Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang doesn’t need a crystal ball to see where artificial intelligence will be used in the future. He just looks at his customer list.
The four-year-old startup, which recently hit a valuation of more than $3.5 billion, got its start supplying autonomous vehicle companies with the labeled data needed to train machine learning models to develop and eventually commercialize robotaxis, self-driving trucks and automated bots used in warehouses and on-demand delivery.
The wider adoption of AI across industries has been a bit of a slow burn over the past several years as company founders and executives begin to understand what the technology could do for their businesses.
In 2020, that changed as e-commerce, enterprise automation, government, insurance, real estate and robotics companies turned to Scale’s visual data labeling platform to develop and apply artificial intelligence to their respective businesses. Now, the company is preparing for the customer list to grow and become more varied.
How 2020 shaped up for AI
Scale AI’s customer list has included an array of autonomous vehicle companies including Alphabet, Voyage, nuTonomy, Embark, Nuro and Zoox. While it began to diversify with additions like Airbnb, DoorDash and Pinterest, there were still sectors that had yet to jump on board. That changed in 2020, Wang said.
Scale began to see incredible use cases of AI within the government as well as enterprise automation, according to Wang. Scale AI began working more closely with government agencies this year and added enterprise automation customers like States Title, a residential real estate company.
Wang also saw an increase in uses around conversational AI, in both consumer and enterprise applications as well as growth in e-commerce as companies sought out ways to use AI to provide personalized recommendations for its customers that were on par with Amazon.
Robotics continued to expand as well in 2020, although it spread to use cases beyond robotaxis, autonomous delivery and self-driving trucks, Wang said.
“A lot of the innovations that have happened within the self-driving industry, we’re starting to see trickle out throughout a lot of other robotics problems,” Wang said. “And so it’s been super exciting to see the breadth of AI continue to broaden and serve our ability to support all these use cases.”
The wider adoption of AI across industries has been a bit of a slow burn over the past several years as company founders and executives begin to understand what the technology could do for their businesses, Wang said, adding that advancements in natural language processing of text, improved offerings from cloud companies like AWS, Azure and Google Cloud and greater access to datasets helped sustain this trend.
“We’re finally getting to the point where we can help with computational AI, which has been this thing that’s been pitched for forever,” he said.
That slow burn heated up with the COVID-19 pandemic, said Wang, noting that interest has been particularly strong within government and enterprise automation as these entities looked for ways to operate more efficiently.
“There was this big reckoning,” Wang said of 2020 and the effect that COVID-19 had on traditional business enterprises.
If the future is mostly remote with consumers buying online instead of in-person, companies started to ask, “How do we start building for that?,” according to Wang.
The push for operational efficiency coupled with the capabilities of the technology is only going to accelerate the use of AI for automating processes like mortgage applications or customer loans at banks, Wang said, who noted that outside of the tech world there are industries that still rely on a lot of paper and manual processes.