AI adoption fuels optimism for UK businesses

Not so scary after all? Businesses anticipating AI disruption feel better prepared for 2024.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Business debates around the rapid adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) have been thrown a curveball, as a new survey shows that firms who are readying themselves for AI disruption feel better positioned for the year ahead.

Among 546 UK companies surveyed by, a mere 2% of those expecting a high level of AI disruption feel pessimistic about their growth prospects.

Meanwhile, 32% of those who anticipate no disruption display negative sentiment towards the future, suggesting that engaging with AI could be the key to business success this year.

The survey also shows that 14% of respondents think investing in AI should be their number one priority in 2024, in recognition of the growing potential of AI to unlock a competitive edge and navigate the volatile economic landscape.

Tech leads AI charge, while education lags behind

AI anxiety has prevented many firms from fully embedding artificial intelligence tools, such as Google Duet and Microsoft CoPilot, into their business.

Largely, the mistrust of AI tools appears to stem from unfamiliarity with the software, which has slowed rollout in some sectors.

Indeed, industries that are further behind when it comes to digitalisation such as hospitality and food production were less likely to view investment in artificial intelligence as a priority.

In sectors where digital innovation is more common, however, the robots have taken over. Startups’ survey finds that tech, as well as finance and fintech, are the two industry groups most likely to say AI investment and adoption is a top priority in 2024.

Over one fifth of organisations in both of these sectors label artificial intelligence as their main focus in the next 12 months. Investing in AI leaps above other critical needs, including gaining financial backing and workforce expansion.

Industry% of respondents investing in AI in 2024
Healthcare and Life Sciences15%
Creative Arts and Media12%
Manufacturing and Engineering15%
Finance and Fintech20%
Hospitality and Tourism9%
E-commerce and Retail15%
Agriculture and Food Production5%
Technology and Software23%
Energy and Sustainability13%
Professional Services15%

AI investment sits at the bottom of to-do lists for leisure and educational organisations. In both of these sectors, 57% of firms believe AI will have no disruption on current operations this year – amongst the highest of all 13 industries analysed.

Instead, the primary concern listed by leisure and education companies was diversifying income streams. It appears that struggles with overall financial stability have eclipsed the need to embrace digitalisation.

AI arms race set to pick up speed in 2024

Healthy levels of scepticism can be useful for keeping businesses on the right track when it comes to investment decisions. But in the face of permacrisis, artificial intelligence could be key to confronting many of the biggest challenges impacting today’s companies.

Startups’ research indicates that ‘traditional’ industries remain hesitant, potentially stunting their own growth in an AI-driven future.

That includes hospitality, where only 9% of firms think investment in artificial intelligence is a top priority. Yet automation has been heralded as a way to fix service errors caused by labour shortages in cafes and pubs, improving speed of delivery as well as order accuracy.

Meanwhile, educational startup was recently named a top startup for 2024, suggesting that generative AI tools will soon be commonly used to personalise learning.

One year on from the launch of ChatGPT, it seems the business world is learning to live alongside AI software. Now, by embracing the technology head-on, UK companies can navigate the coming year with optimism and seize on opportunities for growth.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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