The next time you pull out your smartphone and ask Siri or Google for advice, or chat with a bot online, take pride in knowing that some of the theoretical foundation for that technology was brought to life here in Canada. Indeed, as far back as the early 1980s, key organizations such as the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research embarked on groundbreaking work in neural networks and machine learning. Academic pioneers such as Geoffrey Hinton (now a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and an advisor to Google, among others), the University of Montreal's Yoshua Bengio and the University of Alberta's Rich Sutton produced critical research that helped fuel Canada's rise to prominence as a global leader in artificial intelligence (AI). Stephen Piron, co-CEO of Dessa, praises the federal government's efforts at cutting immigration processing timelines for highly skilled foreign workers. Canada now houses three major AI clusters – in Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton – that form the backbone of the country's machine-learning ecosystem and support homegrown AI startups.
Drone helped capture a stunning view of ice across the North Atlantic. The close-up drone video was taken by Andre Beyzaei, the climate hobbyist. "Usually you see a bit of sea-ice along the coasts and if you happen to fly the drone far enough, you may capture some icebergs much further away," says Beyzaei. "It's counterintuitive to most people, because it means you can have an increase in local ice hazards because of changing climate in high Arctic," said David Barber, Lead Author and University of Manitoba climate change scientist. The footage captured across the North Atlantic recorded the mesmerizing view of accumulating sea ice over Brighton, Newfoundland, but according to researchers, also serves as stark reminder of the impact of climate change.
The first genuinely impressive AI assistant may well have a Canadian accent. Facebook announced today that it is tapping into Canada's impressive supply of artificial-intelligence talent and expertise by creating a major AI research center in Montreal. Several big recent advances in AI can be traced back to Canadian research labs, and Facebook is hoping that the new lab may help it take advantage of whatever comes next. The new center will focus, in particular, on an area of AI known as reinforcement learning (see "10 Breakthrough Technologies 2017: Reinforcement Learning"). The center will seek to apply this and other novel approaches to language, with the aim of producing more coherent and useful virtual assistants, says Yann LeCun, director of AI research at Facebook.
It all started at a small academic get-together in Whistler, British Columbia. The topic was speech recognition, and whether a new and unproven approach to machine intelligence--something called deep learning--could help computers more effectively identify the spoken word. Microsoft funded the mini-conference, held just before Christmas 2009, and two of its researchers invited the world's preeminent deep learning expert, the University of Toronto's Geoff Hinton, to give a speech. Hinton's idea was that machine learning models could work a lot like neurons in the human brain. He wanted to build "neural networks" that could gradually assemble an understanding of spoken words as more and more of them arrived.