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This article was published 8/2/2017 (1356 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
THE latest report from the federal government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth is right in the wheelhouse of efforts to create the Enterprise Machine Intelligence and Learning Initiative (EMILI) in Manitoba
Many believe the focus of the report bolsters the machine-learning research and commercialization organization’s efforts to land $100 million in federal funding, creating what could become a whole new driver for economic development in the province.
In its second report called Path to Prosperity, the Advisory Council on Economic Growth focused on the growth and potential in the agriculture and food sector.
"A lot of what we have been talking about from an EMILI perspective — the mandate and vision — fits well with the report and the recommendations that are being made," said Ray Bouchard, chairman of the initiative’s board of directors. "There is a lot of alignment with what the advisory council presented."
The initiative was launched last March as a not-for-profit entity chaired by Bouchard, CEO of Enns Brothers, with key academic and business leaders on the board — including Sandy Riley and Bob Silver (an owner of the Free Press). Its mandate is to establish a national centre for the commercialization of machine learning in Winnipeg that would include significant focus on skills training and the ethical ramifications of the advance artificial intelligence technology.
Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence that uses mathematical models (algorithms) to identify trends and patterns in data to predict the possibility of future outcomes.
A handful of Winnipeg firms are deploying the technology already. Wally Trenholm, the CEO of one of them, Sightline Innovations, has been a catalyst in the EMILI process.
Jo Kennelly, a veteran scientific adviser to a number of governments in Ottawa, is an adviser to the project.
"When Wally Trenholm and I first talked to politicians and government officials about it in the summer of 2015, it was the first time many of them had heard of the technology," said Kennelly. "Now, 18 months later, we don’t have to sit down and tell people what artificial intelligence is. The world has changed."
It is believed the federal government will make multiple bets when it comes to funding machine-learning development. Proposals have been made from Toronto and Montreal that are based out of academic institutions.
"There is a camp out there that thinks it should all be about academia," Bouchard said. "Our argument is that is not what is going to bring the true prosperity to the country. It is about embedding and commercializing the technology, making sure we have the people and can keep the intellectual property at home."
The fact the economic council recommended the ag-food sector as the first to undergo a detailed sectoral analysis burnishes the initiative’s standing. Manitoba might not be a hotbed for the growing financial technology or life sciences sectors, but it clearly has advanced ag-food activity.
As well, the Composites Innovation Centre is among the global leaders in the development of bio-fibres.
Sean McKay, the centre’s CEO, said its development of a bio-fibre grading data bank will eventually require machine-learning technology integrated with precision agriculture to most efficiently produce the right kind of fibre for the manufacturing sector.
Manitoba’s manufacturing sector is also primed to benefit from the knowledge-based benefits of machine learning.
"If we really focus on this, we have the unique opportunity of attracting other manufacturers to Manitoba who are needing that ability to be able to understand the consequences of this digital technology and what it can bring to their business," said Kevin Lusk, an executive with the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and a board member of the initiative.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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