector in Alberta.
Premier Rachel Notley, who made the announcement in Calgary on Wednesday, said the investment is part of a “made-in-Alberta technology diversification plan” aimed at keeping the province at the forefront of the global technology revolution. Alberta is already attracting AI tech talent and investment from around the world — Google DeepMind, the Royal Bank of Canada and Mitsubishi have all opened Edmonton-based research facilities — but Notley said the province needs to support new companies and help them commercialize or risk getting left behind.
“Without investment, we are at significant risk of losing our competitive advantage. Without a long-term commitment and a plan for a diversified commitment, Alberta could easily be surpassed by the Ontarios and Quebecs of the world,” Notley said.
An initial investment of $27 million will go to Edmonton-based non-profit Amii (Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute). Founded in 2002, Amii is a research institute that works with the global scientific and business community to advance machine learning and artificial intelligence. More than 200 companies — from startups to multinational corporations — around the world have expressed interest in working with Amii.
Amii will use the government funds to open a Calgary office, said CEO John Shillington, and to design new programs offering scientific mentorship and AI educational opportunities to businesses.
“Calgary’s clearly got just enormous commercial potential and lots of great opportunities for investing in this sector,” Shillington said. “Machine intelligence will be a key driver of innovation across all industry sectors in the future.”
The majority of the remainder of the funding will go to Alberta Innovates, to help the provincially funded corporation expand its work in the area of AI and focus on company growth and acceleration, as well as applied research and development.
A small portion of the funding, approximately $5 million, will be spent on a marketing campaign to boost the profile of Alberta’s talent pool in geographic locations such as Silicon Valley that have a large number of technology sector companies and investors.
Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous said there are U.S. companies interested in expanding or relocating to Canada right now, in part due to new visa restrictions implemented by President Donald Trump that are making it more difficult to recruit and retain skilled labour.
“When you look at the U.S., you’ve got companies that are looking at coming into Canada,” Bilous said. “So I suspect we’re going to see a lot of interest and new investment coming into the province.”
The $100 million in AI funding is a followup to the government’s announcement last spring that it will spend $50 million to create 3,000 new high-tech training seats at post-secondary institutions across the province.
The government says it expects the two investments combined to result in more than 6,000 trained, skilled Albertans and the creation of more than 140 companies.