Microsoft has partnered with the University of Waterloo’s Artificial Intelligence Institute, Waterloo.ai, to provide funding, expertise, and Microsoft’s Azure technology to help the institute use AI for social good.
“The greatest challenges facing society today cannot be solved without strong partnerships across industry and academia.”
The Waterloo.ai research grants, backed by Microsoft, will go toward using extensive computational power and machine learning capabilities for new socially-driven projects. Some of these projects include improving emotion discovery for autistic individuals, climate change projections, fall detection for the elderly, and wildfire management and disaster response. “The University of Waterloo has an outstanding reputation for ground-breaking innovation, and Microsoft is excited to partner with them, not only to provide leading Microsoft Azure technology but to provide funding and expertise for the important work of leveraging AI for social good,” said Kevin Peesker, president of Microsoft Canada.
Waterloo.ai is a joint venture of the University of Waterloo’s faculties of engineering and mathematics and includes researchers from arts, applied health sciences, environment, and science. This partnership is part of Microsoft’s broader AI for Good initiative, which comprises an investment of $115 million over five years to offer funding, technology and expertise to individuals, non-profits, academic institutions, and organizations.
Microsoft’s broader AI initiative includes applications in humanitarian efforts, improving accessibility, and addressing environmental challenges, with $50 million allocated to AI for Earth initiatives. Microsoft said research teams from across Canada are beginning several AI for Good projects.
“The greatest challenges facing society today cannot be solved without strong partnerships across industry and academia that bring together our world-renowned researchers with leading technology and expertise,” said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Waterloo. “Artificial intelligence is going to change the world and we couldn’t imagine a better partner than Microsoft as we produce the solutions that will actively benefit humankind.”
Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing service used for building, testing, deploying, and managing applications and services through Microsoft-managed data centres. It is a SaaS tool that provides a platform and infrastructure to support many different programming languages, tools and frameworks, including both Microsoft and third-party software. According to PwC’s MoneyTree report, last year, $548 million in venture capital was invested in Canadian AI companies, representing an increase of about 50 percent from the year before. According to a 2017 report, Canadian job opportunities in the field of AI grew by nearly 500 percent between June 2015 and June 2017, and Microsoft said this number will continue to rise.
“A big part of why we chose to partner with Waterloo AI is because they believe that it is a shared responsibility and that in order for AI to be successful, we must address the need for strong ethical principles, the evolution of laws and training for new skills,” Peesker said. “With the incredible research minds at organizations like Waterloo AI, we are at the tip of the iceberg as to what’s possible.”