The Montreal-based artificial intelligence company Element AI has recently secured a $135 million investment from major players such as Microsoft, Intel and Nvidia. The investment will be used to hire more staff who are at the top of their industries, including plans to expand internationally.
Element AI was setup to help businesses that are unfamiliar with AI technology to change the way they do business. It functions as a combination of general research labs and a start-up incubator. The company was co-founded by Yoshua Bengio, one of the pioneers of machine learning, along with Jean-Francois Gagne, Nicholas Chapados and Canadian capital fund Real Ventures.
As well as working to develop AI products of the future, Element AI also commercialise products that are already available, and help businesses to implement them. In one project, they worked with a Japanese semi-conductor company to analyze data collected by assembly robots on the factory floor, and used the data to reduce manufacturing errors and improve product quality.
The $135 million investment marks a big moment for the Montreal company. In an interview, co-founders Bengio and Gagne said the money would be used to hire 250 new employees, including 100 more in Montreal, 100 in a new office in Toronto, and a further 50 employees stationed in Asia in Element’s first international base.
In a single word, the investment will be used to scale. Element AI will be looking for experts that are “at the top of their game in their domains,” and, as the co-founders describe, they will be focused not only on pure AI, but on robotics, industrial manufacturing, cyber security and the finance sectors.
Artificial intelligence has come a long way already. Recently, an artificial intelligence bot beat a whole team of professional poker players in a lengthy round of poker, a game of incomplete information which was previously deemed too complex for AI to conquer.
Element AIs contributions should bring about more advancements in the AI field, particularly when it comes to useful business applications. Though they currently have no startups in their incubation program, they plan to be working with 20 startups within the next 12 months, boosting the impact of smaller companies in the field.
“If we want Canada to be a leader in AI, we need to have companies like Element AI which can grow fast, because this is such a fast-changing scene,” says Bengio talking to CBC news.
The multi-million investment is not the only good news for Montreal’s AI industry. Google and Microsoft have both announced expansions of their Montreal research groups, and the Quebec government is to hand out $100 million for AI initiatives by 2022.
As artificial intelligence markets expand, the giants of the industry will continue to gain traction, but Bengio is confident that Element AI can gain traction.
“Element AI is looking at particular types of customers that are not necessarily currently well served by the market, but could become global giants. That’s the game I think we need to be playing,” said Bengio.