Artificial intelligence in Canada

Dean Jonathan Schaeffer pens a letter to the editor on the strength of artificial intelligence in Canada.

Jonathan Schaeffer - 13 January 2017

Regarding "AI is the future, and Canada must seize it," originally appearing in the Globe and Mail Report on Business on January 7, 2017.

Canada has a rich history of research into artificial intelligence (AI), going back over 40 years. Globally, we punch well above our weight. For example, in the areas of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the Computer Science Rankings site places the University of Alberta third, the University of Toronto seventh, and includes three other Canadian universities in the top 50. Two of machine learning areas that are generating the most excitement today, deep learning (Geoffrey Hinton) and reinforcement learning (Richard Sutton), were pioneered by Canadian academics.

The authors assert that "We must build a world-leading AI Institute in Toronto." But why ignore the existing epicentres of AI expertise that already exist across the country? The authors extol the virtues of Toronto to the exclusion of the excellence elsewhere in Canada and request a "very significant funding commitment" to build the AI Institute.

What about the recent federal government investment of $93-million directed to the Université de Montréal for machine learning research? As a Torontonian now working at the University of Alberta, I am acutely sensitive to the "Toronto-is-the-centre-of-the-world" syndrome. A Toronto-based AI Institute would be a way to solve a U of T problem that its "machine-learning researchers are spread across many departments in disparate buildings already at capacity." There is not much that is of national benefit in that.

Jonathan Schaeffer, Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Alberta; Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

(Originally appeared on January 13, 2017 in the Globe and Mail.)