Supercluster cements global leadership in 5th Machine Age with ground-breaking protein production addressing global food insecurity

Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen), Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, on Feb. 17, announced funding for a multi-partner project, led by Aspire Food Group. Aspire Food Group is world-leading in revolutionizing food-grade protein production with state-of-the-art high-density cricket production in Ontario.

Aspire’s collaborators, TELUS Agriculture, A&L Canada Laboratories Inc., Swiftlabs Inc., and DarwinAI, are contributing their high-performance technologies. The operations will employ industrial automation and robotics, IoT, and deep learning/analytics to farm crickets that have a similar protein quality to meat and an environmental footprint similar (or even better) than plants. The automated and modular technology can be scaled and utilized in any geography as well as across other industry sectors.

The demonstration project is a model of Industry 4.0. with first-time industrial IoT, sensors, ASRS and AI deployed in climate-controlled, indoor vertical agriculture with living organisms. The facility will highlight the sustainability of non-meat protein processing, establishing an insect protein supply chain in Canada featuring world-class technology and leading to job creation. The project will develop the world’s first fully automated food-grade, insect protein manufacturing site, positioning Canada as a leader in this space. DarwinAI, TELUS Agriculture, Swift Labs and A&L Canada Laboratories are leaders in their industries.

This project is the largest endeavour funded by NGen to date under the Canadian Government’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative.

This video provides an excellent overview of this world-leading leadership in the 5th Machine Age employed in ground-breaking protein food production which addresses global food security.

David Beasley, executive director of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize-winning World Food Programme (WFP), provides his insights on global food security in my 12-minute and hour non-profit IEEE chat with him.  Beasley notes that food security provides peace, stability; reduces migration, famine, and starvation. Beasley also speaks about the importance of the private sector taking ownership of issues in developing countries such as investing in the agricultural sector which highlights the importance of NGen, Aspire working with technology leaders providing new food sources.

We have moved from Industry 4.0 (inspired by WEF–World Economic Forum), Society 5.0 (Japan G20), Smart Humanity (KNVI, Royal Dutch IT Association) where digital transformation infuses all aspects of our lives–to the 5th Machine Age. AI is a key driver. AI adoption is expected to exceed 80 per cent by 2025 (WEF, Future of Jobs Report 2020). In the post-COVID world with the acceleration of digital transformation, I forecast reaching this as early as 2023. NGen providing a proof point with Aspire as a real-time example. Transformations expected in 10 years are happening now with 5G, precision biological innovations, robots, automation, big data, cloud computing, IoT, edge computing and Responsible AI (RAI ) all flourishing through the proliferation of next-generation manufacturing and networks.

Spotlight on Canadian leadership in AI foundational to the 5th Machine Age and NGen 

The CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research), founded in 1982, is fuelling AI research and innovation and placing Canada in the top ranks. In 2017, the Government of Canada appointed CIFAR to develop and lead, the world’s first national $125 million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. The three national AI institutes are Amii (Edmonton), Mila (Montreal), and Vector Institute (Toronto). Notable recent announcements are AI Chairs exceeding 100 and focus on ethics in AI.

CIFAR was instrumental to the development of AI deep learning providing resources and funding during the “AI Winter” when AI wasn’t demonstrating its promise for more than two decades. Key to this was the support of the 3 Godfathers of AI and deep learning, Prof. Hinton at the University of Toronto, Prof. Bengio at the University of Montreal, and Prof. Lecun at New York University who studied earlier with Hinton. I see Hinton as the collaboration hub, thus good to read his insights from the UoT announcement upon receiving the ACM AM Turing Award.

For many years, Canada hosted the top AI research conference, NIPS, now called NeurIPS, 2001-2010 / 2014-15 / 2018-20.  These three researchers met at the conference to share their ideas and were to receive the Nobel of computer science, the 2018 ACM Turing Award for their pioneering work. The breakthrough for broad acceptance of deep learning occurred in 2012, when Hinton led a team that entered the top image recognition competition, ImageNet, and disrupted AI innovation by significantly improving upon past performance–first to break 75 percent accuracy. Their work including contributing directly with the top technology companies became the foundation for companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and others deep investment in AI. For example, Lecun is chief AI scientist at Facebook; Hinton, contributed to Google Brain; Bengio is instrumental behind the success of the famous MILA (Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms) centre and work at the University of Montreal which has led in many areas such as the first work on responsible AI — AI for good.

Google brain, founded in 2011, is notable since it received widespread press for its ground-breaking AI innovations. I cover the work with my 2013 chat with Google, senior fellow, Jeff Dean followed by an IT World Canada article in 2016.

On Hinton, noted by the University of Toronto: “Canada’s early lead in deep learning also helped lay the foundation for initiatives like the Vector Institute of Artificial Intelligence, where Hinton is the chief scientific adviser. The centre will be moving into the first phase of U of T’s new Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre – a 750,000 square-foot innovation complex on College Street that’s being supported by a $100-million donation by Onex Corp. founder and CEO Gerald Schwartz and Indigo founder and CEO Heather Reisman.”

These world-leading, solution-focused AI applications are continuing with Alex Wong, Canadian Research Chair in AI and Medical Imaging, at the University of Waterloo. Canada is on the forefront with responsible leadership and innovation (RLI) and responsible AI (RAI). Pulling from Wong’s University of Waterloo profile; Wong has more than 550 publications; excellence awards, best paper awards including at the prestigious NIPS/NeurIPS, and patents. In AI, Prof. Wong focuses on operational artificial intelligence (co-inventor/inventor of, Generative Synthesis, evolutionary deep intelligence, Deep Bayesian Residual Transform, Discovery Radiomics, and random deep intelligence via deep-structured fully-connected graphical models).

Wong’s work in responsible AI Generative Synthesis led to the co-founding of DarwinAI. RAI includes AI transparency, providing explainability (how and why AI works) and trustworthiness (when and where it can be trusted and by how much). Leveraging Wong’s research, DarwinAI greatly simplifies AI adoption and execution in the enterprise, for any business use case across all industries (example sustainable food production with Aspire), with their AI tools providing optimization (improvements in multiples), explainability and trustworthiness assessment.

Viewpoints on Canada’s leadership with NGen

“This is exactly the type of project the Government of Canada envisioned supporting when the Superclusters Initiative was conceived,” said the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. “This project promotes Canada’s strength and competitiveness not only in advanced manufacturing, but in multiple industries through collaboration and the application of world class technologies. It is clear that Canadian businesses have the capabilities and the expertise to develop real-world solutions for global issues, and Canada’s Superclusters are helping them make these solutions a reality.”

Ali Ehsassi, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (Innovation and Industry), agreed.

“I am glad that the Superclusters Initiative is supporting the first-of-its-kind cricket protein production demonstration facility,” Ehsassi said. “The Government is proud to support Supercluster projects like this one, which helps create jobs, generates economic benefits and helps Canada’s advanced manufacturing capacity stand out in the world.”

Jayson Myers, CEO, NGen called it a “truly innovative and ground-breaking project.”

“At $16.8 million in NGen funding, this project represents a high mark for NGen,” he said. “This is a truly innovative and ground-breaking project and supports the objectives of NGen – developing transformative and applied world-class advanced manufacturing solutions while creating mutually beneficial partnerships that have will have a positive impact on Canadians and the economy.”

By tackling food insecurity with this unique opportunity, Lara Swift, CEO of Swift Labs, says not only can we showcase our world-class engineering team, but also put Canadian innovation on a global stage. “The partnership we have with Telus, to build these custom advanced-manufacturing sensors, is something that allows us to tackle real problems and use ‘tech for good.'”

“TELUS, and our recently-launched TELUS Agriculture division, are committed to leveraging our world-leading technology to improve food security across the globe. Feeding an ever-expanding population requires new, innovative ways of thinking about our food system from farm to fork, and we are proud to support Aspire’s mission to provide a stable source of alternative protein to the food value chain,” said Francois Gratton, EVP and group president, TELUS, and chair, TELUS Health and TELUS Agriculture. “With expertise in a diverse set of industries and technologies, TELUS is uniquely positioned to contribute to Aspire’s efforts on several fronts, including TELUS Ventures’ previously-announced investment in the project, a 5G-ready private network to connect TELUS IoT sensors that help increase food safety at the facility, and TELUS and TELUS Agriculture executives lending their business and industry expertise in an advisory capacity. Sustainably solving food security here in Canada, and across the globe, is a substantial task, and we are strengthened to have Aspire and NGen in on that effort.”

“We are extremely excited about applying our technology to such an innovative and forward-looking initiative,” said Sheldon Fernandez, CEO of DarwinAI. “Our unique ability to illuminate the ‘black box’ of Artificial Intelligence has enabled transformative AI in numerous contexts, and the opportunity to advance the important causes of food security and next-generation manufacturing is special indeed. We look forward to helping the Aspire Food Group implement their ambitious vision.”

“A&L is excited to collaborate on this project as it fully aligns with our mission of supporting sustainable development”, said Nevin McDougall, president and chief commercial Ooficer of A&L Canada Laboratories. “Our expertise resides in biological and agri-food systems so we have much to contribute and learn from this initiative.”

Profiles of key partners

NGen – Next Generation Manufacturing Canada

NGen is the industry-led not-for-profit organization that leads Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster. Its mandate is to help build world-leading advanced manufacturing capabilities in Canada for the benefit of Canadians. NGen works to strengthen collaboration among its membership of more than 3,100 manufacturers, technology companies, innovation centres, and researchers, and provides funding and business support to industry-led initiatives that aim to develop, apply, or scale-up transformative manufacturing solutions in Canada for commercialization in global markets.

Aspire Food Group

Aspire Food Group is a world leader in building the world’s lowest-cost, highest-density, and most ethical automated food-grade protein production systems. Aspire raises and processes crickets into all-natural, sustainable, superfood ingredients that are nutritionally on par with, or superior to, livestock, cell-cultured, and plant-based alternatives. Aspire targets markets that utilize crickets and their byproducts in human and pet nutrition, biomedicine and agrochemicals. Aspire Food Group is a Canadian company founded in 2013 in Montreal, with headquarters and commercial operations established in London, Ontario.


DarwinAI, the explainable AI company, enables enterprises to build AI they can trust. Based on years of distinguished scholarship at the University of Waterloo, the company’s patented explainability technology accelerates advanced deep learning design. DarwinAI’s solutions have been leveraged in a variety of enterprise contexts, including in advanced manufacturing and industrial automation. Within healthcare, DarwinAI’s technology resulted in the development of Covid-Net, an open source system to diagnose Covid-19 via chest x-rays. The company was named a cool vendor in Gartner’s October 2019 Cool Vendors in Enterprise AI Governance and Ethical Response report. CB Insights also selected DarwinAI for its AI 100, CB Insights’ annual list of the 100 most promising private AI companies in the world.

A&L Canada Laboratories

We are an innovative, research-driven technology company focused on sustainable development. Through leading expertise, modern laboratory facilities and strong customer focus, A&L serves a wide range of industries including Agriculture, Environmental, Food & Pharma — globally.

In agriculture, A&L provides comprehensive analytical services for soil, plant tissue, feed, fertilizer, and water. A&L’s services also include production recommendations, remote sensing and precision agriculture capabilities. A&L Biological Inc. is a subsidiary of A&L Canada Laboratories Inc. focused on research and development of biological compounds for use in agricultural production systems. The Environmental division provides organic and inorganic chemistry and general chemistry using state of the art technology and methodology. For Food & Pharma, A&L provides analytical services for plant tissue, water, media and finished product. A&L’s services also include disease diagnostics, genetic analysis, production recommendations, and Plant Monitoring Program. The company operates two analytical laboratories serving clients throughout Canada, the US and Internationally.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Stephen Ibaraki
Stephen Ibaraki
Stephen Ibaraki Chairman and Managing General Partner REDDS Capital, Founder chair outreach UN ITU AI for good Global Summit. Globally unique with Chairman, Founder, Board roles in: Business/finance, successful Entrepreneurship / startups / investments / VC, no.1 global Science orgs, UN innovation progs, top CEO Industry-orgs/think tanks, no.1 Summits (acronym BE-SUNIS). 300+ global engagements impacting $100+ Trillion in sustainable investments. For more information see Ibaraki's official CIPS Fellows profile: --- For Microsoft Awards profile: ----- For a personal profile see Ibaraki's LinkedIn profile:

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