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Research study: Governance of AI
As the 2019-2021 McConnell Professor of Practice for CIRM, Ana Brandusescu is carrying out a research study on the governance of artificial intelligence (AI). This exploratory research begins to examine public investment flows in AI through the AI ecosystem, policy, and funding in Montreal and across Canada to better understand its socio-economic implications. In December 2019, she wrote an initial blog post on “responsible AI”, a response to technology that is opaque to many of its users, driven by private sector interest. In March 2021 she launched the report titled, “Artificial intelligence policy and funding in Canada: Public investments, private interests.”
Report: Artificial intelligence policy and funding in Canada
AI technologies are becoming more prominent in our everyday lives, bringing with them long-lasting political and socio-economic implications. The development and use of AI are supported both privately and publicly. Governments support AI because it promises economic growth, military advantage, and streamlining labour functions through automation. The Canadian government is investing heavily in AI, with billions of dollars in funding committed. As of August 2020, $1 billion in government contributions have been awarded across Canada. An additional $1.2 billion of planned government investments have been publicly announced for the province of Quebec. In Montreal alone, over $2 billion in private investments have been reported.
Power lies in funding and investment networks, yet public access to these networks is notoriously difficult. This exploratory research begins to examine public investment flows in AI. Access to financial flows is a gateway to understanding decisions made behind closed doors. Billions of taxpayers’ money go into AI. How is the Canadian government building the innovation economy under AI? To answer this question, public documents and datasets were analyzed, complemented by semi-structured research interviews, and participation at public events and meetings. From March to June 2020, Ana Brandusescu conducted 53 research interviews with experts based in Canada. Interviewees included government officials, industry researchers and analysts, legal practitioners, non-profit practitioners, human rights advocates, and academics working in, or adjacent to the AI landscape. The report seeks to inform policymakers, researchers, and civil society representatives.
The report examines the AI ecosystem in Canada; AI policy and funding; as well as AI in Quebec and Montreal. Because so much of AI resides in the private realm, it is worth questioning how the innovation economy is influenced by private interests and private power — and by extension, how AI public policy gets written. The research reveals the following findings:
- Public investments in AI technologies primarily benefit the private sector, where government funding for AI goes mainly to industry and academia adjacent to industry.
- Even though Canada has a federal AI policy, there is no government AI strategy for government departments and agencies across federal, provincial, or municipal levels.
- Companies linked to human rights abuses can pre-qualify as government AI suppliers, and commit to Canada’s Algorithmic Impact Assessment.
- Concentrations of power provide advantages to a handful of entities with financial resources, data, and technologies across a few universities and affiliated research nonprofits, startups, and international (big) tech companies.
Updated version of the report (March 5, 2021)
AI ecosystem in Canada
A dataset was created to better understand the AI ecosystem in Canada and the entities that operate in it. In the spirit of public interest research, it is published in an open format so that anyone can use, collaborate, and build on this list.
Description: The AI ecosystem dataset includes 710 public and private entities that work with, research, fund, and/or procure AI, and operate in Canada. Private entities include venture capitals, angels, institutional investors, incubators, accelerators, startups, big tech companies, and audit firms. Public entities include academic labs and projects, incubators and accelerators, non-profit organizations, and government institutions. The entities are categorized by:
- Note: The categories for company classification are based on OpenCorporates data and classification in English or French (Quebec jurisdiction); the categories “non-profit organization” and “government institution” have been added by the authors.
- Sector — private or public
- Headquarters location
- Headquarters country
- Website URL
- Other locations — cities and/or countries the entity operates in
Sources: OpenCorporates, Crunchbase, Element AI Canadian AI ecosystem 2019, Canada.AI directory, Government of Canada’s AI-IA Artificial Intelligence Source List (EN578-180001/B), and public interest research interviews.
The dataset is available in Excel, CSV, and as a “living” list of AI entities.
In constant evolution: In order to enrich the content and the presentation of this dataset, we invite you to send us your comments and questions. Are the columns in the dataset useful? Should we add another column? Please add a comment to the document, or send Ana Brandusescu an ana.brandusescu [at] mcgill.ca (email) or direct message on Twitter.
Credits and acknowledgments: The AI ecosystem dataset was created by Ana Brandusescu and McConnell Foundation Professor of Practice Program Coordinator Elissa Kayal, and first published on July 7th, 2020 by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal at McGill University.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (BY) license. The dataset may be remixed, transformed, and built upon, and be copied and redistributed in any medium or format even commercially, provided credit is given to the authors.
We wish to extend our gratitude to Jonathan van Geuns, Yuan Stevens, and Dr. Renee Sieber for their valuable insights and feedback.
Guest lectures and expert groups
During her time with CIRM, Ana Brandusescu has given guest lectures on artificial intelligence, public technology policy, open data/GIS (Geographic Information Systems), and civic engagement. On October 1st, 2019, she gave a talk titled “Artificial intelligence: Definitions, issues, debates” for Jason Prince’s Social Debates and Issues in Public Affairs and Public Policy (SCPA 301) seminar at Concordia University. On October 7th, 2019, she was invited to present on her work in open data and open government. She also gave a talk on “Innovating Government Data” for Dr. Renee Sieber’s Advanced GIS (GEOG 506) course at McGill University. On January 22nd, 2020, Ana Brandusescu gave a webinar for the Open North’s One-to-One Advisory Service Open Smart Fundamentals series, on artificial intelligence for Canadian municipalities that she developed in the fall of 2019. On April 2nd, 2020 she gave a talk on “Tech ethics, corporate opacity, and the role of government” for Dr. Jess Reia’s seminar Cities, Data & Rights (COMS 500) at McGill University.
Ana Brandusescu co-authored the Response to Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Call for Consultation for Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence with technology and policy experts from Machine Agencies, a working group in the Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology at Concordia University. Ana Brandusescu has also joined the Advisory Committee for the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC)’s Social Impacts of Technology Study, where she provides expert advice.
From April to June 2020, Ana Brandusescu participated in the Feminist AI Network Expert Group supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Gender at Work, and the <A+> Alliance co-led by Ciudadania Inteligente and Women at the Table. The network of experts connects cutting edge feminist research and researchers in data, computer science, machine learning, economics, urban planning, and social sciences to discuss how to leverage AI for women’s rights, exploring opportunities to drive new innovations, methodologies, and practice in the field of AI. She also contributes to AI Global’s Responsible AI Trust Index Working Group, specifically, on issues related to trust and civil society in the design, deployment, and use of AI technologies.
On June 11, 2020, Ana Brandusescu was invited to join Open contracting and inclusion hosted by Hivos, alongside Michael Canares (Strategy Advisor, Step Up), Tim Davies (Director, Global Data Barometer), Silvana Fumega (Research and Policy Director, ILDA), and Jorge Florez (Fiscal Governance Manager, Global Integrity), moderated by Ana Sofía Ruiz (Director of Operations, ILDA).
Ana Brandusescu participated in the panel titled “Artificial intelligence: What impacts on our democracy?” organized by Concordia University’s School of Community & Public Affairs on February 18th, 2020. The session was moderated by Celine Cooper (Instructor, School of Community & Public Affairs, Concordia University), along with panelists Valentine Goddard (Founder and President, AI Impact Alliance), Patrick White (Professor, School of Media, UQAM), Philippe Beaudoin (Head of Research, Element AI), and Dominic Martin (Professor, Department of organization and human resources, UQAM).
On May 23rd, 2020, she took part in an international panel of critical technology scholars to discuss inclusive technology organized by SEARCH — Trust for Sustainable Education and Action in Architecture. She joined fellow panelists Padmini Ray Murray (Founder, Design Beku), Ateya Khorakiwala (Assistant Professor, Columbia GSAPP University), and moderator Suptendu P. Biswas (Managing Trustee, SEARCH).
Data for Society Hub and Montreal Observatory of Social Issues
Ana Brandusescu is co-creating CIRM's Montreal Observatory of Social Issues, a platform that will provide access to geo-referenced, and thematic datasets on Montreal and its populations to offer an improved understanding of the stories that Montrealers share. This work will integrate into the collaborative data sharing, smart city project.
Ana Branduescu holds seminars on technology, politics, and power with the research and policy teams at OpenNorth, a Montreal-based nonprofit that implements a collaborative local-to-global approach to improving government transformation and systems change through a citizen-centered, principles-based, and applied research-led approach to complex multi-stakeholder data-related problems. She also contributes to research and policy reports, gives talks, and advises on projects like the Information and Communications Technology Council’s Social Impacts of Technology Study conjointly with her role as CIRM Professor of Practice.
Ana Brandusescu is continuing to develop her research agenda on the governance of AI. Her focus is twofold: 1) to examine AI policy and funding in Canada; 2) to develop a new model of public (civic) engagement in government decision-making processes that are being automated with AI with the research project AI for the Rest of Us.
Guest lectures and expert groups
Ana Brandusescu has guest lectured for public policy, communications, human resources, and software engineering courses. On June 22, 2020, she gave a guest lecture titled Rethinking governance of the (AI) innovation economy for Dr. Pamela Lirio’s Digital Transformation in Human Resources seminar (REI 7010) at Université de Montréal. On November 13, 2021, she was invited by Prof. Paulina Bustos Arellano to give a guest lecture at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) on Tech ethics and private regulation.
She has been appointed as a new civil society member for Canada’s Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Open Government. She advises for the AI Global’s Responsible AI Trust Index Working Group, specifically on issues related to trust and civil society in the design, deployment, and use of AI technologies, and is a member of the Alliance for Inclusive Algorithms. She also participates in monthly calls of the AI in the Municipal Government Community of Practice across Canada.
She is a recent collaborator on technology governance research for the Centre for Media Technology and Democracy at the McGill University’s Max Bell School of Public Policy, where she co-authored a forthcoming essay with Yuan Stevens on facial recognition technology in Canada. This past summer, she also co-authored Open data standards design behind closed doors? for the Iniciativa Latinoamericana de Datos Abiertos (ILDA) with Michael Canares (Strategy Advisor, Step Up) and Silvana Fumega (Research and Policy Director, ILDA).
Invited talks and workshops
On October 29, 2020, Ana Brandusescu joined CIRM’s Seminar From the intelligent to the intelligible city to reflect and discuss this newly published book, along with the political and socio-economic implications of AI in the city. The discussion was moderated by Hoi Kong (Professor, University of British Columbia) and featured book authors Nicolas Merveille (Professor, ESG-UQAM) and Jean-François Gagné (Professor, Université de Montréal). Ana Brandusescu was a panelist alongside Lyne Nantel (PhD Student, Institut national de la recherche scientifique), Stéphane Guidoin (Director, Montreal Urban Innovation Lab), and Sarah Gagnon-Turcotte (Director of Applied Research Lab, OpenNorth).
On November 17, 2020, she participated in the book launch of Situating open data: Global trends in local contexts hosted by OpenGovHub, as book editor and speaker alongside co-editors Danny Lämmerhirt (PhD Student, University of Siegen), Patrick Enaholo (Lecturer, School of Media and Communication, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, Nigeria), and Natalia Domagala (Head of Data Ethics, UK Government Digital Service). The following book authors gave presentations: Camila Salazar (Lead Data Analyst, Open Contracting Partnership), Eveline Vlassenroot (Researcher, Gent University), Ilham Cendekia Srimarga (Executive Director, Sinergantara), James Maddison (Consultant, Open Data Institute), and Michael Canares (Strategy Advisor, Step Up). The discussion was moderated by Jorge Florez (Fiscal Governance Manager, Global Integrity).
On November 24, 2020, the Government of Canada’s School of Public Service Annual Digital Open Government Forum invited Ana Brandusescu to join the panel of experts Building Transparency, Accountability and Integrity in Artificial Intelligence alongside Ashley Casovan (Executive Director, AI Global), Tracey Lauriault (Associate Professor, Carleton University), Sarah Villeneuve (Program Lead, Partnership on AI), Erick Galinkin (Researcher, Montreal AI Ethics Institute) and moderator Mélanie Robert (Executive Director, Open Government, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat). The conversation discussed data integrity and transparency, as well as accountability in AI. On December 15, 2020, Ana Brandusescu was invited to DataFest Tbilisi to give a presentation on her preliminary research findings, titled Towards public accountability in AI funding.
On February 5, 2021, she was invited by the Agirre Lehendakaria Center (ALC), a Basque Innovation Lab, to present on the ethical implications of digital listening as a response to the latest research by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Regional Hub in collaboration with ALC. The latter started an active listening process to gather narratives through ethnographic interviews in Southern Thailand with a diverse set of key stakeholders in the local food system. Ana Brandusescu joined Itziar Moreno (Project Director, ALC), Gorka Espiau (Director, ALC), and Alex Rayón (Vice-Rector for International Relations and Digital Transformation, University of Deusto).
On February 24, 2021, Ana Brandusescu was invited to present her new research for the Feminist and Accessible Publishing, Communications, and Technologies Practices Speaker and Workshop Series, organized and in conversation with Dr. Alex Ketchum (Faculty Lecturer, McGill Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies). Her presentation is titled Funding AI in Canada: Public investments, private interests.
AI for the Rest of Us
Prof. Renee Sieber and Ana Brandusescu have been awarded a SSHRC Insight Development Grant as part of AI for the Rest of Us — a research project to develop a new model of public (civic) engagement in government decision making processes that are being automated with AI. This exploratory research is grounded in the lived experience of civil society organizations and the interdisciplinary knowledge of academia. The researchers examine how recent trends towards responsible AI and AI ethics translate into meaningful public participation. The project leads are thrilled to conduct this research with civil society and community leaders Michele Spieler, Nasma Ahmed, Bianca Wylie, Jean-Noé Landry, and Rob Davidson who bring expertise in smart and resilient cities, digital justice, capacity building, and open data. They also partner with academics Pamela Robinson, Peter Johnson, Shannon Mattern, Derek Ruths, Sasha Luccioni, and Drew Bush, who are subject matter experts in geography, urban planning, educational technologies, AI in society, data science, and AI.
Their interactive workshop Civic empowerment in the development and deployment of AI systems has been accepted for the “Critiquing and Rethinking Fairness Accountability and Transparency” programme at the ACM FAccT Conference, which will take place on March 5, 2021.
Data for Society Hub and Montreal Observatory of Social issues
Ana Brandusescu is co-creating CIRM’s Montreal Observatory of Social Issues, a platform that will provide access to geo-referenced, and thematic datasets on Montreal and its populations to offer an improved understanding of the social issues that Montrealers share. The Observatory will link to Montreal en commun’s Data for Society Hub, a collaborative data-sharing project that supports social innovation and transformation for the public good.
As Professor of Practice, Ana Brandusescu has co-facilitated and presented on data governance at the governance workshop. She will also be co-facilitating and presenting at future workshops on technology.