March 18, 2016

US tech industry aims to acquire UK’s AI startups

The race for AI technology is in full swing.

The race for perfecting artificial intelligence technology has been on most tech companies' minds the last few years. A revolution first began in London years ago, with hundreds of graduates from Oxford and Cambridge Universities pouring into the England's capital to found innovative AI startups with centralized goals set on training computers to think and react like a human.

The Guardian explained that the main way researchers demonstrate AI progress is based upon Alan Turning's Turning test from 1950. Essentially, the computer must fool a subject through a blind test to show that it is capable of interacting with humans on a human-level. However, some disavow this view, stating that it merely showcases the computer's ability to mimic behavior, not embody it.

 "The layperson usually cites the Turing test, developed by Bletchley Park codebreaker Alan Turing in 1950. It focuses on whether a computer can convince a human in a blind test that they are talking to another human. But that test … is more about 'tricking' people through mimicry than developing AI genuinely capable of learning."

These British startups are working tirelessly to rectify any AI shortcomings of their technology, which has attracted the attention of major U.S. enterprises, such as Microsoft, Google and Apple. This interest, most recently, has centered around established titans acquiring these dynamic new companies.

Who is buying who?
Last month, Microsoft finalized its acquisition of the U.K.'s Swiftkey in order to use the startup's predictive technology to perfect Microsoft's own smartphone keyboard. The deal was estimated at $250 million, and represents one step toward major industry players dominating the AI world.

"We are looking for interesting tech. It is not new news that London is the most advanced start-up ecosystem in Europe," a anonymous Microsoft insider told CNBC. "There is a lot of talent in London which is a combination of the education and active verticals in fintech, adtech and all of those that require expertise in machine learning. It explains the interest for us."

Before this announcement, Google had bought DeepMind, an AI company whose technology recently mastered the Chinese game Go, in 2014, renaming it DeepMind Technologies. The newly acquired organization went on to then buy two more Oxford-originated AI startups within the following year. Meanwhile, Amazon bought its own Siri -style technology in 2012 by acquiring Cambridge-based AI startup Evi Technologies.

What's causing this?
This financial and sometimes physical migration of AI companies away from the U.K. is due to the fact that U.K industry giants do not have the revenue or resources to compare with the likes of Microsoft, Google and more. Pantelis Koutroumpis, a research fellow in innovation and entrepreneurship at Imperial College London, cited that of all acquisitions in the last five years, 50 percent were attributed to companies headquartered in the U.S.

"It is obviously disappointing that the AI cannot be retained in the UK," Simon Walker, partner in corporate technology at law firm Taylor Wessing, explained to Motherboard. "However, top-of-the-market AI, such as that developed by companies such as SwiftKey and DeepMind, requires huge investment and a significant platform for its use and it is only very large tech companies which have the necessary resources and platforms."

As this M&A fever is not expected to slow down any time soon, most industry experts believe that this journey toward perfecting AI technology is escalating with these major industry players leading the way.

Organizations looking to pursue a major merger or acquisition should consult an M&A advisor today. With expert assistance, your company can make a deal that exceeds its projected growth goals. Contact us today to see how your company can benefit from a partnership with our skilled team of professionals.