Toronto's rich diversity and quality of life helps fuel integrate.ai

"I am incredibly proud of our diversity," says Kathryn Hume, VP of Product and Strategy at integrate.ai. "We are nearly 50% women, we have two machine learning scientists from Iran and we have data scientists from Belarus and China. Diversity like that in a tech company is rare. While San Francisco and New York are both diverse cities, Toronto has a uniquely cosmopolitan technology community."

Building a future where AI enriches lives

Hume came to Toronto in May 2017 to join a Toronto AI start-up led by Canadian Steve Irvine, who made headlines early in 2017 when he decided to leave his executive role at Facebook in Silicon Valley to start a company in Toronto. Integrate.ai is building an Artificial Intelligence -powered platform for B2C enterprises that integrates with business processes to make customer interactions more natural and valuable. "In the new AI-oriented world, things are much more probabilistic, so companies can make educated guesses on what the optimal path through the customer journey might be for separate sub-segments of their customer base and optimize the lifetime value those groups will have for their business," explains Hume, who prizes the company's core values and their interdisciplinary approach to technology.

I can sense the momentum in Toronto.

Toronto a special place for machine learning scientists

Hume says she was drawn to Canada first and foremost by the opportunity at integrate.ai, but was also excited to be a part of a unique AI ecosystem that has really begun to blossom over the past few years. She argues that Canada's legacy as the birthplace of deep learning makes it, and in particular Toronto, a special place for machine learning scientists. "The godfathers of deep learning and reinforcement learning come from here," she explains, comparing the plight of the country's machine learning scientists to the challenges Steve Jobs faced early in his career. "Jobs built ‘Next' and a couple other companies that didn't really go anywhere and everybody thought he was crazy. He failed and failed and failed until he became the most successful entrepreneur in history," says Hume. "And there's a similar story here where this group of scientists were resilient to criticism in the field, at a time when deep learning wasn't as popular a technique, but now the tides have turned…I sense the momentum in Toronto. It's like all of the pieces are coming together to generate a flourishing technology ecosystem, which includes world-class academic research and an excellent entrepreneurial community."

Tech companies' hiring timelines work in six week – not six month intervals – because things move fast.
Kathryn Hume, VP of Product and Strategy at integrate.ai.

Access to a wider talent pool

An equally important selling point for Hume was the quality of life, which she had the opportunity to experience during prior business trips to Toronto and Montreal. She applauds the Canadian government for making it easier for highly qualified tech workers to enter the country, as companies like hers need access to a wider talent pool, although she notes most of integrate.ai's hiring to date has been from the Toronto area. "I think that the Canadian government made a smart move to offer the new fast track visa program (Global Skills Strategy)," says Hume. "Tech companies' hiring timelines work in six week – not six month- intervals –because things move fast. We need to hire quickly in order to help meet our ambitious goals for growth, so speed is of the essence."

There's a lot of misguided attention focused on the existential risk of AI where we imagine these Skynet Terminators outsmarting us and taking over the human race.

AI benefits outweigh the challenges

In addition to her role at integrate.ai, Hume is Venture Partner at ffVC, a technology investment firm in New York City, which invests in founders championing technologies that will make it to the mainstream within two to five years. Her role is that of liaison between the New York City investment community and the Canadian AI ecosystem, especially Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton. "I love being engaged with the academic community, with institutions like the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence and within the early phase of commercialization and enterprise," says Hume, who upon looking at an increasingly AI-enabled future, has no doubt the benefits will outweigh the challenges. "There's a lot of misguided attention focused on the existential risk of AI where we imagine these Skynet Terminators outsmarting us and taking over the human race," she says. "As someone who works with real data products, I can't even make sense of this logic, and prefer to focus on other ethical issues. I think one thing that a lot of people don't understand is how prevalent AI already is."

Learn more about Integrate.ai

Contact a representative to learn about opportunities to invest in Ontario's AI ecosystem

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September 11, 2017

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