Research Spotlight: Canada’s National Quantum Strategy

“Quantum technologies will shape the course of the future and Canada is at the forefront, leading the way. The National Quantum Strategy will support a resilient economy by strengthening our research, businesses and talent, giving Canada a competitive advantage for decades to come. I look forward to collaborating with businesses, researchers and academia as we build our quantum future.”  The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announcing the launch of Canada’s National Quantum Strategy on January 13, 2023 at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo.

The national strategy, supported by a $360 million investment by the federal government in basic and applied research, the development of talent and the funding of commercialization to bring research results to market, is the most recent action by Canada to strengthen the country’s leadership in quantum research and technologies.

Canada is an internationally recognized trailblazer in quantum innovation, with a decades-long history of groundbreaking research, an impressive and growing pool of qualified researchers and industry professionals and a growing list of quantum technology companies. Canada invested more than $1 billion in quantum research and development over the last 20 years. This research funding, along with provincial investments and collaboration with industry, has given rise to world-renowned researchers and research labs in universities across the country.

At the Université de Montréal, Gilles Brassard is a pioneer of quantum information science. His most celebrated research breakthroughs include the invention of quantum cryptography and quantum teleportation. Dr. Brassard has been recognized for his work with prestigious awards, including the Breakthrough Prize in fundamental physics in 2022, the 2018 Wolf Prize in physics (which he shares with Charles Bennett of the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center) and the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering. A holder of the Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information Science since 2000, Brassard is a member of the Centre de recherches mathématiques (CRM) and the Institut transdisciplinaire d’information quantique (INTRIQ), two strategic clusters funded by the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies (FRQNT).

Established as the Institute for Quantum Information Science in 2005, the Institute for Quantum Science and Technology (IQST) at the University of Calgary brings together researchers in computer science, mathematics, chemistry and physics to conduct research in pure and applied quantum science and technology and to advance the field through education and training and connections with other quantum science institutes and industry. IQST currently includes over 160 members including researchers, research staff and students, and its 18 research groups conduct work in four research themes: molecular modelling, nanotechnology, quantum information and computing, and quantum optics.  

While based in Calgary, the Institute has expanded provincially through Quantum Alberta, which has sites at the University of Alberta and the University of Lethbridge in addition to the Calgary site. Quantum Alberta connects the province’s quantum research community to ensure that Alberta is a world leader in quantum technology research, development, education and training.

Waterloo, Ontario’s quantum ecosystem, known as “Quantum Valley,” is home to more than 16 companies specializing in quantum cryptography, software, communication and consulting and over 250 researchers at two of the world’s largest quantum and theoretical physics research centres. The Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo and Perimeter Institute, along with Quantum Valley Investments (QVI), a quantum technology commercialization incubator created by BlackBerry founders Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, have attracted more than $1.5 billion in public and private investment over the last 20 years.  

Launched in 2000 through a personal investment of $100 million from founder Mike Lazardis, Perimeter Institute is the world’s largest independent theoretical physics research hub, with research focused on areas including quantum fields and strings, quantum foundations, quantum gravity and quantum matter. Perimeter provides a collaborative environment for 150 resident researchers and the more than 1,000 scientists from around the world who visit each year. Dr. Rob Meyers, Director of Perimeter Institute since 2019, is one of the leading theoretical physicists working in the area of quantum fields and strings.  Upon his appointment as Director, Dr. Myers observed, “Perimeter is an environment unlike any other in which researchers from around the globe collaborate across disciplines in search of profound new truths. Breakthroughs await where brilliant people, bold ideas, and diverse cultures intersect.” 

The Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo opened in 2002 as a result of Mike Lazardis’ understanding of the power of the emerging field of quantum information science, generous investments of his personal funds and partnerships with industry, academia and the provincial and federal governments. Dr. Raymond Laflamme joined IQC as Founding Director and worked closely with Dr. Michele Mosca as Deputy Director to bring together researchers from across Canada and around the world in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, engineering and chemistry to conduct research in IQC’s four research pillars: quantum computing, quantum communications, quantum sensing and quantum materials. Currently, 29 faculty members and a community of over 300 researchers work at IQC in areas including digital quantum matter, engineering quantum systems, nuclear magnetic resonance and quantum encryption and science satellites.

Transformative Quantum Technologies (TQT), the development unit of IQC, is led by Professor David Cory, a physical chemist who works to develop quantum devices for sensing and computation. TQT researchers collaborate with industry and quantum research institutes internationally to transfer quantum theory into quantum products that deliver economic and social benefits.

In addition to the world-renowned quantum research facilities and researchers working in Canada, the number of Canadian companies working in this area is growing. These include Xanadu Quantum Technologies in Toronto, D-Wave Systems in Vancouver, Anyon Systems in Dorval and ISARA in Waterloo and many start-up companies in areas ranging from quantum cryptography to quantum computing software to quantum-enabled scientific instruments and natural resources sensing. In addition, global technology companies, including IBM, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, are working to advance the field and to incorporate quantum technologies into their product roadmaps.

Canada’s National Quantum Strategy has been announced as the commercialization efforts of universities, research institutions and industry work to transfer quantum research results to market and as regions and countries including the U.S., the UK, the EU, Australia and China are developing strategies and increasing investment in quantum research and development. According to a 2020 study commissioned by Canada’s National Research Council, it is estimated that by 2045 and including all economic effects, quantum will be a $139 billion industry in Canada and employ more than 200,000 Canadians. 

A newly established Quantum Advisory Council, co-chaired by Dr. Raymond Laflamme, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information at the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, and Dr. Stephanie Simmons, Canada Research Chair in Silicon Quantum Technologies at Simon Fraser University and founder and Chief Quantum Officer of Photonic Inc., will provide independent expert advice on the implementation of the strategy.

The National Quantum Strategy will focus on three quantum technology areas:

  • Computing hardware and software 
  • Communications to develop a national secure quantum communications network and post-quantum cryptography capabilities for Canada
  • Sensors to support the development and commercialization of new quantum sensing technologies

Rob Myers, Director of Perimeter Institute, notes that the $360 million investment by the Government of Canada is the start of a new era for quantum in Canada. “It is important to think that this is not only the end. This is the beginning of developing a quantum ecosystem across Canada.”

Researcher Spotlight: Estelle Inack

Estelle Inack, Research Scientist, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

Dr. Estelle Inack was trained to believe that a problem is interesting if it’s hard. A research scientist, company co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, and advocate and inspiration for women in science, Dr. Inack works at the juncture of academia and industry to advance research and to solve difficult real-world problems.

Dr. Inack is a member of the Perimeter Institute Quantum Intelligence Lab (PIQuIL), working on research that couples quantum computing with artificial intelligence. And, as the use of both machine learning and quantum computing is advanced by its use in a range of industries, Dr. Inack has found herself working to bridge academia and industry through the commercialization of her research results.

Dr. Inack didn’t plan to become a physicist. She was influenced by her mother’s work in the marine industry and her own interest in natural science to seek a career on the technical side of the marine business. Her childhood fascination with naval architecture and advice that an undergraduate degree in physics was the best preparation for that work led her to study physics, rather than her first choice of mathematics. As her interest in the maritime industry waned, Dr. Inack focused on her masters’ degree and continuing her studies in English rather than her original language of French. 

As someone who had wanted to pursue a PhD in physics but was steered by funding sources to study engineering instead, Dr. Inack’s father strongly encouraged her to continue her studies in physics at the doctoral level. She received a scholarship to study in Italy and, for her postdoctoral work, elected to join Perimeter Institute, as a Francis Kofi Allotey Fellow.  She chose Perimeter over other offers from the University of Alberta, Microsoft and the University of Southern California because she knew that working at Perimeter would allow her to expand her research interests to include machine learning and neural networks. Originally from Cameroon, she is proud to have been awarded a fellowship named for an internationally renowned African mathematical physicist.

Dr. Inack’s work at PIQuIL has provided unique opportunities for collaboration with industry. As she designed algorithms to solve optimization problems, she understood that her research results would be valuable to industry. She partnered with fellow academic physicist, Behnam Javanparast, who also had worked in the financial industry, to found quantum intelligence start-up yiyaniQ. yiyaniQ, which combines the words for intelligence and future in Dr. Inack’s local language of Bassa, provides advanced derivative pricing and portfolio optimization based on quantum intelligent algorithms. 

Thanks to her participation in the Creative Destruction Lab Quantum Stream bootcamp in 2021, Dr. Inack is developing a different approach to research, one that not only seeks to develop the best possible tools but that also looks for potential business applications for those tools. In the future, besides the financial sector, yiyaniQ plans to look at other verticals where, working with partners with domain expertise, additional real-world problems can be solved using her research results.

As she has progressed in her career, Dr. Inack has realized that the influence of her strong mother, who taught her that a woman can do anything that a man can do, has been a key factor in her success. In order to recalibrate the mindset that math and physics isn’t for women, she spends time promoting women in science, with a focus on Africa. “It’s important to have those conversations, to let young women know that it’s possible to do science.  And to educate male counterparts.”  

When asked what she’d like to be known for, Dr. Inack says “For solving the hardest problems and for making an impact on daily life.” And she does just that as a researcher at the intersection of quantum and machine learning, as an entrepreneur providing commercial applications of her work and as an inspirational role model for young women.

Research Spotlight: AI Research in Canada

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been featured in popular culture for decades. From the giant robots who kidnapped Lois Lane and were taken down by Superman in the 1941 animated film The Mechanical Monsters, to HAL 9000, the AI antagonist in 2001: A Space Odyssey to the currently ubiquitous AI portrait generators, artificial intelligence has been portrayed as a promise, a threat and a cool tool.

At Profound Impact, our newly-launched Research Impact product uses AI and data analytic tools to automatically match research collaborators with multiple online sources for funding opportunities and with potential industry partners to create competitive grant applications.

But what is AI and what role do Canada’s researchers play in advancing the field?  

Canada’s Advisory Council on Artificial Intelligence states that AI represents a set of complex and powerful technologies that will touch or transform every sector of industry and that has the power to address challenging problems while introducing new sources of sustainable economic growth. 

In 2017, in partnership with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), Canada launched the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy.  The country’s national AI strategy, the first in the world, has a stated vision that “by 2030 Canada will have one of the most robust national AI ecosystems in the world, founded upon scientific excellence, high-quality training, deep talent pools, public-private collaboration and our strong values of advancing AI technologies to bring positive social, economic and environmental benefits for people and the planet.”

AI research in Canada is currently centred in three national AI institutes: the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) in Edmonton, the Vector Institute in Toronto and Mila in Montreal.  These not-for-profit organizations work in partnership with research universities and companies conducting AI research and development across Canada.  

Four key strategic priorities have been identified as part of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy:

Advancing AI Science 

Fundamental and applied research in areas including machine learning, natural language processing, autonomous vehicles, games and game theory and human-AI interaction.

AI for Health 

AI-based approaches to health and healthcare that leverage Canada’s strength in health research and publicly-funded healthcare systems. 

AI for Energy and the Environment

Innovative solutions to protect the environment and deal with the effects of climate change.

AI Commercialization

Funding and incentives for Canadian companies to develop AI technology and products.

The three hubs of AI excellence in the Pan-Canadian AI are recognized internationally for their research expertise and results, training of the next generation of AI researchers and practitioners and the transfer of scientific knowledge to industry. 

Alberta-based Amii’s team includes 28 Fellows (including 23 Canada CIFAR AI Chairs) and eight Canada CIFAR AI chairs at universities across Western Canada.  Amii researchers are pioneers and leaders in fields including Reinforcement Learning, Precision Health, Games and Game Theory, Natural Language Processing, Deep Learning and Robotics and work with a range of companies to translate research results to innovative products across industry sectors.

The Vector Institute was launched in March 2017 in partnership with the University of Toronto, the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo to work with research institutions, industry, and incubators and accelerators across Canada to advance AI research and drive its application, adoption and commercialization.  

Three key pillars in the Vector Institute’s three-year strategy are research, industry partnerships and thought leadership.  Currently, the Vector Institute comprises more than 600 active researchers and professionals from across the country.  More than 40 industry sponsors, representing a broad range of industries including health care, finance, advanced manufacturing, telecommunications, retail and transportation, collaborate with Vector Institute researchers on projects related to opportunities in AI.  

The fourth pillar in the institute’s strategy and a focus of research is health, including responsible health data access for research, the use of machine learning tools, methods to analyze de-identified health data, and the creation of a secure data platform for applied AI research. Vector programs, including the Smart Health initiative and the support of Pathfinder Projects, facilitate the use of AI-assisted technologies in the health sector and the deployment of machine learning tools in hospitals across Ontario.

Mila was found in 19983 by Professor Yoshua Bengio of the Université de Montréal as a research lab to bring together researchers with a shared vision for the ethical development and advancement of AI.  In 2017, the scope of Mila was expanded through collaboration between the Université de Montréal and McGill University and work with academic institutions Polytechnique Montréal and HEC Montréal. 

Now a non-profit research institute, Mila also works with Quebec universities including Université Laval, Université de Sherbrooke and École de technologie supérieure.  More than 1,000 researchers, including 51 CIFAR AI chairs, with expertise in machine learning theory and optimization, deep learning, computer vision and robotics, reinforcement learning, computational neuroscience and natural language processing.  

In addition to conducting leading-edge research, Mila also works closely with 87 industry partners via collaborative research and technology transfer to facilitate the use of AI in company processes and product development. And the Mila Entrepreneurship Lab fosters student entrepreneurship from ideas to business projects through mentorship and funding. Eighteen Mila start-ups operate in Montreal, Toronto, New York City, Addis Ababa and Germany, working on the use of AI in medicine, finance, neuroscience and transportation.

Canada continues to fund emerging AI research institutes including the Centre for Innovation in Artificial Intelligence Technologies (CIAIT) at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto and the Durham College Hub for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence for Business Solutions (the AI Hub) in Oshawa, Ontario. At CIAIT, Seneca researchers will collaborate with industry partners to find AI solutions in sectors ranging from advanced manufacturing and commerce to creative media and finance. The AI Hub provides industry partners with access to AI expertise, state-of-the-art facilities and student talent to integrate AI solutions into products and business operations.

Canada’s strengths and global leadership in AI are powered by the investments made by the Government of Canada in AI research at institutions across the country.  These investments are developing the adoption of artificial intelligence across Canada’s economy, connecting researchers and the next generation of AI professionals with industry partners to facilitate commercialization and advancing the development and adoption of AI standards to be used in Canada and around the world.

Researcher Spotlight: Doina Precup

Doina Precup, McGill University

Growing up in Romania, Doina Precup enjoyed science fiction featuring benign and helpful robots. That interest, plus the influence of her mother (a computer science professor), and the other women in her family with successful careers in science, were early draws for Professor Precup to the field of artificial intelligence.

Doina Precup is an associate professor at McGill University and head of the Montreal office of Deepmind. In addition to teaching at McGill, she is a core academic member at Mila, a Canada CIFAR AI Chair, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Fellow of the CIFAR Learning in Machines and Brains program and a senior member of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

Dr. Precup conducts fundamental research on reinforcement learning with a focus on AI applications in areas, such as health care, that have a social impact. At Deepmind, a subsidiary of Google, she leads a team of scientists, engineers and ethicists dedicated to using AI to advance science and solve real-world problems.

Dr. Precup’s focus on creating social impact goes beyond her work in the research laboratory. To address the issue of gender imbalance in science and technology, she co-founded and serves as advisor of the CIFAR-OSMO AI4Good Lab, an organization that encourages women to study and work in artificial intelligence via a seven-week AI training program for undergraduate and graduate students who identify as women. Dr. Precup was also one of four renowned Canadian AI researchers who signed a letter sent in 2017 to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking that Canada announce its support for the call to ban lethal autonomous weapons systems at the United Nations Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

Her work as an award-winning AI researcher dedicated to solving problems to benefit humanity, her leadership in building a diverse and inclusive culture in AI and her support and mentorship of emerging talent have established Doina Precup as a respected and distinguished member of the AI research community in Quebec, Canada and internationally.