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Microsoft backs Montreal AI startup
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Microsoft backs Montreal AI startup 

Microsoft did not disclose how much it was providing Element AI, but the latest development bring to 20 the number of AI organizations the Redmond, Wash-based company has invested in since the creation of its new artificial intelligence-focused venture fund.

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Element AI was founded by Yoshua Bengio, a French-born computer scientist known for his work on deep learning and artificial neural networks.

Since October this year, according to Nagraj Kashyap, corporate vice-president of Microsoft Ventures, Microsoft has invested in the following AI organizations:

  • i3 Equity Partners – an investment vehicle dedicated to early-stage investments in Israeli IoT startups
  • Zipwhip – a SaaS provider that enables businesses to send and receive text messages on existing landline, VoIP, and toll-free phone numbers
  • Paxata – a platform provider that enables business analysts with an enterprise-grade, self-service data preparation system
  • xAd – a location intelligence software company that helps marketers unlock opportunities in the 90 per cent of retail transactions that are still completed offline
  • Dynamic Signal – a communications platform company that increases productivity and employee engagement with timely, relevant content across multiple channels and devices
  • Tact – a sales experience platform that transforms a salesperson’s connected device into an AI-powered smart assistant

“This new collaboration will allow Element AI partners to leverage Microsoft strategic resources including the Azure environment, which will further enable world-class entrepreneurs and large corporations to tackle hard problems and solve artificial intelligence needs,” said Jean-François Gagné, CEO of Element AI. “The Microsoft Ventures investment is a huge vote of confidence in that it’s the very first from their new fund specifically dedicated to funding AI commercial endeavours that have a positive impact on society.”

“Our recently announced partnership with OpenAI is a key example of us working to use AI to address important issues such as climate change, inequality, health, and education,” Kashyap wrote in his recent blog. “Building on that, our participation in the Partnership on AI, and other efforts, we’ll make investments in startups that are responsibly harnessing the promise of AI to empower people and businesses.”

Microsoft wants to build artificial intelligence into a key element of its Azure cloud infrastructure. AI is being used in Microsoft’s voice-enabled digital assistant Cortana.

There are a growing number of other technology giants pouring money into AI research. The list includes the likes to Google, Facebook, IBM, AWS, Salesforce, and Intel.

Google recently announced it is renewing its Focused Research Award for Bengio, who is a professor of the Department of Computer Science and Operations Research, and head of the Montreal Institute of Learning Algorithms (MILA).

Kashyap said Microsoft Venture’s support for Element AI expands on the fund’s original mandate to fund cloud companies.

“This new fund will make investments of similar size to previous Microsoft Ventures investments, and will only include businesses with promise for strong financial returns (as opposed to non-profits or NGOs). We expect our overall pace of investments will accelerate,” he said.

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