The Smartest City in the World

By Brytan Mendes


It is fashionable at this time of year to leave Montreal for someplace warm – usually in the form of some Mexican or Caribbean locale – to hide from the snow. Yet Montreal has become arguably the hottest city on earth.

For decades, such topics as deep learning and machine learning remained unique to the labs of universities, collecting dust in the folds of journals and white papers. What allure and glimmer came of IBM’s Deep Blue and Watson, which shook the public perception of computers, has latched itself onto the corporate awareness, in what is quickly becoming the hottest asset for business in the current era.

In the past few months, large investments have made their way into the hands of academics and entrepreneurs across Montreal in an effort to draw scarce talent from market, as big commercial players angle for any advantage they can find in the hunt for top researchers, new ideas, and AI glory.

Google in particular has placed many stacks of chips on deep learning. Just this month, the company announced it is building an deep learning lab out of its Montreal office linked to the Google Brain team in Mountain View, California. For Google, the goal is to enhance the ability of its products, in order to deal with high-level abstraction that can be seen in such a statement as “How crazy is this start to the Habs’ season?!”  or “How sick would it be to go to Cabo?” Such crucial questions being asked of computer search engines and assistants are fueling fires across Downtown and beyond.

But Google, which for the past 10 years has invested $14 billion into Canada mostly in search of AI insight, is just the start. As the startup culture continues to infect the city, the gaze of other tech giants is certainly not far behind. The implications of this dynamic mean if you are interested in deep learning and computer intelligence, you would be foolish to leave this city as big Silicon Valley money and culture ventures north.

In case you were looking to get a head start and a foot in the game, much of this money and attention is focused around the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, or MILA – the product of a partnership between UdeM and, you guessed it, McGill – led by such professors as our own Doina Precup and Joelle Pineau, both of whom received Focused Research Awards from Google. For Prof. Yoshua Bengio, a professor at UdeM and the director of MILA, the work the lab has done so far to improve such fields as natural language perception, computer vision, and deep learning is just the start. MILA has begun to amas what can only be described as an army: to best understand the scale and scope of this lab, throw away your five or ten person research group. According to Shibl Mourad, the Head of Engineering at Google in Montreal, the University of Montreal and McGill together now count more than 150 researchers (including students) in deep learning, the greatest academic concentration in the world. The calling is loud and clear: cancel your plans for a VC hunting trip to Silicon Valley, because the empire is raising the future in Montreal.


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