In the final article of a three part series* focusing on what AI startup founders are doing to navigate the fast growth AI industry, Information Age spoke to 16 founders of some the UK’s leading AI startups and scaleups to understand their artificial intelligence trends for 2021, including its growing use in a variety of industries, the importance of data and talent, the impact of Covid-19 and the democratisation of AI.
The growing use of AI
This growing use and acceptance of AI has been driven, in part, by the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“More and more businesses that are not fully digitalised want to undergo a digital transformation. [AI and] automation is the most popular technology these new clients want to adopt,” confirms Daniel Cooper, managing director at Lolly Co.
AI in healthcare
The healthcare sector, including drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry, has experienced a tremendous challenge over the last year.
“It is also being used in healthcare to help with treatment and medical training. With AI and machine learning being the ultimate problem-solving tools (tools which are only getting smarter), we can expect to see the use of AI in medicine continue to grow over the coming months and years,” he says.
Chris Ganje, CEO and founder at AMPLYFI, agrees and says “UK science has played a pivotal role in tackling the pandemic globally. AMPLYFI has continually tracked these exciting projects that cover everything from data modelling, to DNA sequencing to rapidly deployed research trials.”
Looking at the pharmaceuticals industry, Miriam Cha, co-founder and COO of Rahko explains that: “we are seeing much broader adoption of AI in discovery pipelines. What have traditionally been extremely slow, expensive processes are being significantly accelerated with drastically reduced costs…we are seeing a huge appetite and real excitement for AI in the more innovative companies, and quantum computing in the most innovative of these.”
AI and innovations in technology are also changing the way people provide and receive care.
“Assistive technologies such as virtual assistants and wireless devices have been enabling seniors to live more securely at home for longer, by keeping them connected with family and friends whilst helping them with daily living activities,” adds Philip Marshman, founder and CEO at Sentai.
Following the pandemic, “with the number of people 65 years old and over expected to increase significantly over the next decade, technology will likely continue to evolve to help them with a variety of physical, mental, and emotional challenges. Incorporating artificial intelligence, robotics and other technology trends that help them live independently, seniors are likely to continue embracing such technologies as long as they are easy enough to use,” he says.
AI in finance
He believes that this technology will form the keystone of the future of business intelligence for banks and other financial institutions. The capabilities and potential of AI are enormous for our industry.
According to Hodgson, recent studies have found that companies not using AI are likely to suffer in terms of revenue.
“As the link between AI use and revenue growth continues to strengthen, there can be no doubt that AI will be a driving force for the capital markets in 2021 and in the decade ahead — those firms who are unwilling to embrace it are unlikely to survive,” he continues.
Hodgson predicts that with the continued tightening regulatory environment, financial institutions will have to do more with less and many will need to act fast to remain both competitive and relevant in this ‘new normal’.
“As a result, we are seeing that financial institutions are increasingly looking to purchase out-of-the-box third-party solutions that can be onboarded within a few short months and that deliver immediate results rather than taking years to build their own systems with the associated risks and vast hidden costs,” he adds.
AI in HR
Like in healthcare and financial services, Dr Alan Bourne, CEO and founder at Sova, believes AI can meet a lot of the new demands on HR, such as surging applicants and staff pressures, which have been exacerbated by Covid.
He says: “As the tech has moved beyond the experimental phase and much more into the applied world, businesses can have greater confidence in what they’re buying. It’s no longer a case of what sells, but what works. This means fewer point solutions and more meaningful, integrated data to support business talent management for the long-term.
“There is also a growing excitement around how AI can dramatically reduce bias in recruitment, which supports wider ESD (Ethical, Social and Diversity) goals that have become an increasingly important business priority.”
Covid-19 and remote working
“The reality today, is a trend towards simpler AI processes first; just to run some tasks that will allow companies to avoid the need to have to bring people physically together during a pandemic,” he says.
Ky Nichol, CEO at Cutover, agrees at says that remote team orchestration for critical work is now essential. Businesses need to adopt AI “processes and systems that work independent of location and that are visible.”
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of all things digital. However, looking forward, “a high performing digital sector is not just about handling the pandemic. It is also fundamental to the future prosperity of the UK in a rapidly changing world where digital not only underpins value generation but is also a product in itself,” according to Ganje.
Some of the industry dinosaurs have left it to too late and some are waking up just in time to respond to the new environment. It is time for the small more agile mammals to rise to the top. It is time for disruptors — Peter Ryding, founder, VIC
He explains: “Over the past year, technology companies have been focused on providing customers with a service that allows them to adapt to future challenges.
“As well as helping customers to adapt, businesses themselves will need to be flexible and agile in the way that technology is rolled out over the coming months — especially given that companies are still working remotely.
“The concept of digital transformation is still a huge feat for many companies. Our work with the NHS, for example, is helping increase efficiency during this challenging time, but can only be done without causing any unnecessary upheaval.
“In essence, companies like Navenio, have shown how to adapt to different industries and quickly provide services and support where needed. We expect many more businesses to follow this approach in 2021.”
“The key to success during the pandemic, in my perspective, is to be adaptable and versatile. Our clients themselves have suffered from pain points more so than us over the past few months, so our adaptation and stabilisation at Roby organically became part of our value proposition” — Tom Reiss, CEO at Roby AI
Access to talent and staff retention have been identified as one of the greatest challenges for founders of AI and fast growth businesses.
“Talent leaders everywhere are firstly identifying that they need help making fairer, more accurate hiring decisions. And, then, they’re seeing that an objective assessment can really provide that help.
“Another theme is the ever-increasing focus on the candidate experience. The hiring process is one of the first impressions you’ll get of a company, so it really matters. A good experience reflects well on the employer and will help keep candidates engaged.”
It’s all about the data
“An organisation’s ability to acquire and analyse high quality reliable data, as well as recognise the growing importance of unstructured data over structured data, is as important to the development of new digital products as it is to the tackling of a coronavirus pandemic,” says Ganje.
Secure, unbiased data is what makes AI work.
But there’s a problem. Darko Matovski, CEO and co-founder of causaLens, explains that the reality is “current AI systems work very well when they are fed ‘new’ data similar to what they’ve been trained with, but they fail when these datasets are different in any statistically significant way.”
The solution to this, he suggests, is getting AI systems to understand cause and effect.
“The industry is racing to develop these truly intelligent systems — a major step towards true AI. Customers increasingly want more than just automating repetitive tasks or even getting accurate predictions. They want to be able to answer more sophisticated questions such as why? what if? and how? Machines that understand cause and effect can evaluate interventions and ‘imagine’ alternative scenarios to be able to answer these questions,” he says.
“In the past, solving problems in this way was dedicated to the experts. But, over the last few years, more companies are trying to democratise the complex parts of virtual engineering software, essentially making it more user friendly.”