Future of Work

Canada is preparing for automation. Here's how

A man shakes hands with a robotic prosthetic hand in the Intel booth at the International Consumer Electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 6, 2015.   REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) - RTR4KAY2

People are increasingly worried that powerful software will replace the need for human workers. Image: REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Jonathan Vanian
Writer, Fortune
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Future of Work

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is preparing his country to deal with the challenges new technologies place on the workforce.

The rise of artificial intelligence technologies has made it easier for companies like Google to automatically identify cats in photos. But as cutting-edge AI technologies amplify automation, people are increasingly worried that powerful software will replace the need for human workers.

Earlier this week, Trudeau addressed the subject of automation and labor on the question-and-answer website Quora and explained some of his ideas to help Canadian citizens keep their jobs in light of rapid technological advances.

Trudeau concedes that the “job market is changing” but instead of “resisting in vain,” Canada is going to fund research in the areas that are directly causing the change, like artificial intelligence.

Image: Oxford University data via Bloomberg News

The prime minister didn’t point to any examples of government AI funding, but Canada has recently invested in several big AI policy projects. In March, Canada said it would spend $125 million on a new initiative designed to “attract and retain top academic talent in Canada” and boost the number of graduate students and researchers studying AI.

Canada is currently a hotbed of AI research, with some of the world’s leading experts in the AI technique of deep learning residing in the country and researching at various universities like the University of Montreal and the McGill University. Several big tech companies like Microsoft and Google have also recently invested in AI research projects in Canada involving the country’s top academics.

For Canada’s unemployed, Trudeau said the government is proposing a plan that would allow citizens to “pursue self-funded training” while still receiving unemployment benefits. This unemployment plan would cost “$132.4 million over four years, beginning next year, and $37.9 million per year thereafter,” he wrote.

“For unemployed workers receiving [Employment Insurance], this will mean that they can return to school to get the training they need to find a new job—without fear of losing the EI benefits they need to support themselves and their families,” Trudeau wrote.

As for Canada’s current workforce, Trudeau said that the country is “expanding access to grants and access to interest-free student loans for adults,” although he did not say how much it would cost.

This initiative, Trudeau said, will help make it cheaper for adults with children to go back to school on a part-time basis to keep their job skills up to date. He also said that Canada is going to invest in an initiative that would help students find jobs after they finish their education.

Trudeau’s comments about how Canada is preparing for automation technologies contrast with recent statements made by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Steve Mnuchin. Mnuchin told news outlet Axios in March that he does not believe artificial intelligence would significantly impact jobs for around 50 to 100 years.

Besides increased government spending on education, several analysts also recommend that companies spend money on employee training projects as well for their own workers.

For example, a recent Accenture report on technological trends in the workplace recommends that business leaders instill a “life-long" culture among their employees, reawarding those who seek outside training to increase their skills.

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Future of WorkArtificial Intelligence
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