Remarkable 2024 spotlights Canada’s flourishing ecosystem

February 20, 2024

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Vector’s Remarkable 2024 conference brought together an incredible range of AI luminaries to Vector’s new offices at the Schwartz-Reisman Innovation Campus. The event was a showcase for why the Greater Toronto Area is one of the globe’s most vital AI ecosystems. Keynote speakers included world-renowned AI researchers and leaders from big tech, AI startups, Canadian industry, and healthcare organizations that are partnering with Vector. The conference coincided with Vector’s seventh birthday and the announcement of Vector’s new partnership with Merck Canada.

Fostering AI talent

Victor Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, and Natalie Pierre, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Colleges and Universities, both spoke about Ontario’s strong commitment to growing the ecosystem. Building a pipeline of AI talent in Ontario is an essential part of that commitment and one of Vector’s core missions. 

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“Over 90 per cent of our graduates are choosing to stay and work in Ontario even with increased competition for talent worldwide.”

Tony Gaffney

President and CEO, Vector Institute

Remarkable offered ample opportunities to help students build their networks, with dozens of booths for companies hiring AI talent and multiple poster sessions for AI students to present their research. A panel of early-career AI leaders encouraged students to distinguish themselves on the job market by building a network strategically, for example, by meeting with people whose careers and achievements are inspiring or worth emulating.

AI in industry

The conference highlighted the many ways Canadian organizations across numerous industries are embracing AI — often in collaboration with Vector. AI applications that improve patient prognosis, streamline CT scan workflows, and transform how physicians track patient health are already making health care delivery more efficient and accurate, saving lives in the process. Meanwhile, transportation industry leaders discussed AI’s role in creating greater efficiencies and new ways to augment the experience of customers in planes, trains, and automobiles.

Borealis AI’s Brian Keng shared lessons his team has learned developing AI for financial services. Among the many observations he shared was the tendency in industry to focus too narrowly on AI models, rather than on the overarching AI system, including data management, monitoring, and risk. Cody Coleman from Coactive AI talked about a core insight that inspired him to co-found his company: unstructured data like video files comprise more than 80 per cent of Internet traffic. He sees enormous value in developing enterprise AI systems that harness this kind of unstructured data for companies.

The future of AI

Looking to the future, CIFAR’s Elissa Strome said that the the ultimate goal of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy is to ensure that Canada’s AI ecosystem delivers benefits to society in the coming decades. Several otherspeakers echoed this point, shining a bright light on the future of AI by explaining their vision for the good it can do—and the challenges we face. 

Brendan Frey discussed the enormous potential for AI to drive drug discovery by advancing our understanding of cell biology and the human genome. He gave an overview of Deep Genomics’ new foundation model for RNA biology. This model, dubbed BigRNA, has already demonstrated an astonishing ability to predict how cellular machinery will behave under novel circumstances. Frey described plans to scale up BigRNA 100-fold in the near future, setting the stage for the development of new, life-saving therapeutics.

Prioritizing safety 

In presenting ideas to overcome GenAI challenges Amin Karbasi, a computer scientist at Yale University and Google, suggested a novel approach to reducing its power consumption by weaning it off its reliance on self-attention modules. He also discussed a new technique for automating prompt injection attacks to jailbreak GPT-4 and other LLMs, deepening our understanding of their vulnerabilities.

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“Everyone needs to know enough to ask the right questions.”

Beena Amannanath

Executive Director of the Global Deloitte AI Institute, Deloitte

Karbasi’s concern for making GenAI safer was echoed by Beena Amannanath, Executive Director of the Global Deloitte AI Institute. She called for the tech sector to get over the idea that unintended consequences are acceptable and instead take a more responsible approach to developing AI. She also advocated for companies adopting AI to create appropriate policies and training programs for employees. Everyone in an organization should understand the technology well enough to ask the right questions and know who to turn to if an issue needs to be escalated. In the coming years, she said, developing safe and responsible AI will require advancing the technology and risk management in tandem.

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“This is a good time for Canada to up its game.”

Keith Strier

Vice President, Worldwide AI Initiatives, NVIDIA

Keith Strier, NVIDIA’s Vice President of Worldwide AI Initiatives, recognized Canada’s leading role in AI over the past dozen years, from the explosion of deep learning in Toronto to Canada’s creation of the world’s first national AI strategy in 2017. But, he said, now would be a good time for Canada to shore up its strengths. In the age of AI, computing infrastructure and data sets are becoming strategic national assets and every country is reacting differently. One overarching theme in countries around the world is that governments, industry, and academia are partnering together to advance AI. To remain resilient and independent, Strier suggested, countries and regions should plan to be net exporters rather than importers across the AI value chain, from talent to data to infrastructure.

Taking perhaps the longest view, Geoffrey Hinton, Vector’s Chief Scientific Adviser, entertained a series of philosophical questions that motivate his abiding concern about the existential risk that powerful AI could pose for humans in the near future. He encouraged the AI researchers and students at the conference to accept the critical mission of designing AI that is unerringly benevolent.

Overall, Remarkable 2024 provided a superb launch pad for Vector’s next phase as the institute grows into its new home. Sharing the building with the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society and dozens of AI startups, Vector is well positioned to continue its critical role helping to secure Canada’s future in the age of AI.

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