The Montreal Artificial Intelligence Landscape in 2018

Introduction

2018 is approaching fast, and it’s the time of the year when businesses set goals and take a long-term perspective. In 2017, Semeon put considerable effort into helping build the Montreal Artificial Intelligence community, and we wanted to put together a list of some companies that excite us and to watch this upcoming year. In our biased opinion, we should have made the list, but for the sake of integrity, we decided not to put ourselves on there.

A Brief History

First, it was the gold rush, then it was the old rush, now it is the data rush. Data is becoming/has become one of the most highly valued commodities in today’s society. It costs $1M to purchase the Twitter Firehose which allows access to all their data. But data has always been around, so why now? Because data means something now. Before, in the 70’s and 80’s when computational technology was beginning to take off, data became more and more valuable. Businesses were beginning to derive insights from the data. Now, with the resurgence of artificial intelligence, data is becoming even more powerful. Note that we say resurgence here because the concept has been around for ages. It even dates back to Greek mythology when the concept was used to express human-like machines which copied man’s behavior. Of course, our perception of artificial intelligence has come a long way. Today, we should be familiar with two main categories of A.i:
  1. Applied AI: Systems designed to carry out a specific function, intelligently. Trade stocks, drive cars, etc…
  2. Generalized AI: Systems designed to successfully perform any intellectual task that a human being can do.
The latter of which has yet to be created. All the companies we will talk about today focus on specific A.i which have specific functions. If you want a comprehensive background in Machine Learning and artificial intelligence, check out this article, here.

Why Montreal? 

With all the investment and cash flowing into artificial intelligence companies, academia, and research labs in Montreal recently, this is a question a lot of people have been asking. What makes Montreal a potential A.i Hub? This is a tricky question, especially when considering what the provincial government can do to boost its chances, but there are a few reasons why we believe in Montreal’s potential:
  1. Six universities and twelve junior colleges. Montreal has the highest proportion of post-secondary students in all major cities in North America. We have a lot of very smart people in a very small distance from one another.
  2. Low Cost of Living. Montreal is extremely cheap compared to other cities in Canada such as Toronto or Vancouver. This makes it a prime location for students and companies just getting their footing.
  3. An amazing ecosystem. The Montreal startup-ecosystem is astounding. The friendliness of all the companies, combined with the willingness of smart professionals to give talks leads to a win-win relationship for everyone.

Top 7 Companies

Ah… Yes! The part you have all been waiting for. In this top 10 list, we refrain from mentioning companies such as Google and Facebook. Despite them being prominent members of the Montreal A.I ecosystem, they were not built in Montreal. As Yoshua Bengio said, “Although these large companies coming to Montreal are contributing to the ecosystem in a beautiful way, in a few years from now we will need to have Canadian companies really leading the pack internationally for Canada to really succeed in this”. Semeon couldn’t agree more with this statement, and we are so excited to be able to highlight other Canadian based A.i companies.
So, what was the grading process for this list? We did not look at market cap or sales. When creating this list, we wanted to focus on diversity and potential impact. We wanted to mention a wide variety of companies so people know the possibilities of A.i while highlighting companies making a difference. In the list, you will see smaller companies making a difference in the community and larger companies creating change in the business world. Without further adieu:
  1. Element Ai (aka the 800-pound gorilla in the room): Led by one of the leading researchers in Artificial Intelligence, Element Ai, raised one of the largest rounds of financing ever seen in Montreal this past year. They focus on customized A.i solutions for businesses and implore you to “discover what AI means for your industry”.
  2. Malluba (Acquired by Microsoft): Yes, I know we said no non-Canadian companies, but Malluba started in Montreal and is committed to helping build the Montreal ecosystem. They are teaching machines to think, reason and communicate and operates one of the world’s leading research labs dedicated to solving artificial intelligence through natural language understanding.
  3. Automat.Ai: Automat is helping companies use AI to talk to their customers, understand them and serve them better. They are helping businesses have personalized one-on-one conversations at scale.
  4. Fleunt.Ai: Fluent offers OEMs and user interface designers a speech interface solution for their products and services. Their approach sidesteps the need to convert speech to text and instead learns to understand the meaning of audible speech — in any language or accent.
  5. Imagia: Imagia is tackling problems in the healthcare industry by scaling up an AI-driven collaborative discovery ecosystem to deliver impactful products and services personalizing healthcare.
  6. Nuance: Nuance is reinventing the relationship between people and technology. They focus on innovations in voice, natural language understanding, reasoning, and systems integration in order to create more human technology.
  7. Botler.Ai: Last but not least, Bolter.ai is focusing on helping the immigration process through A.i. We had the pleasure of meeting the founder, Amir Moravej, at an event we hosted and we believe that company he is building is an amazing example of how Artificial Intelligence can be used to benefit the community.

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