Brisbane AI at night

The Current Status of the Brisbane AI scene

Brisbane has always been the home of good weather, great beaches close to the city and an enviable outdoor lifestyle, however, now it has something new – a blossoming Artificial Intelligence (AI) scene.

From the outside sunshine, now to the inside monitor glow, read on to discover some exclusive insights on the Queensland capital’s thriving ecosystem. 

Brisbane AI

With recent investments by the Queensland government in Brisbane-based AI initiatives, like the AI Hub ($3M as part of a larger $650M commitment), there has been significant growth in the number of companies: using AI, building products and services based upon the new technology, or simply consulting in the field.

To understand how big this growth has been, Biarri has gone out and put its finger on the pulse of the burgeoning industry to understand how far we’ve come over the last decade and the direction of Brisbane’s future trajectory – based on the graphs below, the numbers are phenomenal. For example, we’ve seen over 2500% increase in the number of people employed in companies working with artificial intelligence or similar technologies (from around 20 to 500+).

To carry out our analysis we approached our Brisbane networks, including key individuals active in the AI scene, to reach out to their AI contacts and let us know the current state of the industry. We then cross-referenced this with LinkedIn, job boards such as SEEK and Indeed, as well as various websites to ensure the data was as accurate as possible (at the time of writing). Based on this we were able to put together a comprehensive list on the state of AI-ffairs in Brisbane.

However, before we present the data showing the surprising results, we asked ourselves: what has driven this growth in activity around machine learning and artificial intelligence?

We hypothesise that there are four main factors that we discuss in the following:

  • Enhanced ease-of-use of tools to build AI solutions
  • Improvements in the power of the available AI technology
  • Increased number of people with AI skills
  • Increased awareness and interest in AI

Ease-of-use

In the last 10 years we have seen the barrier to entry for using AI tools reduce considerably. This has been driven largely by a strong open-source community and cloud-based tools that have led to:

  • Orders of magnitude cost reduction for at-scale AI deployments
  • The commoditisation of cutting edge AI algorithms such as neural nets, boosted decision trees, etc.
  • Programmable infrastructure for the deployment of web based applications
  • Simple APIs providing access to leading open-source machine learning and artificial intelligence libraries such as TensorFlow, PyTorch, MXNet, etc.

Improvement in power

In addition to the lower barrier to entry, we have witnessed an unprecedented improvement in the quality of algorithms powering AI inferences. The new algorithms are able to converge to solutions faster with less training in much smarter ways (for example pretrained models).

In addition, the cloud architectures available now provide the ability to store and analyse massive data sets, further improving the quality of these algorithms. The storage of a Terabyte of data in the cloud costs on the order of $20 per month with a number of providers.

Growing talent pools

Almost unlike any other area, online courses for machine learning and artificial intelligence have exploded. Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) offered by edX, Coursera, and Udacity provide courses delivered by leading AI experts – many of which are completely free. There are also countless large, well-known, and high-quality blogs providing up-to-date information on AI.

Beyond that, universities around the globe have caught onto the trend and are offering Masters in Data Science for students to cater to the demand. Many of the courses are quite new, for example the one at the University of Queensland in Brisbane is less than 2 years old at the time of writing.

Looking further abroad, Georgia Tech have teamed up with Udacity and AT&T to offer the first accredited Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS) that students can earn exclusively through the MOOC delivery format. This is changing the landscape of education globally.

Increased awareness and interest

Another big contributor is the general interest in AI. Looking at Google Trends, the following graph shows the number of searches for AI-related terms over the last 10 years. The graph shows an up to 10x increase in interest artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science in the last five years, so we are truly entering a period of increasing awareness and interest.

What effect has this had on the Brisbane AI market?

The effect of the above has been noticed in all sectors. The following graphs show what we discovered.

If we just examine companies offering AI services, this first graph shows the simple growth in the number of companies:

We can see the hockey curve style growth starting to kick off in 2014. However, where is this growth occuring?

To figure this out we need to better understand the types of companies operating in this space. To help understand the types of companies that have grown out of the trend, we split them into the following categories:

  1. SME that provides consulting
  2. Non robotics AI startup
  3. Incubator
  4. Robotics AI startup
  5. Larger company that provides mostly AI consulting

In the following graph we show the growth of such companies with the above split:

We can see that the growth has largely been due to robotics and non robotics AI startups.

Naturally this proliferation of AI companies has led to a large increase in the number of people employed in companies driving the AI agenda as the following graph indicates:

The number of people employed in these areas is being felt beyond employment with Meetup groups like Queensland AI (2,900 members) and Brisbane Data Science (1,800 members) thriving in recent years.

Another interesting development has been the congregation of such companies, leading to the government’s choice of the location of the AI Hub to be a prudent one. There is a strong collection of such companies around the Fortitude Valley as the following heatmap of Brisbane demonstrates:

Number of Brisbane AI companies by location in Brisbane

The colour coding is such that there are now 11 companies in the valley, 7 in the city and elsewhere either 1 or 2.

So if you want to join the blossoming AI scene then come and join us down in the Valley.

What’s next?

As can be seen from the above, the current AI scene is blossoming with more and more companies entering the artificial intelligence fray. If the numbers continue as above (although bottlenecks like talent shortages will most likely arise soon) then by extrapolating the data with an exponential curve, we could see a doubling of the number of people working in AI by the end of 2023 to over 1000 people.

So although the industry started slowly we expect it now to now have doubled within four years.

This bears well for the graduates coming out of universities but also to service providers to the AI industry as it would be expected that similar trends exist worldwide. With a wealth of resources already existing online to help people enter the industry, we only expect speed of adoption of AI to increase.

Get your hands on this data

To access the data, click on the link here to view the spreadsheet with the information that we have collected.

But in the meantine, what are your predictions? Did we miss anything?

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