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The Liberal government is setting aside $2.4 billion in the upcoming budget to build capacity in artificial intelligence, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Sunday.

The bulk of that — $2 billion — is going into a fund that will aim to provide access to computing capabilities and technical infrastructure.

Trudeau made the announcement at a Montreal AI firm as part of a pre-budget tour.

He said the government will begin consulting with industry soon on a new AI Compute Access Fund and an accompanying strategy to grow the sector in Canada.

"We want to help companies adopt AI in a way that will have positive impacts for everyone," Trudeau said, adding that $200 million will go toward boosting the adoption of AI in sectors like agriculture, health care and clean technology.

The government plans to launch a $50-million AI safety institute to protect against what it calls "advanced or nefarious AI systems," and another $5.1 million will go toward an Office of the AI and Data Commissioner to enforce the proposed Artificial Intelligence and Data Act.

Bill C-27 is the first federal legislation specifically aimed at artificial intelligence. It would update privacy laws and introduce new obligations for "high-impact" systems.

The proposed law has been studied at committee since September 2023.

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Canada is a world leader in AI.

Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau announces billions to build Canada's AI capacity. #CDNPoli #ArtificialIntelligence #AI

"Let's stop asking what AI will do to us, and why don't we start asking what we want AI to do for us," he said.

Yoshua Bengio, scientific director of the Mila Quebec AI Institute, said it's important to look forward as AI will be transformative in the coming years — creating important economic opportunities but with certain risks attached.

Bengio welcomed the creation of the safety institute in particular, that will allow academics to focus on the question of safety.

"There are some really important scientific questions that remain open and that we absolutely need to figure out how do we build future AI systems that may be even surpassing human intelligence that are also safe, that will not turn against humans?" Bengio said.

"We don't know how to do that, so it's urgent to invest in this."

The Liberals have been setting up their April 16 budget with a series of campaign-style stops around the country.

Last week's announcements were focused on housing, including money to help build apartments and affordable units. Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser also said a full housing plan will be released ahead of budget day.

The federal Conservatives, meanwhile, have sent a letter to Trudeau outlining their demands for the fiscal plan.

Leader Pierre Poilievre's letter to Trudeau says the prime minister's "out-of-control inflationary spending" has caused interest rates to balloon and "punishing taxes have pushed people over the edge."

He called on the government to end the price on carbon, to require cities to permit 15 per cent more home building each year as a condition for receiving federal infrastructure money, and to cap its spending, committing to find equivalent savings.

Poilievre said if those conditions are met, Conservatives will agree to support the budget.

Trudeau fired back on Sunday.

"The job of an opposition leader is to criticize the government, we get that. But it's not to fearmonger," he said.

Trudeau also insisted Liberal policies like the price on carbon and funding to accelerate home construction do not drive inflation, adding experts and economists are "almost unanimous" in saying so.

"Once again, Pierre Poilievre is wrong, is not listening to experts and economists," he said.

The minority government has a supply-and-confidence deal with the New Democrats that will ensure their support on budgets and other fiscal measures so long as the Liberals advance key NDP priorities, including dental care and pharmacare.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2024.

With files from Sarah Ritchie in Ottawa

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