Artificial intelligence research hub launched at University of Waterloo

The Waterloo Artificial Intelligence Institute to focus on various areas of research that impact both businesses and society.

New institute to focus on basics of AI and how to use it in technology

Nao, a programmable humanoid robot developed by a French robotics company, can actively participate in basic conversations. (Flora Pan/CBC)
How to develop and use artificial intelligence will be the focus of a new institute launched by the University of Waterloo (UW).

The announcement Friday said the Waterloo Artificial Intelligence Institute will bring together a group of researchers and businesses to "advance technology and prepare Canada for future economic disruption."

The mandate of the institute will be to research areas with societal and business impact, including healthcare, urban planning, autonomous systems and human-machine interaction.

Feridun Hamdullahpur, UW's president and vice-chancellor, said in a release the institute will connect research with industry and "identify problems and produce solutions that will actively benefit our society."

Federal innovation minister Navdeep Bains gets a first look at Nao (pronounced 'now'), a humanoid robot developed by a French company in Paris. The development of this robot began with 'Project Nao' in 2004. (Flora Pan/CBC)

Better, faster

Alexander Wong, Canada Research Chair and a professor at the university, demonstrated student research projects for Canada's Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains.

One of them is a system that uses AI to identify water quality problems.

The PhD research project is a low-cost, portable system to recognize the presence of algae in water samples, a sign of contamination. It's designed to cut down wait times involved in testing water samples.

Wong said AI is more about "augmented intelligence," where it's not meant to replace people with robots, but to help people do things better and faster.

Part of his research lab focuses on health care, where they try to "help doctors make better decisions, or to improve the consistency, or the speed of their decisions" with AI projects.

University of Waterloo student demonstrates her research project on using AI for nutritional planning to federal cabinet minister Navdeep Bains at Friday afternoon's AI institute launch. (Flora Pan/CBC)

Focus on commercialization

Bains was on hand for the launch and took part in a panel discussion with AI researchers and industry partners.

He said the federal government has put in "historic funding for science" and innovation.

"We're going to continue to invest in our academic institutions, particularly the University of Waterloo. This is really a point of pride for Canada," he said.

Kurtis McBride, CEO and co-founder of Miovision, a company based in Kitchener, speaks on an Artificial Intelligence panel as the University of Waterloo launches its new lab. (Flora Pan/CBC)

He repeatedly emphasized the government's plans to focus on commercialization of research.

"Thousands and thousands of jobs will be created, trillions of dollars of economic opportunity will be created in the future as well," he said.

"Artificial intelligence represents a bright future, which will solve a lot of problems and make people's lives better."


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