These are the most important short-term trends in AI

Forward Partners, a London-based company that specialises in early stages venture capital investing, has come up with a series of observations and predictions on the microtrends that are expected to shape the AI business in the next five years. The company’s insights are drawn from its interactions with nearly 500 applied AI start-ups. The term “microtrends” was first used by Mark Penn in his 2007 book Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes, co-written with Kinney Zalesne. Microtrends are described as subtle processes that can change the future.  They have a shorter lifespan (three to five years) than macrotrends (ten to 20 years) but cause both vertical and horizontal disruptions. Chris Corbishley, an investor with Forward Partners, took part in the AI Expo 2018 held in London Olympia on 18 and 19 April. In his public speech Corbishley outlined the trends that could potentially define the AI start-up scene in the years to come.

Chatbots, SaaS and ecommerce

Corbishley pointed out that a growing number of AI start-ups are focusing their effort on developing chatbot applications.  Forward Partners believes that in five years’ time 80% of all customer interaction will be handled by virtual assistants with different levels of sophistication – from simple wellness bots, made to answer basic health-related questions posed by their owners, to digital financial or health bot-advisors.  

The investor stated that the software-as-a-service industry could also receive a significant AI boost. “Machine learning and AI automation could offer a significant differentiator to the next wave of SaaS start-ups. Using a combination of computer vision to automatically detect site changes and model-based test automation, it is possible to significantly reduce testing time compared to traditional script-based methods”, he added.

AI has already introduced the cost-efficient “zero stock, zero lead time” model into the dynamic world of e-commerce. It also looks ready to offer high-levels of personalisation by “collecting users’ preferences” and introducing the principle “people who bought this also bought that”. Although the model has been used for years by some well-established brands, the introduction of AI is expected to improve the process of recommendation by making it more relevant for each individual user. One of the AI pioneers of this is a company called Thread. Its algorithm examines customers’ fashion preferences in order to provide the best choices in terms of brands, styles and budgets.  The effectiveness of that model is expected to improve with each new customer interaction.

Financial services, healthcare and autonomous vehicles

Financial services around the world are already benefiting from AI-driven algorithms and computer trading. ‘’Automated trading almost certainly accelerated the recent sell-off in equities, which saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average crashing 800 points in ten minutes’’, the investor noted.

Another sector that is heavily influenced by AI is healthcare. AI has a whole variety of applications - medical imaging and diagnostics, hospital management, mental health and drug discovery etc.  Companies like the UK-based Babylon Health and Ada Health, Germany are focussing on providing patients with a kind of access to healthcare they never had before, making it simpler to get advice online.  In the meantime, the UK government has revealed plans to deploy AI to help reduce the number of cancer-related deaths by 2033. To achieve that scientists will use patients’ medical records containing information about their genetics and potentially health-threatening habits. That data will be cross-referenced with national cancer data to identify patients with higher risk of getting the disease.

The autonomous vehicle industry is heavily reliant on AI too.  According to Corbishley, however, it is too soon to predict what the way forward will look like for self-driving cars. Some start-ups believe it will be an evolution - today’s cars will start to receive autonomous-driving features. Other say we are on the threshold of a revolutionary change and within ten years’ time self-driving cars will become mainstream.  Another growing market that is attracting a lot of investment by AI start-ups is education technology, or edtech.  Technology is proving capable of optimising learning experience in an efficient and entertaining way. Companies already offer apps allowing the user to speak a foreign language with real time feedback, pattern recognition to learn playing a musical instrument, and style transfer in drawing.

Corbishley stated that not all microtrends will make it to the mainstream within the next five years. His expectations are that some trends will simply disappear and be replaced by others in time, leaving the door to constant  AI development wide open.

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