Last week saw the Deep Learning Summit coming to Montreal for the first time. As Canada’s reputation as a leading hub for AI grows, we were shown not only from the interest in the event, but the calibre of attendees and speakers that this reputation has a strong foundation. As well as bringing together the three 'pioneers of AI' (Bengio, LeCun & Hinton) in an exclusive and debut panel discussion, there were interactive workshops, round table discussions, and presentations from global AI leaders. On the second day of the summit we brought together academics, venture capitalists and startups to share their views on the progress of AI in Montreal itself.

Who did we learn from?

Doina Precup, Associate Professor, University of McGill

Doina holds a Canada Research Chair, Tier I in Machine Learning at McGill, as well as currently co-directing the Reasoning and Learning Lab in the School of Computer Science. Doina is also Associate Dean, Research, for the Faculty of Science and Associate Scientific Director of the Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives CFREF-funded research program at McGill. Her research interests are in the area of AI & ML with emphasis on reinforcement learning, deep learning, time series analysis, and various applications of these methods. At the Summit, Doina also recorded for the RE•WORK Women in AI Podcast, where she spoke about her computer science education as a child, and the influence both her mother and grandmother had on her research as technology professionals themselves.

Samir Kumar, Managing Director, Microsoft Ventures

Samir provides technical leadership for the recently announced AI Fund and leading investments in startups innovating in core AI. He holds a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University, and at Microsoft Ventures he also leads investment activities in other key frontier technology areas such as quantum computing and autonomous vehicles.

Kaheer Suleman, CTO, Maluuba

As co-founder & CTO of Maluuba, Kaheer is one of the driving forces behind the Canadian AI startup that’s teaching machines to think, reason and communicate with humans. Maluuba applies deep learning techniques to solve complex problems in language understanding. Kaheer’s expertise in building language understanding and conversational systems services as a guide for Maluuba’s research and development team to tackle challenges in Machine Comprehension, Dialogue Systems and move towards achieving Artificial General Intelligence. Kaheer completed his Bachelor degrees in Math and Computer Science at the University of Waterloo; his Masters in Math focused on Information Retrieval.

So, how did Canada get to where it is now with so many startups popping up, as well as big research labs finding homes?

Doina explained that over the last 10 years, the Canadian Government has been excellent funding research. Previously, deep learning was undervalued and neglected but the investment has played a crucial role in bringing fundamental research to Montreal.

The community here in Montreal is a really important hub. People who are here have social good AI at the forefront of their mind. If Montreal stays the leader of AI with social good then we have everything in place for a really healthy ecosystem.

Kaheer added that previously they had to chose between Toronto and Montreal as research hubs, but since the increase in investment in Montreal, it’s become a natural fit as ‘Toronto shrinks and Montreal grows'. Being given an environment where the government supports the growth of AI and the tech economy also means that 'the cost of living and quality of life are great, and there’s a huge diversity of talent’ - Samir.

There are however, challenges in working out of the AI capital, and for Maluuba the increase in competition has been noticeable especially over the past 6 months, and for Microsoft Ventures, the talent pool to invest in is shrinking. Additionally, improvements can still be made to the ecosystem to ensure that Montreal stays ahead of the game, and Doina shared her thoughts on the structure of McGill making note that more professors are needed, as well as the encouragement of students from overseas to enrol at universities in Montreal.

On the other hand, for startups and businesses keen to grow, Samir stressed the importance in Canadian companies setting up their labs and reinvesting in AI. Of course there are other cities with the same aspirations, so how realistic is it to say that Montreal will stay at the forefront as a famous hub? As Kaheer says, there’s a really healthy ecosystem of gathered research and business and financial support, but people need to keep investing and working for certain longevity.

The RE•WORK calendar of events is full for 2018 with some really exciting speakers confirmed from the likes of Google Brain, DeepMind, Facebook, LinkedIn, Netflix, MiT and so many more. Register for the Deep Learning Summit Series in San Francisco now to save with Early Bird and Super Early Bird passes. Early Bird discount ends this Friday October 20.

This article's header image was created for and originally published on CloudRaker in their article 'Montreal is Leading the AI World Takeover'.