Canadian Group Stakes Its Claim in the AI Game

From climate change to human rights to the COVID-19 pandemic, there's almost no problem that this group isn't trying to solve with AI.


Element AI is a Canadian group that provides businesses and organizations with unrivalled access to state-of-the-art technology. The company takes cutting-edge AI research and translates it into software solutions with all manner of applications.

They can mainly be found in data-driven industries like insurance, capital markets, banking, manufacturing, retail, cybersecurity, transportation, and logistics, but they are also branching into areas like climate change and even human rights.

Element AI was co-founded in 2016 by entrepreneurs Jean-François Gagné and Yoshua Bengio in Montreal with the mission of pioneering an “AI-First world”. Bengio is a renowned scientist who won a Turing award for his work in Deep Learning, a field in which he is considered one of the three fathers.

Research and ties to academia are central to Element AI’s values. The company owns Canada’s largest privately-held AI R&D lab and employs over 100 PhD graduates. Renowned academics and researchers from a wide range of disciplines are key players in the organization.

Working smarter, not harder, with AI

Element AI’s products are composed of ‘building blocks’ that are essentially core capabilities that can be applied and adapted.

Take, for example, the building block that can read handwritten text and be further integrated with natural language processing to analyze the message. Businesses could use this to rapidly assess an insurance claim or mortgage application, for example.

Similarly, the Document Intelligence tool can accelerate processing “for any document in any industry”. Financial groups could speed up the onboarding process with new clients with rapid analysis of their application documents, and pharmaceutical groups could save time and improve quality assurance with processing batch records.

Element AI has been cutting deals with businesses in Asia like Shinhan AI to deliver their financial professionals and customers a next-level market forecasting algorithm. By leveraging AI, Shinhan could have an edge over the competition by being able to predict price indexes faster and more accurately.

“As we have witnessed with unpredictable ‘black swan’ events like the COVID-19 pandemic, market forecasters are turning to AI-powered solutions to help them quickly identify signals and better manage their predictions when the market is behaving abnormally,” said Ben Eum, Director of North Asia at Element AI, in a press release.

Projects outside of enterprise

On the topic of COVID-19, Element AI got involved in the fight back in March when they released an AI-powered platform to help researchers, public health authorities and frontline workers.

The platform was designed to find answers and trends in research papers by honing in on relevant work across thousands of published papers by using natural language processing. Users can query terms, phrases, and keywords in the platform’s interface to quickly identify patterns.

“Research data and reports are being published at an unprecedented pace as organizations scale up their efforts to respond to COVID-19,” said Gagné to Newswire.

“We want to contribute, and this free platform is our way to help the scientific community locate and gather knowledge to find answers and patterns.”

On an even grander scale, some of the top minds at Element AI have looked into ways in which AI can augment and improve climate change research. A paper was published last year exploring some potential avenues and the authors called on the machine learning community to get involved in combatting climate change.

They argue that AI could assist with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and help with adapting to the consequences of a changing climate.

“AI-driven research can lead to accelerated experimentation, allowing scientists to discover new approaches and test new ideas through software,” explained co-author Alexandre Lacoste in a related commentary.

“This accelerated research can help in many areas, including materials science, where scientists are working to discover new materials such as next-generation batteries and solar fuels that can better store or harness energy from variable natural resources.”

AI could also monitor some of the key indicators of environmental change (forest density, ecosystem biodiversity, and agricultural yield) through the many satellites that orbit the planet, according to Lacoste.

Elsewhere, Element AI was enlisted earlier this year to lead a human rights impact assessment of the Sidewalk Labs project underway in Toronto. Sidewalk Labs has been hired by Waterfront Toronto to revitalize the city’s lakeshore area, and they have partnered up with Element AI to make use of their data-crunching power.

Marrying AI with industry

A great deal of buzz has been built up around AI, and despite the many brilliant applications that have already emerged, the field is still considered to be in its infancy.

Creating AI tools that can reliably solve complex industrial problems remains an enormous challenge, but investors have pegged Element AI as a strong contender to break that mould. Following several rounds of investment, their company’s valuation is now in the region of $600-$700 million.

“Operationalizing AI is currently the industry’s toughest challenge, and few companies have been successful at taking proofs of concepts out of the lab, embedding them strategically in their operations, and delivering actual business impact,” Gagné said in an interview with VentureBeat.

“We are proud to be working with our new partners, who understand this challenge well, and to leverage each other’s expertise in taking AI solutions to market.”

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Barry is a journalist, editor, and marketer for several media outlets including HeadStuff, The Media Editor, and Buttonmasher Magazine. He earned his Master of the Arts in Journalism from Dublin City University in 2017 and moved to Toronto to pursue a career in the media. Barry is passionate about communicating and debating culture, science, and politics and their collective global impact.