The University of Toronto is building an artificial intelligence complex thanks to billionaire couple Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman, who have donated C$100 million to the project. The couple own private-equity firm Onex Corp. and Indigo Books & Music Inc. The donation was made through The Gerald Schwartz & Heather Reisman Foundation.
The gift is the largest in the university’s history as well as the biggest in Canada’s technology sector, reports Bloomberg. The university will use the donation to construct the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre later this year, which will be 750,000 square-feet big.
“You’ve seen companies like Uber and Google and so many others starting to make real commitments to Toronto, and this is drawing people from around the world to come to Toronto to be part of this,” Schwartz, Onex’s founder and chief executive officer, explained during an interview at Indigo’s headquarters in the city. “That legacy is going to last for a long time.”
The money will fund the creation of the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society, which will “research the ethical and societal implications of AI and emerging technologies.”
AI scientists, biomedical experts, and student and faculty-led start-ups will have access to the facility. Reisman, Indigo’s founder and CEO, noted that the center will attract talented academics and scientists who are looking for an alternative to American institutions. It doesn’t hurt that the university’s legacy includes AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton.
The United States is making it increasingly difficult for foreigners to work in the country, while Canada is opening its borders to high-tech workers. Last year, Canada experienced a huge increase in immigration, including students from abroad.
The new facility will be housed at College Street and Queen’s Park. It will feature the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the Schwartz Reisman Institute, as well as research labs for regenerative medicine and genetics.
University President Meric Gertler was “blown away” by the donation, noting that it far surpassed expectations. The project has been in the planning stages since 2017, and the donation was crucial to its implementation.
According to Gertler, the fund will allow the university to work on technological advances while keeping societal impacts in the periphery.
“When you look at the pervasive impact on AI and machine learning, there is cause for excitement and cause for some concern,” he said.
Schwartz, 78, was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He is worth approximately $1.5 billion, according to Forbes. He received his undergraduate degree at Manitoba University an has an MBA from Harvard University. He founded Onex Corporation in 1983 and made it one of the largest companies in Canada.
Schwartz married Reisman, 71, in 1982. She is the co-founder and former chairwoman of Kobo. Born in Montreal, Reisman graduated from McGill University. She started her career as a social worker and has since served as governor of the Toronto Stock Exchange and McGill University. She’s served on the board of Williams Sonoma and J. Crew. She’s currently director of Onex Corp. and Mt. Sinai Hospital.