The Waterloo AI Institute counts among a handful of research institutes in Canada in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine learning (ML) that have been established over the past few years. The main goal of the Institute was to provide very much sought know-how in AI/ML by companies that are aiming to become more competitive in the age of big data, cloud computing, automation and robotics, and Internet of Things. Major growth witnessed in the past ten years in the field of AI/ML has motivated many companies to benefit from the trend. Given the critical mass of UW researchers working in AI/ML or related fields, establishing the Waterloo AI Institute was a compelling initiative. With support from various faculties around the University, and in particular the faculties of Math and Engineering, the Institute was inaugurated in mid 2018, around the same time that other federally funded institutes were founded (MILA, AMII, Vector Institute).
Within two years of its foundation and thanks to the many efforts of researchers from all faculties and with the support of more than 18 industrial partners who contributed funding and in-kind resources (datasets, computing resources, staff time), the Institute was able to achieve a number of important goals. These include the funding of more than 45 short and long term research projects through funding from our industrial partners, organizing several reverse co-op sessions mostly directed to staff and researchers of sponsoring companies, supporting financially and in-kind more than eight national and international workshops and conferences, establishing a regular seminar series for researchers at UW, organizing a job fair for our graduating students (students affiliated with the AI Institute through their supervisors), and introducing the Institute to more that seventy five companies, mostly in Canada and the US. The Institute has been able to attract more than $6M in funding from industrial partners with commitment of support ranging from one year to four years. These were in the form of direct support for research projects, a research chair, scholarships, and sponsoring of various Institute activities.
The Institute currently counts among its membership more than 165 faculty members and more than 250 graduate students, all working in AI/ML and related fields. While a lot has been achieved, there are still challenges and hurdles to overcome. The impact of the COVID19 outbreak, which has slowed down the injection of funds (whether new or already committed), has been quite strong. It has mainly impacted the output of some funded projects and the pace of the undertaken research by faculty members and research scientists (mostly due to lack of access to new graduate students and to the restructuring of some of the companies that have originally supported a number of research projects).
As we embark on a new year of the life of the Institute, we continue planning for more activities to benefit our partners and researchers affiliated with the Institute. These planned activities include: a set of seminars, talks, panel discussions, and reverse co-op sessions. The Institute continues sponsoring international workshop and international activities scheduled for the remaining of 2020 and into 2021. As we are reaching actively for more companies, more funding will be materialized to support more researchers and sponsoring industries. We continue counting on the great support of our faculty colleagues and students, who have made the project of the Institute a reality.