The AI race: 7 countries to watch out for

Today, artificial intelligence can recognise faces, give us better search results and be used to steer autonomous cars. It’s a trend that’s been hailed as the next industrial revolution. But which countries are leading this change?

AI is set to transform the world beyond recognition. In fact, it’s already doing so. These are the countries at the forefront of the AI revolution.


China has high ambitions for AI, with the biggest push for it coming from the government. In July last year, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China announced a scheme that outlined its goal of becoming a $150 billion global leader in AI by 2030.

It looks to be an achievable goal. China, alongside the US, is already a world leader in terms of AI research. According to MIT Technology Review, China has published the most research papers, among leading countries, on deep learning in the last few years. Coupled with the fact the country benefits from a huge supply of data – generated from its estimated 750 million internet-using population – China’s dominance in AI is a highly likely future.

Companies to watch:

  • Ubtech Robotics (humanoid robot development)
  • Icarbonx (health data mining)
  • Mobvoi (voice recognition)


Germany is famous for its industrial know-how and clockwork efficiency. Now it’s hoping to merge this tradition with tech innovation. According to Atomico’s State of European Tech report, Berlin is currently Europe’s top AI talent hub. Respondents to the survey also agreed Germany is most likely to become a leader in autonomous vehicles, robotics and quantum computing.

Elsewhere in the country, Germany’s ‘Cyber Valley’ is attracting plenty of international interest. Located near Stuttgart and Tübingen, the area was created in 2016 through a collaboration between the Max Planck Society, a number of universities and six major companies, including Facebook. It has already attracted the likes of Amazon, which is set to build its own AI research centre in the area.

Companies to watch:

  • Zeitgold (small-business book-keeping)
  • German Autolabs (digital co-driving solution)
  • Ada Digital Health (AI-powered health app)


Credit: Thomas Fabian (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Norway is shaping up its technology credentials and looking to go beyond its roots of oil-digging and fishing. And while it still has a long way to go compared with some other countries in Europe, things are looking up. was launched last year. It’s a NOK100 million (€10 million) fund and accelerator programme that hopes to make Norway a hub for technology.

Companies to watch:

  • Geno SA (biotechnology)
  • Solution Seeker (optimising oil and gas production)


Credit: Thomas Fabian (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When it comes to AI replacing human jobs, Swedes aren’t afraid. According to a survey by the European Commission, 80% of Swedes are positive about robots and artificial intelligence (compared with the EU average of 61%). The survey also suggests those who are knowledgeable about robotics and AI are more likely to give their support to greater automation.

This is perhaps down to Sweden’s relatively generous social blanket of free healthcare, education and unemployment benefits. In general, workers and unions are seeing AI as a good thing: a way to gain a competitive edge while making the most of human skill.

Companies to watch:

  • Lexplore (edtech aimed at diagnosing dyslexia in children)
  • Dooer (accounting automation)


By Thomas Woodtli (CC BY-SA 2.0)

For the last seven years the World Intellectual Property Organization has ranked Switzerland as the world’s most innovative country. KPMG calls it the country best prepared for long-term change, and it is home to the highest number of AI companies per citizen. And while Zurich is better known for being a world banking centre, it also produces top university and industrial research.

Today, Switzerland is home to Google’s largest campus outside California – with more than 250 artificial intelligence specialists working alongside 2,500 engineers.

Companies to watch

  • ABB (industrial robots)
  • Nnaisense (AI and machine-learning applications)

United Kingdom

The UK is a clear AI leader in Europe. According to Asgard, there are 121 AI firms in the UK, with London as the largest hub, while data from shows UK tech companies raised €7.5 billion in private investments in 2017, making up 38% of all venture capital invested in region.

If the UK succeeds with AI, it can mean big things for the UK economy. PwC research forecasts that UK GDP could be 10% higher in 2030 as a result of AI – the equivalent of an added £232 billion – potentially solving the country’s productivity problems.

It’s no wonder the government is paying close attention. In November 2017, the UK government announced £68 million of funding for research into AI and robotics projects aimed at improving safety in extreme environments. This means developing technology that can withstand the heat of deep mining, the freezing depths of the North Sea, and challenging conditions in nuclear energy production.

Companies to watch

  • ai (drug discovery)
  • Darktrace (cyber security)
  • MindTrace (novel software algorithms)

United States of America

Credit: Patrick Nouhailler (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When it comes to winning the AI race, the US has odds as favourable as China. Yet a number of factors may influence its finishing position. On one hand, the US benefits from a well-established tech scene. There’s currently $10 billion worth of venture capital being poured into AI, while the likes of Apple, Facebook and Tesla have already invested billions in AI in recent years. And Microsoft remains the top organisation when it comes to producing high-value quoted research, with Google and IBM also making names for themselves in this space.

However, with recent reduced funding for fields including AI, an increase in education costs and tougher barriers to immigration for international researchers, the future of the field looks uncertain. Only time will tell how it all unfolds.

Companies to watch

  • Drawbridge (targeting technology)
  • Persado (marketing personalisation)
  • Nauto (autonomous driving)

It’s worth noting other countries are also making strides in AI. Last year, the United Arab Emirates became the first country with a government minister dedicated to AI. Russia plans to make 30% of its country’s military equipment robotic by 2025. And Singapore’s government pledged SG$150 million (€94 million) to AI industry research just last year.

But regardless of where the technology is being developed in the world, one thing is certain: AI is coming. Citizens all over the world will need to be prepared. 

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