Love of Canada keeps NextAI Faculty and self-driving car expert in Toronto

Jan 04, 2018

In between interviews with top international business and technology publications from Forbesto Wired, NextAI Faculty Raquel Urtasun spoke with U of T News about the whirlwind surrounding her since she decided to join Uber and bring the American company’s first international research lab to Toronto.

Why was it important for you to stay in Toronto and affiliated with the University of Toronto?
Two reasons: First of all, as you know, Toronto has an amazing pool of AI talent. It’s home to Vector and it’s only going to grow. That’s one of the reasons why Toronto is the place to be.

The second: I moved to Canada three years ago and I really fell in love with the country. Instead of leaving Canada and my peers, I decided that, you know, I should pay it back by bringing self-driving cars to Canada.

How does it feel to bring a major international research lab to Toronto?
I think it’s amazing, right? This is a great day for me but also it’s a great day for my students, a great day for the next generation of Canadians who are going to be working on self-driving cars for real.

It’s a great opportunity.

How many students currently with you are moving over to Uber?
Eight of the students are post-doc and they will be continuing their studies while at Uber.

What’s been the reaction from your students and colleagues? Have you heard from them? 
Yeah, yeah! They’ve all congratulated me for the great opportunity. They’ve been very positive. The students are really happy. So many of the PhD students want to be involved in self-driving cars [research].

Did you hear from Geoff Hinton, University Professor Emeritus in computer science at U of T and vice-president engineering fellow at Google?
I haven’t heard from Geoff [this week] but he’s congratulated me already in the past about this opportunity. Geoff and I have a very good relationship. The fact he works for Google [doesn’t matter].

This is a big high for Toronto and for you. In the space of less than two months, you have the Vector Institute launch and now Uber. You’re definitely putting AI and Toronto on the map. How does that feel?
I feel really happy. It’s really changing for Toronto. It’s becoming a major [AI] hub. [There are] many great things for the city, for the region [that are happening]. This is also going to [attract] more companies.

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