Artificial intelligence hub to connect small business to academics and high tech

Federal funding supports AI-Hub, an open-source centre to help grow and diversify the economy

Richard Cairney - 15 November 2018

(Edmonton) A new artificial intelligence and supercomputing hub at the University of Alberta is going to help small and medium-sized businesses take advantage of new technology and computing expertise, thanks to a new open-source facility in the Faculty of Engineering.

Supported with $2.5 million in funding from the federal government, financial contributions from the Faculty of Engineering, and support from industry, the Artificial Intelligence-Supercomputing Hub for Academic and Industry Collaboration (AI-Hub) will be equipped with high performance computers capable of processing vast amounts of raw data in hours instead of days.

The AI-Hub will dramatically accelerate the development and commercialization of products and technologies as an open-access facility where academics, students, and industry can use a supercomputer network to create new products and services.

Mehadi Sayed, president and CEO of CliniSys, an AI-Hub industry partner, says having access to new technology will give small and medium- sized companies a big boost.

CliniSys, for example, uses machine learning and artificial intelligence in data analysis to find patterns and do predictive modelling. Specializing in health, the company has worked with health regions to help determine, for example, why some people are re-admitted to a hospital soon after being discharged.

"This will help us combine data and find insights and patterns to help make better decisions for treatments and medical interventions," he said, adding that the AI-Hub is "like a lifeline for innovators" that links the university to local industry and helps educate a new generation of computer engineers who will support and grow the economy.

The funding was announced by the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Natural Resources and Member of Parliament for Edmonton Mill Woods, on behalf of the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada.

"The AI-Hub will help Canada and Canadian businesses compete in the global innovation race to bring new technologies and products to market and bolster our economy. The Government of Canada is proud to support the University of Alberta in its efforts to help establish Alberta as a leader in the artificial intelligence sector," said Sohi, who added that the global economic impact of artificial intelligence is over $15 trillion (USD).

AI-Hub will attract and retain talent and provide training in AI for western Canadian companies. The project is expected to assist 40 small- and medium-sized enterprises, train 100 highly qualified personnel, and result in $15 million in increased business revenues and productivity gains.

Edmond Lou, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering who helped lead the project, says the AI-Hub will have a significant impact.

"We expect hundreds of students will have opportunities to use and access this supercomputer facility for their projects, or through Co-op placements, internships, or to be hired by companies working on AI and machine learning," he said. "Faculty members are expected to use this facility to enhance and accelerate AI applied industrial research. Small and medium enterprise and emerging industry innovators can develop and test their AI products and solutions faster. More AI startup firms will establish which means creating more jobs in Western Canada. And we expect within three years that the number of private partnerships will double."

Ivan Fair, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, cited the Faculty of Engineering's long history of educating "difference makers for the province of Alberta and Canada," its history of establishing results-driven relationships with industry and government, and "outstanding research in the Faculty of Science's Department of Computing Science and at the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute" as important influencers in establishing the AI-Hub.

In thanking the federal government for its support, Fair said: "This is a partnership from which we fully expect tremendous things to emerge."

The AI-Hub will open in the Spring of 2019.