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Technology

Samsung opens Canadian AI center to chase Google

Tech giant teams up with two powerhouse universities in Montreal

Ji Soo Yi, Samsung's Vice President of AI Strategy, describes the new Samsung Home smart speaker during a product launch event in Brooklyn, New York in August.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- Samsung Electronics is looking to tap into Canada's cutting-edge artificial intelligence expertise with a new research center in Montreal, in its efforts to narrow the gap with Google in the promising technology.

The South Korean tech giant on Thursday launched its fourth North American AI center in cooperation with the University of Montreal and McGill University -- two powerhouses in AI research. McGill has world-leading expertise in human-robot interaction, while the University of Montreal is similarly recognized for its excellence in deep learning. 

"We plan to ... leverage the tremendous AI talent in Montreal," said Gregory Dudek of the McGill University School of Computer Science, who will lead the center, at the opening event. "We are also looking forward to collaborating with the top universities and academic institutions in the region."

Samsung may also hope to benefit from Canada's efforts to draw international skilled workers who have difficulty in getting visas to work in the U.S. under the Trump administration. Many international students who graduate from top U.S. colleges cross the border into Canada, which welcomes skilled immigrants.

The establishment of Samsung's AI center comes one year after DeepMind, an AI research affiliate of Google's parent Alphabet, launched its research lab in the Canadian city in collaboration with McGill. Samsung is trying to narrow its gap with Google in AI technology, which has applications in smartphones, home appliances and autonomous driving.

Attendees at the opening ceremony of Samsung's new Montreal AI R&D center gather for a photo on Oct. 18. The Canadian city has emerged as a powerhouse in AI, and Samsung aims to tap the abundant research talent there.

Samsung aims to develop its virtual assistant Bixby to compete with Google Assistant, which is expanding its presence through the company's powerful search engine, the Android operating system and Google Home, its smart speaker and home assistant.

"By leveraging the power of AI in Samsung's products and services, we must focus on creating new values, never seen nor experienced before," said Cho Seung-hwan, vice president of Samsung Research. "To do this, seven global AI centers, including the Montreal AI Center, will play a pivotal role."

Samsung said the Canadian government had offered some incentives for the company to set up the center in the Quebec City, but declined to elaborate. The company also did not reveal how much it will invest there.

Ottawa showed its support and interest in the AI center, sending Transportation Minister Marc Garneau to the launch event. Greater Montreal has emerged as a powerhouse in AI research, and is home to 250 researchers and 9,000 university students in related programs.

Earlier this year, Samsung announced plans to expand its advanced AI research capabilities to 1,000 researchers by 2020, when all products and services of the company are expected to be AI-enabled. Samsung runs AI centers in Silicon Valley, New York and Toronto as well as Seoul, Cambridge in the U.K., and Moscow.

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