Montréal, world leader in Artificial Intelligence

published on March 12, 2020
Industry News and Leaders Trends and Technology What's New in Montréal

The history of sci-fi storytelling foretells of a future filled with robot assistants and communicative machines playing an indispensable part in modern society. Be it The Jetsons’ loving maid Rosie or the omniscient computers controlling the on-board functions of the spaceships on Star Trek, what once seemed a fantasy light years away is rapidly becoming reality. And in this realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Montréal has become a world leader in the development of the most cutting-edge research and technology.

AI is everywhere, playing a role in almost every industry. But before we get to Montréal’s groundbreaking role in AI development, here’s a quick glossary of terms we all need to know.

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): The developing capabilities of computers to achieve tasks previously requiring human involvement.
  • Machine Learning: Using algorithms and variables, Machine Learning allows computers to learn from linear examples without explicit programming.
  • Deep Learning: Using hierarchal web structures similar to the human brain, Deep Learning gives computers access to a non-linear style of learning, a concept initially discovered in part in Montréal.

A GLOBAL HUB OF AI RESEARCH AND EDUCATION

Montréal’s place at the forefront of international university cities was commemorated this year when the city was once again named the best student city in the Americas. Greater Montréal’s 11 universities house over 155,000 students, including the largest number of university researchers in Canada. And Canada supports their work: of the $900-million awarded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, Montréal has received a whopping 24%. McGill University and Université de Montréal are ranked amongst the world’s best learning institutions, and the city is also home to the Institute for Data Valorisation (IVADO) responsible for leaps and bounds in the study of AI and Big Data, itself the recipient of $93.5-million from the First Research fund in 2016.

UdeM’s Mila (the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms) composes the largest and most renowned group of deep learning researchers in the world. MILA’s director Yoshua Bengio is a pioneer in the study of Deep Learning, and his research has been cited several thousand times in international studies. More than 250 doctoral students and researchers in Montréal make up the world’s largest academic concentration, developing a broad range of AI-related topics from language processing, reinforcement learning and computer vision.

But the movement doesn’t stop there. Several grassroots organizations including MTL Data, MTL Machine Learning and Data Driven MTL all operate in the city, alongside 125 Meetup groups with over 45,000 members connected to startups and independent initiatives.

HOME TO HEAVY HITTERS IN AI DEVELOPMENT

The world’s heaviest hitters in cutting-edge technologies have also flocked to Montréal, both furthering existing operations and founding their own.

  • Google has invested heavily in the city’s research initiatives (including multi-million dollar donations to Mila) and launched its own Google Brain AI research lab in Montréal headed by deep learning specialist Hugo Larochelle. In February 2020, the information powerhouse also announced plans to open a 5-storey building in the city designed after Montréal iconography to house 1,000 employees.
  • The Microsoft Research Lab (formerly the ground-breaking deep learning startup Maluuba, previously acquired by Microsoft) is just part of their dedication to the city’s development as a centre-point in AI study, development and business. Microsoft has also invested heavily in Element AI, a Montréal-based incubator with $135-million in funding (who also counts former IBM CIO Linda Bernardi as part of the team). The technology giant has also made multi-million dollar donations to further AI research at UdeM and McGill.
  • IBM Research has opened a lab working directly with Mila, advancing AI development through academic collaboration.
  • Facebook’s FAIR research lab, headed by McGill’s noted computer researcher and Governor General’s Innovation Award-winner Joëlle Pineau, has played a vital part in the company’s innovative research.
  • DeepMind’s Montréal office – the company’s second in Canada – is headed by noted Associate Professor in the School of Computer Science at McGill, Doina Precup.
  • France’s industrial behemoth Thales’s AI research hub works closely with Mila and is paired with its Paris-based lab with a particular focus on aerospace and AI.
  • Borealis AI’s Montréal research centre is housed in a converted textile factory, and led under Simon Prince’s guiding hand.
  • Techstars Montréal AI Accelerator holds an annual open call for AI startups, giving innovators the chance to present their ideas in front of industry leaders and funders.
  • The Havas Group AI Innovation Centre’s Montréal office focuses on the role of AI in customer experience – using the city’s annual trend-setting C2 conference as a work study subject.
  • Huawei, in collaboration with Polytechnique Montréal, founded the NSERC/Huawei Industrial Research Chair in Future Wireless Technologies (AKA the Future Wireless Chair, or FuWiC), including more than $5-million in research investment (including $2.45-million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada).
  • Montréal’s Samsung AI Centre works directly with Seoul National University, strengthening the international flow of information and development.
  • Major Silicon Valley-founded startup investor Good AI Capital’s Montréal office is focusing on investing in early-stage AI companies, led by founding partner Milad Alucozai.
  • Ericsson’s Global Artificial Intelligence Accelerator (GAIA) is focusing on AI and automation via its Montréal hub.

And you won’t want to miss our list of some of the recent achievements by these groups and others in Montréal here.

A MEETING POINT FOR AI EXPERTS

Strengthening Montréal’s ties to the international AI-sector, the city has also hosted major convention events bringing the world’s leaders in research and development to award-winning venues like the Palais de congrès de Montréal, as well as having been named the official host city for World Summit AI for 2019-2021. PLEASE NOTE: Due to COVID-19 precautionary measures, World Summit AI 2020 has moved to an online-only format. See website for further details.

In 2017, the Forum on the Socially Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence gathered specialists focused on the ethical development of AI from around the world, and included the initial drafting of the Montréal Declaration on the Ethical Development of AI.

And looking ahead, the International joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence Organization (IJCAI) has also named Montréal the host city for it’s 2021 convention, following successful events in Melbourne, Beijing, New York and Barcelona. More than 3,000 experts in the fields of AI, machine learning, and deep learning will gather in the Palais de congrès to meet and exchange in what’s sure to be a remarkable event.

Read this next: Montréal named the best student city in the Americas for the fourth year in a row!

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