Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/10/2016 (271 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
About 200 Winnipeg heavy hitters joined the Premier, the Mayor, Sandy Riley and Jim Balsillie, the former co-CEO of BlackBerry, for a pep-rally of sorts on Monday in support of a Winnipeg initiative that some are already saying is analogous to the process of attracting the National Microbiology Laboratory to Winnipeg.
The not-for-profit Enterprise Machine Intelligence and Learning Initiative (EMILI) proposes to create a centre of excellence in Winnipeg for research, commercialization and training in machine learning technology and to be the global voice for ethical standards.
"There is an incredibly robust community partnership that is building around the advancement of the EMILI project," said Vince Barletta, an EMILI board member and head of Yes! Winnipeg. "It was an opportunity to update those in the know and to educate those learning about it for the first time."
Machine-learning technologies have the ability to process massive amounts of data very quickly and automatically learn from the data.
It means computers do not have to be restricted to the pre-programmed algorithms.
The deep learning algorithms uses cascades of layers to mimic the learning process of the neural network of the brain.
The general thinking is that there will be vast potential for commercial applications across many sectors including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, agriculture and health research.
If it all sounds expensive, it is.
The EMILI board, chaired by Ray Bouchard of Enns Brothers and including Manitoba Hydro board chairman Sandy Riley, has been preparing its pitch to the federal government whose funding is crucial for EMILI to advance.
The ask from the federal government is $100 million over five years and Barletta said the hope is to see a commitment made in 2017 to the project.
"The budget (in the spring of 2017) would be one such opportunity when such a commitment could be made (by the Trudeau government)," Barletta said. "But that is not the only opportunity."
Meanwhile, there is increasing momentum at least in terms of creating community-wide support.
Mayor Brian Bowman has been a vocal supporter as has Premier Brian Pallister. Support for EMILI was mentioned specifically in the Progressive Conservative party’s campaign literature.
One of the nine line items in Pallister’s mandate letter to Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Cliff Cullen is: "Champion the Enterprise Machine Intelligence and Learning Initiative (EMILI), a prime example of what can be accomplished when Manitoba’s business community bands together."
Marshall Ring, the CEO of Manitoba Technology Accelerator (MTA), who hosted this week’s event said, "This thing has all the makings of traction."
One of MTA’s clients is Sightline Innovation which bills itself as Canada’s largest machine-learning company. Its CEO, Wally Trenholm, moved the company to Winnipeg from Toronto where he believes the conditions are much better to advance the technology and Sightline’s commercial offerings in medical and manufacturing quality control.
Balsillie, who is an investor in Sightline, said that Winnipeg stands a better chance of developing an initiative like EMILI where the big international tech firms are less likely to poach talent.
Matthew Hudson, the CEO of Winnipeg’s Invenia Technical Computing, another machine learning firm that already has about 30 employees in Winnipeg, said of doing this kind of work in Winnipeg, "There is a sweet spot where you’re not too close to the sun but not so far away that is it’s ice cold."
EMILI was first announced in the spring. It recently incorporated and clearly has substantial organizational support.
The government of Canada is promoting an innovation agenda and EMILI board members believe machine learning technology investment would fit in with others like clean technology and quantum computing as an appropriate target for the substantial federal funds being made available for investment.
"We are to understand the government of Canada has a clear in desire to invest in Canadian innovation and commercialization," Barletta said.
"Our ask it to be part of that funding envelope."