The Student Innovation Centre in the Faculty of Science. Contributing to a program at the centre is just one of the ways AltaML is investing in the future of AI and machine learning at the University of Alberta. Photo credit: John Ulan
An Alberta-based machine learning (ML) company is the latest in a series of businesses investing in the future of AI/ML, starting with the next generation of students in the University of Alberta’s Department of Computing Science.
AltaML is focused on building applications powered by applied machine learning to drive innovation in industry. Co-founded by UAlberta alumni Cory and Nicole Janssen, AltaML will contribute $1.35 million to support a number of activities within the Faculty of Science. Most significantly, this includes funding for the AltaML Professorship in Natural Language Processing (NLP) for the next five years and for both research and teaching initiatives in areas related to NLP. The funding support will provide students and researchers the opportunity to further shape the future of industry and society. AltaML will also contribute to a program at the new Student Innovation Centre.
“Entrepreneurs and industry alike have a massive opportunity because of the world-class talent at UAlberta. These professors are the draw to bring the best and brightest from around the world to Edmonton,” said Cory Janssen, AltaML’s CEO. “The spirit of this agreement is to create additional opportunities for research collaboration through industry involvement. We believe the end result will be real commercial enterprises built on applied AI that will keep jobs—and thus graduates—here in Alberta.”
Prior to co-founding AltaML, Janssen co-founded the investor education website Investopedia.com, growing it to one of the web’s largest financial sites before selling the company to Forbes Media.
AltaML works with industry partners to leverage the strength of AI/ML, widely regarded as critical for today’s and future businesses to not only survive but also thrive as our information society continues to build a deluge of data.
Natural language processing, a subset of artificial intelligence that explores interactions between computers and human languages, is viewed as a powerful way to turn that mass of data into knowledge, furthering the innovation of all industries and contributing to continued economic diversification in Alberta and Canada.
The funding support is a most welcome gift for the Department of Computing Science, said department chair Mario Nascimento, noting that the department is bursting at the seams not only with students who want to study at UAlberta to catch the AI craze, but also with requests from businesses to work with the department’s renowned researchers, which, for decades, has been seen as the brain trust of the resurgence of the interest in artificial intelligence. Nascimento will join the AltaML board as part of the relationship.
“An AI-enabled workforce is in high demand,” said Nascimento. “It’s very refreshing to work with companies like AltaML, who sees the opportunity beyond immediate hiring to solve today’s problems and invests in helping train those who will be the next hires for yet unknown problems for AltaML and the rest of the Albertan and Canadian entrepreneurial community.”
The University of Alberta’s Department of Computing Science—the first in Canada—is consistently ranked in the top three in the world for artificial intelligence and machine learning, according to csrankings.org. With nearly 50 researchers, 200 graduate students, and 1000 undergraduates, the department punches well above its weight in the world, regularly taking top honours on the global stage at AI conferences.
“It is great to see global companies move into Edmonton because of the prestige of AI/ML at UAlberta,” said Janssen. “But while we have an amazing foundation, we aren’t moving fast enough compared to the rest of the world. We hope that in a small way, this investment can be part of the solution to create a more vibrant AI/ML ecosystem where we excel at commercialization. Diversification is not about turning our backs on traditional industries, but rather using this emerging technology to create sustainable competitive advantages globally.”