South Korean consumer electronics giant LG Electronics Inc. is turning to the University of Toronto to build its artificial-intelligence muscle, as the university hopes to build a better reputation in applying its sought-after research in the real world.
As first reported by The Globe and Mail in June, LG has been planning to develop an AI presence in Toronto since at least last year, posting job listings for a “Toronto AI lab” and sending a delegation to Canada’s largest university. In an interview, LG’s global president and chief technology officer, I.P. Park, confirmed the multinational manufacturer will establish both a five-year, multimillion-dollar research partnership with U of T and build an AI lab on its campus’s southern border as soon as this fall.
LG is the latest in a string of global giants, among them Fujitsu Laboratories and Huawei Technologies, to partner with the university for research. Mr. Park said the company is thrilled to tap U of T’s foundational expertise in AI – in particular its prowess in the discipline and development of deep learning, led by professor emeritus Geoffrey Hinton. But Vivek Goel, the school’s vice-president of research and innovation, said he hopes LG will help U of T gain more expertise in the application and commercialization of AI, building further corporate connections and helping it elbow its way into the same league as Bay Area juggernauts such as Stanford University.
Students, professors and post-doctoral fellows “will get to see that global side of how you build product and how you get to global markets,” Mr. Goel said in an interview alongside Mr. Park in Toronto last week. “This is all about, from our perspective, building our ecosystem here in Toronto and in Canada.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Park praised Canada’s strengths in “fundamental” AI – that is, the core development of theories and algorithms to move artificial intelligence forward, which companies such as Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have all taken advantage of, setting up shops here.
LG works less in the purely digital space than those tech titans – it’s a leading producer of televisions, mobile phones, air conditioners, washing machines and refrigerators. But it is in a race, alongside other manufacturers, to enhance customer experiences through connected, “Internet of Things” devices. The company, which brought in revenue of US$55-billion last year, has begun embedding WiFi in all of its home products, connecting them to the cloud to process data and developing intelligent services for them that become customized for users over time.
“One of our main AI-related initiatives is to allow our products to evolve over time, so our products will learn about users, the environment, and context, and they get better and better,” Mr. Park said. “The core part of that is fundamental AI algorithms that allow you to learn. We think Canada is the best place [to develop that].… We want Canada to be more fundamental-AI-oriented, so that future AI algorithms can be much more efficient, which will be fundamental to our evolve-over-time initiative that we have for our product solutions.”
LG will open its lab on College Street near a cluster of computer-science-related buildings at the central U of T campus. The company describes it as an extension of its global AI research-and-development facilities, focusing on fundamental research in Canada; product-related research in South Korea; applied, future-oriented research in Silicon Valley; and other work in Russia, India and beyond.
The company said it would hire a mostly local team in Toronto, with global executives and scientists regularly cycling through. The company intends to hire several dozen employees, but Mr. Park would not say who would lead its operations, except that “I can guarantee you that we are hiring the world’s top AI experts here.”
The U of T partnership, meanwhile, consists of several professors discussing initial projects, though Mr. Park said that all of the school’s professors, from any discipline, would soon be welcome to apply to collaborate on research with LG. The lab, Mr. Goel said, “will also be a gateway to scientists around the world, and so it gives our faculty an opportunity to find collaborations or partnerships in disciplines or areas that we may not have the capacity for.”
Mr. Goel said any intellectual property that is developed through the LG collaboration will be shared. Mr. Park also said it would consider investing in small Canadian businesses that fit into its R&D vision through its global corporate venture capital fund, though it would not set any funding or deal-number targets for Canadian-specific investments.