South Korean consumer electronics giant LG Electronics is looking to establish an artificial-intelligence lab in Toronto, the latest in a slew of foreign multinationals looking to tap Canada’s internationally renowned talent in the field.
A spokeswoman for LG declined to share details of the company’s AI plans for Canada, saying they were in the “early stages,” adding, “we do not have specific details to share regarding the Toronto AI lab at this time.”
However, The Globe and Mail has reviewed LG job postings on career sites in recent weeks advertising for a director of artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as for AI/machine-learning scientists for a “Toronto AI lab.” The ads said the lab would work with the company’s research group in Silicon Valley as part of LG’s “North America AI initiative” to “design and launch AI products and solutions that help predict, personalize and transform lifestyles of LG’s global footprint of devices and users.” The lab will report to LG’s vice-president of AI and Machine Learning, Mohak Shah, who joined the company in January after heading data science for Bosch at its Palo Alto, Calif., office. Mr. Shah earned his PhD in computer science at University of Ottawa in 2006 and is an adjunct research professor at University of Illinois.
In addition, a delegation from LG led by chief technology officer Skott Ahn is known to have visited University of Toronto last fall to explore a potential partnership with the institution, which has collaborated with global giants Fujitsu Laboratories and Huawei Technologies on research partnerships.
The November visit was “an effort to learn more about both the City of Toronto and University of Toronto’s expertise in AI and related fields,” said Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president, research and innovation. “We have not formalized any research collaborations.”
LG, one of the world’s largest producers of televisions, mobile phones, air conditioners, washing machines and refrigerators, with US$55-billion in revenue last year, has been on a drive to incorporate AI technologies into its home appliances. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show the company unveiled its AI platform LG ThinQ, which it intends to embed in its products to learn its users’ preferences and communicate them among various LG devices in their homes.
The company is following a strategy similar to that of rival Korean consumer electronics giant Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., which announced last month it would open an AI lab at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District. Samsung is also looking to use its AI-powered personal-assistant platform Bixby to get its televisions, appliances and smartphones to interact with users and one another.
The two Korean technology giants follow Facebook Inc., Uber Technologies, Microsoft Corp., Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Thales SA, which have all set up AI labs in Canada, snapping up many of the top Canadian academics in the field. Among Canadian banks, Royal Bank of Canada has built a large AI research group in Canada while Toronto-Dominion Bank this year paid $100-million for Toronto startup Layer 6 to jump-start its AI efforts.
The slew of incoming research operations has been greeted by some in the ecosystem as a welcome validation of the quality of talent in Canada, where much of the pioneering research driving the wide-scale adoption of AI was done. Others have raised concerns that deep-pocketed global giants will be able to outspend a slew of domestic AI start-ups for talent, creating greater wealth for their home country than Canada and limiting the ability of domestic companies to scale up into global AI giants.
Amid the global raid on Canadian talent, the federal government last year committed $125-million to fund AI institutes to help keep researchers employed in Canada.
The LG lab will represent the first Canadian R&D presence for the company, which employs 272 people in this country.