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Q&A: 10 Minutes With AI Pioneer Yoshua Bengio Posted on : Dec 06 - 2018

Yoshua Bengio flinches when I say I've seen him referred to as one of the "fathers of AI" in a recent article.  The 54-year-old Canadian computer scientist is best known for his early work on deep learning in the 1980s and 1990s but today he has his own AI startup accelerator in Montreal called Element AI, which he cofounded in October 2016.

Bengio also teaches at the University of Montreal, heads the MILA (Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms), and is co-director of the Learning in Machines & Brains project of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript from a recent interview.

Sam Shead: I've heard you referred to as one of the fathers of AI…?

Yoshua Bengio: Whatever, I don’t like these things.

SS: Can you describe what's happened in AI in the last few years that's different to what happened in AI in the 80s or 90s?

YB: Well, many things have happened. We are able to do things now that we were dreaming of 10/20/30 years ago. What's interesting is it's building on many of the core ideas that were already in our hands around the 1990s.

What has changed? Well, we now have access to much more data and that's important because intelligence is about knowledge and knowledge is acquired from data in the case of modern AI, with machine learning. Computing power to be able to process all that data and train much larger models [has also changed]. And changes in the models themselves, which allow them to learn more abstract stuff and to be deeper, that’s why we call it deep learning.

And also to change the way they work so that in addition to being able to work on fixed sized vectors (so sets of information), they can work on any kind of data structure: graphs, lists, sequences. This, for example, in my group, has been crucial to allow us the kind of progress we're currently seeing in machine translation. Now we see people applying those techniques to pretty much any kind of data, from molecules to medical images, to text to health patient records. It's incredible.

SS: I know you won't like this question, but where do you think Canada sits in the global AI race and which countries do you see at the forefront of AI development?

YB: Well, Canada clearly is a scientific leader in AI. Of course, Geoff [Hinton, another 'father of AI' that now works at Google] and I being here, and thanks to the CIFAR programme, which was started in Canada, that has initiated a lot of that progress. View More