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The Economist: The founding of Maple Valley

How Canada’s unique research culture has aided artificial intelligence

The country has made a virtue out of limited resources

“ROBOTS controlled by remote supercomputers. Self-driving cars on narrow, winding streets. Board-game players of unimaginable skill. These successes of artificial intelligence (AI) rely on neural networks: algorithms that churn through data using a structure loosely based on the human brain, and calculate functions too complex for humans to write. The use of such networks is a signature of firms in Silicon Valley. But they were largely invented not in California but in Canada.

How did this breakthrough emerge from the land of moose and maple syrup? Canada cannot compete with America in research funding. Instead, it has made a virtue of limited resources, developing an alternative model of innovation based on openness to unorthodox ideas.

The roots of Canada’s contributions to AI reach back decades. In 1982 Fraser Mustard, a doctor, founded the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). He envisioned it as a “university without walls”, in which researchers could work across disciplines. Funded by the Canadian government, CIFAR encouraged its fellows to share their best ideas rather than guarding them jealously.”

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