European Startups Are Making Strides in Artificial Intelligence

But European governments need to help push forward for the artificial intelligence to bloom.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
You're reading Entrepreneur Europe, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

With artificial intelligence being at the brink of conquering our planet, we are now possibly facing the next critical phase of human history. Rarely have we seen a technological advancement that could so radically and irreversibly change the world as we know it. The implications of artificial intelligence are undoubtedly immense, as it would probably affect almost every industry in the world, reshaping businesses and jobs in the process.

Andriy Onufriyenko | Getty Images

Before his death in March 2018, the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking was often quoted for being a dogged critic of artificial intelligence because of the magnitude of destructiveness that might come along with giving computers an intelligence that is equal or even superior to that of a human. However, as reported by CNBC in 2017, Hawking found legislative proposals in the European Union to be hopeful in regulating AI and robots in various ways.

It has almost been two years, it's about time to see what kind of development has been achieved.

Recent developments in the EU

The potential use-cases of artificial intelligence are many and, apparently, that's exactly what the European Union discovered as well. In December 2018, the members of the EU agreed that the union will invest about €20 billion into the AI industry, which would make it one of the largest investments in AI at the time. Members of the ensemble previously met with Switzerland and Norway in order to discuss potential collaborations that "will ensure that Europe reaps the benefits of AI for citizens and businesses and competes globally, while safeguarding trust and respecting ethical values," as Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, stated in a press release.

Another fascinating approach of the EU can be found in a novel "AI-on-demand" platform, that is set to launch soon. In the so-called AI4EU project, 79 partner institutions, such as SAP and Allianz, as well as 21 European nations are trying to "mobilize the entire European AI community" in order to secure future economic growth. The initiative selected five human-centered research areas where it plans to conduct eight pilot experiments. The business fields of the experiments include healthcare, media, agriculture and many other industries.

During the past year, European nations have made considerable progress in researching artificial intelligence. However, while they are certainly moving in the right direction, they still seem to be lagging behind other economic powers, as The Washington Post reported in September 2018. Kai-Fu Lee, a tech entrepreneur and the author of the best-selling book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, believes that Europe's lacking AI infrastructure has made the continent "a colony of the American tech empire." Nevertheless, according to Lee, the harsh privacy legislation of the EU may give European entrepreneurs a chance to create a more user-orientated experience, which U.S. corporations usually lack.

AI as a growth catalyst

With so many eyes looking at the artificial intelligence industry, it is not a big surprise that AI startups are absolutely booming right now. The AI Index 2018 Report, issued by researchers from institutions such as the MIT, Harvard University and Stanford, reveals that from January 2015 to January 2018 the number of AI startups rose almost twice as fast as in all other industries. More interestingly, venture capital funding for AI startups increased by more than four times during 2013 and 2017, which transformed it into one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

Holidu, a Munich-based travel tech startup, had the precious opportunity to experience the immense growth potential that is connected with artificial intelligence. The VC-funded company uses an AI-based image recognition technology to detect duplicate vacation rental listings across hundreds of travel websites to allow their users to browse through all of the unique rentals and book for the lowest price. Furthermore, the startup leverages AI to personalize the search results in real time to fit user preferences. The search engine learns more about the user with every click, and every user trains the system to become more efficient.

Michael Siebers, the co-founder and CTO of Holidu, told me in an interview that "only artificial intelligence allows us to generate a transparent market overview and deliver individual recommendations at scale." Since its foundation in 2014, Holidu was able to expand their business to 21 countries and now employs more than 150 people from all over the world. Being initially funded by a governmental grant for innovative companies, Holidu can be seen as a prime example of Germany's AI strategy. "Germany needs to be at the forefront of artificial intelligence," said the German chancellor Angela Merkel in a recent podcast.

With mushrooming numbers of startups in the AI space, there are also some collectors that are always looking for a nice and well-grown truffle. According to CBInsights, the number of annual acquisitions in the AI industry has risen by more than 500 percent between 2013 and 2017. So far, it seems like Google is clearly leading the race of AI acquisitions with more than 29 acquired startups and about $4 billion spent from 2006 to early 2018. Unfortunately, not a single company that is owned by the biggest investors in the AI sector is mainly based in Europe. It remains to be seen if the EU's investment of $20 billion will help the continent to meet the U.S. on an equal footing.