Independent review of artificial intelligence sector highlights start-up opportunities

The industry-led report, which says the UK is still a 'world leader in AI', has estimated industry improvement could add £630bn to the economy by 2035

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An independent review of the artificial intelligence (AI) sector, has highlighted start-up opportunities within the industry, to ensure the UK remains a global leader.

Commissioned as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy and led by Jerome Pesenti, CEO of BenevolentTech and Dame Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, the report claims that industry improvement could add up to £630bn to the nation’s economy by 2035.

Placing a strong emphasis on diversity and overseas talent, Growing The Artificial Intelligence Industry In The UK says that businesses, government and academia must work together to break down stereotypes and broaden participation within the specialist sector.

Recommendations include having businesses sponsor a major programme of students to pursue masters level courses in AI, as well as working with the government to create a UK AI Council.

The report estimates there is as much as 200 UK start-ups and small businesses focused on developing AI products within the UK, with AI start-ups generally found to be addressing specific areas of industry – such as Your.MD (personal health) and Darktrace (cybersecurity).

While a number having been acquired and now operating within larger global players such as Swiftkey and DeepMind.

Increasing in popularity, the review quotes a 2017 Coadec report which says “a new AI start-up has been founded in the UK on almost a weekly basis in the past 36 months”.

Artificial intelligence business opportunities

The report highlighted a number of AI business opportunities as well as pinpointing sectors currently being disrupted by an increased use of AI.

Three sectors targeted as having great potential for AI growth were the healthcare, automotive and financial services industries.

Healthcare sector

Its suggested entrepreneurs could think about how a potential AI solution could help with diagnosing patients earlier by detecting small variations in their health data or comparing them to similar patients.

However, potential barriers include overcoming concerns over the privacy and protection of sensitive health data, as well as the requirement for advanced technological development to understand the complexity of human biology.

Automotive sector

Alongside the same lines as Uber, start-ups can think about how they can add to the increasing demand and interest in autonomous fleets for ride sharing, semi-autonomous features such as driver assist and improvements in vehicle maintenance.

Aspiring entrepreneurs, will however, have to adhere to strict regulations within the automotive sector, as well as gain complete consumer trust.

Financial services sector

Hot areas in the fintech sector include personalised financial planning, fraud detection and process automation.

Once again however, start-ups will need to adhere to firm financial regulations and ensure they gain the trust of consumers.

Geographical spread of AI businesses in the UK

The report also demonstrates that while London is far and away the UK’s AI start-up and small business capital, with an estimated 80% of all AI companies based there, evidence also exists of strong regional clusters.

Based on the number of tech events, scientific publications, and data such as local skills, business start-up rates, and research and development spending, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford and Bristol make up the top five UK cities in which to start an AI business.

London: With a whole host of international businesses based in the nation’s capital, such as Adbrain and BenevolentAI, London also benefits from its strong education sector with UCL, Kings College and Imperial College all having significant AI and machine learning research groups.

Furthermore, angel investor firms such as Entrepreneur First has a strong AI focus and brings together engineers and computer scientists to build scale-ups. While community market intelligence platforms such as Cognition X provide information and research on products and resources required to build AI solutions.

Cambridge: Home to the likes of Darktrace and Swiftkey, Cambridge-based businesses normally have some form of an association or direct link to the University of Cambridge’s Computer School. Investment firm Amadeus Capital is also local to the city, while tech giants Amazon and Apple have a large AI presence too.

Edinburgh: The University of Edinburgh has a successful track record of fostering spin-out companies in data analytics and AI, such as Skyscanner. Amazon also has set-up a development centre which has a strong focus on machine learning. While CodeBase, one of the UK’s largest start-up incubators, works with more than 80 of the country’s most promising technology companies.

Oxford: Another city with a world-renowned university, with a particular strength in machine learning and deep learning, the likes of DeepMind and Dark Blue Labs have been founded in the city.

Bristol: The University of Bristol’s Intelligent Systems Lab and internationally recognised Robotics Lab37 help develop AI talent, and the city is also home to the likes of Five AI and Graphcore.

Who can my start-up contact for help with developing AI?

The report highlighted a number of support mechanisms UK start-ups and entrepreneurs looking to crack the AI sector.

These groups include:

  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (funding for research)
  • The Alan Turing Institute (research in data science)
  • Turing Data Study Group
  • Open Data Institute (ODI)
  • National Innovation Centre for Data
  • Royal Statistical Society (RSS) Data Science Section:
  • Digital Catapult (support for commercialisation of digital R&D)
  • TechUK (industry representation)
  • NMI (the body for the UK electronic systems & technology industry)
  • Society for the Study of AI and Simulation of Behaviour
  • Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence
  • All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence
  • Tech City UK (support for digital scale-ups)

Greg Clark, business secretary, said:

“Artificial intelligence presents us with a unique opportunity to build on our strengths and track record of research excellence by leading the development and deployment of this transformational technology.

“This important review exemplifies the world-class expertise the UK already has in AI, demonstrating the huge social and economic benefits its use can bring.

“We will continue to work with the sector in the coming months to secure a comprehensive sector deal that make the UK the go to place for AI and helps us grasp the opportunities that lie ahead.”

Jerome Pesenti, CEO of BenevolentTech, said:

“In our AI review, we focused on recommendations that are both practicable and deliverable. By following these recommendations, government, academia and industry can help strengthen the UK’s position in the global AI market.

“Our proposals are deliberately specific and boil down to three fundamentals – enable better access to data, create a greater supply of AI skills and promote the uptake of AI. I am looking forward to working with government, academia and industry to drive these changes.”

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