Record Levels of Investment in UK AI

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A Tech Nation Report has shown that AI investment in the UK reached record levels in the first six months of the year making it the third biggest market in the world for AI investment, just behind the US and China.


Crunchbase figures show that AI investment in the UK reached £859.29m in just the first six months of this year, compared to £825.85m for the whole of last year.

This latest surge in AI investment marks five years of consecutive growth and a massive six-fold increase between 2014 and 2018.

Also, AI start-ups in the UK raised almost double the amount of those in the rest of Europe combined.

Why The High Investment Levels?

The AI investment growth can be attributed to several factors, not least:

  • A rise in the number of start-ups with 50 or fewer employees.  These account for 89% of the UK’s AI companies.
  • The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) £1bn AI sector deal to put the UK at the forefront of the AI industry, including almost £300m of new private sector investment, as part of the UK government’s Industrial Strategy (announced November 2017).  This initiative was intended to establish partnerships between government and industry in order to increase productivity.


Even though the figures show that the investment trend is going in the right direction, UK-based companies hoping to make the most of AI face some clear challenges including:

  • A tech skills shortage and a so-called “brain drain” in the UK and across Europe as top university tech students are tempted to work further afield e.g. in the U.S.  Also, Brexit fears in the UK have deterred some European specialist tech workers from staying.
  • Challenges in scaling up their businesses so that they can become competitive in the global market.

Small Pool

These challenges to the growth of AI companies mean that there is only a relatively small pool of UK AI-focused companies that have been able to make the step to scaling-up and competing on the world stage.  AI companies in other countries such as China, by contrast, tend to have larger workforces e.g. 53% have more than 50 employees.

There is also a relatively small pool of people in the world who can contribute to cutting-edge AI research.

Benefits and Threats of AI

AI offers many benefits to businesses such as cost and time savings (greater productivity and reduction in errors), the ability to make better use of resources (AI handles repetitive jobs and bots handle common questions).

Many people are, however, concerned that the growth in AI will mean a loss of jobs e.g. Gartner figures show that AI could eliminate 1.8 million jobs.  It should also be remembered that AI could create 2.3 million jobs by 2020 (Gartner) and that if the large-scale introduction of AI follows the pattern of temporary job losses followed by recovery and business transformation, the combination of human and artificial intelligence could provide exciting news competitive advantages for businesses.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The investment in AI within the UK is promising for the tech sector, the economy, and for the future of the UK in the global tech market, provided that UK-based AI companies can tackle the challenges of being able to scale-up and successfully find the human tech talent at a time of skills shortages.

AI may cost jobs in the shorter term, but it may also bring new strengths and opportunities to businesses and could transform the way we are able to work for the better.

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