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Geoffrey Hinton pledges $1 million to renovate Ontario Science Centre

Geoffrey Hinton pledges  million to renovate Ontario Science Centre

A world-renowned Toronto academic known as the “Godfather” of artificial intelligence has pledged $1 million to repair the roof of the Ontario Science Centre – as long as it remains in its current location.

Geoffrey Hinton said in an interview that his money “comes from science” and that he wanted it to go back to inspiring children to think and learn about science in ways that could stimulate future scientific achievement.

“I think it’s strange to close. I was very disappointed when I heard the news. I used to go there often with my children. I think it is a beautiful place,” says the 76-year-old professor emeritus of computer science at the University of Toronto.

Hinton is one of a growing number of Ontarians who have offered money to save the site after the building was abruptly closed after the provincial government claimed failing roof panels made the building unsafe.

However, a technical report on which the government relied for its decision gave options other than closure, noting that the dangerous roof panels only made up about six percent of the structure and that the repairs could be carried out by blocking access to part of the limit the building.

Designed by Ontario architect Raymond Moriyama, the Science Centre opened in 1969 as one of the world’s first science museums to feature interactive exhibits.

Premier Doug Ford’s government has pushed for the construction of a new, smaller Science Centre at the controversial Ontario Place redevelopment, though the building is not expected to open until 2028.

Hinton said he had read about venture capitalist Adam McNamara’s promises to pay $522,500 to keep the building open in the short term. Philanthropist Sabina Vohra-Miller and her husband, former Shopify executive Craig Miller, have pledged $1 million.

Vohra-Miller posted on social media that she would like to set up a collective to raise more money.

Hinton said he heard from another AI startup founder who was also willing to donate about $250,000.

The provincial government has said the cost of a new roof would be between $22 million and $40 million. The Rimkus Consulting engineer’s report said it would be less than $8 million in the first year, another $4.5 million through 2029 and $13 million through 2034.

Dr. Hinton said the money would come from a foundation whose initial funding came from a company that has made major advances in deep learning, which is the basis of today’s AI. He said the company had been sold to Google. Dr. Hinton made headlines when he left a senior position at Google last year, saying he was concerned about the future of AI.

He said he was concerned about a recent call for proposals from Infrastructure Ontario, which called for a temporary science centre of just 50,000 square feet, much smaller than the building’s current footprint.

“I think it would be much wiser to fix the building,” he said. “These demonstrations take up space, and going to physical demonstrations is a different experience than just seeing things on YouTube. So I think they need the space and they’re not going to get the space anywhere else,” he said.