IID’s first anniversary: bringing together and mobilizing the driving forces in AI and data science in the Quebec City region

Today, January 29, 2021, IID (Institute Intelligence and Data) of Université Laval celebrates its first anniversary. A glance at a year rich in developments and projects, in the midst of a pandemic, as seen through the eyes of director, Christian Gagné, and administrative director, Lynda Robitaille.

Founded with funding from the Quebec Ministry of Economy and Innovation, the initial aim of IID was to “bring together the driving forces” associated with artificial intelligence and data valorization, on the Université Laval campus, in the greater Quebec City region, and beyond.

A true world-class center of excellence in the field, this new structure made it possible to combine forces and resources, to support and develop research and innovation activities, as well as to open up to collaboration with industry – by offering support, training and knowledge transfer. “Our first year of activity has, it goes without saying, made it possible to establish these objectives, to put them into practice and to begin – already! – to amplify them,” says the director of the Institute, Christian Gagné.

The team was organized and enriched over the first few months of activity: recruiting some 34 members, developing the core team – which now has five administrative members and eight research professionals specializing in AI and data valorization … not to mention three other professionals who will join the institute at the beginning of 2021.

 “The year that is coming to an end has put in place the structure and architecture of this center of excellence that the IID has become. We now have a solid team, whose strengths and expertise complement each other, as much as we have also been able to train a strong core of specialized researchers, “observes Administrative Director Lynda Robitaille. “The 34 or so researchers that we have integrated into the Institute’s team are at the heart of research in artificial intelligence and data valorization on campus, key players that we are happy to have with us,” adds Christian Gagné.

A challenge accentuated by the pandemic

This implementation challenge was accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic: less than two months after IID’s activities were officially launched, Quebec “came to a halt”. Much of IID’s activities have thus moved online.

No problem, whatsoever! “Overnight, our activities went virtual. Everyone took their initiatives, and the Institute was able to continue – obviously, we miss seeing each other in person during meetings, just as much as the discussions we were used to having in the corridor … But the team was able to rise to the challenge, and continue to develop projects and put in place initiatives that have enabled the Institute to shine.” argues Lynda Robitaille. “The pandemic didn’t stop the IID from taking off!” adds Christian Gagné.

For example? The Institute’s webinar programming, which began in April 2020 and, after about 20 activities, has attracted almost 3000 participants.

Thus, the pandemic did not prevent the Institute’s team from launching major projects together with its collaborators – such as DEEL Québec in September 2020, and an initiative supported by the Center for future skills involving the place of women in the insurance sector in June 2020, as well as mobilizing initiatives, such as the AI portrait produced jointly with Québec International, which strive to promote the regional ecosystem in artificial intelligence. Not to mention the numerous student meetings, the various projects carried out by the Institute’s teams, and more!

A look at 2021 and beyond

The Institute’s first anniversary represents only a brief pause – a moment to consider the milestones achieved, while the initiatives of its second year of activity are already underway.

And what is on the menu for the future? “There is the development of promising niches that we are going to pursue – I am thinking in particular of issues such as exploring the use of AI in the health sector”, indicates Lynda Robitaille, who also mentions that “new initiatives” and “major multidisciplinary projects” will come to light this year. The IID team, which will continue to evolve, may well see a new openness in 2021, explains the administrative director, due to “the development and implementation of new processes of support for companies and organizations in the Quebec City region, as well as with the Institute’s constantly strengthened positioning, at the regional, national and international levels.”

“All of this, keeping in mind our main objective: that the Quebec City region establishes itself as a leader in the ecosystem dedicated to artificial intelligence in Quebec, Canada and internationally,” concludes Christian Gagné.

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