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Justin Trudeau boosts AI in talk at MIT

Justin Trudeau spoke at MIT Solve, a conference aimed at developing ways to apply scientific innovations to solve global problems.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Justin Trudeau spoke at MIT Solve, a conference aimed at developing ways to apply scientific innovations to solve global problems.

If Justin Trudeau had been a little better at mathematics, he might have ended up on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Instead, he came to campus on Friday as prime minister of Canada, to talk up his country’s contributions to the science of artificial intelligence, and the crucial importance of free trade and cultural diversity.

“I’ve always been fascinated by physics and math,” Trudeau told businesspeople and students at an MIT conference. “I even did two years of engineering, which I absolutely loved but was not for me. Matrix math was just a little further than I wanted to go.”

But the former schoolteacher-turned-politician boasted of his nation’s crucial role in the development of artificial intelligence systems now found in countless products, from cars to smart audio systems.

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Trudeau said that Canadian scientists “have created and provided the underpinnings of what modern AI is right now,” and added that his nation continues to make massive investments in computer science research, as well as education in the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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Indeed, Trudeau claimed that the Canadian province of Ontario, with a population of 12 million, graduates more students with STEM degrees than does California, which is home to 40 million. On the other hand, a recent study from the University of Toronto found that 25 percent of recent STEM graduates from three of the country’s leading universities had taken jobs outside of Canada.

Artificially intelligent machines must be designed and trained by humans, and the choices these people make will determine how these machines perform. “Canada is well placed to influence that,” said Trudeau, not only because of its scientific accomplishments but also its cultural diversity, which will ensure that AI systems will be programmed by teams with a broader understanding of human needs.

Trudeau spoke on the final day of MIT Solve, a three-day conference aimed at developing ways to apply scientific innovations to solve severe global problems, including health care and climate change.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.