Global Artificial Intelligence Leader Taps Into University of Alberta Brain Power

Edmonton’s rise as a global leader in artificial intelligence research was confirmed when one of the world’s top firms in the field chose Alberta’s capital as the home of its first international research lab.

England-based DeepMind – who already employs about a dozen University of Alberta alumni – knew exactly where to look when deciding to expand outside of its home country, and will work in partnership with the University of Alberta’s Computing Science and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation departments.

“This alignment of academic and practitioner-led research will drive a whole host of new scientific breakthroughs right here in Canada,” says Richard Sutton, one of three University of Alberta professors who will lead the DeepMind Alberta team.

DeepMind was formed in 2010 with the aim of developing computer programs that could solve complex problems without having the answers “taught” or programmed into the computer. The company’s work started in gaming, but the learnings were soon applied to solve environmental problems and health care. This progress gained the company attention, and DeepMind was purchased by Google in 2014.

“From the start of DeepMind I’ve always felt a kinship, like we held the same views of the challenges of AI and how to tackle them,” comments DeepMind Alberta’s Michael Bowling.

Under the leadership of Sutton, Bowling, and Patrick Pilarski, DeepMind Alberta will benefit from an established network of Edmonton’s top artificial intelligence professionals.

“We’re already known for making AI advances through gaming,” says Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer, dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta, referring to their decades-long track record in creating machines that can outplay humans. “Games are just the beginning. We use that knowledge in other applications,” he notes, pointing to Pilarski’s expertise in rehabilitation health.

Artificial intelligence is anticipated to greatly impact the way people live and work, and become a billion-dollar industry within the next 10 years. The full impact of artificial intelligence and machine learning developments is yet to be known, but they are part of a suite of technologies that was dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution by the World Economic Forum.

The presence of an industry leader like DeepMind Alberta in Edmonton is expected to improve the province’s stakes in a highly competitive global industry. “We have great students come through the U of A only to find jobs outside of Canada,” says Schaeffer. “By attracting new companies and having them create excellent jobs here, our graduates will be able to stay in town.”