Can a UK company build an AI that changes the world?

Chris Emery
September 26, 2023
Can a UK company build an AI that changes the world?

We’re in an era of increasing scrutiny over AI and its influence on society. Both in the UK and Europe, numerous regulators are running the rule over what AI should and shouldn’t be allowed to do, with the fundamental question being: who automatically guards the automatic guards?

One concern of regulators like the UK’s Competitions and Marketing Authority (CMA): that developing AI is so difficult and expensive (given the requirements for CPU processing power, datasets, and top-shelf AI expertise) that only Big Tech can develop the AIs of tomorrow

The Times’s Katie Prescott says, in this paywalled article that quotes CloudNC: “[The CMA report] found that Big Tech, those “gatekeepers” if you will, is likely to continue to dominate the increasingly lucrative market for AI, in what the regulator called a “winner-takes-most” outcome. It is very hard to envisage what the CMA or anyone else can do about that.

“To train these models, huge amounts of computing power is needed and a more powerful type of computer chip than is readily available. Then there is the expensive infrastructure — the data centres and servers that Big Tech already has. Those companies without their own data centres have to turn to cloud service providers, who are Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

“The better the data, the better the model. YouTube is suggested as one deep pool of information for models, it is of course owned by Google…The advantage is clearly with the incumbents.”

So is this true? Can only “Big Tech” develop an AI that changes the world? 

AI caramba

At CloudNC, we don’t think so. We think it’s perfectly possible for a smaller, specialist company to develop an AI solution that has the potential to transform a sector or an industry… not least, as that’s exactly what we’re up to. Our CAM Assist solution already greatly accelerates how quickly a manufacturer can precision machine components with AI, saving users hundreds of production of hours every year

Now admittedly, developing this kind of technology is expensive: CloudNC has raised over $75m in venture capital funding over its 8-year lifetime so far. While that kind of money might be small beer to Big Tech, it’s very much not for a UK VC-backed company. 

As a result, that funding all has to have a direct purpose, and it’s committed to bringing our mission and vision to life. In other words, at a company like CloudNC, you don’t have the luxury of applying your funding to developing a tech solution that doesn’t immediately have an obvious business application upon release (like, perhaps, Chat-GPT, or Dall-E did during their gestation).  

Instead, developers like us must be razor-focused about what your AI will be used for and how it will make a difference for customers. Otherwise: you’ll potentially burn a lot of money with no reward, in turn creating no return for the people who’ve backed you to succeed.

Automatic for the people

Apart from funding, the biggest challenge as a smaller tech company in developing an AI solution is competing for talent. 

Developing solutions like CAM Assist is extremely technically challenging and there is a very limited pool of very skilled talent able to move these solutions forward, and everyone from Big Tech down is competing for the best. 

That makes it very difficult for smaller companies to find the people they need to move these solutions forward. That’s why, in addition to putting in effort to find the best talent, at CloudNC we do a lot to make sure we are an excellent employer that cares about our workers

The other major challenge is access to data. Big Tech often has vast pools of data to work with already (or can generate them), whereas smaller companies have to find more niche use cases that aren’t already covered. In part, that’s why for example, CloudNC is looking at solving manufacturing inefficiencies - it’s not easy for anyone to gather the data you need to solve the problem. (In our case, to accumulate what we needed to build our AI models that power CAM Assist, we literally built our own factory.) 

That’s an extreme example - but now, as a result, we now have an effective AI solution that’s making a difference for our users across the machining world, accelerating their ability to program CNC machines and expedite their ability to help their customers. 

So do I think a UK company can build an AI that changes the world? Well, we continue to do it - but there’s no doubt there’s specific challenges that make the work harder than it might be for a terh

Want to know more?  Get in touch and you could benefit from a skilled, AI-powered CNC machinist in your machine shop today. 

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