When Borealis AI first started in 2016 as the seed of a dream, machine learning was a phrase unfamiliar outside academia, artificial intelligence was considered a catchall term best suited to science fiction, and the entire Borealis team consisted of lab head Foteini Agrafioti, director of research partnerships, Eirene Seiradaki, and Gabriel Woo, RBC’s VP of Innovation.

At an old desk with uncomfortable chairs on the University of Toronto campus, the three built out their vision to create Canada’s first industrial R&D lab for fundamental and applied research in machine learning. They chose the name “Borealis” to represent Canada’s contribution as a northern light in AI research.

Two years later and Borealis AI, much like the field itself, has exploded. We’ve grown into a network of labs in four Canadian cities – Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, and Waterloo – with plans for further expansion. Our labs now boast 40-plus scientists, researchers, and engineers pursuing state-of-the-art in areas like computer vision, natural language processing, and adversarial networks. We’ve presented papers at major machine learning conferences like NIPS, ICML, and ICLR, and our experts speak on AI panels around the world.

Borealis AI is quickly becoming a world-class AI research centre buoyed by our focus on curiosity-driven research. Though we’re backed by the Royal Bank of Canada, we’re dedicated to solving ground-breaking problems in diverse fields – everything from fintech to healthcare to environmental science. We seek to ask the right questions that will ultimately help communities prosper.

On the heels of a fantastic week at NIPS, where we presented a paper and set a new t-shirt benchmark, the past few months have been a blur of activity. Since then, we’ve welcomed Prof. Matt Taylor of Washington State University, Prof. Marcus Brubaker of York University, and Prof. Pascal Poupart of the University of Waterloo as senior researchers. Prof. Jackie Cheung, a Natural Language Processing expert from McGill, will join us as academic advisor for our soon-to-open Montreal lab in Mile-Ex. We’ve also built rewarding partnerships with top academic institutions such as MILA (Universite de Montreal), Vector (Toronto), and Amii (University of Alberta).

Last week, we debuted our new video interview series, The Northern Frontier, where each month we’ll conduct in-depth conversations with some of the academic leaders shaping AI research. Our goal is to separate the hard science from the hype and offer a unique perspective on today’s driving topics. Check out our first take with MIT’s Prof. Tamara Broderick, during which she discusses trade-offs in variational inference, the need for understanding the underlying assumptions in ML algorithms and models, and improving ease of use of this machinery for non-experts.

While we’re proud of how far we’ve come, we knew we were onto something special when TVO, a children’s television station in Canada, asked to film an episode of their upcoming series, When I Grow Up, at the Borealis AI lab in Toronto. The series, which introduces different jobs to their young audience in an engaging and interactive way, wanted to showcase careers in STEM, and with our strong female leadership and research presence, we were the right fit for their AI segment.

From our origins at the back of a university building to a current suite of labs across the country, we’re proud to be a part of an ecosystem on the verge of world-changing, life-enhancing, limitless potential. Check back with us frequently for events, opportunities, conversations, and, of course, the science, which is the fulcrum propelling this new chapter in Canada’s presence on the world stage. We hope you’ll join us.

Guest post: Borealis AI.
Bio: Borealis AI, a RBC Institute for Research, is a curiosity-driven research centre dedicated to achieving state-of-the-art in machine learning.