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USA, China and Japan named as new leaders in AI development

The study looked at patents and academic papers published, concluding that the UK may not be as powerful as once thought


The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a United Nations branch published the findings of a new study assessing the global leaders in AI development.

USA, Japan and China are leading the charge in AI development, potentially dispelling the belief that the UK is one of the pioneers in the industry.

In terms of patents, IBM leads the way with 8,290 patent applications, the largest portfolio by a long way, no so closely followed by its geographical compatriot Microsoft with 5,930 applications.

Of the top 20 AI developers applying for patents, 12 are Japanese and the main focus for 19 out of those 20 was for computer vision, while IBM is focussing on natural language processing.

Chinese organisations account for three of the four academic players featuring in the top 30 patent applicants, with the Chinese Academy of Sciences ranked 17th with over 2,500 patent families. Among academic players, Chinese organisations account for 17 of the top 20 academic players in AI patenting as well as 10 of the top 20 in AI-related scientific publications.

Unsurprisingly, machine learning technology is the dominant technology disclosed in new patents which hardly comes as a shock considering it's the technology that underpins most useful AI inventions. 89% of filings mentioned the AI technique while 40% of all patents did, contributing to a 28% growth in development between 2013 and 2016.

Deep learning, a machine-learning technique revolutionising AI that includes speech recognition systems, is the fastest growing AI technique with a nearly 20-fold increase in patent applications, from 118 in 2013 to 2,399 in 2016, or a 175% average annual growth rate.

One surprising statistic showed that there have been as many patent applications since 2013 as there were in all the years between 2013 and the first time the term was recognised in the 1950s.

"Patenting activity in the artificial intelligence realm is rising at a rapid pace, meaning we can expect a very significant number of new AI-based products, applications and techniques that will alter our daily lives -- and also shape future human interaction with the machines we created," said WIPO director general Francis Gurry.

The findings contradict those found in a study published in December 2018, which suggested that while China was making more rapid development in relation to the west, the UK and USA were still leading the way.

In the study, which covered a vast range of data points, it was found that China edged out the US in the number of published research papers for AI in 2018.

That statistic may be more impressive if academic institutions accounted for just more than four out of the top 30 patent applicants, a finding from the WIPO report suggesting that big company money is needed to remain ahead in the AI race.

While the comparison of different datasets could marr solid conclusions on true AI leaders across the globe, it's difficult to ignore UN-backed findings which suggest the UK's AI scene isn't as good as politicians have previously touted.

Despite key figures in AI such as Oracle expanding its AI development centres here in the UK, it seems Britain is still falling behind the bigger tech companies based abroad.

Perhaps with better government funding, of which the UK lacks, Britain could claw its way back to the top. The findings speak for themselves, AI is being led by businesses and for the UK to regain industry dominance, it needs to find ways to attract the big players. But with Brexit on the horizon, things aren't necessarily looking too promising on that front.

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