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Why U.S. Companies Are Rushing To Canada For AI Talent

Andrew Zola
Andrew Zola on Linkedin

Several years before Google even started thinking about self-driving cars, Amazon was already building appliances that could talk. This was achieved with the help of a few Canadian researchers that were backed by the Canadian government and local universities.

This was the groundwork that has led to today’s boom in artificial intelligence (AI). Now more than ever, tech giants south of the border (in the U.S.) look up north for ideas to help advance the next generation of AI.

Historically, Silicon Valley has been known to poach Canada’s young and brightest AI scientists. It was easy to lure them with lucrative paydays and the lifestyle that was on offer in the Bay Area. Although most who were working for companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook have now departed, California continues to be a magnet for a growing number of Canadian AI startups.

But that’s all starting to change (although slowly) and years of investment in nurturing AI in Canada is finally starting to pay off. This spring Google announced that it’s setting up an AI lab in Toronto while helping fund a public-private partnership with the University of Toronto. This initiative will help develop and commercialize AI ideas and talent.

The Money Keeps Coming!

Furthermore, the not-for-profit Vector Institute (which is already affiliated with the University of Toronto) will also hire several new faculty and research scientists to work towards pure research and business-minded commercial activities.

This initiative is backed up by more than $150 million in corporate and public funding which is not exactly a common occurrence. Additionally, the province is also expected to spend $50 million and the federal government’s $125 million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy will put up about $40 million.

If that wasn’t enough, over 30 companies have already committed to more than $80 million over a period of ten years. With an unpredictable political climate in the U.S., it’s also a relief to see that the Canadian government and corporate players are serious about AI. This, in turn, will help turn the country into a hotbed for deep learning (DL).

So it’s no surprise that corporate giants from America also want a piece of the action. From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense that tech giants want to have a strong presence in the country to take advantage of the AI talent coming out of the region.

The Godfather of ML is already there

The British-born award-winning researcher from the University of Toronto, Geoffrey Hinton, is also in high demand, so American companies like Google are making it a point to be there to benefit from his genius.

In fact, Google wanted him as he has continued to deliver beyond expectation in everything related to machine learning (ML). But it’s not just Professor Hinton, other veteran researchers such as Yoshua Bengio and Richard Sutton are also continuing to make remarkable improvements in AI and ML.

As the culture in Canada is also a little different, there is more appetite for risk and willingness to accept failure when things just don’t work out. All these different elements can provide the right ingredients to possibly achieve greatness within this space.

While all this is positive for AI in Canada, there is still some poaching going on, so those hoping to make Canada the go-to country for everything AI have to find a way to keep the brightest minds within its borders.

Recently, University of Toronto associate professor and leading expert in driverless car technology, Raquel Urtasun was hired by Uber.

She certainly won’t be the last to head south, but as the industry grows, there will be better chances for Canada to hold on to their own while welcoming tech heavyweights to grow their presence within the country.