Facebook opens an A.I. research outpost in Canada

Key Points
  • Facebook's fourth artificial intelligence research lab is located in Montreal.
  • The company has tapped McGill University professor Joelle Pineau to lead the new lab.
McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
Loic Lagarde | Getty Images

Facebook is opening its fourth artificial intelligence research lab, this one in Montreal. The move comes after Alphabet and Microsoft have invested in the AI research scene there.

To lead the lab Facebook has tapped Joelle Pineau, an associate professor of Montreal's McGill University, whose academic papers on conversational agents and other topics through the years have been frequently cited. Pineau will retain her academic position while leading the Facebook lab, which should employ 10 people by the end of this month.

"I love that job, but there comes a time when you're up for a new challenge and finding out about a new way of doing research, Pineau said during a briefing on the news. "Nowadays, so much machine learning research is happening in industry."

In addition to opening the lab, Facebook has committed about $5.75 million to support AI research at McGill, the University of Montreal, the Montreal Institute of Learning Algorithms and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the company said in a Facebook blog post on Friday. Alphabet and Microsoft also have invested in AI at McGill and the University of Montreal.

The move comes a week after IBM said it would spend $240 million on a new AI lab in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Facebook uses AI in several ways, including figuring out which posts to show users in the flagship app and filtering out spam in the Messenger chat app. The company is actively developing new ways to implement AI, including understanding speech commands from people using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

"Our goal with artificial intelligence is to build systems that are better than people at perception — seeing, hearing, language and so on," CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the company's F8 developer conference earlier this year.

As is the case with researchers working at Facebook's AI labs in Menlo Park, New York and Paris, researchers at the Montreal lab will be able to openly talk about their work and collaborate with people at other institutions. Pineau said that's one thing that attracted her to Facebook.