The future ‘toll booth’ companies watching the AI gold rush

11 May 2023

Image: © Maleo Photography/

Alex Babin of Zero Systems spoke about the current AI landscape, the expected rise in competition and being a bridge between large language models and enterprises.

The global AI landscape has changed dramatically this year, as tech giants are racing to bring this technology into their products.

Microsoft and Google are in the middle of an AI arms race, with both companies releasing new services that have generative AI at their core. The release of ChatGPT has sparked a consumer interest in AI, while companies of all sizes are jumping on the AI bandwagon.

Certain AI-focused companies are watching the shifts in the AI landscape, content that they’re in a steady position to capitalise on the market’s growth.

Zero Systems is one of these companies, with a focus on bringing the benefits of AI to enterprises. CEO and co-founder Alex Babin told SiliconRepublic that his company is well positioned for the future and that the AI market is in “a gold-rush mode right now”.

“In the gold rush, the companies that do the best are those who sell shovels, picks and jeans,” Babin said. “We are that type of a company.”

A bridge between enterprise and AI

Zero Systems has developed its own skilled AI modules to work alongside human workers and improve their productivity.

The company was founded in 2015 and has created multiple AI products to suit specific needs over the years, with the overall focus of automating tasks for the benefit of knowledge workers.

“We are entering the era with where people should be focusing on important stuff that they are good at, instead of everything else,” Babin said.

Hercules is arguably the company’s flagship product, being an AI engine that is designed to leverage the power of large language models (LLM) like OpenAI’s GPT-4.

Babin said Hercules solves a key challenge for enterprises using large language models, by keeping their sensitive data secure. The company claims this model can leverage the power of LLMs while preventing sensitive data from being accessed by the LLM.

“We bring AI to where the data is and not the other way around, that’s really critical,” Babin said.

Concerns around how certain LLMs use and store data have been raised in recent months. ChatGPT faced scrutiny in Europe recently, with a temporary ban in Italy over the personal data it collects and stores.

The chatbot has since been unbanned after meeting the Italian watchdog’s demands and has released new features to protect user privacy. OpenAI is also working on a ChatGPT business subscription to protect enterprise data.

Businesses’ concerns around sensitive data and AI have also been reported in recent months. Samsung recently banned the use of generative AI tools among its workforce, after the company discovered staff uploaded sensitive code to ChatGPT.

Babin expressed confidence that the demand for his company’s services will grow, as he claims products like Hercules will allow enterprises to “safely and securely use outside models”.

“We are the bridge, the bridge between this old, brave world of enterprise and the new world of AI and LLMs,” Babin said.

A rise of competition

When discussing the future of the AI market, Babin said LLMs and these “foundational models” will continue to be valuable assets for enterprises. However, he believes that the future will be a combination of LLMs and smaller AI models that are trained for “specific use cases” to improve accuracy.

“When you’re good at everything, you’re not good at specific things. You probably don’t want a LLM like GPT to do brain surgery or suggest how to do one, because it might hallucinate,” Babin said. “But there’s specific models that work in the medical industry, finance, insurance and so on.”

With companies popping up in all corners of the AI market, Babin expects competition in his field to be “fierce” in the future. He claims there are currently competitor companies that only do “portions of what we do” but expects this advantage to change over time.

“There are going to be more end-to-end solutions, there are going to be potentially more companies like ours, though we had a bit of a head start because we’ve been doing it for almost five years now,” Babin said.

He also expects the landscape to shift in the future as companies move away from a consumer focus and look toward enterprises.

“At some point, these companies will have to go into enterprise because that’s where money is, a lot of money,” Babin said. “When they go to the enterprises, they will need a bridge. And there will be a toll booth on that bridge. And I’ll be sitting in that toll booth, letting them in.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic