Google DeepMind announces launch of AI Lab in collaboration with McGill University

It’s been a crazy month for AI news in Montreal. First Facebook announced that McGill University’s Joelle Pineau would head their first Canadian AI lab. Then Samsung announced they had been operating an AI lab since August. Last week Stradigi launched an AI applied research lab led by an astrophysicist.

Now Google’s DeepMind has opened their second international AI research lab in Montreal, just months after opening their first Canadian lab in Edmonton.

DeepMind, a British artificial intelligence company acquired by Google in 2014, has created a neural network that learns to play video games in a similar way that humans do. They’ve also discovered ways that a neural network may be able to access an external memory, resulting in a computer that mimics the short-term memory of the human brain. DeepMind made headlines in 2016 after its AlphaGo program beat a professional human Go player for the first time.

McGill University professor Doina Precup will head the lab while continuing to perform research at McGill and the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) at the Université de Montréal.

“Opening a second office is a natural next step for us in Canada, a country that is globally recognized as a leader in artificial intelligence research. We have always had strong links with the thriving research community in Canada and Montreal, where large companies, startups, incubators, and government come together with ground-breaking teams, such as those at the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) and McGill University,” DeepMind wrote in a statement.

The partnership with McGill University will provide funding to AI research and sponsorship of PhD students.

“The mission of DeepMind, solving intelligence, is perfectly aligned with my own research work and goals. I am really excited to join forces with DeepMind and to help build the new Montreal team. At the same time, I look forward to continue training the next generations of machine learning researchers at MILA and McGill, fostering diversity and inclusion in the research community, through AI projects for social good, and building further the Montreal AI ecosystem,” said Doina Precup.

“Prof. Precup’s groundbreaking exploration of how AI can navigate complexity and uncertainty is driving a transformation of unparalleled speed and magnitude. Montreal’s dynamic AI research ecosystem is one of the ways that Canada nurtures and encourages vital collaborations between our research universities and the private sector—collaborations that position Canadians at the forefront of a revolution that is reimagining our physical, digital and even biological worlds,” said Suzanne Fortier, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University.

Shibl Mourad, who will head up the engineering and program management teams at both Canadian labs, will be supporting Doina in the new undertaking.

In the post, DeepMind writes that they see open collaboration between company research labs and academia as central to the future of AI, which is the reason they plan to work closely with the broader community in Montreal. They pledge to collaborate on research and openly publish their research papers just as they currently do in their labs in London and Edmonton.

“Thanks to the presence of highly qualified researchers and specialised research centres, Quebec’s expertise in artificial intelligence is internationally renowned. The establishment of a DeepMind office in Montreal, in collaboration with McGill University, will undoubtedly contribute to strengthening this Quebec know-how. We therefore enthusiastically welcome the implementation of this initiative, which will further propel Quebec among the most innovative and dynamic artificial intelligence research clusters of the world,” said Dominique Anglade, Minister of Economy, Science and Innovation and Minister responsible for the Digital Strategy.

Photo from MIT Technology Review


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