12 Apr 2023

AI on an industrial scale: The UK start-ups using AI and machine learning to transform industry

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been cited as one of the keys to help businesses survive any impending impacts from a recession. There are some who even believe the technology could unleash a wave of disruptive innovations and enable a new generation of businesses to flourish via the use of industrial scale computing.

This may come as a surprise to some industry onlookers and small businesses, who may worry that GPU-accelerated technologies remain too expensive and disruptive in the current climate. Disruptive technologies that can help businesses to solve problems, understand customers, and more accurately predict outcomes are, however, not just a wise investment in challenging times, but an essential one.

'What makes AI such a vital tool for ambitious businesses?’ you might ask. This fast-evolving technology is not just about workplace automation, although that's certainly one of its benefits. AI and machine learning can deliver insight and analysis across all areas of business, from accounts and finance to workspace design with superhuman speed and scale. The technology has also transformed organisations' ability to handle crises from supply-chain blockages to cybersecurity attacks.

Frankly, AI business tools have never been more affordable or accessible. This is partly down to regulatory developments such as open banking, which has enabled a proliferation of APIs that let businesses of all sizes integrate AI functions into their processes quickly and easily. But it's also thanks to the ingenuity of UK AI start-ups that have made it their business to help other businesses.

AI is essential in a business crisis

For many, AI is no longer seen as an optional extra. With supply-chain problems and cybersecurity threats continuing to bite, businesses are ever more aware of the need for AI’s insight.

More than half (53%) of UK supply chain decision-makers believe AI advances are key to managing disruption, according to a recent 3Gem report for Blue Yonder. 67% said the ability to view and manage the supply chain from end-to-end would help them manage disruption better. Optimised logistics won’t just reduce costs for businesses, it also improves sustainability. No wonder companies like 7bridges, whose AI tools transform supply chain visibility, are attracting so much investment, including $20.4 million (£17 million) raised in just two seed rounds.

AI’s ability to predict, detect and combat cybersecurity threats also makes it a vital defence tool. This is especially true given that ransomware and spear phishing bots are powered and targeted using AI. For example, the botnet TrickBot uses algorithms to automatically calculate the best hiding place in a target system. Among TrickBot’s many victims was a European public administration organisation which, by coincidence, had been trialling AI-driven cybersecurity technology developed by UK start-up Darktrace.

The UK government has also noted the ability of AI to solve problems at a speed and scale that no human data analyst could ever match. The government’s National AI Strategy stresses the potential of AI to address “the greatest challenges of the 21st century,” including climate change, public health and the energy crisis. Key to this approach is putting AI at the centre of business development and training, including in schools. Given enough funding, we look forward to seeing this strategy deliver a whole new generation of innovators who embrace the power of AI.

If the next generation of innovators wants some inspiration, they need look no further than the UK’s top-funded AI start-ups. Many are using high performance infrastcuture to solve industry problems and drive better business outcomes. Some include companies such as 7bridges, who, for example, is using AI to change in supply chain management.

When global logistics don't run smoothly, it's not just the immediately-affected businesses who suffer. The AI-based supply-chain management platform developed by 7bridges has far-reaching benefits, including reduced carbon emissions and better local health services. By using AI to map supply and demand of the flu vaccine, and thereby optimising the supply chain and minimising delays, 7bridges played an integral role in ensuring that people living outside cities were able to get their vaccine doses.

Using AI to fight cybercrime and fraud

With criminals increasingly able to use AI for nefarious activities, it's now essential for cybersecurity to incorporate AI capabilities. No other technology is able to gain the required insight into attacks, or to predict appropriate responses and outcomes as quickly and accurately.

Darktrace, founded in the Northern part of the UK Innovation Corridor in Cambridge a decade ago, is currently developing smart attack simulations that autonomously anticipate and block the actions of even the most inventive cyber threat. As such, it has become the world's leading AI-based cybersecurity firm, with funding nearing a quarter of a billion dollars.

Quantexa's is another London-based firm, who is blazing a trail in fighting crime. Traditional fraud detection techniques and even basic AI algorithms are no longer enough to detect fraudulent activity such as money laundering, tax evasion and insurance fraud, which often lure investigators into frustrating games of cat and mouse.

To outsmart fraudsters, Quantexa has developed software that uses sophisticated data-driven machine learning techniques to detect abnormal behaviour and track brand new fraud, with no trail or precedent.

Using AI to understand customers and fast track business operations

The ecommerce revolution is another key area which has delivered a wealth of customer data for retailers and enterprise businesses. This data is rich with insights into customer purchasing preferences, but analysing it is a herculean task that only AI can do with speed, scale, and accuracy. Among current leaders in this field is London-based Zappi, whose AI platform helps businesses including Vodafone, Mars, and Pepsico understand their customers buying habits, then deliver for them.

Getting paid accurately and on time has been a distant dream for businesses since time immemorial. "We do not accept that," says Symmetrical.ai in its manifesto. "It's your money. You shouldn't ask for it. You've earned it." Symmetrical's AI platform turns that dream into reality by putting each of its client firms' entire HR and payroll flow into one secure, AI-automated ecosystem. This fast-growing company can run 100% of its customers payroll, providing you're based in the UK or Poland. Nonetheless, AI remains at the heart of this innovation and enables businesses to overcome many of the cash flow challenges that have traditionally hindered growth.

In my role at Kao Data I’ve had the pleasure of working with many world-leading start-ups, including Speechmatics and InstaDeep, and have witnessed the transformative power that AI can have on entire sectors. Looking to the future, I believe the UK has an inherent opportunity to lead a technological revolution right on the front of the AI world stage, and that the companies based here will be pivotal in creating the next wave of disruptive innovation.

Tom Bethell

Tom Bethell is one of Kao Data's Business Development Directors. With a background in IT Infrastructure; Tom has been working specifically within the areas of data centre colocation and high performance computing for a number of years.


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