Toronto gets record gift to study artificial intelligence

C$100 million donation from entrepreneurs to fund two-tower downtown complex

March 27, 2019
University of Toronto
Source: iStock

The University of Toronto announced its largest-ever gift, a C$100 million (£57 million) donation from entrepreneurs Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman to create Canada’s largest university-based innovation centre.

The money will be used to build and staff a 750,000 square foot (70,000 square metre) complex with an emphasis on exploring artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, including associated ethical and societal implications.

The facility, to be called the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre, will sit on the edge of the downtown Toronto campus, next to the MaRS Discovery District, which is already considered the world’s largest urban innovation hub.

It will consist of two towers of 12 and 20 floors, with construction due to begin this autumn. One tower will house laboratories for research into regenerative medicine, genetics and precision medicine. The other will be home to the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and a new Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society. Students and faculty will come from fields that include business, computer science and biotechnology.

The project “will help consolidate Toronto’s leading position in the AI world," Geoffrey Hinton, a university emeritus professor and renowned AI pioneer who also works at Google, said in a statement outlining the gift.

The university's president, Meric Gertler, said that the location was meant to make the institution more physically inviting to the wider city.

“This really is an important building for us to demonstrate our commitment to engage the city around us," Professor Gertler said. “We want it to be accessible and open and transparent at street level because we want to entice and invite the residents of the city into the building.”

Mr Schwartz is the chief executive officer of Onex Corporation, a major private equity firm, and Ms Reisman is the founder and chief executive of the Canadian retail chain Indigo Books and Music.

Neither attended the University of Toronto, although Mr Schwartz served on its governing council and received an honorary doctorate in 2016. The couple married in 1982 and are reputed to own the most expensive house in Toronto. They made their gift to the university through their Gerald Schwartz & Heather Reisman Foundation.

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