Towards a 'robust, reasoning and responsible' AI

Luc Vinet

Luc Vinet

Credit: Caroline Perron

In 5 seconds

IVADO CEO Luc Vinet lays out his vision for the future of the artificial-intelligence institute, as it awaits a decision on its latest grant proposal to the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

Created in 2016, the Canadian artificial-intelligence research and transfer institute IVADO is on the cusp of an exciting paradigm shift with a new project focused on what it sees as the three essential 'R's' of AI as it moves forward: that it be "robust, reasoning and responsible."

With IVADO in the lead, Université de Montréal submitted a grant proposal on Aug. 31 to the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), in collaboration with its institutional partners HEC Montréal, Polytechnique Montréal, Université Laval, and McGill University.

Against this backdrop, we spoke with IVADO's CEO, former UdeM rector and current Aisenstadt physics professor Luc Vinet, to take stock of the institute’s new direction towards what it calls R3AI, a little more than a year after he took office.

Canada’s AI ecosystem is often talked about, but what is it exactly?

AI is so vitally important as a discipline in its own right and also in terms of how it is applied across a number of sectors that it is rather difficult to sum up what the Canadian ecosystem is all about in just a few words. It has become so large that Canada now ranks fourth in Tortoise's Global AI Index, with Quebec alone in seventh place.

On the institutional and strategic level, it is also important to note that the $93.6 million CFREF grant awarded to IVADO in 2016 was a key element and trigger for the development of AI in this country. A year later, CIFAR launched its pan-Canadian AI strategy with Amii, the Vector Institute, and Mila; the Quebec government followed suit by setting up the Quebec AI cluster. Also in 2017, IVADO Labs - a non-profit separate from IVADO - was founded and the Montreal Declaration for a Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence was launched. In its wake and thanks to the support of the Fonds de recherche du Québec, the International Observatory on the Societal Impacts of AI and Digital Technology (OBVIA) was established in 2019. Around the same time, Scale AI, Canada's global AI innovation supercluster, began operations. I should also mention the Montreal Centre of Expertise in Artificial Intelligence (MCEIA), associated with the Global Partnership in Artificial Intelligence hosted by the OECD, as well as the Artificial Intelligence Advisory Council established in 2019 by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Finally, in addition to these organizations, several others in Quebec and Canada contribute to what has become a research and innovation network at the forefront of global developments.

The remarkable dynamism displayed by IVADO and its community largely motivated the governments of Quebec and Canada to invest $800 million in AI in Quebec between 2017 and 2021. This produced a significant leverage effect that led to $1.5 billion in venture capital investments and 3,050 AI jobs created or consolidated each year over the same period. Today, nearly 45,000 AI professionals work in all sectors of the Quebec economy. The province's ecosystem includes more than 560 organizations that provide AI products and services, including 225 start-ups.

What role does IVADO play in this ecosystem?

IVADO was born out of a partnership between UdeM, HEC Montreal and Polytechnique Montreal, later joined by Université Laval and McGill. It operates in four main sectors: research, training, transfer, and community actions. It contributes to the development of knowledge and its dissemination to individuals and organizations for the benefit of society. IVADO exerts its influence by catalyzing, supporting and promoting various major initiatives in each of these fields of activity. Without IVADO, hundreds of companies would not have been as successful as they are, and some major successful research projects would not have been undertaken. IVADO fulfills this mission by orchestrating collaborations among its hundreds of collaborators from all walks of life (academia, industry, etc.), who might not interact or carry out projects together without the stimulation and support of IVADO.

The potential of AI and, consequently, the expectations it raises in terms of accelerated discoveries and social and economic benefits are rightly very high. Given its scale, Canada's general research and development ecosystem is multi-stakeholder, involving universities, industry, NGOs, governments, and other players. The same holds true for the AI sector: it's vital that a concerted effort be made by as many organizations as possible.

IVADO is a unique organization that is the envy of AI ecosystems around the world. Such an organization is not easy to set up if favourable development conditions are absent. Through the multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder inputs that it attracts, IVADO acts as a leader in the field, ensuring an intersectional deployment of AI that is the envy of many. By its very nature, IVADO also has a natural propensity to propose unifying AI initiatives on a Canadian scale.

What is your vision for IVADO over the next five years, specifically in terms of links between research and industry?

IVADO is already an elite institute for AI research and applications. It has, as I said, a rare and valuable profile. Powered by the scientific program we call R3AI, described in the CFREF proposal submitted by UdeM at the end of August, IVADO is on its way to becoming one of the world's leading AI institutes – of that, I’m convinced.

Why? Firstly, IVADO is poised to revolutionize the field of AI by developing ‘robust, reasoning, and responsible’ systems – the three Rs, hence R3AI. Our experience of working with a variety of partners has convinced us that these attributes are essential for widespread AI adoption; they underpin the stability, explainability and ethical properties that are essential in this regard. The goal of this major IVADO project is therefore to bring AI to our society in an optimal way. This paradigm shift in AI will be achieved through a component entitled 'Science for AI'. To accomplish this, IVADO will draw on the exceptional expertise of its academic members: Mila, IRIC, Institut Courtois, CIRRELT, GERAD, Unique, OBVIA, Tech3Lab, CSN, CIM, SEMLA, CRM, IFRC, IID, CRCHUM, CRCHU-Ste Justine. Whether in neuroscience or in the humanities and social sciences, their contributions will be used upstream in the design of new systems. Indigenous researchers and other under-represented groups will also be involved in this co-creation process.

Secondly, our experts in responsible innovation and implementation science will be called upon to develop the appropriate conditions for AI adoption. On this basis, we will work intensively with all our partners to collectively reap the benefits of R3AI and develop its full innovation potential. At the same time, we will develop an ‘AI for Science’ program, in which AI systems that are stable under changing data distributions and that further integrate causal inference will be used to accelerate discoveries in key areas such as identification of new drugs, biodiversity and climate change, natural language processing, as well as health systems and supply chains. Again, IVADO will work to mobilize the resulting advances to benefit our communities.

R3AI is certainly very ambitious, but nothing less should be expected from IVADO. We are convinced that it corresponds to the future of AI. Crucial to its success will be IVADO's capacity to integrate all fields of knowledge and to enhance them. With our 150 partners, who have collectively committed more than $250 million in funding over seven years, and with the expected support of the CFREF program, IVADO will, I am sure, increasingly be a main driver of AI and of its applications, the spearhead of beneficial socio-economic developments and the pride of our nation.

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