Recently, a group of international journalists visited the Toronto Region to learn about our AI ecosystem and meet with some of the key players. I had the opportunity to join them and educate myself about the great things happening in the AI space in Toronto. Despite the constraints of squeezing the visit into a single day, the Toronto Region was able to curate an impressive agenda to highlight the reasons why AI is thriving here.
The journalists started off with an introduction to Toronto Global, the Toronto Region’s investment attraction agency that has taken up the challenge of attracting foreign companies, including AI businesses, to the region. Two recent wins for Toronto Global in the AI sector include Samsung Research, which just earlier this month launched its AI Centre in downtown Toronto, and online retailer Etsy, which also announced plans this month to setup a Machine Learning Centre of Excellence here.
Dan Silverman, the EVP of Investment Attraction at Toronto Global, gave the audience an overview of Toronto’s technology sector and spoke about the importance of the federal and provincial governments in building and growing the STEM talent pipeline locally. He spoke about the Toronto Region’s bid for Amazon’s HQ2 and how, instead of offering tax incentives, the Toronto Region, with support from our provincial and federal governments, offered Amazon a steady pipeline of technical talent. One of the promises of the Province of Ontario to businesses is to graduate 1,000 more AI Master’s students annually by 2022. This is further cemented by the commitment to increase the annual number of STEM graduates by 25 percent, bringing the total to 50,000 within five years.
After introductions, the first stop on the tour was a visit to Deep Genomics, a Toronto-based startup that is using AI to build a new of universe of life-saving genetic therapies. Deep Genomic’s CEO, Brendan Frey, a former student of Geoffrey Hinton, spoke about his experience studying neural networks at the University of Toronto and how he was involved in lobbying the government into investing in building the AI ecosystem in Canada.
In the afternoon, we headed to the Vector Institute, located directly across from the first international Uber self-driving research lab. The Vector Institute is based in MaRS, also known as the Discovery District, the world’s largest urban innovation hub that is home to a diverse set of not-for-profits, start-ups and corporations, including AirBnB, JLABS, Autodesk and Facebook. The Vector Institute recruits AI Master’s and PhD students from affiliated universities to work on the business problems of its corporate sponsors. One of the key purposes of the Vector Institute is to grow, attract and retain AI talent in the region as part of its larger objective to make Toronto a global hub for AI. Graduates in the AI field from Canadian and international universities now have the opportunity to work on interesting AI problems in Toronto rather than having to make their way to the Valley. The Vector Institute is sponsored by both government and private sector corporations. Founding partners include Google, NVIDIA, Uber, Shopify and Thomson Reuters. The Chief Scientist Officer at the Vector Institute is none other than Geoffrey Hinton, the Godfather of Deep Learning.
Last but not least, Jordan Jacobs and Tomi Poutanen, founders of artificial intelligence start-up Layer 6 AI, shared why they believe Toronto is the best place to build an AI company. Layer 6 AI works with enterprises who want to predict the needs of customers in real time: for example, a customer looking for a mortgage. They explained the reasoning behind Layer 6 AI being sold to TD, a Canadian bank, rather than to foreign investors: they wanted to remain a Canadian company and use this opportunity to support AI in Canada and make it a dominant AI player. Both Jordan and Tomi are also co-founders of the Vector Institute.
To learn more about the AI ecosystem in Toronto, come visit Toronto Global at the Canada Booth at the AI Summit on June 13/14. Toronto Global is a not-for-profit government agency that helps international companies expand their businesses to the Toronto Region.
— Salman Khan, Senior Advisor, Investment Attraction, Toronto Global. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.