Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Needs to Nurture Local Tech Champions and Protect Research, Says AI Pioneer

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Needs to Nurture Local Tech Champions and Protect Research, Says AI Pioneer

Article excerpt

Montreal's AI hub needs homegrown champion

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MONTREAL - Some of the biggest names in tech are lining up to join Montreal's burgeoning artificial intelligence cluster, but harnessing the sector's full potential depends on creating homegrown tech champions, not just celebrating investments by large multinationals, warns one of Canada's godfathers of deep learning.

Canada is at the centre of research charting new ways to mine big data with implications for everything from better medical diagnoses to self-driving cars and Montreal is emerging as a hub thanks to a large concentration of available researchers in a low-cost city with great social values.

Facebook became the latest Silicon Valley giant to set up shop in the city with a Sept. 15 announcement that it would open a research lab and invest $7 million in Montreal's AI community, joining Google, Microsoft and Samsung, which all have a presence in the city.

More deals are likely on the way, according to Yoshua Bengio, considered one of the pioneers of deep learning -- an AI subset that uses neural networks to mimic the way a human brain learns and adapts.

Bengio, who heads the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, one of Canada's three main AI centres of excellence, recently partnered with Samsung to open a University of Montreal lab that will focus on developing algorithms for use in voice and visual recognition, robotics, autonomous driving and translations.

He believes Canada's global stature in AI has been reinforced by its ability to attract the best researchers from around the world because of the strong connection between academic research and innovation.

However, he also warned that without developing strong domestic AI companies, intellectual property developed in Canada risks flowing across the border to the financial benefit of the U.S.

"Although these large companies coming to Montreal are contributing to the ecosystem in a beautiful way, in a few years from now we will need to have Canadian companies really leading the pack internationally for Canada to really succeed in this," he said in an interview.

It's a type of brain drain, according to Gabriel Woo, who oversees the RBC Research Institute, an artificial intelligence lab in Toronto. …

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