It is an exciting time to be a part of the Canadian tech scene. Over the past few years, machine learning and artificial intelligence have taken the nation by storm, and these forces show no signs of slowing down. Suddenly, the world is shifting its gaze to Canada as a global destination for top-tier AI research, commercialization, and innovation.
So, how did we get here? Well, we had a bit of a head start.
In many ways, the University of Toronto is considered ‘Ground Zero’ for the deep learning research that led to the discovery of neural networks. Thanks to the innate curiosity and genius of Geoffrey Hinton, and the belief that pioneering champions the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) had in his lab’s work, the foundation was laid as early as the 1970s for today’s great strides in machine learning methods. Though few were watching at the time, the importance of that research has finally come to light, and entrepreneurs, academics, and governments alike are finally not only taking notice, but rolling up their sleeves and doing the work so that all of Canada benefits.
Fast forward to 2019. Not only has the University of Toronto’s Machine Learning Lab become one of the hotbeds for AI talent, but a pattern has emerged. Since 2016, we have seen AI research labs sprout up in Toronto and rise to national significance.
Vector Institute, which launched in 2017 with $135 million in funding in its first five years, has grown to a community of over 320 Canadian researchers, and in partnership with CIFAR hosted the largest Deep Learning and Reinforcement Learning Summer School in 2018. Borealis AI, RBC’s research arm, has expanded to Montreal, Edmonton, Waterloo and Vancouver, and is led by Foteini Agrafioti: the newly appointed co-chair of the Federal AI Advisory Council where she is joined by other AI pioneers including Geoffrey Hinton, Yoshua Bengio, and Richard Sutton.
Moreover, research initiatives like Waterloo.ai in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor, MILA/IVADO in Montreal, and Amii in Edmonton continue to be integral to the fabric of the national research ecosystem.
“At Borealis AI we have built on Canada’s exceptional reputation for academic excellence and entrepreneurial opportunity,” says Foteini Agrafioti. “It’s not just a technical skill set either; Canadians are known for their commitment to responsible AI and when you’re pursuing state-of-the-art here, you know you’re surrounded by people who will make decisions that serve the greater good.”
In a 21st century information economy, money tends to flow alongside knowledge. 2018 saw a record amount of venture capitalist activity in Canada, with $4.5B invested into tech companies, and a total of 48 Canadian deals invest nearly $550MM into AI-driven businesses -- a 50% increase from 2018. Sweden’s Ericsson is also the latest in a long list of global corporations, including IBM, Uber, and Microsoft, to invest in a research lab on Canadian soil with hopes they will gain access to local talent and expertise.
These numbers will only continue to grow as world-class accelerator programs like NEXT Canada’s NextAI and Rotman’s Creative Destruction Lab continue to attract top tier talent while providing an avenue for research commercialization and, by extension, national GDP growth.
“It’s no secret that artificial intelligence in Canada has reached a tipping point, and it’s more important than ever that we as Canadians shine a spotlight on our stories,” said Graham Taylor, Academic Director of NextAI.
This swell of AI activity across industry and academia has been buttressed by significant levels of support from the Canadian government. The Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, led by CIFAR, received $125 million in 2017 in order to establish connections between Canada’s centres of excellence in Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton.
In December 2018, the Quebec-based SCALE.AI supercluster received $230 million in federal funding to strengthen Canada’s export position, create 16,000 new jobs, and add more than $16 billion to economy over ten years.
With any great new power comes, as they say, great responsibility. Over the last week, not one, but two major announcements have shown a national commitment to 'AI for Good'. Both the Federal AI Advisory Council and the Canada-France International Panel on AI prove that developing a fair and ethical AI strategy -- one that reflects Canadian values -- is a critical priority for the country.
“Canada and CIFAR are committed to supporting the development of responsible, inclusive and transformative AI,” says Dr. Elissa Strome, AVP research and Executive Director of the CIFAR Pan-Canadian AI Strategy. “Through Collision, CIFAR is thrilled to welcome an international community of researchers, industry disruptors and leaders to Toronto and Canada to learn more about the world’s first national AI Strategy and how Canada is developing global thought leadership on the implications of AI.”
So, whether you are here to experience all that Collision has to offer, or just visiting, welcome. You've arrived at just the right time.
Don’t miss all things AI at Collision
Let us be your guide to all things AI at Collision this week. Follow us on Twitter @canadadotai, or via the hashtag #AINorth for updates throughout the week!
TUESDAY MAY 21
3:30pm - 3:50pm | The future of AI: Why collaboration is crucial (Panel discussion) | Enercare Centre, MoneyConf
3:45pm - 4:05pm | Integrating AI: Where do we start? (Panel discussion) | Enercare Centre, CIS Stage
WEDNESDAY MAY 22
11:05 - 11:20am | It’s up to smart humans to stop being stupid about AI | Enercare Centre, binate.io
11:15am - 11:35am | How far away are we from having complete automation? (Panel discussion) | Enercare Centre, Auto/Tech + TalkRobot
11:40am - 11:55am | How AI will set future students apart from today's | Enercare Centre, binate.io
1:20-1:30pm | AI: Kira Systems | Enercare Centre, Growth Summit
1:30pm-1:50pm | Home alone: The advantages of unsupervised learning in AI | Enercare Centre, binate.io
2:20pm - 2:35pm | AI and the sensory future of the consumer | Enercare Centre, CIS Stage
3:30pm - 3:50pm | Putting the heart into the machine | Enercare Centre, binate.io
3:50pm - 4:10pm | Machine learning: A new approach to drug development | Enercare Centre, binate.io
4:05pm - 4:16pm | Machine learning: Ada | Enercare Centre, Growth Summit
4:00pm - 4:45pm | Using recurrent neural networks to generate "Game of Thrones" scripts, hosted by Microsoft | Enercare Centre, Partner workshops
THURSDAY MAY 23
All Day | AI-themed Founder Talks | Enercare Centre, Growth Summit
10:00am - 11:15am | Intro to AI Workshop hosted by Vector Institute | Enercare Centre, Salon 107
2:05pm - 2:25pm | It's time to talk about voice controlled AI in the restaurant industry | Enercare Centre, SaaS Monster
FRIDAY MAY 24
7:00am - 8:00am | Women in AI Breakfast hosted by ODAIA & U of T Entrepreneurship | Register here
10:00am - 4:00pm | MaRS Talent Marketplace hosted by MaRS Discovery District | More information
All Day | Startup Innovation Showcase hosted by City of Toronto & NewCo | More information