Despite its presence in 56 countries around the world, the multinational company Thales has chosen Montreal and Canada to create the new Artificial Intelligence (AI) research center. Called cortAIx (The Operational Center for Research and Technology in Agents and Smart Experts), the latter started its activities at the beginning of 2018. Interview with General Manager, Siegfried Osal.
Operating in aerospace, aviation, transportation, defense and security, Thales specializes in the design, development and deployment of high-tech products. In cooperation with both private institutions and governments, it provides its clients with tools for data collection, processing and distribution. By providing them with complete and hierarchical information, these devices help users decipher the complexity of their environment, and thus make the best possible decisions.
“Let’s take a concrete example: Vancouver’s public transportation system,” Osall suggests. Every morning, dozens of metros leave the building automatically – one person presses a button – and operate without a driver all day until late at night. All the electronics on board, and the systems that oversee the public transport network in complete safety, Thales did. »
In short, in all the sectors it serves, Thales offers tools designed to improve the user experience by supporting critical decision chains.
“Wherever critical decisions need to be made, Thales is present,” says Mr. Osal. These decisions are crucial because they affect air, sea, space, and so on security. Our systems must therefore be secure and provide easy-to-use interfaces so that operators of aircraft, satellites, ships, trains, and others can make informed decisions. In short, we design mission-critical software for critical purposes. »
Montreal, the city of AI
Thales has already conducted research in artificial intelligence at its center on the Saclay Plateau in France, and has chosen Montreal to create its new hub, cortAIx. The Operational Center for Research and Technology at Agents and Smart Experts, will bring together about fifty researchers and developers within a few months. These will work together to advance the use of AI in Thales systems.
“We chose Montreal for different reasons,” Osall says. Of course, there is a talent pool, but it is not. The desire of the City of Montreal, the Government of Quebec, and the Government of Canada to focus a range of capabilities in the same environment to make it a center of excellence in AI with a global career has a lot to do with it. »
Founded in the O Mile-Ex complex, a former Saint-Urbain textile factory converted into a center of excellence in artificial intelligence, cortAIx benefits from an exceptional location that will enable it to strengthen its position in this sector. In addition to benefiting from the active collaboration between the Institute for Valuation of Data (IVADO), the Institute for Learning Algorithms in Montreal (MILA) and the Vector Institute in Toronto, it has the proximity of other players to the AI superstars.
“It’s an advantage,” notes Mr. Osal. Artificial intelligence is advancing so rapidly that not even a large company can be alone in the forefront of this science. To meet the challenge of AI, we must work in partnership with other entities, whether it is private laboratories, government or universities. Establishing in the same center facilitates these partnerships and makes it possible to take science out of the labs to turn it into services and products that, embraced by users, create real value. »
Safe and secure artificial intelligence
Given the possibilities it offers, artificial intelligence is a field of research that poses significant ethical challenges. In the sectors in which Thales operates, these are particularly exacerbated. The company is fully aware of this reality, ensures that it will always put people at the center of its activities and that it will not develop technologies that conflict with this position.
“Thales’ goal is to accelerate the development of artificial intelligence that is safe and responsible and takes into account issues of ethics, justice and fairness and serves human decision,” emphasized Mr. Osal.
He adds that Thales does not believe that the virtual world will soon replace the real world, nor that artificial intelligence will solve all tangible problems through virtualization. This is why the company is working to enhance human-machine collaboration.
He concludes, “The role of Thales is to introduce artificial intelligence into the real world.” What we want, and this is cortAIx’s mandate, is to provide tangible solutions that will support citizens, people and travelers on a daily basis. »
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