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Canada wants to be a leader in AI research while the US is poised to slash funding

It’s an uncertain time in Silicon Valley. Publicly funded and private technology ventures are tensing in anticipation of harsh budget cuts to research and H-1B visa restrictions. Just north of the border, there’s a much sunnier outlook, especially for those working on artificial intelligence.

The Canadian government, joined by more than two dozen private institutions such as Google and Air Canada, will invest more than $150 million to create an AI research center within the University of Toronto, named the Vector Institute. Geoffrey Hinton, perhaps Canada’s most famous AI researcher and co-author of the 1986 Nature paper that made modern deep learning possible, will serve as chief scientist for the center.

Canada will contribute $50 million over five years, part of the $125 million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy included in the country’s budget that passed last week. Big tech names like Google and Nvidia are each contributing $5 million per year, while the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (not Facebook itself) is committed to $20,000 annually.

Some of artificial intelligence’s biggest names, like Hinton and Yoshua Bengio, still teach courses in Canada while affiliated with major US tech companies, but others have flown the coop to the US and UK.

Nando de Freitas and Kevin Murphy left the University of British Columbia to work at what’s now Alphabet, researching for DeepMind and Google, respectively. Ruslan Salakhutdinov, once a University of Toronto professor, leads Apple’s AI research team while also teaching at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Yann LeCun, originally from France, did post-doctoral work at the University of Toronto with Hinton, and now leads Facebook AI Research.

“It’s certainly the case that there will be other researchers who will want to come back from the States—I’ve had inquiries from quite a number,” Hinton told the Toronto Star. “I think Trump might help there.”

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