The People Behind Britain’s AI Research & Development

The UK has a great heritage in AI, stemming back to pioneers such as Alan Turing, one of the undisputed fathers of the field. Britain has some of the best AI research groups in the world, including Cambridge, Imperial and University College London (UCL), and is a growing centre for tech entrepreneurship. But companies specialising in AI are few and far between, and those that do exist tend to be focused in one particular area.

Google’s acquisition of DeepMind has shone a light on this relatively nascent commercial sector, and Ben Medlock, co-founder of AI firm SwiftKey, believes that the UK is capable of building sustainable AI businesses to rival the giants of the West Coast.

Some experts have warned that artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment. Dr Stuart Armstrong, from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, said computers had the potential to take over people’s jobs at a faster rate than new roles could be created.

He cited logistics, administration and insurance underwriting as professions that were particularly vulnerable to the development of artificial intelligence. However, Anderson said AI is not all about “hacking the workforce to pieces”. Rather it is about making individuals more productive, and making sure that “processes get applied, stuff is accurate, errors are eliminated, and compliance is met”. Analyst firm Gartner predicts that ‘smart machines’ will have a widespread impact on businesses by 2020.

Here are some British AI companies making headlines in the field:

VocalIQ
Founded by Blaise Thomson, Martin Szummer and Steve Young, VocalIQ is a Cambridge-based startup, formed to exploit technology developed by the Spoken Dialogue Systems Group at the University of Cambridge, UK. With expertise and toolkits covering speech recognition, spoken language understanding, dialog design, and speech synthesis the company provides customised spoken language interfaces to any device, and for any application including smartphones, robots, cars, call-centres, and games. In September 2015 VocalIQ was acquired by Apple.

SwiftKey
SwiftKey uses artificial intelligence to make personalised mobile apps. It is best known for the SwiftKey keyboard, which learns from each individual user to accurately predict their next word and improve autocorrect. Its machine learning and natural language processing technology understands the context of language and how words fit together. SwiftKey products were embedded on more than 100 million devices last year, and the company has just launched an app for iPhones and iPads called SwiftKey Note. The company behind SwiftKey was founded in 2008 by Jon Reynolds and Dr Ben Medlock.

Bloom AI
Bloom develops consumer artificial intelligence software that attempts to befriend humans. Its lead developer, Jason Hadjioannou, showcased a companion AI app for iOS at 2015’s TechCrunch Disrupt in London. The app uses artificial intelligence to learn about and bond with the user, proactively striking up conversations and remembering the personal interests of the individual. Bloom’s companion app is interacted with via natural spoken language and presents one of the most realistic speech synthesis engines currently available. Bloom AI is based in England and was founded by Jason Hadjioannou.

Celaton
Celaton’s inSTREAM software applies artificial intelligence to labour-intensive clerical tasks and decision making. Every day, businesses receive mountains of information via email and paper. InSTREAM learns to recognise different types of information and process it accordingly. It never forgets, and handles huge volumes of information at high-speed. Like a real person, it asks questions when it is not sure what to do. Andrew Anderson is the founder and CEO of Celaton.

Lincor
Lincor provides hospital bedside computers to entertain patients and engage them with relevant information and advice. This virtual personal doctor will constantly analyse live personal health data to enable preventative medicine and tailored lifestyle advice. During a hospital visit, the data will be further analysed by hospital AI, giving doctors a more complete and detailed picture. Enda Murphy is the founder and CTO of Lincor Solutions.

Featurespace
Featurespace has developed and sells two software products based on its predictive analytics platform. One is for fraud detection and the other for marketing analytics. Its products use advanced proprietary algorithms to exploit the vast amounts of customer interaction data that many companies collect, delivering insights that can help to detect and prevent fraud and prevent customer churn. Featurespace’s team is led by CEO Martina King (former Managing Director of Aurasma and Yahoo! Europe) and CTO David Excell, who co-founded the company with Professor Bill Fitzgerald, alongside Matt Mills (Commercial Director) and Simon Rodgers (Director of Engineering).

Darktrace
Darktrace uses advanced mathematics to automatically detect abnormal behaviour in organisations in order to manage risks from cyber-attacks. Unlike software that reads log files or puts locks on the technology, Darktrace’s approach allows businesses to protect their information and intellectual property from state-sponsored, criminal groups or malicious employees that many believe are already inside the networks of every critical infrastructure company. Darktrace was founded in Cambridge, UK, in 2013 by mathematicians and machine learning specialists from the University of Cambridge, together with intelligence experts from MI5 and GCHQ.