Rollercoaster for UK AI scene as PolyAI bags $50M while Stability AI mulls sale

The artificial intelligence scene in Great Britain feels a little bit like your weekly tv drama at the moment. Major funding rounds compete for attention with controversial CEO departures and outlandish government campaigns (“Unicorn Kingdom” and 3D statue holograms, anyone?).  

London-based PolyAI today announced it had secured a valuation of $500mn following a successful fund raise for its call centre voice assistant tech. It might not be the sexiest of AI applications, but then again not all business bets need to be.

While PolyAI is still only halfway towards that coveted unicorn mark of a $1bn valuation, the $50mn raise from investors such as Nvidia equals a vote of confidence in the startup. This is also true for other parts of the UK’s AI sector, illustrated by Wayve’s record-breaking raise last week. 

“We want to make people fall in love with voice assistants because [calling] is still the main way people interact with businesses,” PolyAI’s Chief Executive and co-founder Nikola Mrkšić told the Financial Times

Mrkšić previously worked on Apple’s Siri — not exactly a paragon of pain-free user/AI interactions. But if PolyAI can achieve what it is setting out to do — solve call centre staff shortages — and salvage the currently mostly abysmal experience of customer support, it will go a long way towards mending relationships. 

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The unstable times of Stability AI

As investors have been tripping over themselves to fund anything with AI stamped on it, we are bound to start seeing the first few flounders over the course of the coming months. One early frontrunner, Stability AI, seems to be in pretty big trouble. 

First, Chief Executive Officer Emad Mostaque left the company in March following allegations of mismanagement and what Fortune termed an “investor mutiny.” Now, the four-year-old startup, valued at $1bn in 2022, is reportedly mulling a sale. 

According to the Information, the London-based Stable Diffusion developer is facing a “cash crunch” as it has failed to meet the challenge from other AI image generators such as Midjourney and OpenAI’s DALL-E, despite having struck up a partnership with Amazon Web Services. 

AI skills = higher pay

Meanwhile, UK tech workers with AI skills have plenty of reasons to be chuffed. According to analysis by prompt management Chrome extension AIPRM, they can expect to earn about a third more than those who do not possess said skills. In fact, those with deep learning skills can expect to earn double the average UK salary. 

So while AI efficiency tools such as ChatGPT and Claude may make some roles redundant in the future (such as more basic coding), the transition to an AI-based economy also presents tremendous opportunities for those willing to learn new programming languages. 

As with all new technologies, AI will make some positions obsolete, whereas others will emerge. Who had ever heard of Chief AI Compliance Officer until a little while ago, or prompt engineer, for that matter. 

In either case, AI is currently moving at incredible speed — both where the technology and the business landscape are concerned. We are all doing our best to keep up.  

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Linnea Ahlgren