Microsoft Ventures recently made its first investment as part of a new fund for artificial intelligence initiatives.
The Montreal-based Element AI became the first organization to receive an investment as part of the new fund. Element AI is an incubator that helps organizations embrace an “AI-first” strategy, and was co-founded by Jean-François Gagné, Nicolas Chapados and Yoshua Bengio.
Bengio has long been considered a founding advocate of deep learning technology. The incubator is composed of a research lab and launches AI-based solutions in partnership with large corporations.
Element AI is seeking to raise tens of millions with plans to fund business solutions derived from corporate and publicly sourced data. The Globe and Mail also reports that the firm plans to hire 40 additional employees by February, to add to its 30-person team. The size of Microsoft’s investment was not disclosed.
Bengio is also a professor of the Department of Computer Science and Operations Research a the University of Montreal, head of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), CIFAR program co-director of the CIFAR Neural Computation and Adaptive Perception program and the Canada Research Chair in Statistical Learning Algorithms.
Jean-Francois Gagné, who currently serves as the CEO of Element AI, posted a note on the incubator’s website this morning regarding the investment. He wrote that Microsoft’s Azure environment would be extremely beneficial in the overall development of AI solutions.
“It is hard to contain the pride I have for my team, looking at everything we have accomplished in under two months. Come January, Element AI will already count a team of 30 outstanding individuals… and we will keep on going. Today’s Microsoft news will help fuel this growth as the relationship gives Element’s research center a direct connection to Microsoft Research, which will supercharge us and our partners as we build the the next generation of great companies,” he said in the statement.
Furthermore, Nagraj Kashyap, the corporate vice president of Microsoft Ventures posted a note of welcome on their website which outlined the principles of AI.
“Not long ago our CEO Satya Nadella outlined principles and goals for AI: AI must be designed to assist humanity; be transparent; maximize efficiency without destroying human dignity; provide intelligent privacy and accountability for the unexpected; and be guarded against biases. These principles guide us as we move forward with this fund,” he said in the statement.
This investment comes just after Google parent Alphabet’s $4.5 million investment in the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, also headed by Bengio. The Globe and Mail went on to report that Alphabet is also launching an AI research group based in Montreal.
Furthermore, AI has proven to be a key component in Microsoft’s overarching plans for Azure as well as its digital assistant Cortana. This past September, Microsoft created a 5000-person AI research group, led by Harry Shum, by combining several existing businesses.