15 Montréalers changing the world

published on March 26, 2019
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Montréal is a one-of-a-kind city – a gateway between North America and Europe and a bilingual haven of creativity and experimentation. And so, it makes perfect sense that Montréalers themselves are unique, original and unlike anyone else. Standing at the forefront of neuroscience, pharmaceuticals, cardiology, oncology, fashion, aerospace and artificial intelligence, Montréal’s talent pool runs deep – and here’s a look at just 15 of them who, each in their own way, are helping to change the world.

Joëlle Pineau

As co-director of the Reason and Learning Lab at McGill University and head of Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Research lab in Montréal, Joëlle Pineau’s research ranges from seismic developments in healthcare, AI, to gaming (because we all need downtime, even when changing the world). In 2018, her work at McGill in utilizing AI to improve the treatment of heart disease and cancer earned her the NSERC’s Steacie Memorial Fellowship award, while her team at Facebook taught a machine to create a recipe from a simple photograph of the québécoise delicacy Tourtiére. Teaching AI to heal and cook? Count us in.

Keep up with  Joëlle at Facebook AI Research.

Dax Dasilva

Dax Dasilva’s studies at the University of British Columbia at the end of the 1990s in Computer Science, Art History and Religious Studies still form the triad of interests in his life, each redefining and adding to world platforms. With his highly-successful Lightspeed point of sale technology (trading publicly on the Toronto Stock Exchange since March 2019), Dasilva is changing the face of small business. With the Never Apart gallery his hand-picked team is helping showcase LGBTQ+ arts in a multi-level space bustling with community-minded programming and outreach initiatives. And in spring 2019, Dasilva is publishing his first book Age of Union: Igniting the Changemaker pulling from spirituality, business, art and nature – a true game-changer.

Follow Dax Dasilva on Twitter at @daxdasilva.

Brenda Milner

Montréal’s role as a major world leader in the field of neuroscience has long been established (for just one example, Dr. Wilder Penfield’s “Montréal Procedure” is still used today in treatment of epilepsy sufferers 70 years on) and Dr. Brenda Milner has been a groundbreaking researcher since completing her B.A. studies in Experimental Psychology in 1939 at the University of Cambridge. At the age of 100, Dr. Milner holds more than 20 degrees, countless awards and still oversees research work at McGill’s trendsetting Neuro institute and hospital – fully living up to her title as the founder of neuropsychology. She’s a true Montréal cornerstone.

Read more about Dr. Milner at The Neuro's website.

Marc-André Roberge

Bees play an intrinsic part in the natural cycle, and beekeeper Marc-André Roberge co-created Nectar, an AI-based platform to monitor and assist in maintaining the health of bee colonies. Using precise readings and in-hive monitoring, Nectar provides live to-the-minute updates on conditions and the necessary data to keep the bees and their colonies in tip-top shape. Sweet!

Follow Nectar on Twitter at @nectarbuzz.

Lucas LaRochelle

Defining what it means to be multidisciplinary, Lucas LaRochelle’s boundless creativity and community-minded ingenuity embraces fashion, graphic design, art curation and LGBTQ+ documentation and visibility. Their award-winning Queering the Map project allows users to plot specific points on the world map and upload a memory from their lives, in effect “queering” and celebrating these experiences – in effect creating a moving archive of connectivity that’s growing by leaps and bounds.

Connect with Lucas at their webpage.

Yoshua Bengio

Yoshua Bengio is the type of scholar spoken of in hushed tones, his research findings and innovations changing the face of artificial intelligence and deep learning. Besides acting as head of the MILA (Montréal Institute for Learning Algorithms), co-director of the Learning in Machines & Brains project at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Canada Research Chair in Statistical Learning Algorithms and the scientific director of IVADO, Bengio’s Google Scholar citations number nearly 170,000 and if that doesn’t say “resident genius,” we don’t know what does.

Follow Bengio’s most recent discoveries and publications at MILA.

Alanis Obomsawin

Montréal’s walls are alive with mural-size tributes to some of the city’s heroes, ranging from poet and musician Leonard Cohen to author Mordecai Richler. Joining them in 2019 (with a moving collage by Atikawmekw artist Meky Ottawa at the corners of Lincoln and Atwater Avenues), is the 87-year-old Abenaki filmmaker and activist Alanis Obomsawin. Since joining the ranks of Canada’s National Film Board in 1967, Obomsawin’s landmark work has made her one of the most acclaimed Indigenous directors in the world. and her celebrated filmography has grown to over 50 films with no sign of slowing down.

Watch Obomsawin’s films at the NFB website.

Guy Rouleau

Director of the Neuro since 2013, Dr. Guy Rouleau has focused on collaboration and communication, bringing researchers and patients closer together in research and health. He’s contributed to the identification of over 20 disease-causing genes, and his research in neurological and psychiatric diseases have been cited over 30,000 times and form a bedrock of the Neruo’s continuing monumental findings.

Keep tabs on Guy Rouleau via the Neuro’s official Twitter.

Pierre Kwenders

Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital Kinshasa, Pierre Kwenders (born José Louis Modabi) re-located to Montréal as a teenager and his unique musical blend of styles, language and genres is influencing the city’s internationally-renowned music scene. Rapping and singing in French, English, Tshiluba and Lingala, Kwenders’ records are a true testament of Montréal’s multiculturalism – and his pop-up Moonshine secret location parties celebrating togetherness held every Saturday after the full moon have become a de rigeur Montréal mainstay.  With nominations for a Juno and the Polaris Music Prize already under his belt, the world is taking notice.

Follow Kwenders (including upcoming tour dates) on Twitter at @pierrekwenders and Moonshine events at @moonshine.mu.

Melissa-Ann Ledo

Melissa-Ann Ledo’s long-term focus has been to blend arts, LGBTQ+ and first nations identities with initiatives stretching across Canada. As the educational director of Mikw Chiyâm (commissioned by the Cree School Borad in 2015), she assists in bringing students into collaboration with Canadian Indigenous artists. She’s also involved with the non-profit N’we Jinan organization, who present educational and artistic programs in Métis, Inuit and First Nations communities coast to coast, and whose initiatives include a mobile recording studio and year-long cross-country festival events. And on a smaller scale, her Queerest Little Ledo Productions series includes the Rainbow Story Hour, featuring drag queens and LGBTQ+ artists reading books to children.

Follow Mikw Chiyâm, N’we Jinan on Twitter and Queerest Little Ledo on Facebook.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Since beginning his studies in piano at the age of five (switching his focus to conducting at 10), Yannick Nézet-Séguin has carved a notable path in classical music, presently holding the title as the Music Director of Montréal’s Orchestra Métropolitain, the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. A true virtuoso!

Follow Yannick on Twitter at @nezetseguin.

Doina Precup

Head of Google Deepmind’s Montréal office, associate dean of research at the faculty of science at McGill University, a senior fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, a member of MILA and the Canada research chair in machine learning, Doina Precup’s trailblazing work in reinforcement learning is focusing the abilities of AI on positive social impact. Precup’s activism in repairing the gender imbalance in AI also includes involvement in AI4good, focusing on increasing the number of women in AI research.

Read more about Doina at McGill.

Greg Dudek

Research director of the McGill Mobile Robotics Lab at the Centre for Intelligent Machines, Greg Dudek’s groundbreaking work in robotics is developing perception and recognition, leading closer to autonomous navigation. In bringing robotic possibilities to life previously only possible in the realms of sci-fi (given a love of model rocketry, it’s clear to sense a lifelong interest in these possibilities), Dudek’s imaginative work is changing the robotics playing field.

Stay up to date with Dudek at his blog.

Gilles Brassard

Considered the father of quantum computing, Gilles Brassard’s research has focused on combining quantum physics with computer science to increase data security and encryption. An Officer in the Order of Canada, he’s also the first Canadian elected as a Fellow of the International Association for Cryptologic Research and received the Wolf Prize in Physics in 2018.

Get to know Brassard at his University of Montréal webpage.

Guy Laliberté

Guy Lailiberté’s initial claim to fame came with the co-founding of the world-famous Cirque du Soleil, and his most recent project Lune Rouge is transforming Montréal’s urban landscape in the name of innovation and collaboration (check out their PY1 project for just one example), in ways sure to be emulated the world over. But a true international game changer, his One Drop Foundation aims to bring clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene to every corner of the planet, already active in 13 countries and serving over 1.4 million people. No less than Time Magazine named Laliberté one of the most influential people in the world – and we full-heartedly agree.

Follow Laliberté’s activities on Twitter at @py1_experience and @onedrop.

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