The AI revolution spreads its wings in Toronto, and at U of T

Geoffrey Hinton may feel a bit sheepish about his “godfather” of deep learning moniker, but there’s little doubt the University Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto helped spark a revolution in artificial intelligence, or AI, that could eventually touch everyone on the planet.

“I feel slightly embarrassed by being called the godfather,” Hinton admits in a recent profile published by London’s The Daily Telegraph, the first in a three-part series on the explosion of AI research and startups in Toronto.

Hinton’s early life – raised in Great Britain, a brief stint as a carpenter, then into academia with a focus on AI – is recounted. So are the years toiling in relative obscurity as he worked on a machine learning approach at U of T that mimics the way human toddlers learn.

Hinton, who is an engineering fellow at Google and the chief scientific adviser at the newly created Vector Institute, also voices optimism about the impact AI will have on fields like medicine and why the automation of the economy shouldn’t be feared.

Problem solver: Why one U of T startup accelerator also works with larger corporations

When Allanson International ran into issues with an LED lamp for commercial kitchens, the Toronto-based lighting and signage firm not only turned to its in-house R&D team for help – it sought out the extensive multidisciplinary expertise available through one of the University of Toronto’s entrepreneurship hubs.

In addition to launching startups, the Impact Centre, one of several entrepreneurship and commercialization hubs at U of T, functions as a for-hire research and development lab by working with corporations that need help developing, prototyping and testing new products.

Allanson’s problem: a new LED fixture designed for restaurant vent hoods had a nasty habit of cracking.

“They came to us with a lighting problem, but I quickly realized this was in fact a heat transfer problem,” says Venkat Venkataramanan, who is the Impact Centre’s scientific director and the founder of Lumentra, a company that provides testing and measuring services for the lighting industry.

So Venkataramanan reached out to Professor Thomas Coyle in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. Coyle, in turn, secured a grant, hired a student research assistant and a few months later isolated the issue to the interface between the light’s metal and glass components.

Inside the AI healthcare revolution: Meeting the robots that can detect Alzheimer’s and depression

Just 45 seconds in the company of scientist Frank Rudzicz and his machines is all it takes to determine whether or not you are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

In that time, the complex Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms that the 37-year-old and his team have developed are able to pick apart your voice and predict the severity of the disease to an accuracy of around 82 per cent (and rising).

 First, there is your actual use of language. Alzheimer’s sufferers tend to leave longer pauses between words, prefer pronouns to nouns (for example, saying “she” rather than a person’s name) and give more simplistic descriptions, such as a “car” rather than the model or make.

Then there is what Rudzicz calls the “jittter and shimmer” of speech; variations in frequency and amplitude. “These are very difficult for the human ear to pick up but the computer is objective and completely quantifiable,” he says.

Signing off every night at PNE fair with dazzling drone show

Move over, fireworks. The drones are in town.

Instead of the usual fireworks capping a day at The Fair at the PNE, this year a fleet of drones takes centre stage in a choreographed light show synced to music.

“It’s a really cool new art medium,” said Everett Findlay, the CEO of Arrowonics, a Toronto-based tech startup that puts together the nightly finale mounted above a pond and can be viewed from Festival Park. “It’s working in 3-D space as opposed to a flat canvas.”

The show, called the Northern Light Sky display, is designed to showcase B.C.’s natural beauty. Equipped with LED lights, the drones fly in formation, about 100 metres high, and dance, shimmer and glitter in the night sky like giant fireflies, forming shapes of a mountain, a flower, a bird, and the northern lights.

U of T’s Creative Destruction Lab adds new quantum computing partner

The Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), a seed-stage startup accelerator at the University of Toronto, is doubling down on the nascent field of quantum machine learning by partnering with a second quantum computing firm.

CDL said this week it has forged a new partnership with Silicon Valley-based Rigetti Computing, which is attempting to build a general purpose quantum computer that uses the non-intuitive properties of atoms to perform complex calculations.

The agreement permits the 40-odd individuals who comprise CDL’s inaugural quantum machine learning stream – a world first in the startup space – to write algorithms to be crunched on Rigetti’s systems, accessed via the cloud.

A similar agreement was inked earlier this year with Vancouver’s D-Wave Systems. The company has sold its $15 million quantum machines to Google, NASA and defence giant Lockheed Martin among others.

Cooking up sous vide: U of T startup connects smartphones to kitchens

Armed with an entrepreneurship fellowship, Rayner Mendes set his sights on China and its fast-growing economy last year – only to discover a potentially big business opportunity back home in Canada.

Mendes, an Ivey Business School grad, was searching for a startup job in the country of nearly 1.4 billion when he made a social media connection with Grant Hu, a University of Toronto alumnus who was running a Beijing-based company that sold commercial-grade sous vide cooking machines to Chinese restaurants and cafés.

Sous vide, which translates into “under vacuum,” is a cooking method in which plastic-bagged food is submerged into a warm water bath for several hours to achieve a perfect level of doneness.

“He said, ‘I went to U of T and you went to Western – we’re both Canadian so why don’t you come over [to China],’” Mendes recalls. “I thought he was a little crazy at the time. I mean, who gives someone a job offer like that over a LinkedIn message?”

The two put their heads together in Beijing and came up with a consumer-oriented sous vide device, called the Nise Wave, and built a new, North America-focused company around it.

U of T’s Centre for Engineering making progress on St. George

The University of Toronto‘s St. George Campus is expanding yet again, as construction of the institution’s new Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CEIE) progresses on St. George Street, a short distance north of College Street. We last updated the progress on this 8-storey, Montgomery Sisam Architects and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios-designed institutional building back in early May, when work was underway on the 7th level. Since then, forming has wrapped up on the mechanical penthouse, with the project now topped out.

Cladding installation has also progressed a fair bit since early May, when clear curtainwall glazing on the ground floor marked the start of work on the building’s skin. The CEIE’s exterior now features the start of a textured, grid-like pattern of precast concrete and glass. Curtainwall glazing now reaches the building’s sixth floor, while piers of brick-patterned precast panels with vertical brise-soleil fins are respectively adding warmth and texture to the exterior.

The CEIE will serve as the 14th building added to the University of Toronto’s “Engineering precinct”, offering new collaborative spaces, prototyping and fabrication facilities, 8 design studios, dedicated student-club space, and five Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) rooms. The building’s 500-seat Lee & Margaret Lau Auditorium features a unique small-group-seating configuration that will be the first of its kind on the continent, while the outdoor Dr. Woo Hon Fai Terrace will offer students and faculty views overlooking the surroundings.

Funding for the project has been sourced in part through alumni and donor support since 2012, with over $26.5 million collected, including a $15 million contribution from the Government of Ontario. The CEIE is on track to open its doors in 2018.

From Oslo to T.O. and back again: Norwegian entrepreneurs wrap up summer program at U of T

Petter Bruåsdal is about to board a plane back to Norway, armed with a 10-week crash course in entrepreneurship from the University of Toronto and an idea that could potentially save the Scandinavian country’s health-care system millions.

One of two dozen Norwegian students who participated in a summer internship and training program organized by U of T’s Impact Centre accelerator, Bruåsdal came up with the idea of a motion-dampening pillow to reduce the number of blurred head scans taken in magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, machines.

“We will definitely look at it when we get back to Norway,” said Bruåsdal, 24. “I will look into the market feasibility in Norway and talk about it with my uncle – a radiologist who has a clinic that does MRI and CT scanning.”

Bruåsdal delivered an investment-style sales pitch on behalf of the would-be company – called SupPillow – alongside his Norwegian peers as part of the program’s final pitch day.

Opportunity out of adversity: U of T entrepreneur wants to make paper medical records history

James Bateman had already made an improbable leap from home construction to quantum mechanics when life threw up a detour sign.

The University of Toronto PhD candidate’s father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, plunging the entire family into a vortex of doctor’s appointments and hospital visits.

In addition to dealing with the stress of the devastating diagnosis, Bateman says his mother-in-law was at risk of being buried under an avalanche of paperwork as she struggled to co-ordinate his care across nearly a half dozen sites.

“He lived in Markham and was going to two downtown Toronto hospitals, as well as a community hospital in Markham and a cardiac facility in Newmarket,” recalls Bateman. “We also had public and private home-care agencies, and a primary care physician as well.”

“The only way to do it was to actually have a copy of the medical file from each place so she could walk into the offices with the information in-hand.”

Bateman figured there had to be a better way.