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A team at Oxford Insights has gone about ranking governments in terms of their “AI readiness”, which as best we can tell is the first such ranking of its kind. As a pilot ranking, the scope is not yet global and instead focuses on OECD countries, a group of 35 developed countries that are often examined in comparison with one another. By the methodology of Oxford Insights, the United Kingdom is ranked first, followed by the United States, then Canada, followed closely by Korea, the Netherlands, France and Japan. Third place is quite a respectable ranking for Canada, which has announced its intention to become a global leader in AI technologies, but why did Canada not rank higher and where is there room for improvement?
The UK ranks in the top place namely because the country ranks consistently high in each of the three principal categories used by Oxford Insights, Public Service Reform (1st), Economy and Skills Capacity (2nd), and Digital Infrastructure (2nd). The United States ranks 1st in the subcategory of Economy and Skills Capacity, perhaps unsurprisingly, but only 5th in Public Service Reform and 6th in Digital Infrastructure. Canada does not rank first in any category but places well in most, 6th in Public Service Reform, 3rd in Economy and Skills Capacity and 5th in Digital Infrastructure.
When looking more closely at the index ranking and methodology, which Oxford Insights has graciously shared with the Institute on Governance’s digital governance team, it is clear that while Canada ranks 3rd overall, it is quite far from advancing much further than that for the time being. The UK and US rank closely to one another and the two pull away from a second tier grouping which is lead by Canada, but includes very close competitors. All of this to say that close attention to detail shows Canada to be one of several leading countries in government AI readiness, but world leadership overall is still far away.
Weak Points in AI Readiness
With the careful caveat that governments should seek to govern well, not simply to do well in rankings which might not fully capture government performance, the recent rankings indicate several areas in which Canada can improve. The Public Service Reform category may well be Canada’s biggest opportunity area. Canada already ranks well in the United Nations E-gov survey but is held back by the assessments of its overall innovation capacity, where Canada was ranked 16th by the Global Innovation Index.
Breaking that measure down further, Canada’s innovation competitiveness is often held back due to softness in areas like patent production (research output), intellectual property, business expenses on research and development (BERD), and university-industry research collaboration. This raises questions about the degree to which improvements in Canada’s AI preparedness can stem from the federal government alone. More likely, improvements will require inter-jurisdictional and multi-level governance that includes provincial governments, since many of these specific issue areas touch on provincial jurisdiction.
Canada’s ranking is also held-back by the low availability of human capital in AI, where Canada was ranked 23rd overall. Contrasting the relatively erratic geopolitical climate of the US and UK with Canada’s relative stability and welcoming stance on immigration, it is likely that Canada’s ranking here will steadily improve – perhaps especially when considering the proposals for further increasing immigration rates, especially for economic class immigrants, and the active effort by Canada’s leadership to woo Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs to “Go North”.
Turning Insights into Action
The rankings confirm that some of the countries with existing strengths in e-government also have strengths in AI, such as the UK and US. The rankings also highlight several less conventional leaders. Australia, for one, ranked 1st in human capital for AI, Korea ranked 1st for availability of data (a key prerequisite for AI) and Sweden ranked 1st in terms of government digitization. Also noteworthy is Mexico, which ranked 22nd overall, but 7th for digital infrastructure, including 5th for availability of data, which would indicate the presence of interesting developments in Mexico.
Perhaps the best takeaway for Canada’s AI leaders would be the value of undertaking a close examination the strength areas of other ranked countries for indications of what best practices could help Canada improve. What have these countries done that Canada has not, and is there anything stopping Canada from doing something similar (or better)? Indeed, if there is one indisputable lesson from the Oxford Insights AI readiness rankings, it’s that Canada has a ways to go before becoming a global leader; and in the meantime, the competition will be tough if Canada is to retain its existing third place ranking.
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