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Why Google’s newest AI team is setting up in Canada

Things are friendlier in the north.

The Prince Of Wales & Duchess Of Cornwall Visit Canada - Day 3
Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau
Chris Jackson / Getty

DeepMind, Google’s London-based artificial intelligence research branch, is launching a team at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Why there? Two reasons come to mind:

1. Canada has a history of AI research

DeepMind is launching a team at the university partly for proximity to the broader AI research community in Canada.

A number of leading AI researchers in Silicon Valley hail from Canada, where they plugged away at deep learning, a complex automated process of data analysis, during a period when that technology — now popular at major tech companies — was considered by the larger computer science community to be a dead end.

Plus, almost a dozen DeepMind staff came from the university, according to a blog post by DeepMind co-founder and CEO Demis Hassabis announcing the new lab. An Alberta PhD and a former post doc from the school played key roles in one of DeepMind’s hallmark accomplishments, getting its AlphaGo software to beat the human world champion at Chinese strategy game Go.

“Our hope is that this collaboration will help turbocharge Edmonton’s growth as a technology and research hub,” wrote Hassabis, “attracting even more world-class AI researchers to the region and helping to keep them there too.”

2. The Canadian government is friendlier to AI research than the U.S.

Political realities also make Canada a particularly attractive place for Google to expand its AI efforts.

The Canadian government has demonstrated a willingness to invest in artificial intelligence, committing about $100 million ($125 million in Canadian currency) in its 2017 budget to develop the AI industry in the country.

This is in contrast to the U.S., where President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget request includes drastic cuts to medical and scientific research, including an 11 percent or $776 million cut to the National Science Foundation.

Another contrast to the U.S. is in immigration policies. Canada doesn’t have an equivalent of the U.S. travel ban, which restricts travel for immigrants and refugees from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In the U.S., the ban makes it more difficult for tech and academic talent to enter the country.

Something interesting: One of the three researchers leading the team, Dr. Patrick M. Pilarski, is part of the university’s Department of Medicine. Google won’t comment on whether Pilarski’s medical background will play a role in his machine learning work for DeepMind, but Google is working on ways to integrate AI for health care as part of its cloud offering.

This article originally appeared on

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