Facebook has announced it’s expanding its artificial intelligence research group with a new lab in Montreal. The location currently employs 10 researchers but the company aims to triple the number of positions in the next few months.
The announcement has provided a significant boost to Canada’s already flourishing tech industry. Facebook said the team working out of the lab will be exploring a “wide range” of AI research projects. In particular, the group will focus on systems specialised in reinforcement learning and dialog inference.
The lab will be headed by Professor Joelle Pineau, co-director of the Reasoning and Learning Lab in Computer Science at McGill University. Pineau has previously designed algorithms that assist robots in learning new procedures, reasoning with themselves and planning approaches to problems.
Anticipatory, Thoughtful AI
Facebook’s recently signalled a growing interest in anticipatory, thoughtful AI. The Montreal research centre will allow it to pursue further investments in the area. The lab will be partnered with several Canadian institutes, including the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA). It’ll also work with Facebook’s AI Research teams in Menlo Park, New York and Paris.
“Montreal already has an existing fantastic academic AI community, an exciting ecosystem of startups, and promising government policies to encourage AI research,” said Facebook in a recent press release. “We are excited to become part of this larger community, and we look forward to engaging with the entire ecosystem and helping it to continue to thrive.”
The launch of the lab was assisted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Montreal mayor Denis Coderre and Quebec innovation minister Dominique Anglade. For Canada, one of the foremost countries in AI research, Facebook’s announcement has been a welcome recognition of its academic lead in the field. The decision will help to keep Canada’s talent within its borders.
Growing numbers of companies are beginning to choose Canada as a base for their AI research efforts. Facebook’s joining tech firms including Google and Microsoft in investing in Canada. Earlier this year, Uber announced it’s moving into the country too. The company wants to tap into Canadian AI expertise to aid the development of self-driving cars.
Facebook’s already opened its new lab with an initial team of 10 researchers. The company intends to triple that figure in the coming years, indicating a long-term commitment to harbouring an AI research group in Montreal. For the researchers graduating from Montreal University, it’s the opportunity they’ve been waiting for.
Investing in digital resiliency
A new index from IDC shows growth in cloud, collaboration, and security investment.
Is your business digitally resilient?
IDC’s new Digital Resiliency Investment Index is a look at the progress of organizations in their investment towards digital resilience. This is especially important now with this year’s digital transformation acceleration.
Results from the initial index show an overall steady increase in investment toward resiliency.
Organizations have placed priority in cloud, collaborative, and digital transformation projects. Thanks to the pandemic-related shift to work-from-home and the aforementioned increase in cloud adoption, significant investments have been made in security.
New IDC Digital Resiliency Investment Index Shows Steady Growth for Investments in Technologies That Improve the Ability to Respond and Adapt to Business Disruptions Learn more at https://t.co/vM9KtPMfB3 pic.twitter.com/DVK3MANFnn
— IDC (@IDC) November 5, 2020
According to IDC prediction, investment toward digital resiliency will increase in 2021, in tandem with economic recovery.
In terms of geography, digital resiliency investment had the fastest growth in the Asia/Pacific region. While US investment increased in October, Europe’s had a slight decline in the same period — as the continent was experiencing a significant surge in COVID cases and restrictions.
Two factors make up the index:
- Digital Core Investments, described by IDC as “spending on the core components of digital resiliency: cloud, security, collaborative support for remote workers, and digital transformation projects.”
- Digital Innovation Investments, which are “measured using a monthly survey of enterprises on their current and anticipated IT investment focus, including how much new or reallocated spending is targeted at digital resiliency and business acceleration versus crisis response measures.”
“Digital resiliency refers to an organization’s ability to rapidly adapt to business disruptions by leveraging digital capabilities to not only restore business operations, but also capitalize on the changed conditions,” explains Stephen Minton, VP in IDC’s Customer Insights & Analysis group.
Organizational success in the midst of a global pandemic has largely hinged on the ability to react quickly to change, he says. The difference between rapid adaptation and simply responding to disruption? A plan.
“Investments in digital capabilities not only enable an organization to adapt to the current crisis but also to capitalize on the changed conditions.”
“The next several months may put increased pressure on some organizations to respond to second waves of COVID infections and economic lockdowns, which will be reflected in our monthly surveys throughout the winter,” adds Minton.
“What we have learned already this year is that the organizations which were among the early adopters of cloud, digital, and collaborative technologies were best-positioned for a crisis no one could have predicted.”
Digital transformation for economic recovery
“With the right steps and actions, businesses and governments can take the crisis as an opportunity to build for the future,” explain two World Bank economists.
Digital transformation is having a moment.
Over and over, widespread reports and surveys show that — in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — DX efforts have accelerated. “Business-savvy CIOs who deploy highly adaptive strategies and technology to rapidly respond to the impact on their firm’s operations and customers will lead from the front,” explains Forrester’s recent Predictions 2021 report.
Can the momentum keep going? How can DX be leveraged so everyone can be better off, post-COVID?
As two World Bank economists argue in Harvard Business Review, “technological advancements were already changing the world over the past two decades,” and that in the midst of threats from automation and offshoring, it’s important to realize that tech can act as a job creator for economic recovery.
According to Federica Saliola (Lead Economist in the Jobs Group of the World Bank and co-Director of the World Development Report 2019) Asif Islam (Senior Economist for the Middle East and North Africa Region of the World Bank Group), “to reshape technology as a job creator, it’s important to understand what, exactly, the current wave of technology is changing, and how policymakers and businesses can adapt to it.”
Where we were
The economists laid out three foundational truths about the pre-COVID state of technology:
- It has always been a disruptor. Tech has been “challenging the traditional boundaries of firms, changing global value chains and the geography of jobs.”
- As tech evolved, there have been massive changes in what skills are needed by a successful workforce. “The premium for skills that cannot be replaced by robots has been increasing,” they explain. What are these in-demand skills? Critical thinking and socio-behavioral skills, for starters, as well as adaptable skills. This leads to point three.
- Thanks to tech, the very nature of work has been changing over the last few years. The standard of permanent and full-time work has given way to a gig economy.
Simply put, “it is likely that the pandemic will reinforce these pre-existing trends and increase the urgency of corresponding policy responses,” explain Saliola and Islam.
Digital-first companies are thriving, the gig economy certainly isn’t going anywhere, and “firms may also have more incentive to invest in automation and reshore production to shield against value chain disruption.”
The aforementioned barrage of surveys and reports showing the acceleration of DX efforts reported on the mostly-successful shift to work-from-home. Saliola and Islam reference World Bank and World Economic Forum reports that show (unsurprisingly) positions and organizations that have put WFH measures in place are more prevalent in wealthier countries and regions, and that women and young people are more likely to hold positions where WFH isn’t feasible.
Ultimately, Saliola and Islam explain, organizations and governments have to turn to policy to ensure that digital transformation can lead to a more successful economic recovery.
What does this look like? Reskilling and upskilling on the part of businesses, and “incentives and regulations to infrastructure projects and taxation” for governments.
It’s similar to the approach of the recent OECD report showing that DX is critical for recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean — but on a global scale.
“Technology can be a boon to society if businesses and governments prepare and adapt,” they write. “With the right steps and actions, businesses and governments can take the crisis as an opportunity to build for the future.”
Microsoft makes significant DX investment in Greece
Microsoft has made a substantial digital transformation investment in Greece, creating an initiative called “GR for GRowth.”
The initiative — announced on October 5 — is a technology commitment that will help create new opportunities for growth in the country. One part of the overall initiative will be the construction of new datacenters that will establish a Microsoft Cloud region in the country.
These datacenters bring Microsoft’s total global footprint of cloud regions to 63.
As a support measure, Microsoft is also planning to skill approximately 100,000 people in the country in digital technologies by 2025.
An important day for Greece, as Microsoft announces its largest investment in 28 years of operating here – an investment with multilevel economic significance, but also great social return. Thank you @BradSmi for your vote of confidence in the Greek economy and the Greek people. pic.twitter.com/ambdhMxqBH
— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) October 5, 2020
At the announcement, Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis said:
“Today’s commitment to the people and businesses of Greece will position the country among the digital leaders of Europe. A Microsoft datacenter region provides a competitive advantage to our digital economy. At the same time, it is a long-term investment and a vote of confidence in our country’s potential. The cloud is transforming every industry and sector. The investment in skilling 100,000 citizens will empower today and tomorrow’s Greek workforce.”
I was excited to join Prime Minister @kmitsotakis today in Athens to announce that Microsoft will build datacenters in Greece — the largest investment we’ve made in the 28 years we’ve operated here. This reflects our optimism in Greece’s future and economic recovery. pic.twitter.com/mimRtCsTY5
— Brad Smith (@BradSmi) October 5, 2020
“By a substantial margin, this is the largest investment Microsoft has made in Greece in the 28 years we have been operating here. In part, this reflects confidence that our world-leading datacenter technology can help enable innovation and growth across Greece’s economy. In addition, this large investment reflects our optimism about Greece’s future, its forward-leaning government, and the country’s ongoing economic recovery.”
The impact on Greece
For companies, startups, and institutions in Greece, this announcement means they’ll be able to harness the power of cloud computing — keeping in mind cybersecurity, data residency, and compliance standards, as explained in the company’s press release.
While many companies in Greece are using Microsoft’s cloud, a number of others have committed to signing on once they’ll be available from the forthcoming region.
As previously noted, to support the digital transformation of public and private organizations, Microsoft aims to upskill an estimated 100,000 public sector, business and IT professionals, educators, and students.
This aspect of the overall initiative will take place over the next five years via online and physical courses and workshops.
A cultural celebration
One interesting role Microsoft’s cloud services will play is in highlighting and preserving Greece’s culture.
The company’s AI for Cultural Heritage program will collaborate with the Ministry of Culture and Sports to bring to life the Ancient City of Olympia. Available in 2021, visitors will be able to experience the UNESCO World Heritage Site as if they were there 3,000 years ago.
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