Soon, there won’t be any more AI startups

And I can’t wait for that day to come. Because I can remember when the new thing was to be working for (in reverse historical order) a cloud sharing startup, social network startup, a mobile startup, an ecommerce startup, or a web startup, and how hard it was to be known for anything more than that.

Obligatory symbolic stock image required by blogging code of conduct every time you blog about AI

Cloud, social, mobile, ecommerce, web — these technologies obviously didn’t go away, and obviously there are still some companies which focus solely on those technologies.

But there is a vastly larger ecosystem of startups which are solving business and personal problems of value and which employ some aspect of social, mobile, ecommerce and web technologies.

Something like Flaunter, for instance. Flaunter helps a fashion brand manage their images and review products with journalists, bloggers, influencers and stylists. You may not know (I didn’t until I met the founder Gaby Howard) how big a problem that is, but it’s a huge industry problem and if Flaunter can deliver a 10x better solution than traditional means, it’s going to be huge. Flaunter’s platform includes cloud file storage and sharing, ecommerce, mobile and social technology but nobody would label it as “an ecommerce startup” or a “cloud storage” startup. It’s a fashion business startup. That’s awesome.

Likewise QuickSafety, which helps electrical contractors keep their government-mandated reporting up-to-date and accessible. QuickSafety draws upon mobile, cloud storage and ecommerce technologies but it’s none of those things itself — it’s not a mobile startup, it’s an electrical trade business startup. Founder Kurt Alexander is from the electrical trade industry.

Or how about Muru Music? Yes, the Muru Music team are using deep learning to refine a set of algorithms that can program a music playlist as well as the world’s best DJs, and that set of technologies sit within the field we label AI. But Muru Music is actually a music business startup — helping artists, content owners and networks reach an audience that will love that music, play it more often, and stay listening for longer. Founder Nicc Johnson used to be a well-known DJ.

By now, you get the picture: when a technology is in its infancy, it’s mostly invisible to those of us not writing a PhD paper; when it’s in its teenage years we hear about it a lot from journalists and conference organisers, VCs start to look for “AI startups” to invest in, and journalists like to write about your startup just because it’s using AI.

When a technology like AI grows up, it finds its place in the technology stack we draw upon to build startups which solve valuable problems for individuals and organisations. That’s when the technology reaches its full commercial potential. And in the case of AI, we don’t have much longer to wait.

In the meantime, join me in resisting the urge to label any startup an ‘AI startup’ unless all they do is develop AI for other startups to deploy.