While experts agree Canadians are conducting some first-rate intelligence systems research, one says we do a poor job of turning it into relevant technology.

Researchers and companies will gather in Calgary Wednesday to show off some of their work at the 12th annual Canadian Conference on

Intelligence Systems. Keynote speakers include Ray Kurzweil, last year’s Lemelson-MIT prize winner and a pioneer in areas like optical character recognition, music synthesis, speech recognition and reading technology. The event is being organized by Precarn Corp., a not-for-profit national consortium of corporations, research institutes and government partners supporting the development of intelligent systems technologies.

“”It’s an opportunity essentially for the researchers in our network to get together, compare notes, (and) learn about what they’re each working on,”” says Anthony Eyton, Precarn president and director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, co-organizers of the conference.

Some of the expected demonstrations include: a fibre optic system that monitors the network in real-time looking for leaks, thinning walls and general instability; a virtual environment to simulate laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery; and computers that allow the user to physically manipulate objects on the screen, such as poking a finger into a mound of bread dough and leaving an indentation.

Eyton says intelligent systems can be broken into three areas. These include perception (sensor, vision and pattern recognition systems), deciding and reasoning (data mining and diagnosis, planning and scheduling systems), and robotics. He says Canada is very strong on the perception side, somewhat strong in the deciding and reasoning space, with robotics as our weakest point. He says we’ve had some success, however, citing the Canadarm.

Randy Goebel says Canada is uncommonly strong when it comes to intelligent systems and robotics. The professor and member of the artificial intelligence research group at the University of Alberta says our success can be attributed to two elements.

“”I think that we’ve had the luxury of being free from big project funding like in the U.S. (with big deliverables attached), whereas we’ve had a lot of good university academic development,”” Goebel says. “”The other part, I think, is that there have been niche opportunities to develop a lot of intelligent systems.””

Several sources point to the mining industry as an example of one of those niches.

Dale Schuurmans says Canada is far behind world leaders in almost every respect. The assistant professor in the computer science department at University of Waterloo and member of the school’s Artificial Intelligence Group defines us as “”small scale.””

“”In terms of research output, we have some interesting research going on in this country. How much of that is actually turning into industrially relevant technology? Some,”” he says, but we don’t stack up to the U.S. or Japan.

This lukewarm assessment of the industry aside, Greg Baiden, chairman and chief technology officer of Sudbury, Ont.-based mining company Penguin ASI Inc., says he will be attending the conference. He says his agenda includes finding out what research universities are conducting, examining new technologies and looking for potential hires.

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