AI Centers Go Global, but SV Still Runs the Show

As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly important for business and AI data scientists become scarcer, there is growing international competition to create AI centers around the world. AI hubs bring together academic research and industry, feed innovation, and attract experts. Silicon Valley in the United States remains the leading contender with its concentration of IT companies and venture capitalists. In the US, the runner up is likely to be considered Boston—home to Harvard, MIT, and Boston Dynamics’ famed robots.

The US is not the only place that is focusing upon AI, however. China has expressed a desire to be number one in AI; a first mover with significant research and innovation. They are investing heavily in this sector, and time will tell whether they are able to achieve this goal—which would be difficult unless US tech industry dynamics change. Other countries have lesser goals, such as specializing in AI within niche markets (automobiles, for example). Some hubs are also centered around particular institutions, government centers, industrial research labs, or specific researchers. It is notable that McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) studies show that in 2016, the US got 66% of external AI investments (40% in Silicon Valley, alone), with China second at 17%, and others more distant.

Following are some of the top and upcoming AI centers around the world.


China intends to become a dominant player in artificial intelligence hoping to create $150 billion industry by 2030. China’s focus is important due to its huge online population — over 750 million people — as well as a tech – savvy population, and a government interested in using AI to build efficiencies in its cities. China is already estimated to have the biggest AI ecosystem after the United States, although still dwarfed in spending and number of companies. With the US cutting back on many areas, China believes that it can surge forth in technology such as AI to gain an edge.

One important center for Chinese AI is the Shanghai’s Xuhui District. Shanghai plans to build a number of AI development centers and has recently hosted the 2017 Global Artificial Intelligence Innovation Summit. The Xuhui AI ecosystem and new innovation center are expected to be completed near 2020. The District currently has more than 120 scientific research facilities, 10 institutions of higher learning and thousands of laboratories and R&D centers. Shanghai will also be creating AI development hubs in its Jingan, Yangpu, Jiading and Baoshan districts. The focus of its AI efforts will include big data, cloud computing, and the Internet of vehicles and robots. Chinese companies pursuing AI ventures are led by the BAT companies of Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, plus branches of American companies such as Google, Microsoft, and IBM.


Canada is focusing upon artificial intelligence at the government level. The key city to watch at the moment is Montréal, though Toronto also has AI activity. Montréal has academic resources at the Université de Montréal and at McGill University, plus a growing range of companies locating AI facilities there to take advantage of local talent. Google has an AI lab in Montréal focusing on deep learning related to the Google Brain project. It is also investing more than $3 million USD in the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), a joint research group created by, McGill  and the Université de Montréal. Microsoft has also invested in Montréal’s burgeoning AI sector in supporting a tech-incubator called Element AI from the Institute for Data Valorization (IVADO). Microsoft is growing research and design in Montréal and investing $7 million in Montréal’s academic community in pursuit of AI. The Université de Montréal has 100 researchers in deep learning and McGill has 50. Montréal has one of the biggest concentrations of university students of all major North American cities and is a Canadian leader in university research.


In Europe, London is the top AI center, supporting a Google presence through the acquisition of British – based Deep Mind in 2014. It was a Deep Mind program that defeated a professional Go player and made headlines a few years ago. London is also home to startups such as Tractable for visual recognition and VocalIQ, a self-learning dialogue API acquired by Apple. London is also home to the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), an AI research Center open by Stephen Hawking that features a collaboration between Cambridge University, Oxford, Imperial College London, and the University of California at Berkeley.

In the European Union, France is also pursuing AI. The French have more than 100 startups leveraging AI in a variety of applications. France has one of the world’s largest machine learning and AI communities, although it’s best and brightest are often hired by global tech firms. While London is still considered the leading European AI hub, Paris has been making some inroads. Overseas interest includes Facebook’s global AI research center in Paris, and Google’s acquired Moodstocks machine learning startup . French universities and research institutions involved with AI include the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation, and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Available talent includes 4000 members of the Paris Machine Learning Group, home of the open source code library for AI, SciKit Learn. Startups include Valeo which has recently launched the first global research center in AI in deep learning dedicated to automotive applications.


In Asia, Singapore is also building and AI hub, which matches its ongoing interest in advanced computing and networking. Singapore is building a smart city architecture based on IBM Watson, and IBM is working with the National University of Singapore (NUS) to offer a Watson-based cognitive computing education program. Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) is investing up to $107 million USD over five years in AI.SG, a national program to promote AI adoption.  Startups include Teqlabs, a new innovation lab focusing on initiatives such as API integration for the financial technology industry.  A new artificial intelligence incubator has been announced by private investment firm Marvelstone Group, which plans to build 100 AI startups per year and attract global AI talent to Singapore.

In the End…

Silicon Valley remains very much in the lead. These are just some of the active global AI centers in a dynamic that includes continuous poaching of AI talent and acquisition of promising startups. It is unlikely that this will change soon, even with current developments in global trade and immigration. But hubs outside of SV will continue to drive AI forward, developing talent and new ideas.


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