Research and government interventions have propelled Quebec to the 7thand world leader in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). The province thus overtakes Israel and France and closely follows South Korea and Germany, according to the most recent study carried out by the British firm Tortoise Media and unveiled on Wednesday.
Based on 143 indicators divided into 7 categories, the “Tortoise Global AI Index” has ranked countries according to their strengths in artificial intelligence since 2019. Commissioned by Forum IA Québec, a non-profit organization set up by the Legault government in 2020, Tortoise’s study looked more specifically at Quebec for the first time, comparing the province to 62 other countries. .
“Even Tortoise was greatly impressed by this data,” says Marie-Paule Jeansonne, CEO of Forum IA Québec. It is a very neutral international firm, which applies a very rigorous methodology. »
“Quebec has a very impressive lead over many countries, including some that are twice its size, confirms Tortoise Medias in its analysis. Thanks to a thriving AI ecosystem evolving in major cities across Quebec, the province […] has the potential to match or even surpass notable AI nations from South Korea to Germany. »
artificial intelligence: the top 10
1. United States 2. China 3. Great Britain 4. Canada 5. South Korea 6. Germany 7. Quebec 8. Israel 9. Netherlands 10. France
Source: Tortoise Global AI Index 2021
With more than 800 AI researchers and students, some thirty technological giants such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft who have opened a research center and a university network recognized worldwide in this field, it is not surprising that Quebec has inherited fifth in the world in the “research” category.
Less often underlined, Tortoise also gave a very good note to the “government strategy”, both federal and provincial. We understand better why in a second study commissioned by the Forum IA Québec from the Montreal office of the consulting firm PwC. This provided a more statistical portrait of the ecosystem. We learn in particular that between 2017 and 2021, we have invested 800 million dollars of public funds, 293 from Quebec and 520 from Ottawa, in research and companies in the sector. Added to this windfall is $1.5 billion in venture capital funds.
“It’s a calculation that is not easy to do, which does not include, for example, everything that is industry 4.0, specifies Mme Jeansone. And that only takes into account what was actually invested, not just announced, and what was spent in Quebec. »
“A huge leap”
Where Tortoise’s list is surprising is that Quebec ranks seventh in the world in terms of business enterprises. Several observers, including Premier François Legault, who recalled this on February 3, consider that Quebec is lagging behind in the area of technology commercialization.
This is not at all the opinion of Yoshua Bengio, professor at the University of Montreal considered one of the three fathers of deep learning. “There are facts to be established,” he says straight away in an interview. We started from practically nothing and if we look at the companies that are doing AI today, we are talking about more than 200 startups, more than 2000 companies, 600 organizations, tens of thousands of people. It’s a huge leap. »
American venture capital funds are not mistaken, “they want to invest here,” he notes. “What’s completely new is that they’re willing to do that in companies without forcing them to move to the United States. There is really recognition in the economic community that we have something to contribute. »
Artificial intelligence, according to the PwC report, added 1.9 billion to Quebec’s gross domestic product between 2017 and 2021 for tax revenues of 400 million for the two governments.
“It’s a long-term investment. »
You don’t build an economic sector by shouting scissors. Silicon Valley took decades to come into being. We are not the only ones to invest, the train is moving elsewhere.
Yoshua Bengio, artificial intelligence researcher and professor at the University of Montreal
Where Quebec must improve, according to Tortoise, is for its “infrastructure”, which earned it 34and world rank. This is notably far from the ranking of Canada as a whole, which is at 17and rank in this chapter. This calculation includes the availability of reliable infrastructure, in particular for internet access or supercomputing capacities and the availability of databases for deep learning, but also statistics such as the number of smart phones per person and the availability of 5G.
“You have to take that with a grain of salt,” says Marie-Paule Jeansonne. The Tortoise study nevertheless confirms that we have succeeded in building a very strong, world-class ecosystem. »
Yoshua Bengio, meanwhile, believes that it is in the “collective interest” that governments invest more in artificial intelligence, particularly associated with productivity gains, the creation of jobs and quality businesses. . His advice: “I think what would make investments in technology more acceptable is that people see their interest in it. […], that investments go to companies that play a positive role in society. »