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Google looks to Canada’s tech startup scene

Google looks to Canada’s tech startup scene

Posted by PanamericanWorld on October 31, 2016

Google says machine learning is destined to become the next major disruptive technology, and it believes Canadian innovation is going to play a crucial role in making that happen. So the tech giant is participating in NextAI, a new program started by the not-for-profit group NEXT Canada designed to specifically build up Canada’s artificial intelligence ecosystem. 

NextAI is the first of its kind that uses seed capital, mentorship and other sector-specific tools to help industry professionals and teams from Canadian and international universities to innovate in the AI space. Partners in the program come from academic, corporate, private and governmental backgrounds, with names including Google, Microsoft, IBM, EY, and TD Group.

“In the past we’ve had these waves of technological disruption, with the last two that were massive being social and mobile,” said Don Harrison, Google’s vice president of corporate development and head of Google for Entrepreneurs. “I genuinely believe machine learning techniques and artificial intelligence techniques that turn all of these experiences… into things that make people’s lives easier are really going to power another wave of evolution or disruption in technology.”

Machine learning has been an important piece of Google’s product strategy for several years. For example, the company’s new Pixel smartphone uses artificial intelligence to learn more about the user over time to create a personalized Google Assistant. Google Translate recently added “deep learning” for human-like accuracy in its language translation. Google Now identifies news you’re interested in, fastest ways to places you frequent or event reminders based on your inbox.

“A lot of the biggest problems in the world — especially in and around life science among other things — are constrained just by what we can do as humans,” said Sam Sebastian, vice president of Google and managing director of Google Canada. “When you can then augment what we are doing with technology, that can do things exponentially faster and learn as it goes, it’s just going to solve problems we never thought that we could solve before.”

For Google, the Canadian technology startup scene has long been on its radar, particularly in the machine learning space. North of the border is particularly recognized for its strong sense of community, Harrison said, a unique trait compared to Silicon Valley.

“There is a breadth of companies here — whether they are focused on something like communications or machine learning — that are some of the brightest lights in the world,” he added. 

Google has acquired numerous Canadians startups over the years, and it hopes to find more through the NextAI program that can help further the country’s artificial intelligence ecosystem.

In 2013, the company acquired DNNresearch, a neural network startup from University of Toronto professor Geoffrey Hinton and two of his graduate students  — an acquisition Harrison calls one of his highlights. Other Canadian startups Google has purchased include Reqwireless (2005), Synergse (2016) and Bufferbot (2012) and FameBit (2016).

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