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Episode 11: Why is Canada's CIO on a mission to modernize?

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

The Ask AI interview with with Alex Benay, CIO of Canada

Special thanks to Microsoft Canada and Cinchy for sponsoring the third series of the Ask AI podcast and supporting greater awareness of artificial intelligence in Canada. All of our episodes and 100s of AI profiles are also available from our chatbot, generously sponsored by Toronto’s Ada Support.

Canada's Chief Information Officer is probably not what you expect.

For starters, speaking with Alex Benay feels more like talking with a tech startup founder than a senior government official.

It's is not just in the passion for what he does, which is obvious, but the disarmingly direct way that he handles the tough questions associated with the development of Canada's AI sector. In short, it's refreshing to hear plain talk from one of our country's top AI influencers when it comes to issues like gender balance in the workforce, bias in training data, and the use of citizen data.

This distinctly un-bureaucratic approach may have something to do with a non-traditional career path. Leaving an early fast-track position in the public service for major role in the tech sector, he then returned to the Feds to take on the challenge of updating our national museums.

"So why government? Because it's more fun, it's more impactful, and the challenges are bigger. There is nothing that has this scale in the Country. Period. " Alex Benay, CIO of Canada, speaking to ask ai podcast

Tune in to this episode to learn about innovation inside Canada's Federal Government and to get a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of the key leaders of its mission to modernize.

Our listeners can get a full view on Canada's approach to AI by checking out our recent episode featuring Michael Karlin, the Treasury advisor working under Alex Benay who made international waves last year when drafting Canada's AI policy as a Google Doc.

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Catch our conversation with Dr. Elissa Strome, the head of the Pan-Canadian AI strategy at CIFAR and learn how one of our top scientific bodies is fighting the threat of AI brain drain.

Episode highlights

  • Alex's journey from public to private and back to public and how that has helped him professionally.

  • Canada's "ethical switch" being developed to help govern the use of AI within Federal public services.

  • The very different (and perhaps unfair) way that people perceive personal privacy in the context of government services.

  • The straightforward way that Alex has approached closing the gender gap in his department.

  • The legal and legislative complexities associated with data fragmentation across government departments.

Episode links

CognitiveScale (vendor helping to develop a Canadian "ethical switch")

Episode credits

Sponsors: Microsoft Canada and Cinchy Chatbot partner: Ada Support Executive Producer: Chris McLellan Host: Jaxson Khan Assistant Producers: Oleena Mak and Kristin Riddell Original music: Mike LeTourneau

About Ask AI

Ask AI is a volunteer project exploring the fast-emerging artificial intelligence sector in Canada and beyond.Our projects include a popular podcast and live events. To learn more about sponsorship and volunteering please contact us or ask our chatbot.

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