Google’s UK-based research branch for artificial intelligence, acquired in 2014, has been on record explaining that a team will be launched in Canada at the University of Alberta. Three computer science professors will lead the group which also includes seven artificial intelligence veterans.
Many wonder why Canada was chosen for this team, rather than the United States, but answers are many. For one thing, many graduates of the University of Alberta are already involved with the DeepMind project. Also, Richard Sutton, one of the lead professors, was the firm’s very first advisor.
However, that’s not the only reason that Google chose to base the new office in the northern country. Another reason that must have been factored into the equation is the fact that the Canadian government is very friendly to the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) research, while the United States has not been. In fact, the Canadian government has committed nearly $100 million in its 2017 budget for developing AI in the country. With the Trump administration proposing cuts to scientific research, it only makes sense to go where the prospects are better.
On top of that, Canada is indeed known for large enterprises who establish AI research labs. Apple and Blackberry have autonomous driving facilities located in Ottawa, while Uber recently opened a self-driving car lab in Toronto, and those are only the most recent examples.
A final reason that Canada was chosen comes down to the recent U.S travel ban, which restricts travel for refugees and immigrants from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen. In Canada, without this restriction, talent can come from any country without having to worry about other logistics related to the travel ban.
Funding for Research
This arrangement with the University of Alberta includes continued funding for research from Deep Mind. Communications Director Aaron Brindle of Google Canada explains, “aim is to attract even more world-class talent to the region,” with the intent of contributing “to the growth of Edmonton as a technology and research hub.”
DeepMind co-founder and CEO Demis Hassabis also gives two cents on the decision, “Our hope is that this collaboration will help turbocharge Edmonton’s growth as a technology and research hub, attracting even more world-class AI researchers to the region and helping to keep them there too.”
All of the members of DeepMind Alberta share a focus on reinforcement learning, which attempts to copy the way humans learn to repeat and improve wanted outcomes will avoiding unwanted outcomes. Alberta alumni have also helped in the development of AlphaGo and Atari-playing AI systems.
Some wonder if the addition of Dr. Patrick M. Pilarski means that a tie to his medical background will have some impact on his machine learning work with DeepMind, but so far Google has not responded to these questions. But with Google working to integrate AI into healthcare, it will be interesting to watch and see what happens at DeepMind over the next few years.