McGill researcher Dr. Joelle Pineau to head new Facebook AI lab in Montreal

At a private gathering in the McGill Faculty Club this morning, various members of the press, academics from the university, and representatives from all levels of the government waited in anticipation of a major announcement from Facebook.

We were there to hear the big reveal that Facebook’s fourth Artificial Intelligence Research Lab (FAIR), and first research and development investment in Canada, will set up in Montreal.

Dr. Joelle Pineau, from the school of Computer Science and co-director of McGill’s Reasoning & Learning Lab, will head the new Montreal AI lab while maintaining her academic position at the university.

“Professor Pineau’s cutting-edge research is an integral component of Montreal’s strong AI research ecosystem,” said Suzanne Fortier, McGill’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “Her lab is developing algorithms designed to assist people with mobility impairments.”

In addition to the founding of the new FAIR lab, Facebook will invest over $7 million into the broader Montreal AI community in the coming years, including Dr. Yoshua Bengio’s research lab the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA). The tech giant was attracted to Montreal because of its increasing reputation in the field in AI due to the large pool of talent present in the city, both at the student and faculty level.

“Montreal already has an existing fantastic academic AI community, a growing number of startups, and promising government policies to encourage AI research,” said Yann LeCun, Chief AI Scientist at Facebook. “We are excited to become part of this larger community, and we look forward to engaging with the entire ecosystem and helping it continue to thrive.”

Dr. Pineau’s research focuses on developing new models and algorithms for planning and learning in complex partially-observable domains. She also works on applying these algorithms to complex problems in robotics, health care, games and conversational agents.

“For many years, I have seen a steady stream of talented AI researchers with masters and PhDs from our universities move to the US to find the best research jobs. They will now have an opportunity to do this right here in Montreal. The Montreal FAIR Lab will initially launch with ten researchers, with the aim of scaling up to more than 30 researchers in the coming year.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave a speech extolling the importance of the news, as well as Mayor Denis Coderre and Science Minister Kirsty Duncan.

It seems like Montreal’s reputation as an international AI hub is just getting started.

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