Canada has established a reputation as an artificial intelligence powerhouse: excelling in research and development, and the home of the ‘godfathers’ of modern AI in deep learning pioneers Geoffrey Hinton, Richard Sutton and Yoshua Bengio.
The country has come under scrutiny recently over concerns that it could be left behind in the ‘AI arms race’ as global multinationals step up their game to commercialize and leverage their technologies. Yet these concerns also give way to new opportunities for diverse talent to come in and develop creative, novel solutions to meet these challenges.
Canada’s AI ecosystem is unique, exciting and innovative. It combines exceptional research and education with a high quality of life and, with fast-track immigration schemes like the Global Skills Strategy, it is often a go-to destination for international AI talent and businesses.
At Reflection AI, we’ve been speaking to researchers, business leaders and government organisations across Canada to better understand the AI landscape and support companies and talent communities in finding the places and people that are right for them.
In our Why Canada AI? series, we explore some of our favourite Canadian cities and share the highlights and opportunities for businesses and talent working in artificial intelligence. First up is Montreal. With its pioneering AI research and education programmes, international business ecosystem and excellent living standards, we think Montreal is an ideal destination for those wanting to work at the forefront of AI – and have some great fun and food while doing it.
The city of Montreal sits in the French-speaking province of Quebec; a vibrant mixture of languages, colonial and contemporary architecture, a growing foodie destination, and consistently ranked highly for quality of life.
It’s fair to say the city’s technology scene is flourishing, with a wealth of leading research institutions, innovative startups, world-renowned accelerators, record-breaking investment and an explosion of AI leaders and talent.
Montreal’s unique interconnected and collaborative ecosystem means it stays competitive and has an international focus, with talent and tech giants from around the world heading to the city to make it their home.
Research and Innovation
Montreal is home to 11 higher education institutions, including world-leading McGill University and Université de Montréal, giving way to a rich network of AI talent, research and entrepreneurship.
The current AI talent pool consists of more than 300 researchers in fields related to artificial intelligence, 93,000 AI-related specialists employed in Greater Montreal and 11,000 students enrolled in AI and data-related programs. This, of course, has attracted outstanding AI talent, and major international companies have set up AI labs in the city in the last couple of years, including Google, (Google Brain), DeepMind, IBM, Samsung, Facebook and Microsoft (Maluuba).
Perhaps the most important feature of Montreal’s AI landscape is its focus on integrating research and innovation with entrepreneurship. Universities are working in partnership with big tech companies, AI labs and over 120 startups to significantly advance the development and commercialization of AI technologies.
With over 30 leading accelerators and incubators like TechStars, Next AI and CenTech committed to advancing Montreal’s flourishing AI startup ecosystem, the city is well on its way to becoming one of the top startup destinations in the world.
At the centre of much of this work, sits a rapidly growing technological hotspot. Montreal has seen its old garment district be transformed into an AI hub, with a 90,000 square foot facility opening on the cool and charismatic St-Urbain St. in the Marconi-Alexandra sector, the area now often referred to as ‘Mile-Ex’.
The Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) just last month announced the opening of their AI lab there, and they are joined by, among others, Borealis AI (Royal Bank of Canada’s AI lab), the Institute for Data Valorization (IVADO) and Element AI. It would be difficult to discuss technological innovation in Montreal without mention of MILA and Element AI, and their Montreal-based founder Yoshua Bengio; one of the original deep learning and neural network pioneers.
Element AI raised a momentous $137.5 million in its Series A funding round, more than any other AI company in history, and has recently announced plans to launch their first product to improve cybersecurity in partnership with National Bank of Canada. MILA in contrast, while working closely with industry, will focus on fundamental research and commercialization.
Bengio is only one example of a leading professor heading up an AI enterprise in Montreal. Joelle Pineau and Doina Precup, Co-directors of the Reasoning and Learning lab at McGill University are head of Montreal’s Facebook Research and DeepMind AI labs respectively.
It is this combination of talent, research and entrepreneurship that really sets Montreal apart and helps to establish a critical mass of researchers in AI and deep learning that is, in turn, fostering global collaborations. An exciting time to be part of the Montreal AI movement.
As testament to its success, Montreal has received significant federal, local and foreign investment to advance its AI ecosystem.
This includes $93.5M from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund 2016, $100M over 5 years for the creation of a Québec AI cluster and $40M federal funding for the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. Montreal was also selected to headquarter SCALE.AI, the only federal supercluster in AI as part of the $950 million Canadian Innovation Supercluster Initiative.
International companies have also secured significant funding to set up AI offices and labs in Montreal; most recently QuantumBlack (McKinsey), Denso, WinningMinds and BIOS, securing Montreal as a go-to destination for AI innovation.
The total Venture Capital investment in Montreal in 2017 was US$800 million and US$399 million in the first quarter of 2018 alone. It’s no surprise then that artificial intelligence giants are heading to Montreal.
Quality of Life
Montreal was recently ranked as the fourth best city for quality of life in North America, and considered 2nd best city in the world for millennials, based on factors such as business, housing, affordability, recreation, openness and equality.
Greater Montreal also has one of the most affordable rental markets in North America and offers a much higher purchasing power to single-salary families than other major American and European cities. This is thanks largely to generous family allowances, low private medical insurance costs and very affordable child care. Safety, living conditions and the accessibility and quality of public services like health and education also rank highly. We have included resources below with more information.
People from all over the world feel welcome in Montreal, as the most bilingual (mainly English and French) and trilingual metropolitan area in Canada. In fact, more than 100 languages are spoken there – a key advantage for doing business with foreign markets and attracting international talent. There is also a common misconception that you need to be a French speaker to be welcome in Montreal, but 2.5 million residents speak English (9% more than in Vancouver). A truly international city.
Why Montreal AI?
The artificial intelligence ecosystem in Montreal is innovative and exciting, and the city is already leading on some of the best AI research, collaborations and products in the world. This is only going to grow. It is a globally connected city, but with the advantages and feel of a local community. The question really should be: Why not Montreal AI?
Thank you to Montreal International for providing much of the information and the resources included here. Please get in touch if you would like to know more or visit www.montrealinternational.com