In order to support artificial intelligence (AI) implementation in organizations and businesses, Estonian leading AI experts launched private non-profit North Star AI in 2017. The group intends to lower entry barriers to developers, engineers, chief technologists, data-driven startup founders and product managers.
Happening this year on March 7 in Tallinn, the North Star AI annual conference will bring together leading AI practitioners and companies around the world to talk about real-world applications of data science and machine learning. It also aims to stimulate AI adoption in Northern Europe and educate the population on how to harness the opportunities offered by AI while providing them with the necessary skills to partner with machines.
Where does Estonia stand in the AI ecosystem?
We know that tech giants like Amazon, Baidu, Facebook, and Google have AI advantages like collecting enormous amounts of data, access to top talent, huge investments to R&D, over smaller companies. However, the possibilities offered by AI are not reserved only for the largest companies and biggest economies.
Estonia is looking for ways on how to attract international talent and investments. No wonder both government and companies tap the potential of AI technologies to solve talent shortages and economic challenges. The impact of AI on GDP in the Nordics alone is expected to be considerable: 9.9% of GDP (1.8 trillion).
According to the study by Roland Berger and France Digitale, Estonia has excellent prerequisites for benefiting from the application of artificial intelligence and is becoming an influential AI player in Europe. Compared to dominant players and other governments working on their AI strategies, Estonia sees its strength as an AI implementation leader for startups and AI applications with well-recognized practices on data privacy and safety.
Which Estonian companies are riding on the implementation wave right now?
Let us examine some examples of AI-powered companies from early-stage startups to mature scale-ups and also bring in a few government-led AI applications that use data and machine learning to reshape products and business models, automate processes, and bring transformative impact.
Starship built the world’s first autonomous, last-mile package delivery robot. Their delivery platform launched a new era of instant, unscheduled delivery while significantly lowering the costs of shipments. To make robots as safe and autonomous as possible, the robots have to understand where they are and what’s going on in the surrounding world – humans, cars, bicyclists, obstacles – and predict what will happen next. To make that happen, Starship built a software that processes inputs from cameras, radars, and other sensors to driving decisions in real time. They also analyse historical data to understand specifically how they can improve the robot even further.
Estonian-born Taxify has become one of the world’s fastest-growing unicorns with over 15 million passengers in more than 25 countries. Taxify uses data and cutting edge technology to understand how millions of people move around cities and utilize this insight to improve urban transport. This ride-hailing company develops real-time machine learning to improve the product, operations, and decision-making like predicting drive durations, price benchmarking and optimising pickup locations among others.
TransferWise is a fintech company that promises the fairest and easiest way to manage your money across borders. Its customers transfer more than £3 billion every month and each and every transfer is instantly scored by multiple machine learning models. Machine learning is used in many domains throughout its business that include detecting fraudulent behaviour and money laundering attempts, optimizing business processes to reduce costs, and predicting all kinds of customer behaviour to fuel the company’s growth.
Veriff is an online identity verification with superpowers. Their core applications of machine learning are for automation and fraud detection: from finding documents in images to reading out all the data to detecting many different types of fraud attempts. These are done automatically, scanning 3200 different document types issued in the world, to provide the best customer experience and lowest cost without sacrificing quality. Human intervention occurs only when a more thorough examination is needed.
Estonian Norris Koppel launched the neo-banking company Monese, one of the most trusted banking services in Europe and Britain’s first mobile-only bank in 2015. With Monese, migrants (or anyone) can open a UK bank account in a matter of moments without needing a UK address and these are done using intelligent computer systems that analyze customers’ profile data, transaction sequences, and social connections. AI has also enabled the company to analyze document scans during customer on-boarding process and even detect fraudulent transactions. In the future, they plan to develop their own algorithms to detect fake ID-s and fight identity theft.
Pipedrive is a sales CRM tool that began as a tiny start-up in a garage in Estonia in 2010. It uses AI both for its business needs and for the purposes of helping customers to forecast their sales success. For example, they know how likely their potential trial customers will convert to paying customers based on the activities they performed in Pipedrive. Additionally, they built a churn model that predicts if a customer is about to stop using Pipedrive software. Both models produce actionable insights for sales and marketing teams, allowing them to engage better with customers.
AI based solutions also benefit customers in terms of forecasting their sales success and revenue by extracting insights and boost companies’ efficiency.
Lingvist was designed by Estonian nuclear physicist to make learning a new language 10x faster using machine learning. The AI models what is happening in people’s brains while learning, how their memory works, and how they forget things to create patterns that they process in their Knowledge Mapping Technology. Lingvist’s advanced machine learning algorithm learns which words you need to practice and when its time for a new word. Each person’s experience is completely different.
AlphaBlues is developing virtual customer assistants to help banks and telecoms provide customer support to chat on their website 24/7. A proprietary in-house developed natural language processing (NLP) engine and virtual assistant platform (AlphaAI) is bundled with a live chat product for human agents (AlphaChat). This allows a fully automated customer journey into one flow – from website visit with a virtual assistant to a chat with a human agent. The GDPR-compliant solution also enables building voice-operated virtual assistants. The solution is already used by several banks and telecom companies.
Government on AI
State institutions gather large amounts of data every day and the government is improving the state’s capability to analyse public data. Ongoing cooperation between the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Statistics Estonia will lay the foundation for real-time, practical, and ethical application of data for the government as well as the private sector.
For example, AI applications can efficiently detect icy roads by analysing satellite pictures or provide better job matchings or the E-Tax system that provides pre-calculated tax duties.
Each year, around 95% of all tax declarations in Estonia are filed electronically. Using a secure ID, a taxpayer logs onto the system, reviews their data in pre-filled forms, makes any necessary changes, and approves the declaration form. The process typically takes 3 to 5 minutes. Even one-click tax returns have been possible since 2015 – the data that is already in the system is displayed for the user along with the calculated result, then all the users have to do is click on the confirmation button. All of this can take less than a minute.
With its current developments in AI adoption in the public and private sphere, Estonia has the potential to become even more influential participate in AI ecosystem in Europe. In order to support AI application on EU levels and attract AI startups all over the world, Estonia aims to meet the standards of data availability, secure exchange of data, access to public data, and AI-friendly regulations to support the development of global AI applications from Estonia.
Co-founder of North Star AI