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Artificial Intelligence and Canadian Federal Science: A Discussion Paper

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has progressed rapidly in both the sophistication and integration into our everyday lives (ISED, 2022). From tools that verify spelling and grammar to ones that protect our homes, applications of AI seem to be everywhere and all at once. According to KPMG (2023), in 2023, 37% of Canadian businesses were using AI, while most citizens interact with some form of AI daily. Likewise, governmental departments and agencies use the technology to ease administrative processes and improve efficiency in service delivery (Zuiderwijk, 2021; Treasury Board, 2023a). AI systems are also increasingly deployed in science and engineering fields (CCA, 2022). Around the world, states and industries are investing heavily in AI R&D to establish AI strategies to secure their leadership in this fast-developing space (Donahoe, 2019; Smuha, 2021). As Chow and Perrigo (2023) remark, the “AI race [is] changing everything.” Yet, AI is not without some genuine risks. Issues of bias, transparency, privacy, trust, and accountability raise concerns for this technology’s responsible and ethical deployment.

This paper begins with a primer on AI, including an introduction to key definitions and concepts, the state of AI in Canada, and an examination of key opportunities and risks of using AI technologies. The second part of the paper presents a short summary and discussion of legal and policy frameworks that guide the use of AI for Science Based Departments and Agencies (SBDAs). To complement the information derived from the literature, the IOG prepared and disseminated a short survey to members of the federal scientific and research community to collect information about current uses and applications of AI in science-based departments and agencies. The survey results are presented in part III. Part IV contains a discussion of Canada’s AI policy landscape as it specifically relates to the conduct of government science. The paper concludes with some questions for further discussion and research. An account of all technical components referred to throughout the paper can be found in the glossary of terms.