COLLABORATION

University of Toronto boost artificial intelligence facilities after huge donation

SOURCE: Weiss/Manfredi Architects
Rendering showing University of Toronto's planned 750,000-square-foot AI and biomedical complex.

The University of Toronto is a happy recipient of its largest donation ever, which will be directed at furthering the school’s research on artificial intelligence, biomedicine and how new technologies can disrupt our everyday lives and the way we learn.

The generous US$100 million contribution came from Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman Foundation and will in part fund the brand new 750,000 sq foot artificial intelligence and biomedical complex. The state-of-the-art building will be located at the northeast corner of College St. and Queen’s Park with construction slated to begin in the Autumn.

The Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre, as the complex will be known, will trigger innovation in Canada and rethink how technology can change people’s lives.

“It is a new collective endeavour that will turbocharge innovation,” School President Meric Gertler announced at a press conference Monday.

Gertler called the donation from Toronto billionaires Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman “unprecedented” in the school’s history.

Schwartz, a Canadian native, is the founder and CEO of private equity firm Onex Corporation. Reisman is the founder and CEO of the Indigo bookstore chain. Hearing about U of T’s ambitious plans for a tech-driven, future-shaping centre was what inspired the married couple to donate their money.

“It was clear that the dream was world-class bold and ready to go,” said Reisman.

“Canada is already punching way above its weight on the AI side, and if we can help in some little way to spur that, to turbocharge that, the ramifications well into the future should be exciting.”

The centre will provide opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students in science and humanities. And will house the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society, which will study emerging ethical issues surrounding the field of artificial intelligence.

New York-based architects Weiss/Manfredi have joined the project, drawing up plans for the first phase of the new complex – a 250,000 sq ft 12-storey tower. This will also house the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, an independent non-profit affiliated with U of T which is devoted to artificial intelligence research.

“My own belief is that developments in deep learning will radically change our understanding of what it is to be human,” said Vector Institute’s Chief Scientific Adviser and U of T Professor Emeritus, Geoffrey Hinton.

“My hope is that the Schwartz Reisman Institute will be the place where deep learning disrupts the humanities.”