Samsung is the latest tech titan to open an AI lab in Canada

Its Montreal office will tackle self-driving cars and image recognition.

If it wasn't already clear that Canada is becoming a hotbed for AI research, it is now: Samsung has opened an AI lab (shown below) at the Université de Montréal. The school's faculty and students (including long-time Samsung partner Prof. Yoshua Bengio) will collaborate with South Korean researchers on a slew of AI-related projects, including self-driving car technology, image recognition, translation and robots. While you may not see the first fruits of this lab for years, it underscores both Samsung's increasing dependence on AI and the tech industry's rapid shift to the north.

It's no secret that Samsung wants (and arguably, needs) to bolster its AI work. The Bixby assistant is already a tentpole feature for Samsung's smartphones, and it's spreading to devices like smart speakers or even appliances. If it's going to be a success, it needs to rapidly evolve past its current rough state and become something you'd actually prefer -- especially since it does have relatively unique features like object identification. Combine this with Samsung's early autonomous driving and robotics work and it's possible that the fate of the company could hinge on the strength of its AI labs.

And one thing's for sure: Canada's investment in AI (it earmarked $125 million in federal funding, among other initiatives) is leading to a fierce battle for talent, particularly in Montreal. While major brands are researching AI across the country, such as Google's DeepMind office in Edmonton and Apple's self-driving unit in Ottawa, Montreal was already home to teams from Facebook, Google and Microsoft. If Samsung didn't open an AI lab in the city, it risked losing talent. It's hard to say how much longer this trend will continue, but it's easy to see other big names following suit out of fears they'll miss a big AI breakthrough.