This article was written by Arushi Sharma and Philip Anderson Petitpas.
The sun shone its morning glow on Parliament Hill and the wind whispered softly as we walked along the ByWard Market toward 60 George Street – the Institute of Governance’s (IoG) ASPIRE Lab and the venue of the 4th Annual Digital Governance Forum on Trust in the Age of Digital Disruption.
The forum held much promise and anticipation for these two attending coop students. Upon arrival, we were greeted by two very kind and courteous ladies who registered the forum’s attendees and pointed us in the direction of warm pastries, fresh fruits and much needed coffee!! Unbeknownst to us, the forum would be catered by La Bottega, the ASPIRE Lab’s next door neighbour. Needless to say, we were ecstatic, and after enjoying a delightful, light breakfast we were ready to begin the day.
We gathered in the Lab’s atrium, surrounded by numerous LCD screens and a podium in the center with four panelist chairs located to the right (stage left). As we took a seat, we were warmly welcomed by members of the IoG and Intuit – the forum’s sponsoring organization.
Following opening remarks, the Hon. Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions’ took to the stage and noted how Canada needed active participation from both the government and the public to build institutional resilience. The Minister also noted the need for social media companies to work with the government to arbiter and maintain transparency in their operations, as well as to manage foreign influence in electoral processes.
As the sessions began, we noticed the capital city’s forum would be heavily focused on reinstating the presence of a cohesive environment and growing governmental efforts for the future advancements of AI. The panelists spoke supportively of Ottawa’s distinctive infrastructure capacity, as well as its automotive and healthcare sectors – the feeling within the room was very encouraging! The goal, we were reminded, was for the city to become a fitting host and attractive destination for key AI initiatives. We are greatly anticipating Ottawa’s key role in developing autonomous vehicle software and testing agricultural AI huge strips of huge strips of corn fields. Not to mention, the city also has a network of five leading research hospitals whose RDI capacity remains largely untapped.
Despite the favourable reaction towards AI from the audience, recent evidence of foreign influence in electoral processes makes us worry about similar tampering domestically and its potential to manipulate our upcoming elections. We felt the panelists discussion on online privacy and the need for international transparency with regards to how our data is used was spot on. Canada needs a robust data protection framework – one that protects the rights of its users without throttling the development of emerging businesses. Citizen engagement is extremely important– not just to develop a public perspective on the use of emerging technologies, but to also develop a national consensus on how we can tackle issues such as foreign influences and political tampering.
As the final discussions came to a close and the IoG moderators gave their thanks and concluding remarks, we sat with the rest of the forum’s attendees and applauded loudly. The breadth and depth of knowledge shared with us by the panelists gave us a truly eye-opening insight into the public and private applications of AI, as well as the necessary steps that need to be implemented in order to develop strong and flexible frameworks for its governance and use. We thank the IoG for inviting us and look forward to sharing our insights and perspectives with our colleagues and clients down the road!