Government, private sector throw financial support behind Toronto’s new AI research centre

Toronto’s push to become a global leader in artificial intelligence (AI) is finding support from all levels of government, academia and private businesses.

The University of Toronto’s newly unveiled Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence will be receiving $50 million in funding from the province of Ontario, in addition to $40-50 million over the next five years from the federal government and $80 million over 10 years from the private sector.

“We’re in a period of great transition in our economy with technology disrupting, challenging, and improving the way we live and work,” Premier Kathleen Wynne told the crowd at the official launch of Vector’s new headquarters in the MaRS Discovery District in downtown Toronto on Mar. 30. “When everything is changing as fast as it is, we have two options: follow or lead. With the launch of Vector, Ontario is choosing to lead the next great leap forward in technology, innovation and talent.”

The institute will share $125 million as promised for AI research in the 2017 federal budget released on Mar. 22 by finance minister Bill Morneau with similar research institutes in Montreal and Edmonton. The funds will be administered by the Canadian Institute for Advanced research (CIFAR).

“The 2017 budget was very much a part of a long-term plan dedicated to exploring how we can transform into a more innovative economy and ensuring that Canadians not only see the opportunities available, but also have the skills to be successful in such an economy,” Minister Morneau explained at the launch. “Our investment means we’re taking big bets on areas where Canada is already a leader and we know we can continue to be a world leader, which specifically includes AI and deep learning.”

Beyond government, there has also been a plethora of funding coming from the private sector. Shopify Inc., an Ottawa, Ont.-based e-commerce company, is one of nine platinum investors putting $5 million towards Vector.

“Everyone wants to invest in AI and machine learning right now and Canada finds itself in a serendipitous place to produce some of the most significant technological advances and thought leaders globally,” says David Lennie, senior vice president of data and analytics at Shopify. “Toronto can be, and already is in so many ways, a leader in AI. And with collaboration from industry, government, and academia, we’re incredibly excited.”

And while some may question the relationship between AI and e-commerce, Lennie says there are plenty of applications within the e-commerce sector for AI.

“I think AI has applications in every industry, and particularly industries that are very data-rich. E-commerce comes with a lot of data, so it’s actually a very good fit for AI and machine learning because this technology can help sift through it all much quicker than a human could,” he explains.

The investment is not just financial, however – Shopify will get a chance to collaborate on research and send some of its employees to work side by side with Vector researchers. Lennie also adds that Shopify is also eager to invest in the research institutes in Montreal and Edmonton.

“We want to connect our business to the best sources of innovative thinking, and that’s right now in Canada.”

Other platinum level investors include four of the five top banks in Canada – BMO Financial Group, RBC, Scotiabank, and TD Bank Group – as well as tech giant Google, mass media company Thomson Reuters, and Accenture, a global management consulting and professional services firm.

“We are excited to work with the Vector Institute on this unprecedented collaboration in Canada, to explore how business, government, academia and innovators can continue to master Ai – which increasingly is becoming the predominant way to create new business, economic and social value,” Bill Morris, senior managing director and Canada president of Accenture, in a Mar. 30 press release. “Accenture is focused on helping our Canadian corporate and government clients better understand how to apply AI to help reinvent business models, unlock the trapped value of data, and improve the way we live and work as a society.”

In total, 26 companies have invested in Vector Institute, including CIBC, Deloitte, EY, Georgian Partners, PwC Canada, Sun Life Financial, Telus, and, among others.

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Mandy Kovacs
Mandy Kovacs
Mandy is a lineup editor at CTV News. A former staffer at IT World Canada, she's now contributing as a part-time podcast host on Hashtag Trending. She is a Carleton University journalism graduate with extensive experience in the B2B market. When not writing about tech, you can find her active on Twitter following political news and sports, and preparing for her future as a cat lady.

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