AI is projected to add £232 billion to the UK economy by 2030 From the Alan Turing Institute to DeepMind, the UK boasts a rich history and exciting present in machine learning and artificial intelligence research and development, led by academia and industry.

SwissCognitiveAccording to recent research, AI is the largest commercial opportunity for Britain, projected to add £232 billion to the UK economy by 2030. SMEs and start-ups will play a significant role in grasping this. The segment highlighted by Theresa May during her speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, where she told world leaders that the UK’s strong start-up scene will be instrumental in making the UK a world leader in ethical AI . However, start-ups today still need to overcome some significant challenges before reaching their full potential.

Barriers to AI development

The next generation of ‘deep learning’ approaches have been reaching superhuman levels of performance recently. These achievements depend on having access to huge amounts of high quality training data, computation power and expertise in this area. DeepMind’s AlphaZero for example, relied on computational power greater than the World’s top ten supercomputers combined, to beat AlphaGo, the machine-learning software that conquered 18-time human Go champion, Lee Sedol, last year.

Access to this computation power and expertise is currently a significant barrier for SMEs. This was exposed by Digital Catapult’s recent report, Machines for Machine Intelligence, which found that the demand and cost of computation power for machine learning models is rapidly increasing. Individual AI and machine learning runs can cost upwards of £10,000, meaning that many AI start-ups can struggle to drum up sufficient investment to produce a proof of concept.

Finding people with the right skillset for AI development can be another challenge. According to one job site, the demand for software developers and machine learning engineers who create AI software has increased by 485 per cent since 2014. This leaves large and small organisations fighting tooth and nail over a shallow pool of talent – and potentially unable to meet their ambitions as a result.

Organisations researching and developing AI solutions are also being increasingly challenged on the ethics of their work. Several high-profile projects demonstrating that AI can propagate human biases have raised questions over the technology and the rules governing its development. It’s paramount that SMEs are aware of these, and the potential implications – to business and society – of inadvertently building bias into a product. […]