Chinese venture capital firms and technology giants are increasingly moving in on Canada’s technology scene, with an eye on artificial intelligence, advanced machine learning, and autonomous systems. Canada is already a favorite spot for the Chinese diaspora to live, work and dabble in espionage.
As well as the research capabilities, the lower valuations of Canadian technology companies compared to their US counterparts make them attractive to Chinese investors, with the number of tech-related deals in Canada involving Chinese venture capital firms more than doubling to nine in 2017 from four in 2016.
The Chinese government has set a goal of building a domestic artificial intelligence industry worth nearly US$150 billion in the next few years, and to make the country an “innovation centre for AI” by 2030.
China’s tech “big three” comprised of Tencent Holdings, Baidu and Alibaba Group Holding – are all rapidly developing their AI verticals. Tencent already jumped into the Canadian AI scene, investing in Element AI, a start-up co-founded by Montreal university academic and deep learning expert Yoshua Bengio.
The Canadian government is rolling out the Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative, a C$1.5 billion (US$1.2 billion) program to develop the country’s venture capital ecosystem. Under the program, foreign investors will be able to invest in Canadian tech start-ups more easily.
WHY IT MATTERS
In 1899, The world’s most powerful nations signed a treaty at The Hague that banned military use of aircraft, fearing the emerging technology’s destructive power. Five years later, the moratorium was allowed to expire and before long, aircraft were helping to enable the slaughter of World War I.
A request by IARPA, the research agency of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, launched a report by Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs on the effect of artificial intelligence on national security. One of its primary conclusions is that the impact of technologies (like autonomous technology) on war and foreign policy could rival that of nuclear weapons. It discusses how technology like drones, robot hackers, and software that generates fake video — which perfectly mimics reality through machine learning — are on track to make the U.S. military and its rivals immensely more powerful.
And China isn’t even really playing catch up for once. Baidu and Tencent have spent a lot of money to build up large, skilled research teams in machine learning and AI, both at home and abroad. The Chinese government has put the technology at the heart of several initiatives under its latest five-year plan. It recently set up a new national lab dedicated to keeping China competitive in deep learning, the technique behind recent progress in areas such as image and speech recognition. A government program called Artificial Intelligence 2.0 will funnel billions to develop AI for commercial and military use.
A White House report in Oct. 2016 revealed that China overtook the U.S. as the world’s most prolific producer of research papers in deep learning publications sometime in 2013 — and that the gap is only widening.