Montréal Leads ‘Gold Rush’ in machine learning

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Montréal Leads ‘Gold Rush’ in machine learning

There are a few facts about Montréal that surprise people. John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote ‘Give Peace a Chance’ in the city during a 1969 week-long stay in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel; during Prohibition, Americans would hop over the border to enjoy a drink or two; and the UNESCO named Montréal a ‘city of design,’ part of its ‘Creative Cities’ network.

However, that creativity is now taking off in a new direction. You’ll have heard of Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is affecting every element of our lives. That ‘person’ replying to you on your call to your bank; the friendly ‘chat in a box’ as you discuss your home delivery needs; even the varying responses from the characters in your computer games; there’s a good chance that you’re experiencing AI in action.

But beneath the surface AI now plays a role in almost every industry, with AI organisations continuously developing capabilities of computers to achieve tasks previously requiring human involvement. There’s an equally good chance that there’s a company in Montréal behind it; the city is home to the highest concentration of researchers and students of ‘deep learning’ in the world, with almost 9,000 students in AI and related programs. 
Montréal has established itself as a centre of excellence for AI and ICT, with a particular focus on what is known as ‘machine learning,’ where new ‘skills’ are mastered without explicit programing by humans.

Montréal is also a global hub for AI research with many companies involved in this sector, such as Facebook’s AI Research (FAIR), Microsoft Research, Google Brain, DeepMind, Samsung Research and Thales Group. The Université de Montréal and McGill University have over 250 researchers and doctoral students in fields related to AI, the largest academic concentration in the world.

The city is also home to the Institute for Data Valorization (IVADO), a Québec-wide collaborative institute in the field of digital intelligence, dedicated to transforming new scientific discoveries into concrete applications and benefits for all of society; and MILA (Montréal Institute for Learning Algorithms), one of the world’s largest public deep learning labs with over 500 specialist researchers. Partnerships have been established with leading names such as Google Canada, while Intel Corporation has also announced a new strategic partnership with MILA, taking advantage of large-scale high-performance computing to bring faster development of medications and advances in treatments.

There’s also the International Centre of Expertise in Montréal for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (thankfully shortened to ICEMAI), one of just two International Centres of expertise of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI). ICEMAI is tasked with analysing measures to strengthen national capacity to commercialize and adopt AI-related technologies, as well as looking at how AI can be used to develop technological solutions to better respond to pandemics such as that of Covid-19.

Montréal-based Dr Yoshua Bengio is one of the foremost thinkers in the AI field within artificial intelligence (and co-author of ‘Deep Learning’, which Elon Musk called ‘the definitive textbook’ on the subject.) Dr Bengio has also been enormously influential in shaping Montréal to become a hotbed for AI; he co-founded Element AI in 2016, which the mission to “turn the world’s leading AI research into transformative business applications.”

Element AI is now part of ServiceNow while Dr Bengio heads MILA. He believes Montréal has emerged as an AI powerhouse due to the combination of great universities, great companies (including a number of Silicon Valley companies who have established offices in Montreal), and Canada’s ethos of cooperation among elite minds. He’s not alone; Microsoft recently acquired Maluuba, a Montréal-based start-up specialising in machine learning understanding.

Montréal is also a centre of film and television production, a sector recognised as a driver of technology. From cutting-edge special effects to advanced studio production, the city is one of the top choices for film makers. Ironically, despite being at the cutting edge of entertainment, its eclectic architecture makes Montréal a popular stand-in filming location for European locations. As films and videos games continue to cross-pollinate each other’s worlds, it’s worth noting that the video game industry has been booming in Montréal since Ubisoft opened their studio in 1995. Recently, the city has attracted world leading game developers and publishing studios such as EA, Eidos Interactive and Gameloft. Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment plan to open their first bespoke video games studio, with 300 technicians creating games from franchises such as ‘Batman.’

It’s testament to Destination Canada Business Events (DCBE) strategy of using events as the first spark of a business conversation which continues to pay dividends. DCBE identified six priority sectors where the country holds a competitive advantage, with Technology leading the pack. That approach has given Montréal a pipeline of world-class events including the 30th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI-21). The world’s leading and largest AI event will move from virtual status in 2021 to hybrid the following year, setting the global AI agenda with the brightest minds from tech giants, start-ups and research in attendance.

Another world-leading conference looking to return from virtual status in 2022, is Montréal’s World Summit AI. The event, attracting more than 4,000 international delegates, pays homage to the Canadian government’s appointment of Montréal as headquarters for Scale AI, Canada’s AI supply chain supercluster, dedicated to building the next-generation supply chain and boosting industry performance by leveraging AI technologies.

Of course, high tech companies need high tech venues for their events. Meeting planners looking for a suitable venue now have a solution in the new Palais Media Propulsion, high-tech video and podcast studios for creating compelling digital content that sit within the Palais des Congres. The Palais is the first convention centre in the world to permanently house immersive rooms, where planners can capitalise on the hybrid capabilities of the three new OASIS immersion studios spanning 2,200sqm of rental space and include 105 laser projectors, which the state-of-the-art equipment making 360° projections possible on walls and floors. The 119 surround sound speakers create an auditory experience to match.  The facilities are ideal for hybrid conferences or training events, for film shoots, or even for corporate events looking for something out of the ordinary. As a leader among North American cities for conventions, planners also have the benefit of a host of great speakers from every facet of the AI sector to make world-leading events even more compelling. Montréal’s Business Events team have also worked to deliver a ‘worry-free solution’ for events in a post-pandemic world, embracing much of the technology that is changing lives on a daily basis. Their boast is that Montréal is ‘a city that has it all, – and they’re waiting to prove it.

Montréal Facts
The Number one university research hub in Canada
First in the country for university research funding
11 university institutions
Over 200 000 students
Most university researchers in Canada
Two universities (of Canada’s six) ranking in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018 – McGill University and Université de Montréal.
91,000 qualified workers in the Technology sector across 5 000 facilities and almost 9 000 university students in AI and data related programmes

Canada’s tech leadership extends beyond Montréal and across the country. Canada has produced 15 Nobel Laureates in Physics, Chemistry and Medicine, and can lay claim to inventing – amongst other things – the alkaline battery, the pager, IMAX, the pacemaker, insulin, the electron microscope, peanut butter and the Wonderbra! It should therefore come as no surprise to know that the country is one of the global leaders in technology and innovation.

But there’s no resting on laurels; the spirit of creativity and innovation is alive and well across the country. Of course, being constantly acknowledged as one of the most beautiful and diverse places in the world to live helps attract the right people, but government at both Federal and Provincial level continue to support initiatives that foster innovation and creativity. According to research conducted by marketing agency BAV Group in association with The Wharton School, Canada came in an impressive sixth place in the league table for entrepreneurship. The nation was ranked as the second-best country for international organisations to have their corporate HQ. However, in April 2021 BAV and Wharton’s analysis of ‘Best Countries’ – based on a range of factors – finally gave Canada the top spot. So, whether you live to work, or work to live, this is the place for you.

While Canada has a strong heritage in industries built around its abundant natural resources, it’s the technology sector that continues to impress. The ICT industry in Canada includes more than 43,000 companies employing over 660,000 employees. ICT industries are the largest investors of research and development (R&D) in the Canadian private sector. In 2019, the sector held a 41.2% share of expenditures in Canada, totalling $7.5 billion.

Thanks to Canada’s depth of intellectual capital, organisations continue to look to Canadian cities as the ideal host destinations for their future conferences, congresses, and symposia. It’s a mixture maximised by the business events team within Destination Canada their multi-sectoral approach is based on the idea that a successful meeting in a beautiful country with aligned intellectual capital is just the catalyst to a conversation becoming a reality and creating events that leave legacies.

Tech leaders around the world are discovering how they can leverage local expertise when hosting business events in Canada. The Destination Canada business events team are your connection to Canadian centres of excellence in technology, providing inspiration, impartial insights and introductions. To find out more visit

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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