From cars that drive themselves to diagnosing cancer with the snap of a smartphone camera, the world as we know it is set to undergo drastic change in the decade to come thanks to rapid advancement in the field of artificial intelligence, or AI.
AI refers to the field of computer science that is focused on enabling technology to perform tasks that are normally done by humans. Faster and more powerful computers and the increased availability of immense sets of data have significantly increased AI’s capabilities to identify patterns and use that information to reach human-like predictions and insights.
Worldwide spending on AI solutions is predicted to grow to over $46 billion through 2020 and Canada is preparing to enjoy a bigger piece of that pie thanks to a number of factors that are setting the country apart as a global hub in the field. Here are three of the key reasons behind Canada’s growing reputation as an AI hotspot.
While their initial work at Canadian universities may have raised eyebrows and skepticism in the early days, today, computer scientists Geoffrey Hinton, Ph.D., and Yoshua Bengio, Ph.D. are widely recognized as game changers in the field of artificial intelligence. In addition to being a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, Hinton is an engineering fellow at Google. Bengio, who leads the Montréal Institute for Learning Algorithms, also advises Microsoft and Samsung on artificial intelligence initiatives.
Decades of academic commitment to the study of artificial intelligence has created a research-rich culture at universities across the country, particularly in Montréal, Toronto, Waterloo, and Edmonton. Academic research is turning into real-world reality at many Canadian universities thanks to robust business incubation programs. The University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab, for example, is home to 50 AI companies, one of the greatest concentrations of AI companies in any program in the world.
Canada’s federal government isn’t just paying lip service to the priority they’re placing on artificial intelligence. Budget 2017 proposed to provide $125 million to launch a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy to promote collaboration between Canada’s main centres of expertise in Toronto — Waterloo, Montréal, and Edmonton — and position Canada as a world-leading destination for companies seeking to invest in AI. The lion’s share of that funding, along with $50 million from the Ontario government, helped create the Vector Institute, a recently announced independent research facility for artificial intelligence located in Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District. The Vector Institute engages with universities across Ontario and Canada to attract, train, and keep the world’s best minds in Canada.
“The job market is changing, and instead of resisting in vain, we’re focused on funding research and innovation, like in AI and quantum computing, that’ll help lead the change here in Canada.”
– Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
In addition to providing financial support, Canada’s federal government recently introduced changes to immigration policy that will make it easier for companies to bring in technical talent from other countries. A fast-track visa program that offers up permanent residency was introduced in June 2017 with the goal of attracting innovators from across the globe.
It wasn’t just the government who came to the table with funding for Toronto’s Vector Institute. The list of corporate partners who invested $80 million in the initiative includes companies from a diverse range of industries across the country, including banks, technology, consumer goods, manufacturing, consulting, and transportation. Since the Vector Institute announcement in the spring of 2017, there has been a steady stream of additional privately funded Canadian AI research centres announced, including:
These announcements were in addition to significant Canadian AI activity in 2016, which included Google Brain’s creation of a new AI research office in Montréal and General Motors’ news that it would launch a Software Development Centre in Markham, Ontario. GM’s 700 technical employees there will focus their efforts on autonomous vehicle software, active safety technology, and automotive innovation. Earlier in the year, GM opened its 2908 Communitech Innovation Lab in Waterloo, Ontario, which is focused on incubating urban mobility and connected vehicle innovations. GM also announced in 2016 its purchase of property in Toronto as the base for a new Urban Mobility Campus, which will include research and development facilities.
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