Canada's ambition of becoming a centre of excellence in the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence (AI) research and development is getting a boost with the establishment of the Vector Institute in Toronto.
The Vector Institute is being established through an unprecedented partnership between government and industry. This will help the province strengthen its leadership in AI by enabling start-ups to grow while developing their next generation transformational technology without leaving Canada and enticing multinational companies to establish their AI R&D centres in Ontario.
Deep learning, a subfield of machine learning that involves many layers of processing, structured to mimic the brain's function and used to form predictions from big data, was created in Professor Geoffrey Hinton's lab at the University of Toronto, and announced to the world in 2012 when his group won the International ImageNet competition. Since then, global tech giants have been competing for the region's top AI research talent with alumni of the University of Toronto's Machine Learning program filling top roles at Apple, Facebook, OpenAI and Google Brain, as well as Microsoft and Google DeepMind, among others.
Now, renowned experts including University Professor Emeritus and VP Engineering Fellow at Google, Geoffrey Hinton, who is widely regarded as “the godfather of deep learning,” are spearheading a pan-Canadian effort, connecting research teams from universities in Alberta and Quebec, to transform the nation and the province from a preeminent source of AI research talent to a world-leading hub. By bringing together the field's top faculty and researchers, provincial and federal funding and industry partners, the new institute will provide the needed infrastructure to support turning bold ideas into reality.
For those who have been involved in fostering Ontario's reputation in AI, the urgency to capitalize on this tremendous opportunity is obvious. “The demand from industry for people with expertise in deep learning far exceeds the supply,” says Hinton, who will serve as Chief Scientific Advisor at the Vector Institute. “We need many more professors educating undergraduate and graduate students and professors need to have time to do world-class basic research. In addition, we need a lot of research scientists who have time for both basic research and a lot of interaction with start-ups and scale-ups.”
Tomi Poutanen, co-CEO and co-Founder of Layer 6 AI, agrees the Vector Institute is a big step toward building a world-leading AI ecosystem. “A theoretical research group will not thrive without industrial partners, and a knowledge based economy will not reach its potential without access to world leading AI researchers,” says Poutanen. “The Vector Institute sits at the intersection of the two, and will propel our economy into the future.”
A future filled with more companies like Meta and Maluuba, two of the nearly 200 AI-enabled companies in Ontario raised approximately $2.84 billion in 2016. Meta uses artificial intelligence to analyze new scientific knowledge as it's published, while Maluuba envisions “solving general AI through the creation of literate machines that can think, reason and communicate like humans.” Early in 2017, Meta became the first acquisition of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Maluuba was obtained by Microsoft.
We need to help young people use AI to make Canada and the world a better place.
– Tomi Poutanen, co-CEO and co-Founder, Layer 6 AI
Ontario's Vector Institute will ensure Ontario's brightest researchers and entrepreneurs play a major role in bringing to bear the new world that AI is shaping. “The Vector Institute will make us the world leader in AI, I have no doubt…There are going to be more companies here, the companies will be stronger, there will be more growth from start-ups and more investment in AI R&D labs from big companies,” says Raquel Urtasun, Associate Professor of Computer Science at U of T. “From a science perspective, I think it is going to be an amazing time for Ontario.”