Recap: The Business of Artificial Intelligence

Editor’s Note: Last week we had several experts on AI come to speak to McGill about how the world – and especially business, is going to change with the rise of AI. If you missed the event, check out our recorded livestream on Facebook.

“If you can teach a machine to understand language, you have taught the machine to become intelligent” – Mohamed Musbah, Head of Maluuba Product for Maluuba.

With over 400 attendees filling up the SSMU ballroom, we held our final and largest event of the year the Business of Artificial Intelligence presented by the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship and the McGill AI societyWe began our event with Maher Ayari, President of the Student Executive team for the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, introducing our first speaker of the night, Theo Szymkowiak, President of the McGill AI society.

Theo Szymkowiak, from McGill AI Society, presenting at the Business of Artificial Intelligence Event

Theo started the discussion around AI by first presenting what AI is, to simplify the topic so that both attendees with a tech background and a non-tech background can understand the content. He went on to demonstrating multiple examples of what AI can do, such as transform a doodle on a digital device into a painting, capturing photos and completing photos.  

He then explained the importance of AI to our world today. He used an anecdote from the McKinsey report which compared the advances in AI to the advances we once had in electricity to explain why we should be more involved with this technology. As we gain more and more data and our computing power becomes stronger, we are gaining the power to build larger and larger models to absorb this information and make new advances.

Theo also spoke about building a business with AI. He advised “Do not compete with Google – go vertical instead.” By this he meant that find the gaps in the market that do not currently use AI and that need it. He gave the example of health care, an industry that can truly benefit from advances in AI. He finally finished his part of our event by discussing AI safety and stating that AI is gaining momentum but it is far from being intelligent enough to replace the human.

If you are interested in AI and are interested in either joining the club or sponsoring, feel free to check out the McGill AI Society.

Mohamed Musbah, from Maluuba, presenting at the Business of Artificial Intelligence event.

After which, we had Mohamed (Mo) Musbah from Maluuba, recently acquired by Microsoft, which is the largest deep learning institution for language understanding here in Montreal. Their mission is to teach machines to think, reason and communicate in the context of language. They not only actively work with Professors such as Yoshua Bengio, Professor Richard Sutton and here at McGill closely, with Professor Doina Precup but also focusing on creating a business around solving machine learning and language processing problems surrounding AI.

He went on to explaining that the reason they are focused on solving issues with artificial intelligence is because they want to push the space forward but also that there is a fundamental value to solving AI and especially in the context of enterprise. As Mo spoke further with AI, they are not trying to teach the technology to be an expert in different areas but rather give it the fundamental human capabilities of reasoning, thinking and communicating.

Maluuba was acquired by Microsoft in January (2017) – Maluuba’s vision is to solve ‘Artificial General Intelligence’ by creating literate machines that can think, reason and communicate like humans.

Mo dived deeper into the concept of why it is important to teach a machine how to understand language. Language, as he explained, is what separates us from any of the other species. It is essentially the verbalisation of thoughts and if you can teach a machine to understand language, you have taught the machine to become intelligent. Their business is simply built on solving two sides: one that leads to perception and this includes speech recognition, object rejection and detection and machine translation and the others that lead to intelligence which are natural understanding, decision-making, reasoning, and memory. They are currently focusing on solving the perception problems but are soon moving on to the problems of intelligence.

In solving these specific language problems, Mo further explained that they are trying to create a society that can be focused on creativity and reasoning rather than the monotonous aspects of work and thus be more productive as a society.

Mo finished off his presentation with an insight into what is next for the world of AI. We might make advances in machine reading comprehension, common sense reasoning, and transferring language before moving onto a multi-modal approach.

If you are interested in learning more about Maluuba, check them out here

Panelists: Professor Doina Precup (right), undergraduate program director at the School of Computer Science at McGill University, and Mr. Jean-Sebastien Cournoyer (left), co-founder and partner at Real Ventures and co-founder and board member at Element AI.

We then moved on to our panel discussion which involved experts in the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence from the Montreal AI community. We had Professor Jiro Kondo, Assistant Professor of Finance at the Desautels Faculty of Management, facilitate the panel discussion between Professor Doina Precup, Undergraduate Program Director at the School of Computer Science at McGill University, and Mr. Jean-Sebastien Cournoyer, co-founder and partner at Real Ventures and co-founder and board member at Element AI.

Through this panel, they explored the trends and discussed the future opportunities in the industry. We looked at the impact of this technology on businesses in Canada and in Montreal especially, discussed the possibility of an AI-First world and finally, explored the role of entrepreneurs in this new field.

We finished the Business of Artificial Intelligence event presented by the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship and the McGill AI society, with a networking session with our speakers.

If you missed the event, check out our recorded livestream on Facebook!

Applications are now open for our 10-week summer intensive X-1 Accelerator program. Deadline is April 30, 2017. For more details, click here.


Sharanya Venkatesh

Sharanya Venkatesh is a U3 Geography and Social Entrepreneurship student at McGill University. Being a new member to The Dobson Chronicles team, she looks forward to learning more about the startup community at McGill and in Montreal.