New global research indicates artificial intelligence may create more jobs than it replaces, countering fears the technology will be the twenty-first century’s biggest job killer.

In Capgemini’s survey of 993 companies that have already implemented AI tools, 83 per cent said the technology is creating new jobs at their organization. Furthermore, 63 per cent said AI has not had any negative effects on jobs at their company.

The report, which polled firms in nine countries, was highlighted Thursday during an event at Capgemini Canada’s Toronto innovation centre. The findings suggest, however, that new jobs being created by AI are skewed toward mid- and upper level management rather than general staff positions.

Tomi Poutanen of the Vector Institute told a Toronto event on Thursday that Canada has become a world leader in AI.

Although only seven per cent of the new jobs are created at the top ranked C-level, the bulk of them – 41 per cent – are held by managers, followed by directors (19 per cent) and coordinators (18 per cent). Just 15 per cent of the new positions created by AI are regular staff jobs.

Still, the research may quell some worries that AI will replace millions of jobs around the world. One of the earliest alarms was sounded in 2013, when an Oxford University study warned up to 47 per cent of U.S. jobs are at risk due to AI and automation.

Among the other insights from Capgemini’s new global AI survey, the majority of respondents (64 per cent) said the biggest obstacle to AI implementation is their inability to find appropriate AI skills and talent.

Trump, the tech recruiter

When it comes to Canadian firms attracting AI talent, their best hope may actually lie south of the border, said Tomi Poutanen, a cofounder of the Vector Institute of Artificial Intelligence who spoke at Thursday’s event.

“Of course we have the world’s top recruiter,” he said, gesturing to a picture of U.S. president Donald Trump on a giant screen beside him. Although the photo elicited laughter in the room, Poutanen said Trump’s anti-immigration policies and disdain for science could help drive American AI talent north to Canada.

“This is a real thing. We might have Trump (in office) for the next four years, maybe eight,” he said. “Canada is a remarkable, attractive, good place for this talent to come to for AI. We’re taking AI seriously and we’re open to change.”

Aside from providing America’s science and tech stars with a Trump-free work environment, Canada has a lot to offer the AI world, Poutanen added. As the current home of top researchers like Geoffrey Hinton (who’s been called the godfather of artificial intelligence) and Raquel Urtasun, Canada has become a hub of global AI leadership, Poutanen said.

AI researcher Raquel Urtasun was hired by Uber in May but is staying in Canada.

“In my view, it’s our greatest export. It’s greater than Wayne Gretzky and hockey. The problem is that the theory is built here but the talent and the commercialization move south of the border. The Vector Institute is our response to that.”

Opened in March, the Toronto-based Vector Institute was established with $50 million from the Ontario government, a total federal commitment of $40- to $50 million and a combined contribution from more than 30 companies of $80 million over 10 years. Vector has already played a role in keeping AI talent in Canada, Poutanen said.

One example he cited is Urtasun. Born in Spain, she spent her academic career in Europe and the U.S. before becoming an associate professor in computer science at the University of Toronto in 2014. Despite job offers from carmakers around the world, Urtasun chose to stay in Canada to pursue her autonomous vehicle research, Poutanen said.

In May this year (two months after Vector opened its doors), Uber hired Urtasun to lead its new advanced technology group – and decided to base that group in Toronto. Poutanen believes Vector’s recent launch, coupled with Urtasun’s desire to stay in Toronto, helped sway Uber to set up a permanent research base in the city.

Blockchain too?

According to prolific author Don Tapscott, Canada has a similar opportunity to build Toronto into a global centre for blockchain technology.

“Canada could actually be the (blockchain) leader, not Silicon Valley,” Tapscott said during his own presentation at the Capgemini event.

He said factors boosting Canada’s blockchain sector include incubators like Toronto-based MaRS Discovery District and the brand new Blockchain Research Institute.

Tapscott, who co-wrote the blockbuster Wikinomics, founded the institute with his son, Alex. Like Vector, it opened in Toronto in March; it’s already working on about 70 research projects assessing the potential impact of blockchain on various industries. Tapscott said the political support of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is another asset to Canada’s blockchain sector.

“You think you heard him talk about quantum physics?” said Tapscott, referring to a viral video of Trudeau visiting Waterloo, Ontario’s Perimeter Institute last year. “You should hear him talk about blockchain. It’s the craziest thing.”

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