Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Artificial intelligence is a hot topic. It's powering back-office functions and customer-facing support. From cyber security and financial transactions, to manufacturing, logistics, transportation and robotics, artificial intelligence is becoming a massive and complex platform. Essentially, it's a type of infrastructure that's driving a new level of automation and efficiencies as well as disruption.
For example, Amazon has plans to fully automate its new bricks-and-mortar stores with robots. Foxconn wants to automate 30 percent of its factory workforce by 2018 with the help of artificial intelligence. And recently, fast-food chain Wendy's announced its goal of adding automated kiosks at more than 1,000 stores.
This week, Element AI, a Montreal company founded in 2016, raised $102 million in a funding round. The company that counts artificial intelligence pioneer Yoshua Bengio among its founders, received investments from venture capital companies including Data Collective, Microsoft Ventures, Intel and Nvidia, among others. It will use the cash to double its workforce to more than 200 by the end of 2017 and to invest in other artificial intelligence start-ups with the aim of bringing their technology into its suite of offerings.
The relatively small company seeks to assert itself in an industry dominated by companies such as Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and IBM. Element AI believes that the barriers to entry in the artificial intelligence space aren't too great to challenge. This is an encouraging attitude and one that is certainly backed up by some history: for example, in its early days Microsoft outmanoeuvred IBM to take the most pivotal role in the PC industry.
Element AI plans to offer its services to organisations that want to improve productivity and their ability to solve problems. For example, the company applied machine learning models to significantly boost efficiency at a busy North American port where trucks are constantly loading and unloading containers from ships. Element AI visualises a future where its algorithms are smart enough to enable companies to plug and play with their data sets and generate useful insights.
This artificial intelligence-as-a-service business model isn't unique: Amazon, Google and Microsoft, for example, are experimenting with a similar approach that allows companies to integrate a range of artificial intelligence services in their apps and software, using API calls to their cognitive services. These include text analytics, computer vision and language translation as examples. Element AI is pursuing an ambitious strategy. It has a strong pedigree and the support it needs, and will now see if there's room in this part of the artificial intelligence market for an unknown brand.