Facebook Taps Montreal AI Experts, Injects $7 Million

Two of Canada’s top experts in artificial intelligence and machine learning are joining Facebook’s new Montreal-based AI lab.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down with Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer and chief AI scientist Yann LeCun to unveil details of the social media giant’s new Canadian outpost.

The Facebook AI Research lab—FAIR for short—will be led by Joelle Pineau. She’s the co-director of McGill University’s Reasoning and Learning Lab and an associate professor of computer science.

“I decided to join Facebook AI Research because of its desire to contribute to fundamental AI research, its commitment to hiring the best talent, and its open and collaborative approach to partnering with the research community,” said Pineau in a statement.

Many of Canada’s AI pioneers have been poached by U.S. tech giants to work for their companies while remaining in Canada. Others have moved south of the border, contributing to the often discussed brain-drain of Canadian tech talent. Pineau hopes FAIR will offer new opportunities for attracting and retaining the brightest AI talent in Canada.

Although she’s heading Facebook’s latest Canadian venture, Pineau will continue to work at the university where she conducts cutting-edge AI research.

The new lab will have a special focus on dialog systems and reinforcement learning—the latter an area of machine learning where Pineau has made a name for herself. Her previous research has focused on developing new algorithms that influence computers’ decision-making to better respond to human needs.

“Not only is Professor Joelle Pineau a highly respected member of the global AI community, she’s also a cornerstone of the rapidly growing research community in Montreal,” said Schroepfer in a statement. “A major part of our investment in AI is in attracting and retaining the brightest AI talent in the world, and Professor Joelle Pineau is one of the best.”

The AI lab is the fourth of its kind in the world followed by New York, Paris and Menlo Park. The FAIR Montreal team will eventually employ up to 30 researchers and will work out of the existing Facebook Montreal office.

Pineau will be joined by Pascal Vincent, an associate professor in University of Montreal’s department of computer science and operations research. Vincent co-founded the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) with AI pioneer Yoshua Bengio.

Canada has become a hotbed for AI with startups focused on the field cropping up across the country and ground-breaking research coming out of universities in Toronto and Montreal.

Facebook also announced today they’ll be arming the Canadian AI research community with $7 million in funding through partnerships with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), MILA, McGill University, and Université de Montréal.

The company said the capital will go towards students, a new Facebook-CIFAR AI Research Chair, and high performance computing capability for MILA+. Facebook is also planning to sponsor local events that will bring the world’s leading AI researchers to Montreal.

Bengio—who’s also the co-founder of Element AI—was one of the heavy hitters in AI to attend Facebook’s announcement today at McGill. He said in a statement that Facebook’s AI lab will help grow Montreal as an international hub for AI. In June, Element AI secured the largest Series A of any AI company in history: $102 million USD.

Facebook currently has more than 100 global AI researchers that are working to advance the field of machine intelligence and creating new technology to give people better ways to communicate.