1. Unitary

Our top startup for 2024 tackles the impossible problem of content moderation by using advanced context-aware AI to spot harmful images at scale.

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Founders: Sasha Haco and James Thewlis
Founded: 2019
Website: unitary.ai

In 1993, inventor Tim Berners-Lee released the source code for the world wide web. With no patent and royalties due, he aimed to keep the internet an unregulated space for people to share ideas and information.

Three decades later, that ambition has sadly come up against some of the worst of human nature.

Now consisting of 2.25 billion pages, the internet has become a wild web for lawmakers and tech overlords alike. The volume of content is increasing, creating safety challenges that providers can’t keep in check. Despite this, most still rely on human moderators to identify potentially harmful digital content.

Unitary, the UK’s most exciting and disruptive startup for 2024, is waving a red flag to this outdated practice.

Rather than subject human eyes to traumatising and offensive posts, the company has found a way to automate the moderation process through AI

Rather than subject human eyes to traumatising and offensive posts, the company has found a way to automate the moderation process to accurately judge huge volumes of media, keeping individual users and entire communities safe online.

Unitary was founded in 2019 by Sasha Haco and James Thewlis. Their backgrounds feel miles apart – Sasha is a black hole physicist, while James has worked in content moderation at Facebook and Reddit. The pair bonded over a shared fascination with online safety.

Together, Haco and Thewlis realised that combating an ever-evolving problem requires an up-to-the-minute solution. This is why Unitary employs AI, one of the most rapidly developing areas of computer science.

In future, the business says it will be a horizontal content moderation tool that’s layered across the entire internet, solving safety problems before they can be published.

The company’s patented technology uses machine learning to understand if a photo or video contains explicit or offensive content – even in nuanced cases. Currently, Unitary can analyse around three billion images a day, or 25,000 frames of video per second, catching bad actors that would have otherwise have slipped through the net.

Not content with this achievement, Unitary is also going after the problem of unsafe advertising by giving verification companies and influencer marketing platforms the tools to market their brands responsibly.

This includes GARM, a plug and play solution that analyses whether advertising might breach a brand’s safety policy. There’s also Detoxify, an open-source Python library that identifies hateful or sensitive comments across six languages.

They say social media is like a popularity contest. If this is true, Unitary is fast becoming the coolest kid at the lunch table. It has also received huge backing to tidy up moderation across social media and beyond.

Unitary has announced £12.3m in Series A funding in October 2023 – despite raising £6.7m just seven months earlier. The business is already reportedly pulling in seven figures of annual recurring revenue, too.

As new social networks continue to pop up and expand – the video-based platform TikTok is projected to exceed 2.2 billion users by 2027 – Unitary is here to disrupt and moderate the media madness.

In future, the business says it will be a horizontal content moderation tool that’s layered across the entire internet, solving safety problems before they can be published. It’s an ambitious mission statement, but the challenge is exactly what Haco finds so exhilarating about running a startup.

“I thrive when I’m thrown into the deep end and have to figure things out,” she tells us. “Although I had come from the world of academia, which is all about discovering the unknown, I realised my pace of learning is so much greater running a startup.”

Through pioneering AI technology, Unitary is delivering a brighter, safer future for the internet age. Imagine an online world without hate speech, abuse, or violent content. Our top startup of 2024 is here to build it.

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