How does intelligence work, and how can it be created? Even as a teenager, Yoshua Bengio was fascinated by this thorny question. “I learned to program, I read science fiction and dreamed about artificial intelligence.”
Today he is considered one of the fathers of the computer systems inspired by the way our neurons function. This “deep learning” technique brought artificial intelligence out of the realm of fantasy, leading to spectacular advances in voice and image recognition and making technological applications like self-driving cars possible.
These results owe much to his patience and tenacity. Artificial neuronal networks, his research topic ever since his Master’s thesis, were far from popular before he demonstrated their potential in an article published in 2006. “I had a lot of trouble convincing my students to work on it. They were afraid they wouldn’t find jobs when they graduated,” he says.
That is no longer the case. In 2013, Google paid steeply to purchase DeepMind, a young London firm specializing in artificial intelligence, where several of Professor Bengio’s former students were working. The race to attract talent was launched, and Bengio’s laboratory became the main breeding ground for artificial intelligence programmers. So much so that Google and Microsoft opened research centres in Montréal and the local science and business communities joined forces to make the city a hub for this new industry.