Facebook to Open New Artificial Intelligence Lab in Montreal

By David George-Cosh Features Dow Jones Newswires

Facebook Inc. said Friday it will open a new artificial intelligence research lab in Montreal, marking the latest move by a company to invest in that type of technology in Canada.

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Facebook's research lab will be staffed with a team of 20 to 30 people and led by Joelle Pineau, a computer science professor at Montreal's McGill University and a leading AI researcher, the company announced at an event in Montreal Friday, attended by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The lab will be Facebook's fourth artificial intelligence research facility, joining a broader pool of 100 researchers in Paris and New York and the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., the company said. The Montreal lab will focus on developing research on reinforcement learning and dialogue systems, which is a way of teaching machines the complex relationship between taking actions and the various potential results.

In addition to the lab, Facebook will invest 7 million Canadian dollars (US$5.75 million) in the broader Montréal-based AI community through partnerships with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and the Montréal Institute for Learning Algorithms, the company said.

"We think the talent we can attract will bring valuable expertise and new perspectives to our work, and under Dr. Pineau's leadership, we will continue to invest in this team and in the Canadian research community as a whole," said Yann LeCun, director of AI research at Facebook, in a statement.

News of the research lab was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

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Mr. Trudeau -- a Montreal native and graduate of McGill University -- said technology giants such as Facebook and others are increasingly choosing Canadian cities as their home away from home.

"With its strong research community and well-educated workforce, Canada is the right place to shape the future -- a future where things like AI and deep learning help create jobs, improve our quality of life, and generate new opportunities for the middle class and those who want to join it," Mr. Trudeau said.

Facebook's investment in Montreal comes within a year after Alphabet Inc.'s Google opened a new artificial intelligence lab dedicated to deep learning, a type of machine-learning technology.

Facebook is relying more on artificial intelligence to improve its capacity to identify and block posts that include terrorist imagery, child pornography and fake news. Government officials in Germany and France have criticized social media for their slow response to removing fake news and hate speech.

Google last year provided $3.33 million in grant funding to the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, an academic lab based at the University of Montreal that focuses on machine learning.

Microsoft Corp. acquired Maluuba, an AI startup based in Montreal, in January for an undisclosed sum. The tech company's venture fund took a stake in Element AI, a Montreal-based startup, in 2016.

Canada's Liberal government has allocated C$125 million to develop AI research across the country and attract high-tech firms and make up some of the jobs lost when factories closed up shop since the recession of 2008. Part of that funding went to the Vector Institute, a Toronto-based organization aimed at luring top minds in the AI field. It has also drawn investment from Google and Uber Technologies Inc.

"These measures are part of our ambitious, pragmatic plan to help prepare all Canadians for the good jobs of the new economy," Mr. Trudeau said.

--Paul Vieira contributed to this article.

Write to David George-Cosh at david.george-cosh@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 15, 2017 14:07 ET (18:07 GMT)