CIFAR – This Is How Canada Funds Its AI Leadership


CIFAR named 29 researchers to the first cohort of Canada CIFAR Artificial Intelligence ChairsWilliam Falcon

Deep learning, the core technique driving AI advancements today, can trace its roots to research labs at the University of Toronto and the University of Montreal. Research developed by Geoffrey Hinton, Yoshua Bengio, and Yann Lecun (now at NYU), form the foundation of major deep learning approaches today.

Canada now hosts the largest AI ecosystem in the world. Major companies such as Google, Facebook, and Uber have set up core research labs which collaborate with various universities across Canada. The Canadian government through the Canadian Institute For Advanced Research (CIFAR), funds various efforts to assert Canada’s lead in AI. As an important pillar of the $125 Million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, CIFAR recently named 29 top AI researchers to the AI Chairs program. Through this program, Canada hopes to attract and retain more than 50 leading AI researchers across AI labs in Amii (Edmonton), Mila (Montreal) and the Vector Institute (Toronto).

Pan-Canadian AI Strategy

Canada’s AI strategy has four goals:

  1. Increase the number of outstanding artificial intelligence researchers and skilled graduates in Canada.
  2. Establish interconnected nodes of scientific excellence in Canada’s three major centers for artificial intelligence in Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto.
  3. Develop global thought leadership on the economic, ethical, policy and legal implications of advances in artificial intelligence.
  4. Support a national research community on artificial intelligence.

Leadership in Ethics

As deep learning techniques have matured, the global research community has begun to identify potential misuses in privacy, automated weapons, political system manipulation, and security. Examples such as weaponizing AI and China’s AI-driven surveillance, Canada’s researchers have led efforts to develop ethical frameworks to regulate applications of AI. Through initiatives such as The Montreal Declaration for a Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence, Canada “aims to generate public debate and to propose a progressive and inclusive orientation of AI development.”

Leadership In Research

In addition to the aforementioned research labs across Canada, CIFAR invested $135mm to fund the creation of the Vector Institute in Toronto. The Vector Institute brings together the “world’s top minds in machine learning and deep learning to collaborate on research, data and real-world problems.”

Leadership In Innovation

Canada is also home to over 200 AI startups. Programs such as NextAI, the Canadian AI-version of Y-Combinator, support burgeoning entrepreneurs through access to the world’s top researchers across computer vision, natural language processing, and reinforcement learning.

Leadership In Inclusion

While countries like the US continue to close borders and deny visas to top researchers from other countries, Canada has made significant efforts to make AI more inclusive. An initiative at MILA aims to bring promising research students from developing countries for 3-6 month internships to work with some of the top researchers in AI.

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