Decoding AI’s Implications for Public Policy

By Sarah Doyle and Heather Russek
March 22, 2018

By Sarah Doyle and Heather Russek
March 22, 2018

Recent technological advances have drastically improved the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) – for example, to identify patterns in data, make predictions, recognize visual cues, and react to human speech – with applications across fields as varied as transportation, health care, and national defense. As AI continues to evolve, its potential to fundamentally alter our social and economic realities is growing. This is – rightly – attracting the attention of governments.

To promote and safeguard the public interest, governments have a vital role to play. First, governments must respond to technological change – for example, through regulatory changes to manage risks related to privacy, bias, accountability, and safety, and through policies and programs designed to broaden the socioeconomic benefits of technological change. Second, they have the opportunity to adopt new technologies – to vastly improve the speed and quality of service delivery, and more efficiently and effectively analyze and develop public policies.

Governments across Canada – and around the world – have, however, typically struggled to keep pace with technological change. We saw this in the slow reaction to the rise of digitally enabled sharing economy businesses, with governments in some cases attempting to put the breaks on change, and generally lagging in the redesign of regulations to protect public interests without adding excessive administrative burdens that could stymy product and service innovation.

As AI continues to advance, the potential for governments to be caught on their back foot remains high. To engage with AI advancements more proactively and thoughtfully, governments require a clearer line of site into this quickly changing field.

To date, the majority of Canadian policy attention and investment has focused on AI talent, research, and commercial applications. Governments have helped to seed research and talent-promoting institutions, such as the Vector Institute, Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, and Canadian Institute For Advanced Research. Relatively less attention has been given to innovation within government policy and service delivery to respond to and adopt AI in ways that will maximize public benefit.

Knowledge of technological capabilities, breakthroughs, and potential applications tend to reside in academia and industry, making their way into the public sphere only when the resulting change is already upon us. Conversely, few outside governments have a strong understanding of the considerations, intentions, and frameworks that shape public service and policy.

To help bridge these silos of understanding, the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, with the Ontario government’s Policy Innovation Hub, is convening stakeholders from government, industry and academia for a one-day conference on March 23rd, 2018. This event aims to help policymakers better understand advances in AI, separating the actual and potential capabilities of AI from the myths and hype. We hope that this event will strengthen connections between policy and AI experts, and help to identify policy questions that warrant further attention.

This event is the start of a broader stream of work at the Brookfield Institute. In the coming months, we will explore opportunities to shed further light on approaches to supporting the development and commercial application of AI, potential areas for government adoption, and the role of government in regulating and responding to emerging AI technologies – through stakeholder engagement, research, and knowledge translation.

To participate in, or learn more about our work in this area, please get in touch at If you would like to learn more about this emerging technology, we encourage you to read our introduction to AI for policymakers.

    For media enquiries, please contact Coralie D’Souza, Director of Communications, Events + Community Relations at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

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