Google’s DeepMind Turns to Canada for Artificial Intelligence Boost

July 5, 2017, 5:25 PM UTC

Google’s high-profile artificial intelligence unit has a new Canadian outpost.

DeepMind, which Google bought in 2014 for roughly $650 million, said Wednesday that it would open a research center in Edmonton, Canada. The new research center, which will work closely with the University of Alberta, is the United Kingdom-based DeepMind’s first international AI research lab.

DeepMind, now a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet (GOOG), recruited three University of Alberta professors from to lead the new research lab. The professors—Rich Sutton, Michael Bowling, and Patrick Pilarski—will maintain their positions at the university while working at the new research office.

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Sutton, in particular, is a noted expert in a subset of AI technologies called reinforcement learning and was an advisor to DeepMind in 2010. With reinforcement learning, computers look for the best possible way to achieve a particular goal, and learn from each time they fail.

DeepMind has popularized reinforcement learning in recent years through its AlphaGo program that has beat the world’s top players in the ancient Chinese board game, Go. Google has also incorporated some of the reinforcement learning techniques used by DeepMind in its data centers to discover the best calibrations that result in lower power consumption.

“DeepMind has taken this reinforcement learning approach right from the very beginning, and the University of Alberta is the world’s academic leader in reinforcement learning, so it’s very natural that we should work together,” Sutton said in a statement. “And as a bonus, we get to do it without moving.”

DeepMind has also been investigated by the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office for failing to comply with the United Kingdom’s Data Protection Act as it expands to using its technology in the healthcare space.

ICO information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in a statement on Monday that the office discovered a “number of shortcomings” in the way DeepMind handled patient data as part of a clinical trial to use its technology to alert, detect, and diagnosis kidney injuries. The ICO claims that DeepMind failed to explain to participants how it was using their medical data for the project.

DeepMind said Monday that it “underestimated the complexity” of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service “and of the rules around patient data, as well as the potential fears about a well-known tech company working in health.” DeepMind said it would be now be more open to the public, patients, and regulators with how it uses patient data.

“We were almost exclusively focused on building tools that nurses and doctors wanted, and thought of our work as technology for clinicians rather than something that needed to be accountable to and shaped by patients, the public and the NHS as a whole,” DeepMind said in a statement. “We got that wrong, and we need to do better.”

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