A New AI Hub In Canada Is Welcoming the Scientists Trump Is Pushing Away
Flickr/paul bica

A New AI Hub In Canada Is Welcoming the Scientists Trump Is Pushing Away

The Vector Institute will focus on AI research and commercialization.
March 29, 2017, 6:25pm

Thanks to President Donald Trump's abhorrent stances on immigration and science, a new AI research hub in Canada stands to gain the brainpower that the US is now repelling.

It's not an exaggeration to say that artificial intelligence as we know it was largely developed in Canada. For years, a core group of computer scientists like Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun, and Yoshua Bengio worked in relative obscurity at Canadian universities, until US-based giants like Facebook and Google took notice and hired them.

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Now, Canada is committing $150 million to fund an AI research hub that will bring that ingenuity back home. The Toronto-based Vector Institute will serve as a research and commercialization hub for artificial intelligence tech, and has already convinced Hinton to move back to the city. But tech is global, unconstrained by nationality, and so Vector will also look for talent in the places targeted by US travel restrictions.

"We've seen increased interest because of the political situation"

"I've spoken to a few people while gauging interest in who we want to hire, asking why they're interested, and one of the things they've mentioned is the political climate in the US," said Richard Zemel, a computer scientist at the University of Toronto and Vector's director of research, in an interview. "That's to our benefit right now. It could change, but the long-term thing is they'll have the flexibility to both work on research and with companies."

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Hinton also suggested that Trump's intolerance will help Vector attract top global talent. Two members of his team are Iranian.

Since Trump's election, Canadian banks and startups have been predicting a "brain drain" of talent sucked northwards from the US, and are expected to benefit from an influx of skilled immigrants. Now, it seems like Vector is feeling some of those effects.

"We've seen increased interest because of the political situation, so I anticipate there could be some of that brain drain from the US," Zemel said.

The work that will go on at Vector will be diverse, Zemel said, covering everything from machine vision to self-driving cars, to ensuring that algorithms are fair and free of human prejudice. The institute will begin hiring research staff in the next month.

In Toronto, at least, computer science won't be limited by anything as petty as which country you were born in.

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