U of T’s plan to build a new 750,000-square-foot innovation research complex exhibits its commitment to artificial intelligence (AI) and biomedical research leadership, which will greatly enrich our collective university experience. This breakthrough, courtesy of the university’s recent $100 million donation from Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman, firmly anchors its leading status in Canada and its rising position in the world.
After hearing U of T’s plans to build hubs to stimulate innovation, the billionaire couple announced the largest-ever donation the university has ever received at a press conference on March 25 to support these ambitions. The Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre, to be located at the corner of College Street and Queen’s Park, will realize the interplay of technology, culture, and society.
Philanthropic gifts such as these support universities by both expanding on existing innovation projects and seeking opportunities to launch new institutes in areas such as machine learning and biomedical and robotic improvement. At U of T, recent philanthropic projects such as the $6.7 million from TD toward data analytics, health care, and behavioural economics, as well as the $20 million for research on the biological causes of depression from the Labatt family strengthen U of T’s potential impact on innovation both domestically and internationally.
Importantly, the $100 million donation firmly ties U of T with the word “innovation,” as it is the largest donation ever made in the Canadian innovation sector. This donation will likely go down among the most noteworthy advancements in Canada’s innovation history. Other notable programs include CanadaHelps, the country’s largest non-profit platform for donating and fundraising with a focus on innovation, which surpassed $500 million in 2015, and Google Canada, which launched a $5 million prize for non-profit innovation. However, these influences are not as profound as that of the single $100 million donation. This is because the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre will constantly remind future generations of scholars, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists of the spirit of innovation, and of the university’s commitment to a brighter future.
The emphasis placed on innovation in AI and biomedicine by U of T and Schwartz and Reisman reaffirms the significance of this gift. The donation continues a remarkable industry-wide outburst of philanthropy for innovations in AI and biomedical research to prominent universities around the planet. For example, in October, the single largest donation of $350 million USD to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology prompted its commitment to dedicate $1 billion USD to research into the rapid evolution of computing and AI. That same month, the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute received a donation of approximately $17.6 million USD to foster research in advanced technology. In July 2017, a $10 million USD endowment to the Stanford Cancer Institute called for advance research in cancer cell therapy, the pioneering cancer treatment today. Six months earlier, Carnegie Mellon University had received a $250 million USD gift to fund a new robotic institution.
Colloquially, the term ‘AI’ is used to describe machines that mimic the cognitive functions of humans, such as learning and problem-solving. Biomedicine, meanwhile, applies biological and physiological principles to clinical practice, which has been the dominant health system for more than a century. Innovations, from a historic meaning, are meant to facilitate human wellbeing.
We are in the midst of a revolution focused on AI and biomedical systems. With the significance of such research, the industrial evolution that is now occurring shoulders the responsibilities of optimizing every facet of humans’ lives, from prolonging life to easing low-wage workers from heavy labour.
Schwartz and Reisman’s donation stamps U of T’s profound position as a top educational institution in the innovation industry. Thanks to generous recent donations, U of T is continuing to shift its focus to the innovation and technology spheres. The implication behind this donation also signals U of T’s rising and determinant role in the current revolution and its ambition to work collaboratively with other influential institutions to lead innovation.