Google is announcing today that it’s setting up a deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) research unit in its office in Montreal and giving $3.37 million in grant money to deep learning luminary Yoshua Bengio and seven other people associated with the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA).
Bengio himself has previously received backing from Google, and from other companies as well — namely, IBM, Samsung, and Intel. But the new grant is “bigger than any of the other funding we’ve received from private companies up until now,” he said during an interview with VentureBeat.
Bengio will not be formally allying himself with Google proper, because he wants to stay independent.
“That’s who I am,” he said, “that’s the choice I made that fits with my values, and I don’t need to get the millions, I’m fine. My salary is very good, and I care more about how what I can do could have a positive impact for science, humanity, and for training the next generation [of researchers].”
Google’s move to build a bigger AI presence and more closely ally with MILA, which has a presence at the University of Montreal and McGill University — mostly at the former — comes as other big technology companies take steps to enhance their products with deep learning. The approach typically involves training artificial neural networks on lots of data, such as photos, and then getting them to make inferences about new data. Facebook has created an AI research lab, and Google has the Google Brain group, while Google parent company Alphabet also operates the DeepMind group, and Baidu has formed its own research operations. Microsoft Research is also active in this area.
While this is a time of great activity in AI research and development, Bengio, who supervises 25 students and five post doctoral students as a full professor at the University of Montreal, intends to stay on the research side and not shift toward development. Interestingly, his brother Samy Bengio works at Google Research and has contributed to working products, such as Google’s image search.
The new Google AI research group in Montreal will be led by Hugo Larochelle, who recently left Twitter’s Cortex deep learning division.
The other MILA grant recipients are Christopher Pal, Doina Precup, Joelle Pineau, Simon Lacoste-Julien, and Laurent Charlin, as well as two of Bengio’s frequent collaborators, Pascal Vincent and Aaron Courville.
A blog post has more on the news.