August 7, 2019

Artificial Intelligence is steadily growing to be ubiquitous in modern life. From the way our food is grown to facial recognition technology to deep learning that turns big data into actionable insights, new AI technologies are constantly on the rise. And so are the companies that are creating them.


Q2 of 2019 has been a landmark quarter in terms of investments in AI. Funding for AI startups reached a stunning $7.4 billion in Q2, a record number in a single quarter for the growing sector. This represents a 592% increase in funding from just four years ago, according to a recent study by Statista.


It appears the reality of AI is finally setting in among skeptical investors, and global investments will only continue to ramp up. Two weeks ago, Japanese investment giant SoftBank announced they would be launching a second Vision Fund, focused on AI.


SoftBank’s first Vision Fund was launched in 2016, investing in key technology partners that would shape the future. Among their key Vision Fund investments, you’ll find many huge names from the tech sector: Slack, Nvidia, WeWork, Uber, DoorDash and Nura.


Now the second Vision Fund is aiming to pump an eye-blinking $108 billion into another round of future-shaping tech companies, and SoftBank has stated out front that the focus of Vision Fund II will largely be on AI.


The fund has the potential to revolutionize the rapidly growing industry in almost inconceivable ways. The total investments in AI over the last 4 years have barely surpassed half that amount, and while it is highly unlikely all $108 billion goes solely into AI, it is very probable that SoftBank’s new influx of cash into the sector will blow every previous quarterly AI investment record out of the water, once it hits.


Vision Fund II couldn’t be coming along at a better time for the sector, as AI service partners also appear to be hitting their stride.


Just this past week, Scale AI became the latest “Tech Unicorn”, wrapping up their Series C financing round with $100 million from investors. This was enough to push the three-year-old startup’s valuation past $1 billion.


Scale AI, led by 22-year-old CEO Alexandr Wang, specializes in enabling artificial intelligence and autonomous robotics through a combination of machine learning and actual human power. The company segments and labels images and sensor data, a key component for enabling computer vision.


For example, in a retail environment, a client might have Scale AI annotate a video sample as a shopper puts various items in his/her basket. This is translated into code that can be used to “train” the computer vision system to identify those products whenever a customer picks them up. If you’ve ever been to an Amazon Go store, you already know the rest. The system can now use computer vision and artificial intelligence to conduct the entire transaction, without the need for a cashier.


Scale AI has partnered with companies across several sectors for computer vision and natural language projects. Their work is being utilized in self-driving cars, drones, robotics, AR & VR, retail environments and more.


Of course, this is only the most recent example, but technology partners large and small are becoming available in abundance for those jumping into the AI game.


At the largest end of the spectrum, Amazon is playing a key part in the proliferation of AI. Amazon Web Services, or AWS, has been a critical partner to these companies entering the fray. An astounding 81% of all cloud-based deep learning projects run on AWS, and over 10,000 customers rely on AWS for machine learning projects.


AWS’s toolset, stability and strong security make it an ideal partner in many ways, and they’ve been a partner of choice for our own cloud services. By all indications, they should continue to grow.


Amazon’s AI and Machine Learning tool sets are robust, with programs like SageMaker, Comprehend and Rekognition – tools that make AI and ML platform development a far more turnkey process than it has ever been before, for innovative up and coming companies. Sagemaker alone added over 200 new machine learning features last year.


With a wide variety of partners and tools, and a game-changing influx of investment capital on the way, the stars have aligned in every possible way for Artificial Intelligence. While AI’s $7.4 billion dollar second quarter was certainly impressive now, that may very well look like chump change for the sector just a year or two down the road.


What do you think about SoftBank’s massive bet on AI? Are you excited for the likely upcoming boom in AI technology, or are you concerned? What are your thoughts on the growing accessibility of AI program development? We’d love to hear what you have to say. Sound off on social media now and join the conversation.