When the Lumière brothers debuted the first motion picture film in 1895, it was an engineering marvel. Legend has it that the 50-second film showing a train steamrolling towards the camera felt so realistic to the audience that they jumped out of their seats.
Despite that initial success, it would take another 26 years for Charlie Chaplin to direct The Kid, which popularized feature-length motion picture filmmaking. Sound in cinema would take another five years, virtual reality headsets another 116.
While neural networks were proposed as far back as 1944, it wasn’t until a 1986 paper co-authored by the British-Canadian computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton, then a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, that the practical idea of a neural network was first born. It would take another 26 years for Hinton, by then at the University of Toronto, and two graduate students to turn that idea into a deep learning artificial intelligence model, able to scan thousands of photos and learn to identify common objects, such as flowers, dogs and cars.
While Moore’s law suggests that the pace of innovation has rapidly sped up, it is a striking coincidence that it took the same length of time for Charlie Chaplin to adopt moving picture technology for the masses as it did for Hinton to turn his research paper into an application that leapt off the page.
What’s happened since has been nothing short of remarkable.
There’s a before Nov. 30, 2022, and an after. On that date, OpenAI released ChatGPT into the wild, reaching 100 million monthly active users just two months after launch to make it the fastest-growing consumer application in history. The tool put the power of deep learning at anyone’s fingertips, serving as teacher, coder, designer, author and even romantic partner.
ChatGPT’s launch set off a hype cycle that would’ve made Satoshi Nakamoto squirm, resulting in a funding frenzy for AI startups, a race for “compute” power among tech giants and promises of riches from LinkedIn self-promoters. Meanwhile, lawmakers around the world have raced to catch up to a technology that could either save or eradicate humankind, depending on whom you ask. The turmoil that engulfed OpenAI’s leadership over the weekend, which according to some reports pitted CEO Sam Altman against Ilya Sutskever, the company’s Canadian chief scientist, will only amplify the sense of urgency.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of ChatGPT’s launch, The Logic is launching an in-depth, multi-part series on Canada’s AI opportunity. It is the most deeply reported and ambitious editorial series of our more than five-year history.
This week, we’ll tell the colourful story of how Canada found itself on the leading edge of AI research in the first place. We’ll look at one industry where applying the technology has given Canadian companies a vital competitive edge, and at what’s keeping businesses from replicating that success.
As the series continues, we’ll examine how the technology is affecting workers in Canada, and how the country is navigating the fraught geopolitics of AI. We’ll explore what a future infused with AI could feel like. We’ll delve into how the brightest lights of Canadian AI research became fearful of its destructive potential, and how that has guided the world’s policymakers. And we’ll take you to Bletchley Park, site of this month’s U.K. AI Safety Summit, and tell the story of how Canada and its AI champions measured up on that global stage.
Canada has played a key role in the AI revolution. We have funded the research, developed the neural networks and though we are a relatively small country, we have created a first-mover advantage that other, larger countries should envy.
Will Canada succeed? Or will we follow a path that’s all too familiar in this country, and squander our advantages in the face of global competition?
The deafening hype of the last year may make it seem that we’ve reached peak AI. The Lumière brothers and Charlie Chaplin show us this story has only just begun.
The first installment in the series is online now, with much more to come.