The Next Frontier: Artificial Intelligence and the start-up industry

From the story of Talos of Crete to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the concept of artificially-simulated intelligence has long fascinated humankind. This urge to replicate intelligence through synthetic measures is what is even today driving us on to greater innovations. Our online searches are now taking into account the previous ‘experiences’ to curate more tailored results, our cars are becoming self-driven as a result of AI-based tech and robotic domestic helpers have crossed the menial tasks of cleaning homes off the list of their human masters. In short, each and every aspect of our lives is being increasingly taken over by AI, and these examples are barely scraping the tip of the iceberg.

To gain a more detailed insight into how ingrained artificial intelligence, heuristic algorithm and machine learning is becoming to everyday functioning, one only needs to take a look at the global start-up ecosystem. While traditional technology majors such as IBM, Google, Microsoft and Amazon do figure in prominently when it comes to AI, there are several start-ups and tech-based ventures which are focusing on the technology as a key differentiator for their services and using it to revolutionise the way that businesses are conducted.

Take Tesla Motors, for example. Founded in 2003 and currently headed by the legendary Elon Musk, the company has started leveraging AI to devise self-driven electric cars that can detect road signs, lane markings, obstacles and other vehicles. This development has spurred others, such as the China-based LeEco and Mercedes Benz, to explore the integration of AI with automobiles and revolutionise the traditional idea of a car by essentially making it a smart device on four wheels. The end-goal is to minimise human intervention and errors of judgement to ensure safer travel, more secure on-road behaviour and better economy for the consumer.

Automobiles and travel, however, are not the only aspects of our lives that have been touched by AI. Consider Arria, a UK-based AI start-up, or vPhrase Analytics, an indigenous India venture leveraging AI tech. These start-ups have been simplifying the tasks of many a professional by reading complex data and generating simple-to-read reports for their end-users, something which can be very beneficial across several applications and use-cases such as journalism, corporate report writing and information analysis. Not only does this help businesses and users in generating actionable insights in a convenient manner, but also leads to a great saving for the user, both in terms of the time taken and the capital expenses incurred; Arria can create 60 highly accurate and extremely detailed weather forecast reports in less than one second, a task that traditionally takes human professionals nearly 24 hours to accomplish.

Another example of start-ups leveraging AI to disrupt the existing status quo is the disaster prediction engine Banjo. Conceptualised after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 and aimed at making terrorism impossible, this start-up can analyse social trends, internet traffic and other digital signals to automatically predict a dangerous situation. This heuristic, self-learning model is something that has also been implemented by an Indian start-up, ConfirmTKT, to predict the probability of a train ticket getting confirmed based on factors such as previous ticket confirmation trends and average waitlist time. SIFTR, another Indian start-up that helps photographers in automatically curating their best works from their social media accounts, is another venture which is utilising the power of AI to streamline workflow and optimise efficiency.

These examples are a few amongst a plethora of AI-based ventures which have been making ripples across the global economy. But why is leveraging AI technology increasing becoming a viable option for start-ups? The reason lies in the benefits that it delivers. Artificial intelligence is a highly disruptive field which can deliver higher returns on investment at lower costs owing to the sheer scale it operates on. Moreover, there is the added attraction of exploring a relatively dynamic sector with a huge scope of innovation, which can lead to patents for devising new technologies or approaches. The AI industry also has a massive potential for inorganic growth due to its nature.

It is no wonder, then, that even traditional technology giants such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, IBM and Apple are not only eagerly monitoring the developments within the artificial intelligence industry, but are also acquiring or promoting upcoming ventures to become a more active part of the AI revolution. Facebook has also recently put out its Deep Learning servers, collectively named Big Sur, as an open-sourced platform, while investments into AI-based start-ups continue to demonstrate exponential growth despite a general global investment slowdown. Given the trends and the limitless scope of future applications, it isn’t hard to imagine AI one day completely replacing the need for any human intervention to accomplish tasks.

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