A new report shines some light on the investments made into artificial intelligence (AI) between 2015 and 2019, revealing that the U.S. attracted more than half of all global AI investments during the five-year period, followed by China and the U.K.
The UK Tech For a Changing World report was produced by government-funded Tech Nation and focuses largely on the British digital economy. However, it compares the U.K.’s tech industry with that of other countries around the world, using data from myriad sources, including Dealroom, Pitchbook, Crunchbase, AON Radford, GSMA, and EY. In the foreword, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the research “confirms the United Kingdom’s standing as Europe’s number one Tech Nation,” adding that the U.K. is leading the way in emerging technologies.
“In the space of a single year, we have shattered all records, with technology investment in the U.K. soaring by 44% to over £10 billion ($12 million) — more than France and Germany combined,” Johnson said. “And we are number one in Europe for the emerging technologies that will transform the lives of every single human being.”
AI and emerging technologies
“Emerging technologies” are defined as AI, robotics, cybersecurity, blockchain, internet of things (IoT), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR). According to the report, 10 countries were responsible for 91% of all emerging technology investments in the past five years. The U.S. led the way with £75 billion ($92 billion) of inbound investments, followed by China ($22 million) and the U.K ($6 billion).
Moreover, 10 cities accounted for 44% of all emerging technology investment during the five-year period — San Francisco led the way with more than £16 billion ($20 billion) of the total investment, followed by Beijing ($12 million), New York ($7 billion), Santa Clara ($6 billion), and London ($5 billion).
Relative to other emerging technology investments, AI startups and scaleups were far and away the leading category for investors, securing £19 billion ($23 billion) in financing last year — and the chart below shows, AI investment has pretty much seen hockey stick-style growth since 2016. The closest contender was cybersecurity, which skyrocketed from £5 billion ($6 billion) in 2018 to £8 billion ($10 billion) last year.
Robotics, on the other hand, experienced a downturn in global investment last year, lending credence to the notion that hardware is hard — it fell from £9.1 billion ($11 million) to £7.1 billion ($8.7 billion) between 2018 and 2019. A similar trend has surfaced in other reports, including data released last month by the Association for Advancing Automation, which suggested that robotics shipments in the U.S. last year fell by 16%.
Digging down into the market-by-market numbers, the U.S. drew in 56% of global AI investments over the past five years, growing from around £2 billion ($2.5 billion) in 2015 to well over £10 billion ($12 billion) last year — in total, U.S. AI companies raised £32 billion ($40 billion) from 2015 to 2019. China was second in terms of AI funding with £12 billion ($15 billion, 22%), followed by the U.K. with £3.2 billion ($4 billion, 6%).
The report also revealed that the U.S. topped the AI list in terms of overall number of deals, with around 850 investments last year, followed by the U.K. (200) and China (100).
It’s worth noting that figures in the Tech Nation paper may differ slightly from other reports. For example, the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) reported that 1,356 AI-related companies in the U.S. raised $18 billion last year, which is notably more than the roughly 850 AI companies that raised around $14.7 billion according to Tech Nation. But these discrepancies are mostly down to the fact that the reports are measuring slightly different things — according to Tech Nation’s head of insights George Windsor, that report is specifically focused on VC investment in companies that are “developing new-to-market AI technologies.” This is opposed to AI-related companies that may be applying existing technology to a new area or application. In other words, Tech Nation has taken a narrower focus with its report.
More broadly, it’s also worth stressing that investment doesn’t necessarily take the form of equity stakes — all of the major technology companies bolstered their AI through acquisitions last year, a trend that has been growing steadily in recent years. Indeed, 2019 saw a record 231 AI startups acquired, according to CB Insights’ data, up from 42 in 2014.