Canadian government, businesses back $150 million artificial intelligence institute

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canadian and Ontario governments plan to team up with a group of businesses to invest about C$200 million ($150 million) to fund an artificial intelligence institute at the University of Toronto, project organizers said on Tuesday.

Artificial intelligence, widely known as AI, has been touted as an emerging technology with potential to transform industries from healthcare and manufacturing to financial services. Those hopes have attracted Silicon Valley companies like Alphabet Inc's GOOGL.O Google and Facebook FB.O, as well as banks and manufacturers to invest in AI research.

The center, to be known as the Vector Institute, will train large numbers of masters, doctoral and postdoctoral AI scientists who are needed by Canadian industry, said Ed Clark, who will head the institute.

It will also support research projects with potential to move from the laboratory to commercial success, Clark, a former chief executive of Toronto-Dominion Bank TD.TO, told Reuters in an interview ahead of a government announcement this week about the new center.

“Clearly, the giants in Silicon Valley are going to be major players in this. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t find things and areas where we end up being best in the class,” said Clark, now a business adviser to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Clark serves on the board of directors of Thomson Reuters TRI.TO, the parent of Reuters News.

A majority of the financial commitment will come from the federal and Ontario governments, organizers said. They did not specify when the institute would begin operation.

The federal government committed C$125 million to develop AI industry in its budget last week. A Toronto-based Google spokesman said the company had committed C$5 million to the Vector Institute.

Geoffrey Hinton, an AI scholar known for his work with neural networks, will be the institute’s chief scientific adviser.

“This initiative came from the industry. They all know they need to have lots of very skilled people. This is a very fast-moving field and you want the people to be educated by people doing basic research,” Hinton said.

He said that government support for AI research and training would encourage large corporations to expand their research labs to Canada.

Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Jim Finkle and Peter Cooney