Building a stronger Alberta economy with artificial intelligence

John Shillington of Amii taks about connecting research and expertise to industry and helping Alberta businesses build their capacity for machine learning

John Shillington is president and CEO of Amii.

John Shillington Amii AI
John Shillington

What is Amii Innovates and what do you do?

Shillington: Amii Innovates is a program run by the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii). It enables and supports Alberta-based businesses as they grow their in-house business and technical capabilities around artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

At Amii, we believe machine intelligence will have a key role in creating a stronger economy for Alberta. Our Amii fellows produce world-leading research in the areas of machine learning and AI out of the University of Alberta. Through the Amii Innovates program, we’re connecting that research and expertise to industry and helping Alberta businesses build their internal capacity for machine learning.

How have companies in Alberta embraced AI?

Shillington: We’ve seen tremendous interest from Alberta businesses in AI. Since we started piloting the Amii Innovates program 10 months ago, we’ve heard from hundreds of businesses, from startups to multinationals, that are curious about how they can integrate AI into their operations.

While some are interested in advancing the state-of-the-art, most of these businesses are trying to figure out the best path forward in thinking about machine intelligence.

Of those businesses that applied to the program, we selected 23 applicants who are keen to build their internal capabilities. We have worked with them on many projects, including predictive maintenance for equipment, better resource management for forestry companies, form processing opportunities in office settings and autonomous farming.

What’s the importance of AI for companies?

Shillington: Experts are calling AI the fourth industrial revolution, mainly because of the massive potential it has to revolutionize business across sectors in ways we haven’t even thought of yet. There will be significant competitive advantages for companies that are quick to adopt the transformational opportunity presented by machine intelligence.

Being able to integrate AI into business strategies and operations will be necessary to keep up with competitors through increased business efficiency and effectiveness. We want to set Alberta businesses up so that they do more than just staying competitive – we want them to thrive and lead within their industries.

Who are the first cohorts of affiliates?

Shillington: Amii has worked collaboratively with 23 companies since January, four of which have already become alumni.

The first cohort of Innovation Affiliates includes everything from startups and SMEs to not-for-profits and multinational corporations. The first cohort includes 2S Water, AIMCo (alumnus), Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (alumnus), ARC Resources, The Climate Corporation (alumnus), Cognitive Diagnosis, Dot Technology Corp., Drugbank, EHS Analytics, FORCORP Solutions, Frettable, Hoot Research, Imperial Oil Ltd., Integral Engineering, Medo.AI, Mikata Health Inc., Net Energy Exchange (NE2), OKAKI, SAM, Shell Scotford Refinery (alumnus), Synauta Inc., Testfire Labs and Willowglen Systems Inc.

What are some trends you predict for AI use in the province?

Shillington: We see AI becoming the primary driver of sustainable growth for Alberta’s economy – through great research, great talent and great businesses. What might that look like?

Well, Edmonton is already a hotbed of world-changing research and we’d like to see that continue because it’s what has put us on the map in this field. We also can’t wait to see cross-sector adoption of AI at businesses of all scales and types, which is what Amii Innovates is all about.

As Alberta companies leverage the great talent and expertise we have here, we see them becoming world leaders in their fields, with cost savings and increased efficiencies in sectors like health care, business and government.

Interviewed by Mario Toneguzzi, a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary.

© Troy Media

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