OTTAWA – What do Deloitte, DENSO, Facebook, Fujitsu, General Motors, Google, IBM, LG, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Samsung, Thales and Uber all have in common?
They are all global companies who have chosen to establish their artificial intelligence (AI) research labs in Canada. They join Canadian companies such as ThomsonReuters, RBC, TD and Manulife who are also establishing their global centres of excellence for AI in Canada.
These companies are attracted by Canada’s unique combination of world-leading researchers, dynamic start-ups, open immigration policies, generous tax support for R&D, access to global markets, respect for diversity, inclusion and human rights, and its underlying internationalist attitude.
For example, in 2018, Microsoft Research Montreal chose to build a research lab in Montreal “because we wanted to be a part of the thriving research and academic community in Montreal and throughout Canada,” and Samsung Research America announced it is establishing a state-of-the-art AI centre in Toronto because it is “home to not only world-class talent but also some of the most innovative start-ups in the artificial intelligence field.”
“Canada is ideally situated to be a leader because our national culture and neutral politics have attracted world-class researchers in AI,” says Joyce Drohan, a partner for Omnia AI, Deloitte’s artificial intelligence and advanced analytics practice.
Canada has been a research leader in deep and reinforcement learning for over 30 years. Well-known early pioneers Yoshua Bengio (Université de Montréal), Geoffrey Hinton (University of Toronto) and Richard Sutton (University of Alberta) have built Canada’s deep research capacity in data analytics, the foundation for AI. Their contributions were recognized in March 2019 by the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) when it jointly awarded the prestigious A.M. Turing Award to Bengio, Hinton and New York University’s Yann LeCun who once studied under Hinton at his lab at the University of Toronto.
“Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked- about topics in society,” said ACM President Cherri M. Pancake. “The growth of and interest in AI is due, in no small part, to the recent advances in deep learning for which Bengio, Hinton and LeCun laid the foundation.”
Canada’s AI head-start may be found in early support for research from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). Founded in 1982 with a program on artificial intelligence, robotics and society, in 2004 CIFAR brought neuroscientists and computer scientists together. “The idea seemed kooky at the time,” Elissa Strome, the Pan-Canadian strategy director at CIFAR told the Edmonton Journal in 2018. “But it turned out to be very successful.”
Today CIFAR is leading the $125 million Pan Canadian AI Strategy in partnership with three recently- established AI institutes, the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) in Edmonton, Mila in Montréal and the Vector Institute in Toronto. The strategy, announced in 2017, is one of the more recent supports for AI research and development at the heart of Canada’s AI value proposition that entices so many of the world’s multinational technology companies.
A key beneficiary of this support for AI research in Canada has been Montréal’s Element AI. Co-founded in 2016 by seasoned entrepreneur Jean-François Gagné and Yoshua Bengio with a unique mission to democratize AI, Element AI raised more than $100 million in its first year alone. In addition, the Creative DestructiveLab at the University of Toronto, with a $25 million contribution from the Government of Canada, funds AI research that will help gain insight into the success of tech start-ups.
“Creative Destruction Lab’s exciting project promises to unleash a new wave of start-up innovation across Canada, creating thousands of middle-class jobs and further securing Canada’s position as a world leader in the AI field,” said the Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. “Our government is proud to make investments that will help turn hundreds of innovative ideas into the good jobs and companies of tomorrow.”
More recently, in June 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, issued a statement on AI that led, in December 2018, to theInternational Panel on AI to guide the responsible adoption of AI that is grounded in human rights, diversity, innovation and economic growth.
At the same time, Prime Minister Trudeau announced a $230 million federal contribution to the AI- Powered Supply Chains Supercluster which will be matched by the private sector. Headquartered in Montreal with its core operating region stretching from Quebec City to Waterloo, ON,SCALE.AI is part of the $950 million Innovation Supercluster Initiative which provides funding for innovative companies that commercialize solutions based on Canada’s leadership in the field of AI.
“Today’s announcement is an important step toward making Canada an export and AI leader,” Prime Minister Trudeau said. “Our government launched an ambitious strategy to keep this sector competitive in the long term, and support Canada’s innovators. Together, we can build an innovation economy – one that benefits everyone and provides new opportunities for the middle class to succeed.”
An important driver for all AI activity is access to talent and support for research. Canada’s Global Skills Strategy makes it easier for businesses to attract the talent needed to succeed in the global marketplace through faster processing of permits and short duration work exemptions; while Canada’s Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax incentive program is among the most generous tax incentives for R&D in the industrialized world.
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