Canadian Manufacturing

AI could boost Cdn. business productivity: Microsoft Canada president

The Canadian Press

Manufacturing Sales & Marketing Technology / IIoT Electronics advanced manufacturing AI artificial intelligence Technology

Canada’s labour productivity eked out a small gain to close out 2023, but it had previously sustained six straight quarters of decreases, Statistics Canada data shows.

When the head of Microsoft Canada needed to write a letter of interest as part of an application to join a not-for-profit board, he decided to put the tech giant’s software to the test.

Chris Barry commanded Copilot, the firm’s generative artificial intelligence service, to craft a five-paragraph missive based on his LinkedIn profile that was so good he only had to remove one word before sending it.

“I omitted one adjective that was a little over the top, a little too much, not quite my voice,” the Microsoft Canada president told a room of chuckling attendees at an executive AI summit the company hosted on Apr. 24 in Toronto.

Later, in an interview, Barry said he didn’t think many other executives are using AI to the same degree, despite the hype that has built up around the technology over the last two years. But he urged workers of all ranks to get acquainted with it because the country’s productivity is at stake.


“The truth is Canada has unfortunately a long history of not adopting new technologies as fast as others, in particular, the U.S., and some of that does show up in the labour productivity stats,” Barry said.

Canada’s labour productivity eked out a small gain to close out 2023, but it had previously sustained six straight quarters of decreases, Statistics Canada data shows.

In November, BMO Capital Markets chief economist Douglas Porter declared the country “listless and lagging U.S. trends” because it had fallen behind its neighbour, the Nordic countries, most of Western Europe and Australia in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s productivity rankings.

Such stats “worry” Barry, especially because he considers the country “a stalwart and vanguard” of AI research.

Much of that research began decades ago with two “godfathers” of the technology, Yoshua Bengio and Geoffrey Hinton, who won the prestigious A.M. Turing Award — often called “the Nobel Prize of computing” — with Yann LeCun.

Bengio and Hinton set up AI research hubs, the Vector Institute in Toronto and Mila in Montreal, to build on their findings and advance Canada’s AI capabilities.

To avoid squandering the opportunities, Barry encouraged workers to get their hands on AI and build an understanding of how it can be used.

Some companies, for example, allow their workers to use it to draft emails, parse data or write product captions.

Using AI should be on the minds of leaders too, said Barry, because it can boost productivity and even help automate business processes by reducing tasks that can be seen as “drudgery” because they are so monotonous, tedious or menial.

Barry uses AI to collect and synthesize his last few interactions with specific people or on a certain topic. He has also relied on it to summarize what he missed when he arrives to a meeting late, unearths conversations he has missed in the hubbub of his schedule and even identify when he has spent more or less time on particular parts of the business than he intended to.


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