Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Canadian Space Agency Will Spend $50,000 So That AI Sales People Can Pitch Them Products

          By Chuck Black

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), sometimes the story just writes itself.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has issued an advanced contract award notice (ACAN) for $50,000 CDN to Element AI, a high flying Montreal, PQ based artificial intelligence incubator, to "uncover potential applications within the Canadian space sector," suitable for the use of the artificial intelligence (AI) tools which Element AI specializes in.

Element AI co-founder Yoshua Bengio at the 2016 TED Montreal conference, which was held on November 12th, 2016. As outlined in the May 17th, 2017 TEDx Talks post, "The Rise of Artificial Intelligence through Deep Learning | Yoshua Bengio | TEDxMontreal," Bengio is also "the head of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), Professor at the Université de Montréal, member of the NIPS board" along with his role at Element AI. He also holds the Canada Research Chair in statistical learning algorithms, is a senior fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and co-directs its program focused on deep learning. According to Bengio, "Montreal has become the largest concentration of deep learning researchers in the world." Screen shot c/o You Tube.

Before we conclude that the appropriate "potential applications" for AI at the CSA include pretty much everything the agency is currently involved with (except for maybe the astronaut program), we might want to take a closer look at the award.

As outlined in the August 8th, 2017 Buy and Sell Canada post, "Assessment and roadmap development for the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Canadian space sector (9F060-20170324),"
...there is a need to grow Canada’s advantage in Artificial Intelligence (AI). A combination of strong public support for research programs and world class expertise at Canadian universities and start-up companies has helped to propel Canada to a leadership role in AI and deep learning. Canada aims to retain and attract top academic talent, and to increase the number of post-graduate trainees and researchers studying in these fields. 
To support these objectives, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) aims to uncover the potential applications and impact of AI within the Canadian space sector. The information gathered will serve to define a cohesive approach and guide Canada’s future investments in space technology development.
Element AI still needs to respond to the ACAN before the award can move forward.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visiting the Magna International facility in Brampton, Ontario on March 30th, 2017. As outlined in the March 31st, 2017 Weekly East Asian Connections post, "PM Trudeau Announces New Pan-Canadian Intelligence Strategy in Brampton,"  the PM was visiting as part of his "post-budget tour" to announce the "new Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy." Photo c/o Weekly East Asian Connections.

The latest CSA announcement is part of the ongoing, $125Mln CDN Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, announced as part of the Federal Budget in March 2017.

The strategy, "will also promote collaboration between Canada’s main centers of expertise in Montreal, Toronto-Waterloo and Edmonton. The investment will build on existing AI advancements and create a critical mass of talent necessary for Canadian businesses to succeed in changing markets."

As outlined in the March 30th, 2017 Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Ideas Exchange Post on the, "Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy Overview," there are four major goals of the program:
  • Increase the number of outstanding artificial intelligence researchers and skilled graduates in Canada.
  • Establish interconnected nodes of scientific excellence in Canada’s three major centres for artificial intelligence in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto.
  • Develop global thought leadership on the economic, ethical, policy and legal implications of advances in artificial intelligence; and
  • Support a national research community on artificial intelligence.
The program is being led by CIFAR and over the next five years, the intent is to:
... enhance Canada’s international profile in AI research and training; increase the productivity in AI academic research and enhanced capacity to generate world-class research and innovation; increase collaboration across geographic areas of excellence in AI research and strengthen relationships with receptors of innovation; attract and retain outstanding AI talent in Canadian universities and industry; and translate AI research discoveries in the private and public sectors leading to socio-economic benefits for Canada.
Not that there is anything wrong with that. But it's not really a CSA program and has almost nothing to do with space or the space industry, except for the $50,000 CDN the CSA has contributed.

It is instead a well funded CIFAR program ($125Mln CDN, even without the CSA contribution) which will go into a variety of government departments and academic organizations over the next five years to enhance Canada's international profile in AI research and convince them to buy products from AI companies like Element AI, which are located in Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and maybe a few other places.

And while it's good that Canadian government funding is going into an area of acknowledged expertise, it's also a shame that the space industry, another area of acknowledged Canadian expertise, still isn't receiving the attention it requires and deserves.

Maybe the CSA should be spending their allocated $50,000 to meet with AI experts who know about fund raising and lobbyists.

As shown above, CIFAR has even been referenced in a video on the topic, so you just know they gotta have some expertise in this area.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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