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U of A receives funding to hire AI research chair

By providing the funds for the University of Alberta to hire a new research chair, DeepMind, the Artificial Intelligence research company owned by Google, is bolstering their partnership with the university to expand AI development.

On January 30 DeepMind announced they will fund an endowed chair position at the U of A’s Department of Computing Science so the university can recruit a senior AI researcher. While the amount of the financial gift is confidential, whoever is recruited to fill the position will have the freedom to pursue anything within the field.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for us to grow our professoriate by one because a lot of that funding has been guaranteed in perpetuity by DeepMind,” Schaffer said.

The endowment for the research chair follows the opening of DeepMind’s first international lab in Edmonton in the summer.

“(DeepMind) wants to have a symbiotic relationship with the university,” Schaffer said. “They want people to work together, they want to have graduate students, and they want to have postdocs, undergraduates, so the (funding for the chair position) really is a way of just saying this is a partnership.”

According to csrankings.org, the U of A is ranked number two in AI and machine learning research in North America, outdoing MIT and Harvard. Compared to Carnegie Mellon University, which holds the top spot, Schaffer said the U of A has quality researchers but in smaller numbers.

As for the importance of AI research, Schaffer said the applications of the technology is widespread, from suggestions on Netflix to self-driving cars. He gave another example where AI detected an impersonator committing credit card fraud with his account.

“This technology is coming, and it’s going to change the world,” he said.

Schaffer said efforts to find a senior AI researcher to fill that spot have begun, and that the U of A is looking at people both within Canada and abroad. He said he expects the position to be filled sometime this year.

“Artificial intelligence right now is a very hot field and everybody is looking for good AI people so we will be using whatever connections we have to encourage people to apply so that we can get the best person possible to fill this position,” he said.

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