Huawei backs new Canadian AI lab

One of the foremost researchers in artificial intelligence is hoping people will keep an “open mind” about where his new lab is getting its money.

What happened: Openmind, a new AI research lab from Canadian AI pioneer Richard Sutton, is getting $4.8 million in funding from Chinese technology giant Huawei.

  • Based in Edmonton and beginning operations this weekend, the lab’s work will be fully open source, and will not pursue intellectual property rights for its discoveries.

Catch-up: Sutton previously led the Alberta offshoot of Alphabet’s DeepMind lab, which was closed in January as a cost-cutting measure. In the summer, Sutton announced Openmind as a place to pursue the “Alberta Plan” for developing artificial intelligence.

  • Co-authored by Sutton, the “Alberta Plan” is a framework for understanding computer intelligence and eventually developing systems capable of more complex decision-making.
  • Instead of the large language models that ChatGPT is based on, the Plan is more aligned with Sutton’s expertise in reinforcement learning, which focuses on long-term, goal-oriented learning.

Why it matters: Both the federal and Alberta governments have restricted how publicly funded universities can work with companies (like Huawei) that are linked to countries considered national security risks. Canada has also banned Huawei equipment from 5G networks.

In their own words: “I hope that it could counter that narrative and be an example of how things could be really good. This is a case where the interaction with China has been really productive, really valuable in contributing to open AI research in Canada.” — Richard Sutton, to The Globe and Mail.