The University of Toronto is getting a $4 million investment from augmented reality company ModiFace to support research in AR and artificial intelligence.
Founded by Parham Aarabi, professor with the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at U of T, ModiFace combines facial tracking software and augmented reality technology for the health and beauty sectors.
“The future of ModiFace is highly dependent on our access to the best AR engineers in the world,” says Aarabi, in a statement. “For AR, it takes about a year for a new graduate to get up to speed with the latest concepts in artificial intelligence, systems engineering, and computer vision. As a result, we want to invest in students early, while they’re still in school, to start giving them the best training in these fast-moving fields.”
The new investment will mean ModiFace will hire 50 undergraduate students as paid interns, part of the Professional Experience Year internship program at U of T. As well, the company will take on ten graduate students over the next two years and is establishing a research grant for industry-partnered research in AI and deep learning.
“The initiative dovetails with our government’s innovation strategy,” says Reza Moridi, Ontario Minister of Research, Innovation and Science, “including the recent launch of Ontario’s Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which will help Ontario continue to attract top talent and strengthen our province’s innovation and knowledge-based economy.”
Augmented reality is already making a big mark on the beauty industry, with a number of apps on the market which allow users to virtually try on products including cosmetics and anti-aging creams from various brands. Back in 2014, cosmetic company L’Oréal put out its Makeup Genius with precise facial recognition and a live mirror camera and beauty brand Sephora just launched its “Virtual Artist” app, both of which are powered by ModiFace technology. Along with its cosmetic applications, ModiFace’s Skin AI technology is marketed to help users find out more about the health and condition of their skin.
Recent announcements from the federal and Ontario governments are raising hopes that Toronto will become a new hub for AI research. The 2017 federal budget earmarked $125 million for a national artificial intelligence strategy, kicking in $50 million for the new Vector Institute in Toronto. Ontario has followed up with $50 million of its own for the institute along with commitments from over 30 private sector companies who will chip in another $80 million.
The Vector Institute aims to “produce more deep learning grads than any other institution in the world” and has deep learning guru Geoffrey Hinton on board as its chief scientific advisor. “My view is we should be doing everything we can to come up with ways of exploiting the current technology effectively,” Hinton said, to CBC News. “So there’s lots of little ideas that you use to make things work better and exploit the current technology. But we should keep looking for big ideas that will make the current technology rather different.”