It can be hard to escape stories of scary world-ending technology. Science fiction has for decades been ruminating on the possibility of extinction-summoning all-powerful AI and genocidal Austrian robots. More recently you might have noticed that “AI” has largely replaced “millennials” in the “x set to kill y” article headlines, and the papers would have you believe the Fourth Industrial Revolution will signal the end of liberty, equality, fraternity et al. in one fell swoop. But is tech really as terrifying as it seems? It’s time to bust a few myths, and look at the scariest world problems that tech’s setting its sights on solving.
With the fight against climate change set to define a generation, it’s going to take a colossal effort from governments, businesses and populations to tackle. But a new generation of technology companies can certainly play their part. Of UK companies alone, Cervest are pioneering Earth Science AI to help businesses, governments and growers adapt to climate volatility, and Glasgow-based MSquared are detecting and monitoring climate change with lasers, somehow. Greyparrot are improve recycling efficiency with computer vision and deep learning. Bulb are supplying homes in the UK, France, Spain and the US with renewable energy. OLIO and Winnow are cutting consumer and trade food waste respectively. And somewhat mindblowingly, Deep Branch Biotech take carbon dioxide directly from industrial emissions and transform it into a nutritious single cell protein to be used as a sustainable alternative to soy or fishmeal for livestock and aquaculture feed. Science Fact. 🤯
Yes alright technology might have facilitated this one in the first place, but at least it’s also coming up with the solutions. Fake news, viral propaganda and deepfakes have got to be some of the biggest crazes of the decade, really coming into their own in the last few years. Remember when our biggest clickbait concerns were around the vacuity of the “[Number] [Subject] So [Hyperbole] You [Claim]” headlines? Simpler times.
Well Democratech (our AI Lead is desperately trying to make this one catch on) is coming to the rescue. Astroscreen are defending democracy from harmful social media manipulation campaigns, aka astroturfing. Serelay are verifying the authenticity of photos and videos for the news industry. And Factmata score online content based on quality, safety and credibility, flagging hate speech and political bias. 🙌
Fraud and Cyber attacks
The UK is truly a world leader in cyber security, and my word is it a rich and broad sector. To name but a few examples of UK scaleups protecting consumers and businesses, Dynarisk provide personal Cyber Security Scores to let you know how vulnerable you are to cyber attack. iProov have created facepalm facial and palm recognition technology that uniquely can’t be spoofed by replays and deepfakes. Quant Network are creating secure, online, verifiable communication that doesn’t leave your personal data at risk of exploitation. White Bullet scores websites to allow advertisers to avoid funding criminal activity. UK cyber big hitters Darktrace, Tessian and Garrison have collectively raised over $330m.
Perhaps most bonkers of all, Belfast’s B-Secur use your unique biometric heartbeat (ECG) to verify your identity – but if this isn’t wild enough, the applications are potentially astonishing. Imagine a car that only works when it’s your hands on the steering wheel, but that also knows 7 minutes before it happens that you’re going to have a heart attack. Factor in upcoming driverless technology and in the future we might expect to be able to be dropped off at the hospital before help is even required. Cyber security suddenly sounding sexier than anti-virus.
Jk, there’s a lot more going on here than the tech industry can solve all on their own, but there’s still some interesting, useful stuff happening in the space. Trussle is the UK’s number one online mortgage broker, helping home buyers easily compare options for the best deal. For those in the rental market, OpenRent is now the UK’s largest letting agent, making renting fairer, safer and cheaper – more a letting community than broker, and surely the only letting agent that’s actively campaigned for government to abolish tenant fees. 🏡
More broadly, with 8 million people in the UK over-indebted, and 2 in 5 people holding less than £100 in savings, tech can play a big role in financial inclusion. In 2017, Tech Nation’s Fintech For All competition gathered applications from 85 UK tech companies working to make financial services work for everyone, including finalists Pockit, the easy-to-open bank account; Aire, providing fairer credit check assessments; and Abaka, the financial advice chatbot. On Fintech 2.0, Paid provide critical cash flow for small businesses and freelancers by helping to get them paid on time, Steadypay help shift and gig workers smooth out irregular income for consistent pay cheques, and Smarterly are helping people save and invest as they earn.
This one might be a little harder to sufficiently cover in a couple hundred words. The internet can be a democratising tool, providing near-universal access to knowledge and communities, but it’s no longer really quite that simple. As we move into an age where the technology underpinning the tools we use are increasingly opaque and powered by black box algorithms, it is imperative that mindful, ethical AI is built so as not to reflect and magnify the world’s inequalities and prejudices, but instead actively work to correct them. Based in Bristol, Gapsquare are using AI to power corporate gender pay gap reporting and ethnicity pay gap analysis. And we love to see it. 👏
It is widely becoming accepted that you don’t have to choose between your company having a positive impact on the world, and generating generous financial returns. On Hallowe’en, or any other time of the year, there are plenty of things in the world to be frightened of, but often it’s tech companies that can be the solution, not the cause.