Skymind, which bills itself as the world’s first dedicated AI ecosystem builder, is focusing on the UK with its $800 million AI investment fund. Although the fund is global, the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that much of the focus was geographically near the Malaysian base of its leadership team. However, having announced their first investments earlier this year, they are looking at the UK for their future investments and the future of AI.
Who are Skymind?
Shawn Tan, Skymind’s CEO, sees the company as offering a very different approach to the traditional investment approach. The company is involved in AI itself, with its own open-source enterprise software. Despite only being launched in 2020 Tan proudly tells UKTN, “over half of all Fortune 500 companies are using Skymind open-source software to launch AI innovations.”
The company uses its knowledge and experience in AI to offer more than just venture capital. “We provide deep operational support and market access to our portfolio companies,” Tan explains. The approach is perhaps more akin to a coaching or partnership relationship than a traditional VC equity stake. Skymind offers hands-on support to its companies, helping to nurture and develop talent, and working with them to bring products to market. “Most of the world’s AI innovation stays in the research lab,” says Tan, “We want AI out in the real world, solving real-world problems.”
The people-first approach has already had benefits, with Skymind already able to point to successes from their model. One such application was used at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic to assist in treatment. Covid-19 has puzzled many clinicians and researchers — especially towards the beginning of the pandemic — because it could sometimes be unpredictable, affecting people differently and being particularly severe in some patients.
Doctors’ jobs were even harder because external symptoms usually lag the internal changes that cause them. Computer topography, or CT, scans can help. These can provide a 3D image of internal organs and structures, but previously relied on skilled professionals interpreting the results, making them too slow to use effectively at the height of the pandemic.
“The Axial AI CT scan diagnosis platform was designed at the height of coronavirus pandemic,” say Tan. The product added to the diagnostic tools available to clinicians. “It helped medical teams analyse the progression of Covid-19, with an accuracy rate of more than 90%. It could automate the analysis of scan image to under 10 seconds.” The tool could use AI to spot the same signs humans look for, making CT scans more routine, so doctors had a better idea of what was happening with a patient and could develop their recovery strategy accordingly.
Almost endless opportunities
The market for AI is, almost, unlimited. The technology has moved from its initial focus on data-rich sectors that could afford the high costs of development. Financial services are among the biggest users of AI, using it to assist with processes like know-your-customer checks and fraud prevention. However, as the technology has developed, especially with open-source solutions like Skymind’s, it has been applied more widely.
“We’ve been doing some great work in the world of dentistry,” Tan says. While not a field traditionally associated with AI, by training with X-ray and 3D images, AI can assist preventative dentistry. “AI assistants can browse X-ray and 3D images to instantly and accurately generate predictions that are difficult to make with the human eye. This means dentists can supercharge their ability to detect oral disease.”
The UK’s lead in AI
“The UK is the leading hub for AI innovation in Europe, with strong government backing, favourable legislation and an advanced technology hub,” says Tan, explaining why the UK will be a focus for their investment fund. The position comes from a mix of the country’s academic strength, the existing tech scene, and the luck of having a globally central time zone!
Tan is incredibly ambitious for the future of Skymind, “we want to be the world’s number one launchpad for building AI applications that are purpose-driven and can help make the world a better place for everyone.” And he sees the UK as central to that ambition. Pointing to the openness of British people and the country’s computing history, Tan sees the UK as continuing to lead in AI development: “This is where the world’s first deep learning computer — the enigma machine — was developed and where the future of AI will continue to shape the world around us.”