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Artificial intelligence: the sector that’s a venture capital investment magnet

As the field of Artificial Intelligence expands to encompass big data, the Internet of Things and supercomputers, forward-thinking UK cities are using their strengths in the sector to win events… Ellie Evans explores the cities thinking intelligently about embracing AI.

In his foreword to a report on ‘London: The AI Growth Capital of Europe’, mayor Sadiq Khan writes: “London has the talent, the access to market, the investors and, most importantly, the openness to ensure that this is the place the world looks to for AI growth and innovation.”

There’s no denying that London’s AI network is booming; last year, the capital’s AI companies attracted more venture capital investment than any other city in Europe and it has helped the city to win a number of high-profile conferences. According to Paul Black, Head of Business Events at London Convention Bureau, this is “further proof that London is the place where the very best AI companies and ideas can thrive”.

With a global reputation for AI research and development and giants like DeepMind and BenevolentAI choosing it as their base, London is the second most connected tech ecosystem in the world behind Silicon Valley.

The strength of the city’s wider technology sector is also helping to attract larger tech events with an AI strand, adds Black: in 2018 London hosted two of the world’s best AI events, the AI Summit and CogX, to coincide with London Tech Week, and this year the fourth annual AI Summit is due to take place in June at ExCeL with more than 15,000 delegates.

Digital chandelier at the Institute of Engineering and Technology in London

Digital chandelier at the Institute of Engineering and Technology in London.

Elsewhere in the UK, Bristol is fast becoming a rival for London’s AI crown; according to the Tech Nation Report 2018, the south-western powerhouse has the highest digital tech productivity in the UK.

Companies making a home there include GraphCore, recently valued at US$1.7bn, which is developing the world’s most complex chip to allow any company to enable AI and machine learning, FiveAI and Reach Robotics, as well as IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

The inaugural Anthropology + Technology Conference 2019 will take place at the Watershed in October, bringing together pioneering technologists and social scientists from across the globe to find ways for businesses to benefit from more socially responsible AI, and the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab has been awarded government funding for research into 5G ultrafast mobile connectivity of the future.

High-tech hubs
Fellow contender Cambridge was recently named as a top UK hotspot for growth of its digital economy, and firms like Jagex, AVEVA, Microsoft Research, Raspberry Pi, Samsung and Huawei reside there. PROWLER.io, an AI platform for decision-making, moved its Decision Summit from Palo Alto to Cambridge in November.

“We wanted to bring the event backs to its roots because Cambridge is considered to be the centre of global excellence in AI,” explains Marketing Communications Manager Janna Etchells. “Its ecosystems and the pool of experts at the university make it a natural choice for an AI conference. The event was massively over-subscribed and we had amazing feedback from our delegates who found the venues and the city charming.”

Brighton too has plenty to boast about, with a digital tech turnover of £574m; this month it hosts the 2019 IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing, which looks at big data, machine learning and information forensics.

“With a noticeable increase in AI conferences across a range of industry sectors, we are fortunate to have destinations in the UK that are responsive to the importance of business events for inward investment and to build their AI and tech capabilities, leading to jobs creation for their communities,” says Barbara Calderwood, Divisional Director of Institutional at MCI UK.

“The importance of technology to the UK meetings industry is growing at an exponential rate. Importantly, the percentage of confirmed and prospective meetings here in the UK – where AI and tech are the primary focus of the meeting, or where AI is an integral component of an agenda across a range of industry sectors – is increasingly apparent across UK destinations.”

To the north, both Leeds and Manchester are showing their strength in the digital sector. Leeds is now home to more than 3,500 digital and technology companies and has hosted a range of events such as Leeds Digital Festival, the North’s largest digital festival, and the first digitech event in October 2018, which saw hundreds of technology and procurement specialists discussing issues affecting the UK’s public sector technology landscape like digital transformation, robotics and AI.

Liverpool’s convention team report that almost 30 per cent of confirmed business in the next five years is from the technology/AI sector, thanks in part to Sci-Tech Daresbury, a purpose-built campus just outside the city helping companies like Hitachi grow through collaboration and access to world-class technology facilities and business support.

The Hub hosts Eurocities in Edinburgh with more than 400 delegates

The Hub hosts Eurocities in Edinburgh with more than 400 delegates.

North of the border, Edinburgh was the fastest growing tech hub in the UK in 2017; there are plans to create a dedicated 150-acre digital quarter next to Edinburgh Airport to attract global tech companies and help boost home-grown digital businesses, creating up to 4,000 jobs.

The city, home of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, hosts Turing Fest in August, a homegrown event which has brought the best minds from across Europe to Edinburgh since its conception in 2016.

Engage Invest Exploit, which took place last month at McEwan Hall, is an international investor showcase which provides a platform for young data-driven companies to pitch their innovative ideas to an audience of international investors. Ronnie Johnston, from organisers Informatics Ventures, says the event “brings together researchers, students and external partners to nurture innovation and collaboration in data science and artificial intelligence and is at the forefront of positioning Edinburgh and south east Scotland as the data capital of Europe”.

And this month Glasgow will host the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, an international conference in the field of human-computer interaction which attracts more than 3,000 researchers and practitioners to discuss the latest in interactive technology.

INDUSTRY COMMENT
“Bristol is a hotbed of AI and tech events. Born out of a thriving tech meet-up scene, conferences such as Bristech and the Anthropology + Technology Conference have developed organically, simultaneously nurturing and feeding off the local tech industry to push boundaries. As an organiser, I get to see glimpses of what’s just over the tech horizon, and with AI that’s a very exciting place to be.”

Thomas Heiser, director of Focal Point Event Management and responsible for the annual Bristech event

ASK THE EXPERT
Manchester, the home of Alan Turing’s computing career, considered to be the father of modern computing and artificial intelligence, is the UK’s largest technology hub outside London, with a number of firms linked to the Internet of Things in particular.

“We have an impressive reputation for nurturing companies within the digital and creative industries, and big brands and creative talent are drawn to the region thanks to clusters like MediaCityUK, Corridor Manchester and the Northern Quarter, each of which foster innovation in their own way,” says Sheona Southern, managing director at Marketing Manchester.