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An inflection point for CIFAR

by Alan Bernstein Dec 17 / 18

Since I became president six years ago, we have embarked on a journey to evolve CIFAR’s unique approach to advancing knowledge. Our goal has been to preserve what has made CIFAR so successful during its first 30 years while responding to the changing way that research is done and the changing challenges and scientific opportunities of the 21st century.

I believe we have managed to do exactly that: we have preserved the essence of CIFAR’s approach while adding new activities and programs such as the Global Call for Ideas and the CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars program. This year has been an inflection point in CIFAR’s history: it marked our arrival as a major international research institution.

Over this past year our 12 global research programs continued their work on advancing knowledge over a broad front. We launched our Second Global Call for Ideas, and chose 12 finalists from a global pool of applicants ranging from quantum computing to inclusive innovation. The $125 million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy is now well on its way with support to the three institutes in Montreal (Mila), Toronto (Vector) and Edmonton (Amii), and as I write this, we just announced our first cohort of 29 Canada CIFAR AI Chairs. As part of our national AI strategy we launched global competitions, in partnership with the main funding agencies in the UK and France, the UKRI and CNRS respectively, to convene workshops addressing the ethical, social, economic and philosophical challenges posed by this powerful new technology. And Paul Romer (NYU), a senior fellow in our Economic Growth & Policy program in the 1990s, became the 19th CIFAR fellow to be awarded the Nobel Prize.

And CIFAR was increasingly recognized in Canada and internationally for our contributions to advancing scientific research. Articles in The Economist, Forbes, Les Echos and many more recognized CIFAR for enabling transformational scientific change. Over this past year we worked with major international partners, including the US Department of Energy, Facebook, UK Research and Innovation, and the French National Centre for Scientific Research. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met the first cohort of Canada CIFAR AI Chairs.

In short, CIFAR has arrived as a significant player on the global  stage, one that is increasingly recognized for our unique vision and successful approach to addressing the world’s most challenging and important questions. To our 400 fellows and advisors, thank you for your groundbreaking research and advice. To our supporters, thank you for your generous support. Without that support we would not be able to do the important work we do.

To everyone, I wish you a relaxing holiday period with family and friends, and hope that you have a healthy and happy new year.