The Belgian firm has chosen Toronto for its new R&D centre on AI and Internet of Things

Imagine getting personalized coaching to live healthier, better, safer life on your phone.

What if when you woke up tomorrow an app on your phone already predicted your daily journey – adapting in real time to any changes along the way – to offer you a coupon for your morning coffee just as you walk by a coffee shop?

Personalized nutrition and coaching plans sent your phone, based on your eating habits, lifestyle and general routines that improve the quality of your life. The app can even predict the chance of developing diabetes and provide the insight that could prevent it - solely by analyzing low-level location data.

It can detect if you drive too aggressively or use your phone while driving and coach better driving habits potentially reducing accidents and saving lives.

It's not science fiction, but the latest in artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) being developed by Sentiance.

A Belgian firm, Sentiance uses sensor data and AI to predict user behavior and adapt to user's actions in the moment. At the forefront of combining AI and the IoT, Sentiance has selected Toronto to be home to its AI research and development centre. "Toronto is known as an AI hub," CEO Toon Vanparys explains, "There's a big pool of talent that's very attractive, and all the big players are here."

Toon Vanparys, founder and CEO of Sentiance AI

Up close and personal

Sentiance uses millions of data points compiled about a user to create a personalized profile so products can be more adaptive to its users. For instance, a smart thermostat could expect when you would come home, while smart insurance policies might be tailored to your driving style. "AI will personalize everything," Vanparys predicts, "but to personalize you need to understand the user. Artificial intelligence requires contextual intelligence."

Sentiance is fully GDPR compliant, and Vanparys explains that the data collected belongs to the client and is never shared with third parties. "Given recent events, privacy is of course a top concern. Our work on mobile-edge computing will mean that the data will never even have to leave the user's device, protecting user data even further."

So what does the data say about Vanparys himself?

"It says I'm a dog walker, an early bird, a workaholic, a long commuter, a frequent flier, and a restaurant aficionado. All true. It's been tracking me for three years now."

Develop or be disrupted

Vanparys states we are now on the cusp of AI transforming our world. "In five to ten years, AI will be used in every solution, service or company. You must develop AI capabilities now, or be disrupted." Potentially impacted industries range from insurance to transportation to education to healthcare, as increasing amounts of data and processing power will give rise to intelligent and personalized services.

This is what has brought Sentiance to Ontario, where they have opened a new R&D centre with Toronto's Kiwi.ai in order to tap into a rapidly growing AI ecosystem. "Our top interests when looking to expand are the living conditions and the availability of talent,” Vanparys explains, “Everyone knows Toronto is a nice place to live, so it attracts great employees from all over the world."

Support from Invest in Ontario

Vanparys and his team have found a very welcoming environment, "The culture in Canada is quite compatible with Europe, it's a country that also deals with different languages and is a very open and multicultural environment." Additionally, Sentiance was welcomed by Invest in Ontario, which helped the firm with incorporation, legal support, HR administration, and relevant grants and tax credits. In Vanparys's opinion the government support is important to a growing AI hub, "You need education, talent, good living conditions, and a supportive government."

As his Toronto team works on researching the latest AI innovations, Vanparys' wonders what the future of the technology will lead to. "AI will only succeed if it improves people's lives, and that means adapting products to how people live," he says. "While AI can be used for nefarious purposes such as manipulating elections, it can also be a tremendous asset to improving healthcare or enriching the lives of the elderly, the positive applications don't get enough attention."

To keep the focus on the positive usages of AI he says the industry must earn customer's trust and put people first, "We need to ensure data is improving people's lives, not making people's lives the product of data."

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June 5, 2018

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