UK startup BenevolentAI is embarking on major expansion in the US, opening a New York office

Lynsey Barber
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BenevolentAI is expanding beyond Euston to New York (Source: Getty)

One of the UK's most promising artificial intelligence startups is expanding its business into the US as part of ambitious expansion plans.

BenevolentAI, whose technology helped researchers find a drug treatment which could delay the onset of motor neuron disease, is opening a new office in New York and has hired a former Google scientist to lead its natural language research efforts.

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Keith Hall joins along with Daniel Niel of the Institute of Neuroinformatics in Zurich who will lead machine learning research. They will be the foundation of an expert tech team that the startup hopes to grow to as many as 25 by the end of the year.

The startup, valued at more than $1bn according to CB Insights and backed by Neil Woodford's fund, uses AI to digest millions of pieces of scientific research and come up with potential treatments that may never have been spotted by human eyes. One such drug has been found to delay the onset of motor neuron disease in initial tests, with researchers pushing for further clinical development that could lead to a treatment for the disease.

“The opening of a New York office demonstrates our commitment to expanding as a global company and underlines the importance of having a footprint in the US with the access to talent, innovation, and commercial opportunities that being connected to one of the world’s centres of technology provides," said founder and chairman Ken Mulvany.

Former IBM Watson executive Jerome Pesenti who was hired as chief executive of the technology side of the business late last year will run the new office.

London remains the startup's headquarters and its speed of growth has spurred a hunt for significantly larger offices. It now has around 80 staff after four years in business, outgrowing its base near Euston station. Mulvany told City A.M. the UK remained the leading location for scouting tech talent, but a New York base will give the firm access to key AI talent from the east coast of the US where experts are based at top research centres such as Carnegie Mellon.

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And BenevolentAI plans to apply its AI technology to more industries, focusing on energy first. It is eyeing how it could tackle the issue of how to make battery storage better. Currently, battery technology is not advanced enough to store the energy from renewables such as solar power. It's hoped the AI can identify new ways that are also affordable.

The government has identified battery technology as one of the areas of technology in which the UK can become a world leader, handing out £246m last month to fund its design and development. It has also launched a major review of the cost of energy.

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