Artificial intelligence (AI) is a strategically important sector for Europe and it will continue to be a driver for economic development.
In this article you will discover the intricacies of AI, a comparison of the European ecosystem against two AI superpowers: China and the US, and the European AI startups making an impact in entrepreneurship circles.
What is AI? Machine learning, deep learning, and neural networks
On the surface, AI is a smart device that can self-drive a car, or play you songs you might like. If you take a closer look, you’ll uncover the intricacies that make AI possible, that being machine learning and deep learning techniques.
With machine learning, you can teach a computer how to do a particular task by feeding it data. Eventually, the machine learning model will process that information and learn from it, growing more accurate with time.
Deep learning, on the other hand, is different. The two are technically the same, and work in similar ways, but deep learning has a different capacity and is a subset of machine learning. It uses 'Artificial Neural Networks' to make decisions without the interference of a human.
Instead of training a computer with data sets as you would with machine learning, the computer is fed instructions and an expected endpoint is defined. From the instructions provided, the computer will find the optimal way to reach that 'endpoint'.
There are many machine learning techniques. One of the most popular techniques for training a model is through a neural network. A neural network is technically a digital model of the brain that performs specific tasks.
The more developed a neural network, the more powerful it is, and the better it will become at taking in information and processing it. Just like the human brain, it will retain this information and learn.
Neural networks can be combined to create multiple networks. This means instead of being able to perform one task at a time, a computer is able to perform multiple tasks at the same time.
For example, this is how a Tesla is able to control its speed, detect humans, and steer the wheel all at once. Without deep learning with multiple neural networks, this would not be possible.
The European artificial intelligence startups
There are three main factors driving innovation in automation technologies.
- The progress of machine learning algorithms
- The huge increase in computing capacity
- The troves of data that are constantly being produced and used to train machine learning models.
Some 60 years ago, AI was a theory reserved for academics and test labs. But today it has become commercial. That being said, it’s far from the point of surpassing human-level intelligence.
However, we're already interacting on a daily basis with this technology. Voice recognition, self-driving cars, search engine precision, data analytics, and most important of all, your Netflix recommendations, are just some examples of the integration and applications of artificial intelligence in our every day lives.
Who are the main players?
The top industries vary in size, with data analytics companies dominating the scene. This, in part, is attributed to the gaps left by large companies like Google Analytics.
Startups lie on the cutting edge of innovation, experimenting with commercial uses for new technologies. In this sense, the increasing number of AI startups is hardly surprising.
These artificial intelligence startups are filling in the gaps by creating new and innovative technologies. And capital is available for them in the plenty as data analytics and automation become more crucial to businesses.
The top AI startups in the EU
ROBART develops artificial intelligence and navigation for mobile robots. The core product is the ROBART navigation system consisting of software, electronics and IT services.
Location: Linz, Austria
The company develops AI credit scoring solution through machine learning algorithms.
Location: Minsk, Belarus
Pick-it has developed a robot vision solution capable of allowing the robot to see, pick and place products.
Location: Heverlee, Belgium
Qorio has developed a platform which provides Singing Assistant AI to improve singing education.
Location: Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina
A4E is building an AI as-a-service platform to help businesses better utilize existing data by adding process automation in areas like decision making, demand and sales forecasting, risk management, product portfolio mix, market basket and geo targeting.
Location: Sofia, Bulgaria
DenCity is a Blockchain platform which allows everyone to get in touch with this virtual reality through easy graphics and tools.
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
The company provides e-learning projects on the most popular game. This is possible through the merging of knowledge of experts, high-quality video lessons.
Location: Limassol, Cyprus
The company is a sales and marketing automation tool that allows smal businesses to replace human work by AI.
Location: Roztoky, Czech Republic
Uizard is an easy and intuitive tool that allows you to build apps, websites and IT products in general thanks to AI.
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
AdHive is a platform that automates the placement of ads among influencers on Instagram and Youtube.
Location: Tallinn, Estonia
The Curious AI Company will make an artificial brain which takes a lot of inspiration from human brains but will be adapted to the company silicon technology.
Location: Helsinki, Finland
The company is a voice platform that allows makers and companies to add a voice assistant to their products.
Location: Paris, France
Konux help railway companies to use predictive maintenance. The company achieves this aim combining smart sensors and AI data analytics.
Location: Munich, Germany
The company deals with innovation in the digital audio field. They provide novel software tools and develop embedded software products for speech enhancement.
Location: Athens, Greece
Synetiq helps businesses to develop high performing video ads through machine learning and biometric emotional insights.
Location: Budapest, Hungary
Aylien is an AI, NLP and Machine learning that provides text analysis, API and content analysis solutions.
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Nextome allows to locate your position in enclosed spaces and provides information about your real position.
Location: Conversano, Italy
Tazi is a Dutch startup with R&D facilities in Istanbul. The company deals with heterogenous streaming and batch data. They enable human and machine intelligence to work together.
Location: Sarıyer, Istanbul
Alpha Visum provides AI solutions in the investiment analysis field.
Location: Jurmala, Latvia
The company is a search engine that allows finding retrospective similar cases to study the final diagnosis.
Location: Vilnius, Lithuania
Aiva composes emotional soundtracks for films, video games, commercials and any type of entertainment content by the creation of a mathematical model representation of what music is to write unique music.
The company offers low-cost and real-time mobile 3D scanning & analysis solutions with use-cases on retail, real estate and visual inspection powered by deep learning and artificial intelligence.
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Boost.ai is a software company that provides a virtual assistant software available on the global market.
Location: Stavanger, Norway
The company has developed an AI Growth Cloud to generate ROI.
Location: Kraków, Poland
Unbabel is a platform that provides translation services to any businesses.
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
The company provides a smart and easy tool capable of animated characters and environments.
Location: Iasi, Romania
RoboCV has developed a system that allows you to cost-effectively automate the shipping of goods.
Location: Moscow, Russia
The company deals with 3D scanning technology to industry segment to advance computer vision to a higher quality.
Location: Bratislava, Slovakia
The company aim is protecting brands and contents in the digital environment. Through their own technology they identify violations and infringements.
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Noomi develops e-health systems based on AI. Their main aim is improving the lives of elderly people who need care and security.
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Starmind aim is provide, to the organizations, the knowledge across existing organizational boundaries, involving all employees in real time.
Location: Küsnacht. Switzerland
The company has developed a software able to help startups and established businesses to develop remote dedicated teams.
Location: Lviv, Ukraine
Tessian provides an email security platform to automatically block cybersecurity menaces.
Location: London, United Kingdom
AI in the EU
China and the United States are the leading countries in AI development. The European Union, the second-largest economic power, is lagging behind.
That is not to say that they are not making advances. Quite the opposite. They are currently unable to translate their AI startups to the global market, with the exception of a few companies like Spotify.
Of the artificial intelligence startups in Europe, many of them have been acquired by international companies. While Europe has the potential to become the largest AI market in terms of size and market value, there is one crucial factor holding them back - cross-border purchasing.
China and the United States have the advantage - they are not held back by national borders or currency like Europe. Each country holds different policies in regard to data. This makes purchasing of digital services between European countries far less common.
And from sector to sector, the adoption is dispersed too. Generally, some sectors are further ahead, for example, financial services, media, and tech. Although public sectors, fragmented sectors, and asset-heavy sectors are lagging behind.
McKinsey has estimated that Europe has barely reached its potential in the form of digital technologies. And for the EU to fully tap into their potential there are a few steps to take.
- Set targets - Governments need to set realistic targets for public sectors, and therefore set an example for other sectors.
- A Digital Single Market - Creating a Single Market for digital companies will make it easier for companies to scale across European borders (introduced in 2015). Steps have already been taken, for example, the abolishment of mobile roaming charges in the EU in July 2017, and GDPR in May 2018.
- Investing - Investment in more experimental AI will help boost the ecosystem. I.e. support for early-stage companies in the form of access to capital and incentives.
- Support education - Better relationships between businesses and universities to ensure the continued growth of talent in the EU.
- Support grass-root initiatives - R&D differs from nation to nation, and especially between countries. Initiatives like CLAIRE and ELLIS look to solve this issue by seeking European research networks.
It’s an opportunity for companies to seriously enhance their performance capabilities and have a competitive edge. It will majorly increase productivity within workplaces, improve data analysis, and could provide entirely new solutions and possibilities for companies.
Investment in AI
Currently, 400+ AI startups reside in continental Europe, and the number is growing. The United Kingdom remains the dominating force in Europe, with London taking the lead with over 90 AI startups, followed by Germany (Berlin), France (Paris), and Spain (Madrid). Both the UK and France have made investment in AI a top priority, and it is hoped that other European countries will follow suit.
The European Commission and AI-focused legislation
The European Commission (EC) has also proposed legislation to open up data held by public sectors like transport and healthcare. This strategic move will hopefully bolster investment toward the technology.
With a growing sector, the EC has noticed the need for support to increase the growth of these early-stage companies. They've recently pledged an increase for annual investment in AI by 70% to €1.5 billion under the program Horizon 2020 (for innovation and research).
This recent investment will hopefully prevent the EU from losing a competitive edge, and avoid a brain drain as some of the top academics in computer science have been educated in Europe, but many have left to jobs abroad.
This doesn’t come as a surprise considering that US private investments totaled €18 billion, marking the US as the investment leader.
Europe pales in comparison with around €2-3 billion. But investments are increasing, and projections for 2020 are looking promising with the EU commission urging the public and private investors to reach an expected €20 billion.
AI, is it the end of us?
There are two types of artificial intelligence that are worth mentioning - narrow and general. We’ve created Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI). And it’s programmed to handle a specific task, and extremely well.
Alpha Go Zero: a sneak peek of what is to come
One example of ANI is Alpha Go Zero. This deep learning algorithm was created to play the game Go. Go is the oldest (3,000+ years old) and most studied game in human history, and stands as a great example for how far we've come with AI.
Originally, Alpha Go, the first version of this algorithm, was trained with classic machine learning approaches of supervised and reinforced learning using human data sets. In English, that means the algorithm was taught Go by humans.
The second version, Alpha Go Zero, was trained differently. They removed all human interference from the process and instead fed the algorithm the rules of the game.
Alpha Go Zero played only against itself, and beat the human taught algorithm in the ancient game 100-0 in just 40 days. It also created entirely new moves unknown to humans. Now, keep in mind, this is only narrow intelligence and it has already surpassed human-level intelligence, even if only in one area.
Then there’s Artificial General Intelligence. We’re not there yet. But this hypothetical intelligence would be capable of surpassing human-level intelligence and an ability to think freely and flexibly across different areas.
It is this form of AI that the (let’s call them laggards) are creating a fuss over. This fear of AI is causing policymakers and the public to shy away from this technology.
Why is this bad? And what are the dangers of artificial intelligence?
It is creating a barrier stopping us from adopting this new technology wave. Technology, through history, has proven to substantially increase the productivity of nations, thus creating jobs. But instead, we all to often associate this technology with a malevolent robot that is coming to take our jobs.
Instead, we need to teach our generations to adapt to the new, transitioning alongside this promising tech wave smoothly. We’re still in the very early stages of this technology. It’s incredibly expensive and not quite powerful enough to make a noticeable impact on our economies. But in time it certainly will.
The real threat comes from the misuse of this technology. Take China and America as an example. Warfare funding, monitoring of citizens, and lack of data privacy is just the start. But there a plenty of positives that come with new technology, and it will - and already has to a certain extent - made our lives more convenient and efficient.
But there is a dark side to every silver lining. There is complexity to the dangers as it involves so many different sectors. Autonomous weaponry is one extreme example. Social manipulation and privacy is another, does Cambridge Analytica ring any bells, or what about China's social grading system?
But the EU is taking the necessary steps to ensure that they are paving the way for a responsible and exemplary path, minus of few hiccups along the way. GDPR is first of many policy changes put in place to ensure the safety and correct handling of data.
AI is completely transforming the way that we work, and the future of our industries. For industries, machine learning is helping companies to streamline processes in retail, transport, finance and many other sectors. Processes that were otherwise tedious and repetitive for humans are now being replaced by AI, allowing us to use our time in the most optimal way.
Maybe Europe will never become a dominant player in AI, but they could become a driver of change. The current dominating markets are far from perfect. China uses AI to manage, monitor, and control its people. Whereas the US has little regard for the data privacy of its citizens.
And both China and the US are investing significantly in autonomous weaponry. The European Union could take this opportunity to shape their market into a role model for a transparent ecosystem that benefits its citizens.