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Adobe set to join rush of foreign giants opening AI labs in Canada

Monday, June 25, 2018 > 11:19:13
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Adobe Systems Inc. is the latest foreign technology giant planning to open an artificial intelligence lab in Canada.

The Silicon Valley software giant, best known for document-creation products Photoshop and Acrobat, says it is looking for a Toronto-based AI lab director to “establish a cutting-edge research lab in artificial intelligence, that will both push the state-of-the-art and have a profound impact on Adobe’s products,” according to a job posting on LinkedIn. An Adobe spokesperson declined to elaborate on the company’s plans, saying it does “not comment on rumours or speculation.”

Adobe would follow foreign giants NVIDIA Corp., Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp., Uber Technologies, Google Parent Alphabet Inc., Thales SA and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Fujitsu Ltd. and LG Electronics Inc., who have opened AI labs in Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton or Vancouver or disclosed plans to do so.

Meanwhile, National Bank of Canada is also looking to ramp up its AI practice. The Montreal-based bank last year “realized we had a fundamental opportunity for our organization” to tap into the city’s teeming AI talent pool, said David Furlong, the bank’s senior vice-president of AI, venture capital and blockchain.

The bank recently hired University of Montreal math and statistics professor Manuel Morales as its chief scientist, artificial intelligence and is now staffing eight teams comprised of business leads and AI scientists that will be embedded in all business units from wealth management to human resources “to solve real world problems for our clients and staff,” said Mr. Furlong. “We believe [AI] is a fundamental strategic enabler across the board. This is not a research project for us.”

Several other large Canadian corporations including Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Manulife Financial Corp. and Thomson Reuters Corp. have made significant investments in AI talent in Canada in the past two years. This week, Manulife said it was re-entering the whole- life insurance business and using AI to speed up the process for customers to buy life insurance by drawing on decades of internal underwriting data.

While Adobe is tight-lipped about its plans for Canada, the San Jose, Calif.-based firm is in the midst of a big push to infuse its products with AI using its Adobe Sensei AI and machine-learning platform. Using its technology, the company said retailers can improve sales forecasting to help optimize operations, while advertisers can automate the process of tagging and searching for images from vast digital libraries and train machines to crop or manipulate them to cut time spent producing content. Fast Company recently named Adobe one of the 10 most innovative companies in the AI space.

“AI is playing a critical role across Adobe’s solutions and is one of the company’s biggest bets,” an Adobe spokeswoman said.

Vivek Goel, vice-president of research and innovation with University of Toronto, said foreign companies are now looking beyond just establishing AI research labs in Toronto and considering moving core development operations here to take advantage of the local talent. “From my perspective it’s very positive. It’s creating opportunities for our folks to develop careers in Canada, where traditionally these individuals may have gone abroad,” he said.

Canada earned its place on the global AI map thanks largely to three research pioneers – Geoffrey Hinton at University of Toronto, Yoshua Bengio at University of Montreal and Rich Sutton at University of Alberta – who eschewed opportunities in the U.S. to move to Canada, preferring the political and/or research-funding climate here. AI was considered a fringe science until breakthroughs in the field this decade led to wider adoption by a range of sectors.


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