By Kevin Peesker, President, Microsoft Canada
Artificial Intelligence is technology that can perceive, learn and reason and extend the capabilities of people and organizations in ways there were never previously possible. It has the power to save lives, make the world more accessible for everyone and create a more sustainable future – but these advancements can only be realized if we unite together as a community and drive for change.
Today, we are proud to announce our partnership with the University of Waterloo’s Artificial Intelligence Institute (Waterloo.ai) as we come together to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. Waterloo.ai is a joint-venture of the University’s faculties of Engineering and Mathematics and also includes researchers from Arts, Applied Health Sciences, Environment and Science – because the leaders at Waterloo know that AI is bigger than Computer Science; it has the potential to impact every industry and solve many of the world’s biggest challenges.
The University of Waterloo has an outstanding reputation for ground-breaking innovation, and we are excited to partner with them, not only to provide leading Microsoft Azure technology but to provide funding and expertise for the important work of leveraging AI for social good.
The Waterloo AI research grants supported by Microsoft include leveraging massive computational power and machine learning capabilities to find new ways to improve emotion discovery for autistic individuals, climate change projections, fall detection for the elderly and wildfire management and disaster response – to name a few.
“The greatest challenges facing society today cannot be solved without strong partnerships across industry and academia that bring together our world-renowned researchers with leading technology and expertise,” said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Waterloo. “Artificial intelligence is going to change the world and we couldn’t imagine a better partner than Microsoft as we produce the solutions that will actively benefit humankind.”
At Microsoft we believe that AI is the defining technology of our time and this partnership is part of our commitment to accelerate the growth of AI in Canada, build Canada’s future AI workforce and create a more sustainable world. Given the potential impact that AI can have on economic growth and society at large, industry and academia must partner to develop strong IT talent, drive AI innovation and adoption and tackle the toughest challenges facing society today.
Artificial intelligence is a growing driver of Canada’s economy. In 2018, $548 million in venture capital was invested in Canadian AI companies, an increase of approximately 50% from 2017. Canadian job opportunities in the field of AI grew by nearly 500% between June 2015 and June 2017, and this number will only continue to rise.
Today’s announcement is part of Microsoft’s broader AI for Good initiative, an investment of $115 million over five years which provides funding, technology and expertise to individuals, non-profits, academic institutions and organizations so they can tackle some of society’s big challenges. This effort includes aiding in humanitarian efforts through AI for Humanitarian Action, improving accessibility through AI for Accessibility and addressing environmental challenges with $50 million specifically allocated to AI for Earth initiatives, awarding grants to support projects that use artificial intelligence to build a sustainable future. Canadian research teams from across Canada are undertaking a number of AI for Good projects ranking second of all countries globally in the number of grantees.
AI is not just the future of technology, it is the future solution for humanitarian, health and sustainability issues, and while we believe that AI will help solve big societal problems, we must also look to this future with a critical eye. We recognize there will be challenges as well as opportunities. A big part of why we chose to partner with Waterloo AI is because they believe that it is a shared responsibility, and that in order for AI to be successful, we must address the need for strong ethical principles, the evolution of laws and training for new skills. This must all come together if we’re going to make the most of AI.
The time to act in AI and machine learning is today. Organizations have masses of data, machine learning is being made more and more accessible every day and cloud-computing is maturing.
These are the building blocks that make the power of AI possible. With the incredible research minds at organizations like Waterloo AI, we are at the tip of the iceberg as to what’s possible and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
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