montreals brain

Boasting some of the leading global experts in AI, plus a wealth of software companies and games studios, Montreal is developing into a major technology hub that has attracted the likes of Samsung, Google and IBM. Jason Mitchell reports.

Montreal, Canada’s second largest city, is becoming a global hub for research into artificial intelligence (AI), partly because some of the world’s leading experts on ‘deep learning’ – a machine learning technique – are located there.

Yoshua Bengio, a professor at University of Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, is one of the world’s leading experts on deep learning and set up Element AI – a company that seeks to transform AI research into real-world business applications – in the city in 2016. 

Greater Montreal now has 250 researchers focused on AI and 9000 students on university programmes related to the field.

Attracting the experts

“The main people who invented deep learning are based in Montreal,” says Claude Theoret, president of Nexalogy, a start-up that is creating AI applications for social media networks. “That really helped the AI ecosystem to explode in the city. It is one of the biggest university cities in North America and that has contributed to a highly creative and innovative business environment.

“It is a post-industrial city and has rent controls, making it one of the cheapest cities in Canada in which to live. It also has some of the lowest university tuition fee rates in the country and one of the highest employment rates. All of these factors make it an attractive place in which to live and have been essential for the tech start-up ecosystem to take off.”

In October, Samsung opened an AI centre in Montreal dedicated to R&D of core AI technologies, including machine learning, language, vision and other multi-modal interactions.

“This new research centre will help make AI more accessible right here in Montreal,” Marc Garneau, Canada’s transport minister, said at the time of the opening. “It will open the door for collaboration and grow opportunities for our universities and our businesses.”

Top for tech jobs

Greater Montreal – with 4 million inhabitants – enjoys the highest concentration of tech sector jobs of any Canadian city: 107,500 employees, or 8% of the total workforce. There are 5250 tech companies and the sector has a total GDP of C$11.6bn ($8.7bn). The city has 11 universities and institutions of higher education and 60 vocational colleges. 

This year, Greater Montreal won the award for fDi Magazine’s best FDI Strategy in the Digital Economies of the Future ranking. Montreal is a major player in software and IT services and leading companies – among them CGI, IBM, Google, SAP, Accenture, Fujitsu, Autodesk, Tata Communications, and Dassault Systems – have centres there. 

The city has more than 30 incubators and accelerators, including FounderFuel, TandemLaunch, XR Concordia and Ubisoft Virtual Reality. 

Overall, the city is home to 150 games studios and 12,000 games developers. Eric Kucharsky, director of business development, ICT, Europe foreign investments, at Montreal International, the city’s economic development agency, says: “As well as AI, Montreal has become a major global hub for the gaming industry. Ubisoft Entertainment, the gaming company, has 3500 employees in the city and three large buildings. The city has a lot of energy and is very cosmopolitan. Its vibe is similar to that of Berlin.”

In 2018, Montreal was the top host city in North America for international association events, according to the Union of International Associations. The main events in the tech sector include C2MTL, Startup Fest, Movin On, Effects MTL, MIGS, HUB Montreal, Canada Fintech Forum and NeurIPS.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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