ATB Financial’s Multi-Year AI Partnership with the University of Alberta

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When it comes to AI in Canada, everyone always mentions Toronto and Montreal. One western province thought enough was enough and wanted in on the action.

A new four-year partnership between ATB Financial and the University of Alberta will see the province significantly boost its contributions to the national AI landscape. ATB is investing $940,000 to fund the inaugural cohort of students and pair them with selected professors and ATB experts to further research AI and machine learning.

“Our students are motivated by hands-on learning that will lead to jobs,” said Jonathan Schaeffer, Dean of the University of Alberta Faculty of Science and an expert in artificial intelligence. “This learning lets the next generation of AI leaders apply their STEM skills at UAlberta, building the AI ecosystem to retain and attract talent here in Alberta.”

The AI research will revolve around fields that can help ATB grow their financial operations, including intuitive business analytics to support SME growth, fraud detection, and customer service intelligence powered by reinforcement learning. Reinforcement learning is actually a field that the University of Alberta is recognized as being a world leader in.

The cohort will see the students moving out of the classroom and getting hands-on experience with AI initiatives through ATB’s investment.

“Every business and individual stands to benefit from the application of AI,” said Wellington Holbrook, ATB’s Chief Transformation Officer. “The opportunity to collaborate with the U of A as a key pillar in ATB’s broader AI strategy is significant. We’re able to reinforce the fabric of Alberta’s tech ecosystem with a focus on developing and benefitting the key resource at the heart of it all: people.”

ATB is looking to use this new partnership to ensure that their application of AI is dedicated to the best practices regarding legal, social and ethical implications of emerging technology. The bank has taken a goodwill approach to their new programs before: last year, they launched biometric banking to help vulnerable clients who may not have access to fixed addresses or who want to keep large amounts of money on them at once.

The financial institution is also setting up a Research and Affiliate Network led by AI expert Randy Goebel, as well as an AI, People and Advisory Ethics open platform led by Geoffrey Rockwell.

ATB has worked in AI before, tapping the startup Finn.ai to help them launch a smart banking assistant on Facebook late last year. Programs like this new University of Alberta investment will help ATB launch their own AI initiatives.

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