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Showcasing Alberta’s AI advantage

Alberta’s government is supporting artificial intelligence and machine learning, with $9 million in funding for the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii).

The funding includes $4 million from Alberta Innovates and $5 million through the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) system, and will allow Amii to continue its world-class research and accelerated commercialization of new technologies. Amii will also help Alberta companies use artificial intelligence and machine learning to find and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy and agriculture sectors.

Through the government’s Investment and Growth Strategy, developing Alberta’s technology sector has been identified as a top priority as it will make way for investment and innovation in other industries, including agriculture, aviation, health sciences and energy.

“Alberta is already a world leader in artificial intelligence and machine learning, which creates a strong foundation for our province moving forward. Rest assured your government is here to make sure that Alberta attracts high-growth technology and innovation companies that will diversify our economy and create jobs for today and for the future.”

Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation

“The Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute at the University of Alberta is in the top five in the world for artificial intelligence research facilities, and works with technology leaders like Google, IBM and Microsoft. Our investment demonstrates that Alberta’s government recognizes the important role that Amii and the University of Alberta plays in creating a stronger economy.”

Demetrios Nicolaides, Minister of Advanced Education

“For Alberta to reach its full economic potential, we need a strong technology sector with players like Amii, who are at the heart of the artificial intelligence expertise in Alberta. Alberta’s government is taking action to ensure that we are a destination of choice for more innovators and inventors like Amii, where they can develop their ideas into companies and create good-paying jobs.”

Nate Glubish, Minister of Service Alberta

Alberta’s government and Alberta Innovates have been longtime supporters of Amii and its world-class work, such as their recent work with OKAKI, a Calgary-based health technology company working to predict and prevent opioid overdoses.  

Thanks to its innovative and leading-edge approach, Amii has also been able to attract research funding through the private sector, Western Economic Diversification, and $25 million over five years from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.  

“Amii exists in large part thanks to crucial investments made by the Government of Alberta, CIFAR and Alberta Innovates – and our partnership with the University of Alberta. With renewed funding, we’re able to continue our trajectory of long-established excellence in AI and machine learning and leverage scientific advancement to speed industry adoption, job creation and innovation for Alberta’s most forward-thinking organizations.”

Cam Linke, CEO, Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute

“A century ago, Albertans could never have imagined how innovations like oil sands SAGD technology would yield billions of dollars of economic wealth to the province. The government’s support of technology – including artificial intelligence – has that same potential to bring new jobs, businesses and wealth to Alberta in today’s $16 trillion global artificial intelligence market.”

Laura Kilcrease, CEO, Alberta Innovates

“Today’s funding announcement for Amii will unlock tremendous opportunity across our province. Alberta is a global powerhouse in energy, agriculture, life sciences, and manufacturing – we’re also home to the University of Alberta, ranked third in the world for AI research. That combination makes us unique – globally! As a direct result of the province’s funding, Amii will not only drive results for existing businesses, it will be incredibly powerful in attracting the international investment community. This is outstanding news.”

Malcolm Bruce, CEO, Edmonton Global

“These investments in Amii will be key to ensuring Alberta is poised for success. We have incredible potential to diversify the economy, create jobs and strengthen our communities by building on our world-class artificial intelligence and machine learning expertise.”

Janet M. Riopel, president and CEO, Edmonton Chamber of Commerce

The Investment and Growth Strategy is part of Alberta’s Recovery Plan – an ambitious long-term strategy to build, diversify, and create tens of thousands of jobs, now. By building schools, roads, and other core infrastructure, we are benefiting our communities by putting Albertans back to work. By diversifying our economy and attracting investment with Canada’s most competitive tax environment, we are putting Alberta on a path for economic growth. Alberta came together to save lives by flattening the COVID-19 curve and now we must do the same to save livelihoods, grow back our businesses, and thrive as a province.

Quick facts

  • Amii is an Alberta-based non-profit institute that supports world-leading research in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and is one of Canada’s three centres of AI excellence.
  • Amii’s mission is to make artificial intelligence and machine learning the primary drivers of economic growth for Alberta – through great research, advisement and education.
  • Alberta’s government is developing sector-specific strategies for diversification that will build off the province’s existing technology and innovation strengths. These include:
  • Agriculture and forestry
  • Aviation, aerospace, and logistics
  • Culture and creative industries
  • Energy
  • Financial services and fintech
  • Technology and innovation
  • Tourism

Williams Engineering – Using the power of machine learning to optimize business functions

As we move towards economic recovery, the need for businesses to adopt new technologies to improve efficiencies and support long term growth is becoming more and more critical. Increasingly we are seeing a real shift towards understanding how innovation and technology are key to supporting growth across all industries here in the Edmonton Metropolitan region and across the globe. The Edmonton region’s strengths in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have the capacity to capitalize on the opportunities that have emerged as a result of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Williams Engineering Canada (WEC), an engineering consultancy firm had begun investing in machine learning software even before the pandemic hit. Through a partnership with AltaML, another Edmonton-based company that is focused on applied artificial intelligence, the two organisations are building machine learning applications in the architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. 

“We’re passionate about designing sustainable infrastructure that contributes positively to the communities that we’re a part of. ML algorithms, when applied to large amounts of data generated by buildings and business processes, will create economic opportunity and transform the AEC industry,” said Naseem Bashir, President and CEO of Williams Engineering Canada when the announcement was made in December 2019. “Being the first to partner with AltaML to develop AI and ML solutions for the AEC industry is exciting and beneficial not only our organization, but for every organization responsible for designing and building infrastructure across Canada. Machine learning and data analytics will augment our people’s ability to understand and predict the behavior of complex systems, enabling new and innovative solutions to emerge. The ability to leverage data enables companies like WEC to make improved decisions and produce greater efficiencies that lead to creating more sustainable infrastructure for the cities and communities where we all live, work and play.”

Adopting these tools are generating a real-world return on investment (ROI) for Williams Engineering where improving efficiencies is helping to make them more globally competitive.

“Typically, one of the most time-consuming parts of what WEC does is the proposal phase,” says Naseem. “We have 180 employees who write between 2,500 and 2,700 proposal a year – this takes a lot of time. An ML tool has the capacity to pull a tonne of data together, learn from it and help our engineers make better and faster decisions – leading to better work and the ability to bid on even more projects.”

It is these sorts of efficiencies that will have the ability to set them apart from their global competitors.

“Disruption breeds opportunity,” says Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global. “ML & AI have the ability to support businesses in all sectors to become more efficient and productive. Globally, we’re seeing companies that invest in digital approaches, AI & ML, automation, etc. expand and gain market share. Our region is really well positioned to be at the leading edge of this because of companies like AltaML, the huge number of AI graduates from our universities, and the awareness of our business community that we’re at a real turning point in the global economy. Now is the time to take our regional strengths – like our well-developed expertise and talent in AI and ML- and use those to our advantage.”

To learn more about the Edmonton region’s strengths in AI and ML, and how businesses are using these tools to optimize business functions register for our upcoming webinar – Accessing the world’s top AI & ML talent

Invest in Canada report studies the Edmonton region’s strength in AI

The Edmonton Metropolitan Region was featured in a recent report – Betting on Red and White: International Investment in Canadian AI. The report is based on a study commissioned by Invest in Canada aimed at examining the opportunities for Canada to utilize our current strengths in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in order to attract foreign direct investment. As one of the 3 AI hubs in Canada, Edmonton is becoming increasingly well-known for its strength in AI research and talent.

The study conducted interviews with twenty international companies from 8 different countries across 7 sectors to learn more about their experience with implementing AI and Machine Learning (ML) into their organizations and their understanding of the perceived assets that exist in Canada.

The study found that the majority of interviewees already view Canada positively as a destination for AI talent due to 4 key factors:

  1. Skilled Canadian AI Talent a Key Pull Factor
  • In Edmonton, the University of Alberta is rated as one of the top 5 AI research institutions in the world, attracting top talent and research leaders from across the globe to the region.
  • Edmonton is also home to the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii). Amii partners with startups, SMEs and enterprise companies to support their needs as they move towards AI/ML adoption in their work, providing expertise and hands-on support

2. Capacity to Attract Skilled International Talent is Compelling

  • The welcoming culture and liberal immigration system that exist in Canada make it easy to attract international talent to the region.
  • The Global Skills Strategy means that a company’s international employees can obtain work permits often in less than 2 weeks
  • The expertise that already exists in the Edmonton metro region is attracting international students and researchers who are looking to work with some of the most brilliant minds in AI

3. Regional Hub Development

  • As part of the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, Edmonton is one of 3 regional AI hubs that have been established, along with Montreal and Toronto
  • The expertise that exists in the Edmonton region has bolstered its reputation in AI expertise and has already attracted corporate investment from businesses like Google, Amazon, Toyoto, IBM, Volkwagen, and Microsoft

4. Leadership on Ethical AI

  • In 2019 the University of Alberta hosted the AI, Ethics and Society International Conference aimed at developing excellence in AI and ethics. This event brought together researchers in history, ethics, policy, business, governance and science of big data, and AI with stakeholders from business and government. International partners like the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) and ICIE (International Center for Information Ethics) bring an international track record of developing insights and standards for industry, academia and society
  • Amii’s Summer Institute brings together experts, grad students and researchers from multiple backgrounds to explore the societal, governmental, and ethical implications of AI. A combination of lectures, panels, and participatory problem-solving, this comprehensive interdisciplinary event aims to build understanding and action around these issues.

AI is a transformative technology that has the ability to impact all industry sectors. As businesses accelerate the adoption of these tools, their importance and value couldn’t be more clear. While the study mentioned that participants did not see a lot in terms of barriers to AI adoption, they did note that there was some concern around the lack of expertise or talent. However, the Edmonton Metropolitan Region has that in spades. Indeed, this region has all the key ingredients to make it an attractive location for foreign direct investment opportunities in AI.

You can read the full report here.

To learn more about AI in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region register for our upcoming webinar.

Songistry – using artificial intelligence to rock the music industry

“We’re solving some incredible problems within the global music industry,” says Curtis Serna, CEO of Songistry, “and we’re thrilled to be doing it right here in the Edmonton region.”

Songistry is using the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to unlock value across the entertainment industry. It’s run by the innovative minds of CEO Curtis Serna, two-time nominee for Entrepreneur of the Year in Canada and Justin Gray, Founder and Chief Creative Officer. Justin is a Canadian born producer and songwriter who has worked with top tier artists, Avril Lavigne, Mariah Carey, John Legend, Amy Winehouse, and international artists including J-Pop Super Stars Superjunior, Chinese Mega Star Chris Lee and most recently enjoyed twelve, #1 hits in China including a hit with TF Boys’ Roy Wang. Justin brings a combination of music credibility and a personal understanding of the challenges faced by artists and the entertainment industry related to digital copyright, publishing, and royalties.

In 2019, approximately 46 million music creators and corporations lost out on the opportunity to collect royalties due to a lack of copyright information (often referred to as “metadata”), resulting in a 2.5-billion-dollar loss (USD). Songistry’s premier product, MDIIO (Music Data Intelligence In/Out), solves this problem and more. MDIIO is a music asset/copyright management tool and marketplace that leverages the latest developments in AI to protect the work of music creatives worldwide. By using copyright and other metadata details, MDIIO helps artists and music corporations protect their hard work, assets, and livelihoods. MDIIO is driven to provide Canadian artists a scientific, competitive advantage in getting their music discovered and licensed in TV/ film and advertising.

Justin was first inspired to create the platform when he realized how vulnerable songwriters were to being taken advantage of.

“A system that hasn’t traditionally supported songwriters is ripe for disruption,” said Justin. “Having worked in music for 20 plus years, I was really saddened to see songwriters and creators getting the short end of the stick. Especially with the onset of digital music streaming. Songwriters were the slowest to adapt and therefore the most vulnerable. I wanted to make sure that songwriters were provided a platform that not only fostered their creativity and organized their assets, but also democratized monetization of their hard work.”

Justin Gray, Founder and Chief Creative Officer

When Justin was introduced to Curtis, who initially came on as an investor it quickly became evident that Curtis had the commercialization expertise that Songistry needed to help bring MDIIO to life and to help protect the interest of songwriters.

Curtis Serna, CEO

MDIIO is now being featured in Global Affairs Canada’s Spring 2020 Software and Technologies Dealbook. The Dealbook is “a tool formulated to increase exposure to some of Canada’s most promising technology companies,” says Chief Trade Commissioner of Canada, Aillish Campbell. MDIIO fits the bill and their placement in the Dealbook has helped Songistry increase its profile to international audiences. In the first day the Dealbook was launched, Songistry was approached by two venture capital groups from Silicon Valley, that are interested in leading the investment into the Edmonton-based company.

The MDIIO platform allows creatives, from songwriters to artists, to musicians, bands, DJ’s and composers, to upload their music, apply metadata to their copyright, and then register the song with SOCAN, Canada’s performance rights organization that collects royalties for members. SOCAN is comprised of 170,000 members, 86% of which are unaffiliated independent artists and songwriters. MDIIO represents and helps protect these artists and their copyrights, while getting their work in front of companies such as Netflix, Hallmark, and Sony to name just a few studio networks. MDIIO works as a marketplace where these companies can come to license music for various projects – allowing more artists to monetize their work and gain exposure by leveraging science as their competitive advantage.

MDIIO has multiple features specifically designed to help spotlight the work of indie creators while simultaneously helping music supervisors find new music for their tv/ film or advertising projects. These licensors that use MDIIO have access to features such as mood track analysis, and dynamic emotional analysis (visualizing the emotion of the song on a second by second basis), as well as several additional A.I. features in development – all designed to allow licensors to find that perfect song that evokes the right emotions and story alignment without the complexity and the higher price points often associated with more well-known songs. For example, a mainstream Bruno Mars song can be licensed on average for $500,000. MDIIO’s recommendation/ search engine can identify songs that sound similar to Bruno Mars for a fraction of the cost, making the value proposition very attractive to licensors and network studios.

Creators who use MDIIO don’t have to compromise between gaining exposure and a paycheck. MDIIO receives a 20% commission on licensing transactions facilitated through the MDIIO platform, which is far less than agents who charge 50 to 75% in commission.

With so many innovative features and incentives, it is no surprise that there are more than 3,600+ creators from 19 different countries using MDIIO, representing 15,000 songs being hosted on the platform today. Not all users are indie creators; in fact, some of these users include high profile songwriters that have collaborated with the world’s biggest artists such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Shawn Mendes, and Madonna (to name a few).

As MDIIO continues to grow on the home stage, Songistry is simultaneously striving to expand the platform farther into Asia, where Justin Gray continues to leverage his extensive success and relationships. Songistry has already begun preliminary conversations with labels, publishers, and management companies in Greater China and Asia.

“China is an important emerging market for us,” says Justin. “As copyright protection becomes more critical and major players such as Tencent and Youkou move into royalty-based payment systems, the necessity to track all of the pertinent and important data associated with copyright is more important than ever. Over the next 5 years, royalties and copyrights via China alone will amount to billions and billions of dollars. Someone needs to help provide the infrastructure and ability to shepherd these revenues and create new business models. Songistry/MDIIO is technologically prepared to do exactly that.”

“Despite the impacts of COVID, we continue to grow,” says Curtis, “but no amount of success will ever change the fact that we are an Alberta corporation with access to tremendous support and resources. Edmonton provides us the competitive advantage we would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.”

You can read more about what the Songistry team is up to here.

FunnelAI Announces Global Expansion and AI Business Development Strategy Through a Partnership with Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute

FunnelAI

The industry’s leading real-time artificial intelligence (AI) semantic search platform provider, FunnelAI, located in Texas, USA, has partnered with the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), in Edmonton, Canada to expedite FunnelAI’s high-tech innovation and growth to fuel their complex AI solutions for global expansion.

AUSTIN, Texas (PRWEB) August 06, 2020

FunnelAI, the industry’s first real-time B2B SaaS artificial intelligence (AI) based semantic search platform announced a new collaboration with Amii, a global leader in AI research and development. This strategic partnership will expedite FunnelAI’s innovative and unique AI platform development through guidance and support from Amii’s leading-edge research and development capabilities in the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP).

This partnership was a strategic initiative for FunnelAI, championed by one of the co-founders, Suja Kamma, who is a Canadian and an alumni of University of Alberta. Her experience in healthcare and strategy, and her experience understanding, developing, and implementing AI business tools was critical for FunnelAI in solidifying such a strategic partnership. This collaboration expedites FunnelAI’s global expansion to Canada and other countries.

“I couldn’t be more excited to partner with Amii, a leader in machine learning, to build a thriving global business with a machine learning ecosystem. Our AI platform will initially benefit the automotive industry, both dealerships and OEMs, with strategic plans to expand in to other industries,” said Sri Kamma, co-founder and CEO of FunnelAI.

The COVID-19 pandemic, has shown a need for automated and intelligent, yet simple solutions. FunnelAI, supported by Amii, will work to accelerate the development of state-of-the-art technologies for the automotive industry and will later expand to real estate, financial sectors, and other industries.

“Our partnership with Amii will be pivotal to FunnelAI’s growth, productivity, and technological advancement,” stated Srujana Bobba, CTO of FunnelAI. “Together, we will create new, revolutionary business solutions.”

Amii supports world-leading research in artificial intelligence and machine learning and translates scientific advancement into industry adoption. Amii grows AI capabilities through advancing leading-edge research, delivering exceptional educational offerings and providing business advice – all with the goal of building in-house AI capabilities. As part of the FunnelAI partnership, Amii is supporting talent recruitment and development. FunnelAI has expanded its technical team in the Edmonton-region, with plans for continued growth under Amii’s mentorship.

“Now more than ever, our partners need advice to build their internal AI capabilities. Our collaboration with FunnelAI focuses on creating the best possible environment to move their plans for AI product development forward at a rapid pace,” says Cam Linke, CEO of Amii. “Working closely with FunnelAI, our team of project managers, scientists and educators will provide business guidance and scientific mentorship to help define and validate machine learning opportunities, mentor and guide internships, and support FunnelAI in attracting and developing its technical team. I look forward to seeing the incredible opportunities our partnership affords our region and AI ecosystem in the months to come. “

FunnelAI’s real-time AI platform solutions include:

  • Products that harness the power of digital communications to bring not only the information, but the intent, of digital conversations from over 3,000 social platforms and forums in real-time. Providing businesses with opportunities to engage with qualified consumers that have expressed a high purchase intent.
  • Products that understand a consumer’s life cycle events and then provide businesses the information and ability to proactively engage in real-time based on specific life events to ensure the right communication at the right time. This level of engagement and connection will build relationships and increase retention.
  • Products that provide analytics and market intelligence for automotive dealerships, businesses, and OEMs; including market dynamics, brand awareness, competition placement, product feedback, online reputation, and prospective and current customer profile management and analysis.

About FunnelAI:
FunnelAI is a Texas-based B2B Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform provider offering the industry’s first and most intelligent real-time semantic search, discovery, and engagement platform. Its mission is to increase growth opportunities and provide market intelligence for businesses by pushing the boundaries of technology using big and open data for next-generation conversational marketing and sales solutions. FunnelAI’s true AI-based, deep learning, and machine-language technology maximizes business processes by identifying consumers and personalized-content that allows businesses to engage with consumers with high-purchase intentions in real-time; and to understand the intent of social communications to ensure businesses can be proactive in repeated engagement. FunnelAI’s Natural Language Processing Technology won the Innovator of the Year award by globally renowned AI Tech World in 2019. To learn more, please visit https://www.funnelai.com

About Amii:
One of Canada’s three centers of AI excellence as part of the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, Amii (the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute) is an Alberta-based non-profit institute that supports world-leading research in artificial intelligence and machine learning and translates scientific advancement into industry adoption. Amii grows AI capabilities through advancing leading-edge research, delivering exceptional educational offerings and providing business advice – all with the goal of building in-house AI capabilities. For more information, visit https://www.amii.ca.

Trademarks: FunnelAI™, Aingine™ and Ottolytics™ are the registered trademarks of FunnelAI, Inc.

FunnelAI Media Contact:
Esme Araiza
press@funnelai.com

Granify – Powering the world’s biggest brands

Jeff Lawrence, CEO, Granify

Edmonton region e-commerce giant uses big data to predict the future

More than 3 billion shopper sessions and $10 billion in sales were optimized by the Granify platform in the last year alone. The numbers are staggering and Jeff Lawrence, founder and CEO of Granify, has proven the value that data and behavioural science can bring to e-commerce. 

Granify is an e-commerce optimization platform based in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region that uses data science to predict consumer behaviour and increase purchases. Their software looks at over 500 data points every second, compares that to the behavior of billions of shoppers and translates that data into information that can predict the future. 

“All shoppers visiting an e-commerce website have an agenda,” says Jeff. “Whether it’s to make a purchase or to explore options, everyone comes with a desired outcome. Granify uses digital clues such as scroll speed, products and images viewed, mouse movements and even hesitations to anticipate consumer behaviour and respond accordingly. The amount of information — and the value we derive for our clients from that information —  is incredible.”

The Granify technology, or what Jeff refers to as the “Granify Brain”, can predict a customer’s likeliness to buy, give insight into the reasons for their hesitation and can then address these concerns and help move the customer along the journey to making a final purchase decision.

Granify’s origin story

A self-proclaimed “data geek”, Jeff came up with the vision behind Granify in 2006.

“I’ve been fascinated by data for at least 20 years”, says Jeff. “Early on, I saw the potential for using massive amounts of data to predict and even influence behaviours in consumers. Nobody was really using the vast amount of data that was being collected. I believed that there was a way to use that data to personalize the customer experience.”

At that time the technology did not yet exist to support his vision but in 2011, while Jeff was studying at Stanford University in Silicon Valley, he saw what other organizations were starting to do with big data innovations and knew the time had come to explore his vision. Others told him that what he was envisioning couldn’t be done but Jeff refused to believe them and continued to move forward.

In 2012, Jeff returned to Edmonton to build his team and the first version of Granify was released on the Shopify platform. 

“Originally, I thought about founding this company in Silicon Valley,” says Jeff. “It made a lot of sense. Certainly, no region comes close to matching the amount of technical talent that exists there. But as I spoke to other tech entrepreneurs who were working in that region, I saw a lot of challenges too. There was frustration surrounding the ability to retain talent. There was a high degree of turnover in a lot of those organizations.”

Going where the talent is and building something new

Talent is the lifeblood of any organization and the ability to both attract and retain talent can make the difference in any company’s long-term success. Jeff knew that the University of Alberta had one of the best data science programs in North America, so he decided to go where the talent was.

“I also saw the opportunity to help build something new in the Edmonton region”, says Jeff. “At that time, the tech industry was just starting to emerge, and rather than pile on to what was already happening in Silicon Valley, I was attracted to the idea of being part of building something from the ground up. As a father of two young children, I also saw the benefits of raising a family in the Edmonton region and helping to create a lasting impact in this industry which could continue to yield benefits for the next generation.”

Jeff has seen the region’s attractiveness translate into employee retention in real life.

“We’ve recruited talent from as far as India and South Africa and since relocating, these team members have fallen in love with the Edmonton region,” says Jeff. “The welcoming nature of our region, along with the safety and prosperity that exists here, make it a very attractive place to live.” 

Some members of the Granify team

Jeff’s decision to bet on the Edmonton region for Granify’s success has certainly paid off. Granify has been named one of Alberta’s 25 most innovative companies, Top Digital Startup and Best E-Commerce Solution. They’ve been featured in Inc magazine, VentureBeat, TechCrunch, Cool Companies, Reuters, and many other publications. 

Jeff has a lot to brag about when it comes to Granify – they provide hundreds of millions of dollars in incremental sales to their clients – but Jeff talks about more intangible things when discussing Granify’s success. 

“It all comes down to the people.” says Jeff. “And the Edmonton region has some of the best people. They truly are our competitive advantage. Everyone on our team is intelligent, hardworking, they care about the work they are doing, and they collaborate and work together to build something truly amazing. And above all that, they’re genuinely awesome humans. 

In the last 5 years or so, I’ve seen a real purposeful push in the region, to build community within the tech sector. I have a good network of support from other tech leaders working in this region. Sometimes we’re competing for talent, but at the end of the day, if I’m struggling with something, I can reach out to this network, I can meet another CEO for coffee, and we can support each other.”

RJ Maclean – Disrupting the status quo to bring innovation to the energy industry

Kiely Maclean, President and CEO of RJ Maclean.

RJ Maclean is working to modernize the energy industry, using innovative technology to do some of its dirtiest – and most dangerous – work.

Storage tank cleaning is an essential process in the oil sector and is required to be performed in any facility where oil is stored. Traditionally, this process involves removing as much of the product or sludge within the tank as possible, then people climb into the tanks to finish the job by hand. Despite rigorous safety precautions, this is some of the most dangerous work being done in the industry.

After completing her degree, Kiely chose to take a job working at the field level for a tank cleaning company. Working on the front lines of these projects, Kiely was able to see first-hand an opportunity for technological and environmental innovation. Both Kiely and her father, Greg Maclean, a long advocate for innovation in energy, were convinced that these archaic cleaning methods could be modernized. The father-daughter team initiated a consultation company called Maclean Tank Services, a global consulting company that taught people in the industry how to use robotics for tank cleaning.

Challenging the status quo

In 2015, Kiely and Greg then partnered with RJ Oil Sands (now RJ Enterprises), headed up by Jack Seguin, another award-winning innovator in the energy sector.

One of the biggest challenges RJ Maclean faced early on was the high degree of difficulty in gaining entry in this sector. The energy industry is generally well established, meaning it can be difficult to change the status quo. However, RJ Maclean had an innovative way of scaling these barriers.

“When we walked through the technology with potential clients, we would start by cleaning a tank using the traditional methods, to prove that we were familiar with the process and the standards,” says Kiely Maclean, CEO and Co-Founder of RJ Maclean. “From there, we could introduce one robot at a time to demonstrate how the process worked and the opportunities for efficiency.”

RJ Maclean went through this process with several Canadian clients. Eventually word of RJ Maclean’s unique methods and technology spread throughout the industry, challenging competition to also star to adopt automation. Soon, a leading international energy corporation recognized the value in the innovation and bought into it wholeheartedly. “We’ve been given the opportunity to work for them across North America. It shows what we have been able to accomplish as a relatively new company in the last five years.”

RJ Maclean has been able to cultivate a team of young professionals who are engaged in a modern approach to establish the foundation of their business. “Competition doesn’t scare me,” says Kiely. “It’s the people on our team that give us an edge, they are the ones driving the innovation. Ultimately, its the method our team uses to execute the work that makes it hard for our competitors to keep up.”

The Edmonton metro region advantage

The Edmonton Metropolitan Region is one of the largest energy manufacturing hubs in North America. The region’s manufacturing capabilities and access to global markets make it the perfect place for RJ Maclean to be based.

“The Edmonton region is very focused on research and development,” says Kiely. “It’s very innovative here. There are not a lot of communities that are as focused on putting their heads down and challenging the status quo the way Edmonton is doing. There’s a collective willingness for innovation that translates into a global scale.”

Alberta built an artificial intelligence powerhouse. What’s next?

Illustration by Mike Kendrick

Just off Highway 60, a short jaunt south of Devon, sits one of the most celebrated pieces of industrial equipment in the country. 

The collection of steel lattices has a name: Leduc #1, the derrick that struck oil south of Edmonton more than 70 years ago. On a cold February evening in 1947, the tower ushered a new industry into Alberta with a belch of flame and a column of thick smoke and transformed the province’s identity. It’s been dismantled, restored and dismantled again before finally ending up at its current home in a museum for the energy industry.

Half a century later, in the early 2000s, Alberta was changing again. This time, there wasn’t any smoke or fire to announce the shift. Instead, it was happening in the halls of the province’s legislature and the labs in its universities. Quiet investments were being made that would turn Alberta into a beacon for some of the top minds in artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

There aren’t any museums or eye-catching steel towers that mark the birth of the artificial intelligence sector in Alberta. But the province has something much more important: a head-start in a sector that is quickly becoming a worldwide obsession. 

“There is a pipeline of talent that exists in Alberta right now, because of that early investment,” says Cory Janssen, the founder of AltaML

The company aims to commercialize the pioneering work done by AI and machine learning researchers in Alberta, translating it into something that can aid industry in the province. 

Twenty years ago, artificial intelligence was the farthest thing from a sure bet. Save for a few researchers who were pushing the boundaries of how machines “think,” most people saw it as the stuff of sci-fi.

But some could see what it was going to become. In 2000, the Alberta government set aside a $500 million endowment to create the Alberta Ingenuity Fund (also known as the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Science and Engineering Research).

One of its early programs was a competition to establish research groups for promising scientific fields. Among those created was what would become the Alberta Innovates Centre for Machine Learning, later the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii). 

The research group had an audacious goal: to attract and recruit some of the world’s top AI researchers to work at its universities. 

“Back in 2002, very few people were really considering artificial intelligence and machine learning to be important areas [of research],” says Kirk Rockwell, current COO of Amii. “That’s what really gave us the advantage. 

And then over the next 16 or 17 years, that funding continued to flow to the university to create this world-class research centre.”

Rockwell says that one of the vital decisions Alberta made was to put up the resources to support high-quality research. It’s an expensive endeavour, but it has a multiplying effect. The promise attracted some of the pioneering researchers of the day. 

In machine intelligence, like other research-heavy fields, talent attracts talent. For many, the question of where they will end up working is heavily influenced by who they will be working with. Alberta’s initial investment started a snowball effect, drawing more talent to the province. 

Not only that, but it kept them from being lured off when competing organizations with deep pockets came calling.

“There was enough going on that when people came knocking on the door to poach them for Silicon Valley or Google, there was enough to say ‘no, I’ve got world-class peers here, I’m going to stay,’” he says.

Richard S. Sutton was one of those early researchers to bring his work to Alberta. The pioneering machine-intelligence researcher had spent two decades working in artificial intelligence and reinforcement learning at centres in Massachusetts and New Jersey. In 2003, he headed north to work at the University of Alberta.

“I came to Edmonton because of the three P’s,” he says. “The people, the position and the politics.”

The politics referred to his growing unease with the direction that the United States was going under then-President George W. Bush. Most interest in AI research in the country was geared towards military applications (a trend that continues to this day), which didn’t interest Sutton. That, combined with the promise of a role where he could explore his interests and talented peers to work it, lured him north. 

“They made some big hires here. The province had a lot of foresight to invest in [machine intelligence]. Gradually AI became popular, and now it is very popular,” he said. 

As that popularity grew, others began to see the value in Alberta’s artificial intelligence hub. The federal government began to provide investment in the province, as well as in Canada’s two other major AI centres in Montreal and Toronto. 

But in those early days, Rockwell says the funding that came through Alberta Innovates was instrumental.

“Before the federal government began contributing significantly in this space … Alberta Innovates offered $40 million in funding,” he says. 

“I can’t say it wouldn’t have happened without it. But it wouldn’t look like it does now, no way. We wouldn’t be this far along, we wouldn’t have been able to keep the people we have.”

Alberta Innovates is still a major contributor to Amii’s funding.  But in an era of belt-tightening and so many different demands on provincial coffers, there’s worry about what future support will look like. 

The province’s AI industry also faces a unique challenge: it’s not really an industry. At least, not in the traditional sense.

AI’s greatest impact isn’t creating things on its own. It doesn’t build mines and factories. It doesn’t fill up warehouses and train cars with products, not directly.  It does its best work in the background, making incremental changes that buoy other sectors of the economy. Right now, Rockwell points to things like using AI to identify options for preventative maintenance to save costs, or reducing emissions and energy use in industry. Other times, it can be about making scheduling work shifts more effective or anticipating the number of healthcare workers needed during a certain period.

The agriculture sector is also poised to benefit from AI advances. Even as global food demand increases, farmers across Canada are seeing shortages in two of their most important resources — labour and farmland. Smart farms, like the one set up at Olds College, allow researchers to literally field test technologies like automated soil monitoring and data-gathering combines with the goal of higher yields. 

“We are trying to lift our entire economy, not just create a sector,” Rockwell says. 

“What we’re not trying to do is replace anything. We’re not saying that everyone who works in the oil sector will be working at Facebook. We’re not trying to put oil and gas out of business. In fact, our goals are aligned.”

It’s effective. But often invisible. And for the people working in the sector, they worry it might not be clear to governments and businesses how important it is. 

“With an oil and gas company, you can see when they build a huge facility. Or even something like Shopify, which is creating thousands of jobs. You can see that. We don’t have our own Shopify, not yet,” says Janssen.

“That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It’s the food courts in downtown Calgary and Edmonton, which are full of young workers, people who are buying houses and getting mortgages. We are in that awkward phase that you can’t see it yet.”

To grow out of that awkward invisible stage, Alberta’s AI industry needs a healthy balance between research and application.

When all the pieces are in place, both of those sides fuel the other. Researchers find breakthroughs, which companies find real-world applications for. The profit from that allows those companies to expand and reinvest in research, attracting new talent and leading to further discoveries.

“Right now, we’ve got the scientific side in pretty good shape,” Sutton says. “Now, we need to build up the applied side.”

He says Amii has an important role to play in encouraging more real-world AI use. The organization offers a range of advisement, training and talent acquisition services to empower AI adoption across economic sectors. But a lot of it also needs to come from outside the organization, both from new companies and long-established players. 

So far, many traditional industries have been hesitant to adopt new AI. Embracing machine intelligence is a risk, just like any other major change. And many private industries in Canada don’t see the benefit in taking a risk when the more traditional methods are still working. 

The same goes for finding private investment in AI. With its impacts not always being as visible as other new technologies, it can be hard to understand how much potential artificial intelligence holds.

Sutton says that hesitation is understandable. But it is also a mistake. Work must be done to keep hold of the advantage that Alberta has been quietly building for the past two decades.

“If we wait, we will by necessity fail. We will lose that efficiency we have now,” he argues.

“I think as Canadians, we can be humble. But we can also be very ambitious. We need to find a mix of the ambition and the humility. And right now, is the time to be ambitious.”

AltaML’s Cory Janseen agrees. He argues that Alberta gained a great headstart with its early investments. But things have changed over the past 20 years; the rest of the world has “woken up” to the economic and social benefits that machine intelligence can promise. 

Countries like China and the United States are now putting big money behind their AI industries. While they might be joining later, he says they are quickly catching up. Public funding, in addition to private investment, is still vital, he argues.

“Let me use this analogy: let’s say that there is a factory that produces the most desirable product in the world — I think it is fair to say that’s what AI is, or will be,” he says.

“Say this factory takes a billion dollars and five to 10 years to build. There are maybe 10 of these factories in the world and Alberta has one of them.  [Other countries] are out there and they’re just starting to build their factories. China, the United States are building them. 

We already have that factory and we’re not even doing the maintenance on it. We’re not even slapping a coat of paint on it.”

Meet our Leaders

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Today, Edmonton Global launched a video series entitled “Meet our Leaders” highlighting businesses in key sectors that are primed for growth and investment across the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.  

The series shares examples of industry leaders who continue to leverage the unique benefits of doing business in the region. “These videos are part of raising the profile and building awareness of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region among international investors and companies from around the world who are looking to expand,” said Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global. “We all need to share the message that our region is young, educated, and growing. And our Northern location… it’s a strategic advantage. The stories of innovation and success that already exist here are inspiring and will help define the narrative of this great region.”  

The series focuses on leaders in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region who have found success in the following sectors:  

 AI & Tech

Health & Life Sciences

Manufacturing & Advanced Manufacturing

Food & Agriculture

 Energy & Clean Tech

“We want to showcase who we are and what’s happening across the Edmonton Metropolitan Region in a way that causes people to stand up and pay attention to what’s happening right here, right now,” continued Malcolm. “It’s industry leaders like these that are helping define the narrative of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. We have a compelling story to share with the world and now is the time to come together and advance this message.”

Edmonton-developed Job Site Insights bridges construction and technology

PCL’s Mark Bryant, Canadian CIO of the Year.

PCL Construction is preparing to take its cutting-edge platform to the next level 

Picture this: it’s two o’clock in the morning, a sprinkler head breaks and water begins to pour down 30 floors of a building that’s under construction. The ensuing damage would cause expensive repairs and lengthy delays. 
“The biggest challenge in construction and finished construction is water leaks,” says Mark Bryant, chief information officer for the Edmonton metro region’s PCL Construction

Bryant and his team had that in mind when building Job Sight Insights™ (JSI™), a new cloud-based smart construction platform designed to monitor environmental conditions on construction projects. 

The technology consolidates the data from IoT sensors under a PCL-developed platform which allows the company to ingest, consume, and analyze the information in real time. 

In the case of a water leak, JSI™ can detect the problem, and with a recently added new technology, automatically shut the water off, reducing the potential for rework, warranty claims, and driving down insurance premiums.  

Award winning technology

The idea for JSI™ was born out of the questions many customers were asking about smart building technology. As Bryant explains, he wanted to first understand how technology could be used in the work phase of construction. 

“The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry historically has not been a large investor in technology — pretty resistant to change, pretty frugal,” Bryant says. “We see the value of investing in technology for PCL, our workers, the environment, and especially for our client’s bottom line.”

PCL’s leadership in tech innovation is being recognized across Canada even beyond the construction sector. In November 2019, Bryant was recognized by the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) as the Canadian CIO of the Year. PCL was also recognized with an Ingenious Award in the Large Private Sector category for JSI™.

A second technology developed by PCL finished as a runner up to JSI™. Hazard Inspection App blends machine learning and artificial intelligence with safety standards to produce a new and lean way of conducting inspections in the field. 

Bryant says employees at PCL were integral in providing the expertise to figure out which aspects of construction were the most important to monitor. 

PCL, which is headquartered in Edmonton with operations across Canada, the United States, Caribbean and Australia, started off using the technology while building the Stantec Tower – a 66-storey, 1.2 million square foot tower in Edmonton’s Ice District. Over 500 sensors were put in to monitor temperature, humidity and barometric pressure in the building. 

Edmonton’s Stantec Tower, the tallest building in Canada, west of Toronto (centre right).

“On a project like the Stantec Tower where you have a three to four year build, you’ve got 70 degree temperature swings over four seasons. Things like drywall or millwork can have issues that require rework so we monitor the temperature and humidity and keep that constant through heaters and smart provisioning,” Bryant says. 

Animation of the full Ice District buildout including Stantec Tower and Rogers Place – both built by PCL Construction.

Another application used at Stantec and part of JSI™ are concrete sensors, which help PCL measure strength and humidity, as well as determine the length of time it takes for concrete to cure. “We can determine maybe it’s 24 hours, instead of 30, which then allows us to advance the schedule and improve time to market for clients,” he explains. 

Commercialization

JSI™ hasn’t just been used for construction projects — it’s also been installed inside a pasta manufacturing facility north of Toronto, Ont. to measure temperature and humidity in refrigeration units. 

The facility is required to measure the levels three times a day, and report the findings to an inspector on a monthly basis. They were also experiencing freezers breaking down on a monthly basis, resulting in thousands of dollars of food being thrown away. 

JSI™ has taken away the manual labor of the historical reporting, and alerts four different people in the case of a freezer breakdown so someone can get to the facility to move the product to another unit, says Bryant. 

Since its launch in March 2018, PCL has expanded JSI™ to over 70 projects, and is ramping up to take it even further. The 114-year-old company completes around 700-800 projects a year, with a total construction value of around $9 billion annually, so there is huge potential for JSI™ to be used in everything from sports stadiums and commercial towers to retail plazas. 

Next, PCL plans to commercialize the award-winning platform for the benefit of the entire construction industry. 

“We have signed up a top 50 ranked Engineering News-Record company to use Job Site Insights. That’s pretty big news that another construction company is licensing our technology,” Bryant says. 

“I think it has the ability to revolutionize the construction market.”

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