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“AI for Powering Good” – A joint workshop by Hitachi & Mila

30 January 2020

Phong Nguyen
Researcher & Visiting Scholar at Mila – Center for Technology Innovation, Hitachi, Ltd.

Summary

In October 2019, the “AI for Powering Good” workshop was organized as part of a research collaboration project which has been going on between Mila (Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms) and Hitachi since spring 2019. The event attracted more than 20 researchers from the Hitachi Global Research and hundreds of students and professors from Mila. The program included not only scientific contents but also networking sessions and presentations from start-ups and businesses in Montreal. Professor Yoshua Bengio who leads the research at Mila and was awarded the 2018ACM A.M, Turing Award for “conceptual and engineering breakthrough that have made deep neural networks a critical component of computing,”, and Dr. Yuichi Yagawa, General Manager of the Central Research Laboratory of Hitachi, Ltd., both gave keynote speeches.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the most important technologies in the 21st century with the power to boost the economy through more efficient and smarter ways to do anything. AI is part of Hitachi’s strategy to bring innovation to the society. Mila—Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute is one of the top research institutes in the field of Deep Learning—a core algorithm that fuels the success of recent AI technology. Led by Professor Yoshua Bengio, Mila is the result of a partnership between the Université de Montréal and McGill University, two top universities that have been constantly publishing breakthrough results in Deep Learning in recent years. One of Prof. Bengio’s core missions is to apply AI in the needs of a better society, and that’s the reason behind his series of workshop “AI for Social Good,” which are held in many top conferences in the world. Realizing the opportunity to collaborate with brightest mind in the field of AI, and most importantly, with organizations with the same vision—one from industry, the other from academia, sharing the same core value of having AI to contribute to human life and social good, Hitachi and Mila agreed to collaborate on research projects which can lead the future of AI to better use.


Stephane Letourneau – Mila’s Vice President of Partnership introducing Mila in the opening remark


Keynote on the future of deep learning research by Professor Yoshua Bengio


Keynote by Dr. Yuichi Yagawa (Hitachi)

The workshop “AI for Powering Good” was an idea to bring the researchers from both Hitachi and Mila to meet each other and to share and exchange knowledge as networking is a key element for successful collaboration, I was assigned to make this happen, and with both sides eager and excited to hold the workshop, the program came together very quickly. It was packed with not only scientific contents but also networking sessions and presentations from start-ups and businesses in Montreal.


Phong Nguyen, visiting scholar in Mila introducing the workshop and Hitachi

The Business Meetup session provided the landscape of Montreal’s AI ecosystem with notable start-ups in the field of AI such as Kinova and Element AI. Both companies showed the strength of their AI research and solutions can be applied in industry. A noteworthy point that both companies mentioned was the success behind their innovation was the connection to the most advanced university research available in Montreal, including the tap in the resources of talents and professors in Mila, the Université de Montréal, and McGill University. Another reason was from the strong support from the Canadian government with heavy investment in accelerating, educating and training AI start-ups. NextAI (https://www.nextcanada.com/next-ai/) is an accelerator program which was born from these commitments from the government. NextAI and many start-ups are co-located around Mila within the same building or a few minutes walking distance. The ecosystem with Mila as the center of innovation was indeed impressive and attracting.

In the morning of the event, Dr. Yuya Okadome—a Hitachi researcher, presented the paper “Simultaneously Determining Target Object and Transport Velocity for Manipulator and Moving Vehicle in Piece-Picking Operation” by his colleague, Dr. Nobutaka Kimura, in the regular Tea Talk session. The Tea Talk is a technical regular lecture where Mila often invites great researchers from all over the world to give a talk. The session attracts the attention of many researchers and students from Mila. Dr. Okadome’s talk demonstrated the strength of Hitachi in both robotics and the intelligence of the solutions.


Dr. Yuya Okadome and his presentation in Tea Talk session

Professors and students from Mila joined Hitachi in a networking lunch. There were many conversations exchange among students and Hitachi researchers. Many students were curious about what it was like to work as a researcher at Hitachi in Japan. Shortly after lunch, Prof. Bengio and Hitachi took a ceremonial photo to celebrate the partnership agreement. Then Prof. Bengio gave his keynote on the current state of deep learning and where we are. He indicated that the direction of research is to include the causality and reasoning for deep learning models. Hitachi followed by a keynote introducing Hitachi’s technology and the commitment in AI technology to provide benefit for society.


Networking during lunch


Networking during lunch – Prof. Aaron Courville and Hitachi researcher Mr. Yusuke Fujita


Photo Session with Professor Yoshua Bengio

After the two keynotes, Prof. Bengio, Dr. Yagawa and Dr. Tatsuhiko Kagehiro, Head of the AI Laboratory in Hitachi Global Research, had a chance to sit down for a roundtable discussion in a relaxed atmosphere. They shared their deep insights about the origin of Mila, the expectation for AI, and the goal of the partnership and collaboration. The conversation was very interesting and details will be published on our website as part of the Hitachi’s Insights Lab web series.


Roundtable discussion between Hitachi and Mila

The workshop also included a Poster session, where researchers from both Mila and Hitachi showcased their work. Seven Hitachi posters and the same number from Mila was a perfect balance for exchanging research between industry and academia, and both sides reported being able to hold deep and interesting discussions and learning much from each other which contributed to broadening their research perspectives.


Poster Session and researchers discussing AI technology

Dr. Itaru Nishizawa—General Manager of the Digital Technology Center from Hitachi gave the closing remarks which included wishes for a successful collaboration. The workshop ended with laughter and satisfaction after a day full of activities and meaningful conversations.


Group photo