Cam Linke, CEO of Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) is a longtime leader in Edmonton’s technology and startup community. Over the past 10 years, he has worked as a CEO, investor, community builder, product manager, software entrepreneur, academic, and developer. Past roles include Co-founder of Startup Edmonton, Founder of Flightpath Ventures, CEO of Touch Metric, Product Manager at Nexopia.com, and Founder of DemoCamp Edmonton. Linke is a sought-after speaker and mentor and has been recognized as Avenue Magazine Top 40 Under 40. He is also an artificial intelligence researcher, currently studying under Dr. Richard Sutton and Dr. Adam White. His research, which focuses on AI adapting behaviors to improve their own self-learning, has been published at top conferences.
With Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, companies are able to develop their own expertise in artificial intelligence. They can build capabilities for advanced machine learning techniques and natural language processing technologies that will give them the edge over competitors. This exclusive interview with Cam Linke, CEO of Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) features how Amii is helping companies build AI expertise and capabilities to gain a competitive edge. In this exclusive Q/A, Cam discusses Alberta Artificial Intelligence Ecosystem Initiative and its key achievements, which sectors can benefit most from AI, why NOW is the right time for businesses and government to invest in building AI capabilities, and how investing in AI and ML can fuel Alberta and Canada’s and economic recovery and growth.
Q1. Could you please share with us how reinforcement learning is opening new routes to personalization across industry verticals?
In reinforcement learning the agent learns from its experience to make better decisions over time. This allows a system to learn to personalize each individual device or recommendation and learn to improve that over time – whether that’s personalizing a homepage, maintenance schedule, or treatment plan. Reinforcement learning is opening new routes to personalization as a result of the technology’s focus on self-learning through experience. In this case, personalization refers to the ability of an AI system to take relevant actions in an environment to achieve a goal that is unique to itself.
Concretely, Reinforcement learning can help us automatically offer more personalized experiences for e-commerce customers; it can allow us to create autonomous systems capable of operating in specific strategic and environmental conditions, and it can also help us develop new molecules that are uniquely tailored for particular conditions.
Most AI we currently interact with are “learned” systems – in other words, they are trained in a lab setting, and then those learnings are fixed when put into an operational environment. These systems don’t typically continue to learn during normal operations. Reinforcement learning will give our AI systems the ability to learn on their own and constantly update predictions.
Q2. How Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) can propel Alberta’s economic success forward?
AI and ML have emerged as key technologies to enable economic and business growth in Alberta in two main ways:
- supporting a diversified economy and
- generating business value.
The future of every industry, including Alberta’s current economic drivers, are going to have AI/ML as a core driver going forward. This is both giving the opportunity for new economic drivers and making sure that Alberta’s current economic drivers continue to lead. By investing in continuing to grow Alberta’s world-class AI sector, Government can encourage economic diversification by doubling down on our strengths and encouraging companies and individuals to turn to Alberta as a destination for AI.
The growth of the AI sector will support innovation and growth in other economic sectors and will continue to develop Alberta’s rapidly growing technology and innovation sectors. Similarly, businesses that take advantage of the growth in this sector will secure their next stage of competitive advantage, boosting the province’s economic success. Companies that begin their AI adoption journey now will have a first-mover advantage in accessing talent, improving their products and services, and breaking into new markets.
Q3. What sparked your passion for growing a vibrant Artificial Intelligence tech community?
I have always been passionate about using technology to build a better world. As a young professional in Alberta, I was looking for ways that my love of technology could benefit the province that I called home. Eventually, I learned about Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) and the amazing AI work being done here. Like many people, I was shocked to learn that Alberta has a wealth of world-class AI talent and expertise.
Amii was a natural fit for me – as someone who believes in the power of entrepreneurship, research, technology, and innovation to solve our more pressing challenges, I joined the advisory board at the University of Alberta, and I’ve been helping to build Alberta’s AI community ever since.
Two years ago, I took on the role of CEO at Amii because I wanted to be more involved in supporting the leading-edge research coming out of our group and in developing the resources needed to help businesses succeed in AI. In just a couple of years, we’ve already seen major shifts in the ways companies are thinking about the importance of AI, and as we look toward the future of the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, I think we’ll see many more important developments over the next ten years. And I’m excited that Alberta will be leading the way.
Q4. Which are the industrial sectors that can most benefit from the adoption of Artificial Intelligence?
AI and machine learning are platform technologies that will provide value across all sectors of the economy. It’s no stretch to say that every sector can benefit from adopting AI. However, a number of sectors are particularly poised to benefit from the use of these technologies.
- In healthcare, we generate massive amounts of data that can be used for all kinds of decision-making and process improvements. Increasing the use of AI in healthcare can help us deliver healthcare more efficiently and with less cost to the system. It can also improve patient care through targeted diagnostics and personalized treatment plans.
- The energy sector is also a key industry that can benefit from the adoption of AI. As companies continue to improve their operations to make themselves more efficient and effective, AI and machine learning are key technologies to enable this change. In this domain, AI is particularly well-suited to improving the performance of machines through predictive maintenance, identifying potential hazardous events and streamlining processes to reduce emissions and improve efficiency.
- In agriculture, AI can provide real-time insights in farming, allowing for early detection in areas that need irrigation, fertilization, or pesticide treatment. Innovative farming practices like vertical agriculture may help increase food production while minimizing the use of resources resulting in reduced use of herbicides, better harvest quality, higher profits, and significant cost savings. AI technologies are used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with an explicit intention to influence and build capacity in agriculture companies to improve safety, operations, integrity performance, and increase economic earnings in a sustainable manner.
- Biology is one of the most promising beneficiaries of AI, able to enhance biological research at every scale. From investigating genetic mutations that contribute to obesity to examining pathology samples for cancerous cells, biology produces an inordinate amount of complex, convoluted data. Machine learning and deep learning will positively impact biological data science for its capabilities to process complex data. Information contained within datasets often offers valuable insights that could be used to improve health. For example, deep learning can accurately analyze chemical interactions within small molecules to predict the efficacy of targeting diseases ranging from Ebola to multiple sclerosis.
Q5. What is Alberta’s role in scientific thought leadership in the AI ecosystem?
For more than two decades, Alberta has produced fundamental and applied advancements in the science of AI and machine learning. Researchers from Amii and the University of Alberta have produced major breakthroughs in the field of AI, including solving the game of checkers and achieving expert-level play at heads-up no-limit Texas hold’em.
Additionally, many of our alumni go on to lead research labs and continue to advance the field of AI in industry and academia. For example, David Silver, a graduate from the University of Alberta (who studied under Amii Fellows) has gone on to lead the AlphaGo team and achieved significant results in developing an AI Go-playing program.
Q6. Is it the best time for governments and businesses to invest in Artificial Intelligence?
Now is the time to invest in growing AI and machine learning capacity – both at an ecosystem-wide level and within organizations. These technologies are already generating vast economic value, supporting business growth, and powering competitive advantages across sectors. Government and companies that seek to be early adopters will gain the first benefits of AI and will set the pace for future investments in this area.
On the other side of that equation, companies that are slow to adopt AI will see competitors begin to pull ahead due to their own AI adoption efforts. There is a carrot-and-stick approach to AI adoption: the carrot is the massive economic value and business opportunity of AI; the stick is the reality that if your business isn’t investing in this space, you’ll likely be left behind by competitors who are.
Q7. How can businesses implement AI strategies and foster professional development, ensuring competitive advantages with loads of opportunities?
The first step is to realize that every organization can gain benefits from AI. There’s a misconception in the business community that you need sophisticated data collection capabilities and largescale analytics teams in order to gain value from AI. You may not need PhD-level graduates to start working on growing your business in-house AI capabilities.
The business also needs to adjust its expectations around AI. Many companies try to identify ways AI can solve the biggest, most pressing issue they’re facing in their business – and it’s great to think about the transformational potential of the technology. It’s also a great way to stall your AI adoption efforts due to a lack of the desired outcome if you’re just starting out.
For businesses looking to get started on developing and implementing an AI strategy, there are organizations like Amii that offer support and guidance to businesses across the full spectrum of AI adoption. Whether you’re just starting to explore use cases in your business or you already have significant AI capabilities, there are myriad resources available to support your business on that journey.