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While you were looking the other way, Toronto humbly produced some of the globe’s top artificial intelligence and deep learning experts, companies, and innovations. Now is the time for the city to stand up tall and loudly proclaim what local folks already know: Toronto is at the center of AI innovation and its real-world applications.

The city is home to world-class academic institutions like the University of Toronto and nearby to the University of Waterloo, both of which constantly churn out bright computer and data scientists, engineers, and developers building next-generation AI technologies. These institutions are world leaders in scientific research, creating an ecosystem ripe with opportunities for novel applications for AI, particularly in the fields of health and life sciences. My own company actively recruits staff from both schools.

Toronto is also a welcoming city for both people and industry. The Canadian city’s population is diverse, international, well-educated, and open to new experiences. A strong local network of investors, incubators, technologists, and support staff is sustaining and growing AI companies focused on transforming specific industries. There are also organizations led and advised by AI pioneers like Geoffrey Hinton, Sanja Fidler, Anna Goldenberg, and Raquel Urtasun.

Toronto is a model for how to advance and propel AI innovation around the world — and that’s no accident.


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Academia and business, connected locally

A strong, connected network of business growth-focused institutions, including MaRS Discovery District, The Vector Institute, and the Creative Destruction Lab, call Toronto home. They share a commitment to advancing AI innovation in the city. Each organization is connected to academic programs, cultivating local technology talent. All three bring technical and business talent together to optimize innovations and position them for the market.

The Creative Destruction Lab, based at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, provides founders focused on AI innovation with business training and networking opportunities. JLabs, a part of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, has spearheaded the AI for Drug Discovery QuickFire Challenge to highlight rising stars who use AI to advance drug discovery and development in various medical areas. MaRS connects AI startups in the energy, clean technology, health care, finance, and agriculture industries with talent, industry partners, and corporate infrastructure to scale products and services; it also just expanded a platform to democratize venture capital and social investment. All three focus on bringing the world’s top minds to Toronto and expanding across borders when AI innovations scale to meet international demand.

Global appeal via home-grown innovation

Investors from Toronto venture capital firms lead the funding of local AI startups, and their successes are noticed on the global stage. In 2017, we saw an uptick in socially minded investments and civic innovation commitments to Toronto from Sidewalk Labs, Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, and other global organizations. Over the next year, I believe we will continue to see an influx of investment from VCs, social impact investors, big technology, and global enterprises into Toronto’s AI industry from every corner of the globe.

In 2018, the city’s AI ecosystem will continue to receive votes of confidence from a growing list of global enterprises like Johnson & Johnson, Google, eBay, and others.

The AI-focused work of companies and organizations in Toronto today will change how health care, finance, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, ecommerce, and other big industries operate and, more importantly, help people. Toronto’s AI community and its status as a hub of innovation will eventually get the attention it so rightly deserves.

Toronto’s connected ecosystem provides a model other tech hubs around the world can replicate. Meanwhile, there’s more work to be done by everyone involved in Toronto’s innovation scene to amplify the city’s mark on global AI innovation. Onward, Toronto!

Naheed Kurji is the president and chief executive officer of Cyclica, a company that has developed a novel biophysics, big data, and artificial intelligence platform used by the pharmaceuticals industry to discover and develop better medicines.

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