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Uber is setting up a research hub in Toronto

Canada’s largest city is staking its claim as the epicentre of AI technology
An Uber supporter's pin is seen during a rally in front of city hall in Toronto May 6, 2015. The California-based ride-share company has applied for a taxi brokerage license in Toronto but is facing legal opposition. REUTERS/Chris Helgren - RTX1BU92

Toronto’s position as a world-class artificial intelligence hub has grown even more certain as companies from around the world have turned to the talent and expertise found in Canada’s largest city.

On Monday, Uber announced the creation of a new wing of their Advanced Technologies Group with a goal to push the needle on autonomous vehicle technology. They have hired University of Toronto professor and computer vision expert Raquel Urtason to lead their new team out of the MaRS Discovery District.


In addition, Uber will make a multi-year, $5 million financial commitment to the AI Vector Institute. All of this to say, if you want to find the next generation of machine learning and data science talent, Toronto is making the best case for itself.

“With support from the Ontario and federal governments, Toronto has emerged as an important hub of artificial intelligence research, which is critical to the future of transportation,” wrote Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO, in a blog post.

Toronto’s transformation into a tech hub is to a large extent, the product of strategic government policies.

Earlier this year, the federal government announced $125 million in support of a Pan Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy to turn around the brain-drain of Canadian AI experts to the U.S. It’s easy to see why. Many of the big AI names in Silicon Valley have participated in Toronto’s university system: Steve Irvine, who worked at Facebook, graduated from York University. Google’s Geoffrey Hinton and even Uber’s own Zoubin Gahramani both taught at University of Toronto.

And the government’s efforts do seem to be working. The Vector Institute has brought Hinton back to the fold in Canada. Irvine has also returned to create his own AI company, Integrate.AI. The latest news from Uber seems to indicate the trend is picking up steam.

But what does that mean for the growth of jobs in the region?

One way to look at it would be to explore a slice of geography: Uber will be moving into the MaRS Discovery District. MaRS is a suite of offices located just beside U of T’s downtown Toronto campus, home to many of Canada’s most innovative tech companies.


VICE Money spoke with Krista Jones, Head of Work and Learning at MaRS, about the impact of Uber’s entrance into the city.

“We’re really starting to see this magnetic pull that we have for top global tech companies and startups that actually want to locate here next to the machine learning researchers,” said Jones.

The emergence of Toronto as an epicenter of the industry is helped by the big players like the Vector Institute and now Uber joining the fray, but it’s the depth of smaller companies which are filling out and creating jobs in the market.

“What we’re really seeing is that it’s driving startups to MaRS,” Jones continued. “Since the Vector announcement, I think I saw eight new clients come in within a couple of weeks.”

It’s a bit too early to collect hard numbers on the number of jobs Uber’s Toronto investment will create, but interest in the area of research is only been a good thing for career opportunities, said Jones.

Uber isn’t entering Canada unscathed, with an autonomous car program-driven dust up where one of their executives is being accused of bringing corporate secrets from one of their biggest competitors—Alphabet’s Waymo. As early as next week, we could see an injunction made against the Uber’s development of self-driving car technology after a lengthy legal battle where ex-Google engineer Anthony Levandowski has been accused of stealing gigabytes of trade secrets.

Another uncertain element is how healthy Uber is as a company. While it’s financials are not publically disclosed because it is still a private company, it looks like Uber charted a loss of $2.8 billion last year. This comes at a time where it has also faced criticism for a hostile work environment, shady software practices and immature conduct by its chief executive, Travis Kalanick.

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