Canada 2017: The New AI Frontier

AI in Canada

Artificial intelligence (AI) has enjoyed an intense surge in research, funding, and media coverage in recent years. With the advent of driverless cars, Internet of Things, and deep learning programs, AI has firmly grabbed global attention and the funding to match it. The government of Canada has also recognized this trend and committed $125 million (CAD) to nurture and retain top AI talent and institutions across Canada.

2017 Federal Budget: Funding AI

Canada’s 2017 Federal Budget reflects this commitment to AI and emerging technologies. The centerpiece of the funding is the newly created Vector Institute in Toronto. To date, the Vector Institute has received $50 million (CAD) from the Federal Government, $50 million (CAD) from the Ontario Government, and $80 million (CAD) from more than 30 private sector companies. Some of the private sector company investors include: Shopify and Google. The Vector Institute is strategically located in the MaRS discovery district which is a technology hub for startup companies looking to commercialize emerging technologies in Toronto.

AI Hubs in Canada

While Canada’s commitment to AI reflects a recent interest in the field, Canada actually has a long history of AI with Montreal and Toronto as major AI hubs.

Toronto represents the largest AI hub in Canada with its AI movement headed by Geoffrey Hinton who is regarded as one of the founding fathers of deep learning movement based on artificial neural networks. Geoffrey Hinton is also a professor at the University of Toronto and has worked with Google since 2012 as a vice-president engineering fellow. His appointment as the chief scientific adviser of Vector Institute will no doubt attract burgeoning AI talent from Toronto and beyond.

Montreal represents the second largest AI hub in Canada with its AI movement headed by Yoshua Bengio of the Universite de Montreal who has pioneered AI machine learning. He also leads the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, the Institute for Data Valorisation and the newly launched Element AI. Montreal’s Element AI is a platform and incubator for any organization that wants to develop and/or use AI technology but lack the resources. Element AI aims to help these organizations achieve their AI goals by providing talent and investments to selected organizations.

More AI Opportunities in Canada: Uber’s Autonomous Vehicle Research

In addition to the government of Canada’s injection into growing the AI communities in Canada, international organizations have also noticed Canada as a worthy hub for AI development. In May 2017, Uber announced that it will be launching a driverless car research group in Toronto. The group is aptly named The Advanced Technologies Group and it will be headed by another Toronto AI researcher: Raquel Urtasun, a University of Toronto professor in computer science. Her Uber-backed research will focus on making driverless cars more affordable and efficient. The creation of the Advanced Technologies Group is no doubt, another nod to Canada’s (particularly Toronto) emergence as an important AI hub.

The Future of AI in Canada

With the injection of both government and private sector funding in AI research, and the creation of AI hubs such as Vector Institute (Toronto) and Element AI (Montreal), Canada is set to become a leader in AI research and development. Industry forerunners such as Google and Uber seem to agree as indicated by their large investment and commitment to working with Toronto’s AI talent and their networks.

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