Artificial intelligence interrogator


As part of a series, the Canada Foundation for Innovation created five profiles on researchers who unlock the power of big data.
By Sharon Oosthoek

Yoshua BengioYoshua Bengio, Université de Montréal 

Yoshua Bengio wants to understand the mechanisms that give rise to intelligence, in both living creatures and machines.

“Nobody really knows what these mechanisms are, but we are developing theories and trying them out on high-performance computers,” says the Université de Montréal computer scientist.

So far, those theories have been good enough to lead to significant advancements in artificial intelligence. Two of the most notable examples are speech recognition technology and object recognition in images, which is used to search for images linked to word queries and tag images found on the internet.

Developing machine learning algorithms, which are recipes for computers to learn from examples, were essential in these breakthroughs and researching those algorithms could lead to more significant advancements.

Bengio compares the process to learning to play tennis. With the help of an instructor who recommends slight adjustments, the would-be tennis player gets better each time they practice.

“That’s how computers learn,” he says. “They repeat it millions or billions of times. They need a lot of computing power because we are trying to make machines absorb a lot of knowledge.”

The trick is to help machines capture that knowledge so they can classify or predict correctly when given new information. Ultimately though, Bengio would like to untangle the mystery around what he calls “unsupervised learning,” meaning learning that happens without having access to the right answers.

Find more stories of research in action on, the website of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, where these podcasts originally appeared.

About the series

The incredible power of high performance computing to unlock massive data sets in order to answer an impressive range of research questions is a hallmark of computing in the present era. Research today is increasingly driven by massive digitization initiatives, high-throughput devices, sensor platforms and computational modelling and simulation, all of which generate data that are unprecedented in size and complexity. Here are five Canadian researchers whose work relies on advanced computing capabilities.

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