Friday, November 24, 2023

Prominent AI researcher launches new Alberta lab with funding from Huawei after Ottawa restrictions

Prominent AI researcher launches new Alberta lab with funding from Huawei after Ottawa restrictions
in Ottawa

Open this photo in the gallery:

Well-known computer scientist and AI researcher Richard Sutton at his home in Edmonton, Alberta, on November 23. Professor Sutton launches new AI research institute in Edmonton with funding from Huawei.

One of the country’s most accomplished artificial intelligence researchers launches new non-profit lab with $4.8 million in funding from Huawei Canada, after the federal government restricted the Chinese company’s capacity to work with publicly funded universities.

Richard Sutton, a professor at the University of Alberta and a pioneer in the field of reinforcement learning, says the Openmind Research Institute will fund researchers following Alberta’s plan, a 12-step guide he co-authored a framework last year to further develop AI agents capable of human-level intelligence.

Openmind will be based in Edmonton and will begin Friday with a weekend retreat in Banff.

Huawei, Meng, spy

Canada last year banned the use of Huawei equipment in 5G networks, citing the company as a security risk because of its ties to the Chinese government, which could use the company for espionage purposes. Huawei has long denied this accusation.

Jim Hinton, a patent lawyer based in Waterloo, Ontario and a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation, said: HuaweiOpenmind’s involvement raises concerns. “Even if the money is provided with as few strings attached as possible, there is still soft power being exercised,” he said. “The fact that they hold the purse strings gives them significant control.”

In 2021, Ottawa began restrict funding for research collaborations between publicly funded universities and entities with ties to countries considered national security risks, including China. Alberta has implemented similar restrictions for sensitive research at the provincial level. Artificial intelligence is particularly sensitive because this technology has military applications and can be used for nefarious purposes.

“I hope this can counter that narrative and be an example of how things could be really good,” Professor Sutton said of the Openmind and Huawei funding. “This is a case where the interaction with China has been really productive and very valuable in contributing to open AI research in Canada. »

All work carried out by Openmind, which is separate from Professor Sutton’s role within the University of Alberta will be open source and the institute will not pursue intellectual property rights.

Neither does Huawei. “I was a little surprised that they were willing to do something so open and without any attempt at control,” said Professor Sutton, who has a long-standing relationship with Huawei in China. Alberta.

 Trudeau promoting Huawei technology

Huawei did not respond to requests for comment.

Although the Chinese company has been excluded from 5G networks and limited in its collaboration with Canadian universities, it can still work directly with individual researchers.

“Companies linked to the Chinese military, like Huawei, will try to find other ways to circumvent federal rules, including directly funding researchers outside of academic institutions. It appears Huawei is doing just that,” said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior researcher at the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Science, Society and Policy. “China is pushing the boundaries as far as it can. »

Professor Sutton wrote the textbook – literally – on reinforcement learning, which is an approach aimed at developing AI agents capable of performing actions in an environment to achieve an objective. Reinforcement learning is pervasive in the world of AI, including in autonomous vehicles and the way chatbots like ChatGPT are tweaked to appear more human.

Born in the United States, Professor Sutton completed a PhD at the University of Massachusetts in 1984 and worked in industry before returning to academia. He joined the University of Alberta in 2003, where he founded the Reinforcement Learning and Artificial Intelligence Lab. He left the United States for Canada in part because of his opposition to the policies of former President George W. Bush and the country’s military campaigns abroad.

Alphabet Inc. hired him in 2017 to run the company’s AI research office in Edmonton through its DeepMind subsidiary, but I closed it in January as part of a company-wide restructuring.

The closure left Professor Sutton with unfinished business, in a sense. His goal is to “understand intelligence,” as he puts it, a necessary endeavor if we are to build truly intelligent agents. His work at the university is a path to pursuing this goal, as is his recent position at Keen Technologies, a US AI startup founded by former Meta Platforms Inc. consulting CTO John Carmack. Keen raised $20 million last year, including from Shopify founder Tobi Lütke.

Openmind is another way to pursue this goal, Professor Sutton said. Although large language models, which power chatbots like ChatGPT, have received a lot of attention, they are not particularly interesting. “It’s a good thing, useful, but it’s kind of a distraction,” he said.

He is much more interested in creating AI applications that can make complex decisions and achieve goals, what many call artificial general intelligence, or AGI. “I imagine machines doing all sorts of things that people do,” he said. “They will interact and discover, just like people, that the best way to progress is to work with other people.”

Professor Sutton will serve on Openmind’s board of directors alongside University of Alberta computer science professor Randy Goebel and Joseph Modayil, who previously worked at DeepMind. Mr. Modayil is also the Research Director of Openmind.

“Understanding the mind is a great scientific challenge that has driven my work for more than two decades,” he said in an email.

A committee composed of co-authors of Plan Alberta and professors Michael Bowling and Patrick Pilarski of the University of Alberta will select the researchers. Openmind’s research program will be established independently of its funding sources, according to a backgrounder on the institute provided by Professor Sutton.

The briefing also notes that Openmind researchers will be natural candidates for founding startups and commercializing research outside of the nonprofit sector. “While there is no legal requirement for an Openmind researcher to work with Openmind donors, familiarity, trust, and consistent perspectives would make this a likely outcome,” according to the briefing document.

Huawei’s support puts the company in a better position to work with Openmind’s talent, Hinton said. Even though the research will be open source, foreign multinational companies like Huawei are often better equipped to profit from it than Canadian companies, which have a poor track record of protecting intellectual property and capturing the economic benefits that flow from the research. ‘innovation.

Canadian governments review transactions involving foreign companies and physical assets, such as mines, to ensure the domestic economy benefits. But they are not up to par when it comes to intellectual property. “When it comes to intangible assets, we don’t understand how it works,” Mr. Hinton said.

Professor Sutton is a big proponent of open source and takes a dim view of intellectual property, saying that an emphasis on ownership can slow down innovation. “You interact with lawyers and spend a lot of time and money on things that don’t advance research,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem like it worked at all for intellectual property in computing.”

He is open to more funding for Openmind and said that if donors are not comfortable with Huawei’s participation, they can also support AI research through the Reinforcement Learning Lab. the University of Alberta. Openmind is “adamant” that Huawei cannot influence the nonprofit’s research, it added, and said it would refuse further funding if the company tried to do so. .

“I see this as a purely positive and mutually beneficial way of interaction between Huawei and academic researchers,” he said. “It may not last, but as long as it lasts, it’s absolutely a good thing.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments always welcome!