AI Futures Policy Labs: Shaping the future of AI policy in Canada

AI Futures Policy Labs: Shaping the future of AI policy in Canada

An overview of the Toronto pilot of the AI Futures Policy Labs, a series of workshops for emerging policymakers across Canada created in partnership with the Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR)
AI Futures Canada
​Sarah Villeneuve
Policy Analyst
August 22, 2018
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Facial recognition software has remarkable value when deployed as a tool for identifying missing children and reuniting them with their families. Yet, the same technology can also be used as an instrument for mass surveillance. This is just one example where rapid advancements in technological capabilities are still not fully understood by policy makers. While breakthroughs in prediction, natural language processing, pattern and image recognition offer promising opportunities in the form of better services, they also pose risks in areas like privacy and safety.

Within the public policy field, there is an increasing need to build capacity to respond to these developments, and ensure they are designed and implemented in ways that benefit society. This necessitates a strong understanding of AI technology, its development, and applicable policy frameworks that can shape the development and use of advanced AI.

In January 2018, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship (BII+E) formed a partnership to design and host five AI Futures Policy Labs. These labs aim to generate greater awareness and understanding of the long-term policy implications of AI among young policy innovators, both within and outside of the civil service. Each lab will combine presentations from AI R&D professionals with exercises focusing on strategic foresight, collaborative brainstorming, and potential policy responses.

Both CIFAR and BII+E provide intellectual leadership for this joint initiative. CIFAR has a long history of supporting AI research and development within Canada. Its AI & Society program examines questions related to the social, ethical and legal aspects of artificial intelligence. Complementary to these efforts, BII+E’s AI + Society workstream explores how government can engage with advancements in AI and data-driven technology to promote public interest, improve policy development and service delivery. To date, BII+E has published an Intro to AI for Policymakers and hosted a one-day event, AI + Public Policy: Understanding the Shift, in partnership with the Government of Ontario’s Policy Innovation Hub.

The AI Futures Policy Labs extend the work being done by both CIFAR and BII+E by providing detailed knowledge of current AI capabilities and applications, exploring long-term policy implications, and increasing the capacity of future policy leaders to address these challenges through appropriate and sustainable policy measures.


  • Provide young policy innovators with a direct line of sight into the AI sector: myths, hype, the evolving state of technological advances, and potential applications. Participants will have the opportunity to learn common terminology as well as current techniques and applications through presentations and Q+A sessions with prominent AI researchers and practitioners.
  • Build capacity for future public service leaders to understand the policy implications of AI and respond decisively. The combination of activities throughout the day works to increase the ability of participants to ask critical questions and recognize the benefits and risks associated with new technological capabilities and applications.
  • Contribute to early government responses to emerging AI technologies. This lab is structured to make participants aware of the types of policy levers available to them, as well as what styles of government intervention are necessary and appropriate in the context of AI to mitigate the risks and encourage the development and use of beneficial AI technologies.

Toronto Pilot

On June 25, 2018, CIFAR and BII+E hosted the first AI Futures Policy Lab in Toronto. A total of 18 participants from 13 ministries, civil society organizations, and academic institutions gathered at CIFAR’s Toronto office. Attendance was intentionally capped to create an intimate space for open discussions and thoughtful collaboration. The workshop operated under the Chatham House rule to encourage creativity and debate without attribution. Participant feedback was gathered and will be incorporated into the design of subsequent labs. A summary of the workshop, along with key insights, can be found here.


What’s Next?

Throughout the remainder of 2018, CIFAR and BII+E will convene four additional policy labs. The next AI Futures Policy Lab will take place in Edmonton, Alberta on September 20, 2018. A final report summarizing the five labs will be available in January 2019. By distilling the views of policy professionals across four provinces, this report intends to support the beginning of a national conversation about the impacts of AI on civil society and the future of policy in Canada.

If you are interested in participating in an upcoming lab please send your resume to Sarah Villeneuve.

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