3 October, 2016 - 12:21 By Tony Quested

Cambridge’s AI cluster could help boost UK economy by $814bn in under 20 years

It should come as no surprise to students of game-changing innovation that Cambridge in the UK is often ahead of the curve in blazing a trail with groundbreaking science or technology.

Without a fuss or a scintilla of hype, it has created the world’s leading cluster of product design consultancies.

Now it has fashioned a hub of Artificial Intelligence technology that has Asian and American technology greats beating a path to its door.

It will surprise no-one that in this latter instance, it is Cambridge University IP at the heart of the latest phenomenon.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence – such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages; basically, the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour.

This does NOT mean the advent of an army of cyborgs, with humans wired like sci-fi robots; and it does not mean robots arriving in homes and businesses en masse to kick people with real flesh and blood into some kind of other-dimensional long grass.

It means innovators in science & technology leveraging the most effective synergies between humans and machines to maximise the full effectiveness of both resources.

I am indebted to Wall Street-quoted Accenture which sent Business Weekly a piece of research that reveals that AI could double economic growth rates by 2035 by changing the nature of work and spawning a new relationship between man and machine.

The impact of AI technologies on business is projected to boost labour productivity by up to 40 per cent by fundamentally changing the way work is done and reinforcing the role of people to drive growth in business.

Accenture modelled the impact of AI for 12 developed economies that together generate more than 50 per cent of the world’s economic output.

In the UK, AI could add an additional $814 billion to the economy by 2035, increasing the annual growth rate of GVA from 2.5 to 3.9 per cent.

Accenture’s CTO Paul Daugherty tells me: “AI is poised to transform business in ways we’ve not seen since the impact of computer technology in the late 20th century.

“The combinatorial effect of AI, cloud, sophisticated analytics and other technologies is already starting to change how work is done by humans and computers, and how organisations interact with consumers in startling ways. Our research demonstrates that as AI matures, it can propel economic growth and potentially serve as a powerful remedy for stagnant productivity and labour shortages of recent decades.”

The research compares the size of each country’s economy in 2035 in a baseline scenario, which shows expected economic growth under current assumptions and an AI scenario, which shows expected growth once the impact of AI has been absorbed into the economy.

AI was found to yield the highest economic benefits for the United States, increasing its annual growth rate from 2.6 per cent to 4.6 per cent by 2035, translating to an additional $8.3 trillion in gross value added. We have given the UK scenario but Japan has the potential to more than triple its annual rate of GVA growth by 2035, and Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria could see their growth rates double.

Accenture’s research is worth taking note of because it shows stepping stones to achieving those targets. If Cambridge is acknowledged as the barometer of technological progress in the UK, then the hypothesis is entirely credible.

So let’s get under the hood of the latest Cambridge growth engine. There are too many fundraisings, acquisitions and technological advances in the space for this opportunity and the potential to be gained from it to be regarded as serendipity.

New kid on the block PROWLER.io has raised £1.5m and will initially focus on gaming then move into autonomous vehicles, smart city simulations and synergistic autonomous systems including drones and robots.

It has been backed by Hermann Hauser’s Amadeus Capital Partners, which was in on the ground floor of VocalIQ, snapped up by Apple a year ago for up to $100m for the power of its speech recognition IP.

PROWLER.io bots use ‘reinforcement learning’ – a subset of machine learning which enables long chains of complex decisions to be made autonomously, so bots can learn and adapt to changing environments. CEO Vishal Chatrath has come out of VocalIQ.

Dr Hauser commented: “Clearly there are very compelling investment opportunities around reinforcement learning, which is one of the most active research areas in AI and machine learning.

“As a research-led start-up, PROWLER.io is at the very forefront of this emerging technology and is leading the charge to apply reinforcement learning to many current and future challenges. This state-of-the-art technology will continue to develop in the coming years and there are certain to be important applications that we haven’t yet considered.”

The fundraising followed days after ThisWay Global, a Cambridge technology company developing a software platform powered by machine learning for the recruitment industry, secured £1.6 million from a funding round led by Imperial Innovations Group and featuring global investors.

ThisWay’s platform streamlines the recruitment process by matching high-quality candidates to the most appropriate job opportunities using innovative technology and methodologies.

Serial entrepreneur Mike Lynch is backing a new Artificial Intelligence company in Cambridge whose machine learning technology is set to revolutionise the due diligence process in dealmaking.

Luminance, a new company in Lynch’s Invoke Capital stable in Cambridge, has been collaborating closely for several months with Slaughter and May, the international law firm, in testing and piloting the software.

Luminance was founded by a combination of lawyers, experts in Mergers & Acquisitions and mathematicians. Its technology is based on research and development at the University of Cambridge.

Luminance harnesses the power of Artificial Intelligence to automatically read and understand hundreds of pages of detailed and complex legal documentation every minute. This offers companies the ability to carry out essential due diligence work with much greater speed.

Also in the last week, we reported that Invenia Technical Computing, headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba and headed up by CEO Matt Hudson – ex-Microsoft – had opened operations in Cambridge.

Invenia’’s mission is to provide the world’’s premier forecasting systems for the needs of energy providers from generation to delivery, leveraging its Energy Intelligence Software, which is already a global success.

The parent business has already raised expansion capital in Silicon Valley and is hiring engineers for the Cambridge and Canadian operations. Although the Parkside Place office is relatively small, Invenia is said to already be trading significant amounts of energy options.

Invenia's EIS is a cloud-based machine learning platform that uses big, high frequency data to solve complex problems in real time. It utilises this technology to manage and optimise power grid operations.

Another Lynch-backed enterprise, Sophia Genetics – a global leader in Data-Driven Medicine – has unveiled SOPHiA, the world’s most advanced collective artificial intelligence (AI) for Data-Driven Medicine.

Lynch spawned Autonomy and now backs other companies in the machine intelligence and behavioural learning space, including Darktrace and Featurespace.

On the broader AI front in Cambridge, as well as Apple paying big money for VocalIQ, Google snapped up DeepMind Technologies and Amazon acquired Evi and has recently launched Echo based on the Cambridge speech recognition IP. Amazon is trialling drones technology in Cambridge.

Cambridge has intelligence to burn; there is nothing artificial about the fresh opportunity it is laying at the feet of world-leading technology advancers.

Newsletter Subscription

Stay informed of the latest news and features