DeepMind, a subsidiary of the search giant that experiments with novel ways to apply AI, today announced the launch of a new research center in Edmonton. The facility is the unit’s first major outpost outside its native U.K., not counting the modest contingent of staffers based in Google’s Mountain View headquarters. Research efforts will be led by three professors from the University of Alberta, which has a long history of collaborating with DeepMind.
Rich Sutton, the perhaps best-known member of the trio, served as an advisor to the group before its acquisition by Google in 2014. DeepMind also counts many UAlberta alumni among its U.K. staff and plans to assign seven of them to the new Edmonton lab. Most of the group’s members contributed to the influential DeepStack paper that the division published earlier this year in Science magazine, which followed up on AlphaGo’s success with a method of applying AI to poker.
DeepMind head Demis Hassabis wrote in a blog post that the the team will from here out focus on “core scientific research”. Sutton and the two other professors at the helm will retain their tenures at UAlberta so that they can keep contributing to the academic community.
That latter point is yet another affirmation of DeepMind’s strong ties with the university. The group sponsors UAlberta’s machine learning lab and, according to Hassabis, plans to increase the funding in a bid to support long-term research projects. These contributors are not just charitable in nature: Any AI breakthroughs that the department might produce could benefit Google’s bottom line.
Furthermore, creating an environment where students can pick up machine learning skills should create a bigger pool of AI talent for the company to draw upon. Google and other tech giants are aggressively recruiting experts in this field to support their product development efforts.
As demand starts to outstrips supply in traditional innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley, other companies are likewise turning their attention to Canada. Earlier this year, Microsoft Corp. established an AI center in Montreal and set aside $7 million to support research at local universities.