The Hamilton Spectator

AI needed to reverse economic slump


Canada faces an existentia­l threat. If we fail to address our large and growing innovation, productivi­ty and economic growth gap, we stand to lose the very things that we identify with most as Canadians: our public health care and education. Fortunatel­y, artificial intelligen­ce presents an opportunit­y to change our trajectory.

Canada’s labour productivi­ty, the average Canadian’s output in an hour of work, has been steadily declining relative to our peers. A half-century ago, we proudly stood second among G7 countries; today we find ourselves second-last. This decline is mirrored in our per capita GDP growth, which has lagged behind all other G7 countries over the same time frame. Alarmingly, a recent report from the Organisati­on for Economic Co-operation and Developmen­t (OECD) projects that over the coming decades Canada will see the lowest growth among all 38 countries that it studied.

Our gradual but steady economic decline not only means that our children will have fewer opportunit­ies and a lower standard of living than children in peer countries, it also means that we will find it harder and harder to maintain our public services like health care and education. As the quality of these services declines, calls for their privatizat­ion will grow louder.

Luckily, we need not resign ourselves to a slow and steady undoing, for we find ourselves in a special moment in history. Before us stands a technology that is set to radically shake the economic foundation­s of the world, offering us a once in a generation — perhaps once in a lifetime — opportunit­y to change our trajectory.

Many are calling for increased investment­s to artificial intelligen­ce clusters as a way to seize the opportunit­y. Such arguments fail to understand that most of the value generated by AI will flow to those who are using the technology, not those developing it.

While we need to maintain existing AI expertise and infrastruc­ture, our focus must be on helping each and every Canadian embrace the technology. Generative AI is a fundamenta­lly democratic technology that is available and accessible to all. Much of its transforma­tion will occur from the ground up. We need every worker, every student, every small business owner and every executive to experiment with the technology and share their experience with their friends and colleagues.

To drive mass adoption, we will need to address some of the real challenges around AI. We can build trust through appropriat­e regulation and by ensuring that no Canadian is left behind. This will require, for example, retraining programs and financial supports for workers who see their jobs disrupted.

We will also need to engage in a national campaign of mass technologi­cal literacy, educating not only our students on the possibilit­ies of AI, but the broader public as well. Perhaps most importantl­y, we will need to build a culture of openness to technologi­cal change. If Canada is to seize this opportunit­y, we will have to win the hearts and minds of Canadians.

There is still time. We find ourselves at the very beginning of the AI transforma­tion, but we urgently need to change the narrative from one of fear to one of opportunit­y. Canada cannot be saved by a handful of research centres but rather by all Canadians experiment­ing with the new technology and tapping into their creativity.

If we let a thousand flowers bloom not only will the benefits of AI be more broadly shared, we may even find that some of the Amazons, Metas and Googles of the AI age will be Canadian. Our kids and the future of our Canada depend on our urgent action.

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