Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the biggest areas of focus in almost every industry in the world, presenting both challenges and opportunities. 

The companies that invest in AI and integrate it as part of their growth strategy will benefit the most from the AI-related disruption that is either happening now or is yet to come. 

GlobalData has aggregated hundreds of thousands of records from its proprietary themes, jobs, deals, patents and company filings databases to identify the most active companies in AI in different sectors, such as tech, pharma and defence. 

Here are the leaders of each sector and how they got there. 


Industries it leads in: Tech, cards and payments, healthcare 

HQ: Seattle, US 

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Runners-up (tech): Alphabet, Microsoft, IBM

Runners-up (cards and payments): Alphabet, Apple, Z Holdings 

Runners-up (healthcare): Microsoft, Alphabet, IBM 

Why it leadsAmazon has built AI into both its ecommerce business and into Amazon Web Services, its cloud computing division. The company has even bought AI into consumers’ homes with its popular Amazon Alexa virtual assistant, which had sold more than 100 million devices by January 2019. 

Amazon is now extending its reach into the healthcare sector by offering services that standardise patient data and make health predictions


Industry it leads in: Retail banking and lending 

HQ: Mountain View, US 

Runners-up: Amazon, DBS, Apple 

Why it leads: Alphabet – the parent of Google, YouTube and autonomous driving company Waymo – is one of the AI leaders across the tech sector, cards and payments, and retail banking and lending. The company uses AI and machine learning across nearly all of its offering, from serving relevant ads to users and identifying spam emails to researching advanced AI in its Deepmind subsidiary. 

Alphabet has come in for criticism recently, dismissing several of its AI researchers after they published work claiming that the company was not careful enough in how it deploys AI. 


Industry it leads in: Wealth management and private banking 

HQ: Singapore 

Runners-up: HSBC, UBS, OCBC 

Why it leads: Singapore’s DBS Bank has invested huge sums in ‘intelligent banking’ since the beginning of 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic spread through the world. The bank uses its large trove of data to build models that offer hyper-personalised messages to its users; for example, if they will have enough money for upcoming purchases. 

AI has allowed DBS to differentiate itself in a crowded and highly advanced market such as that of Singapore, with the number of transactions through its iWealth app more than doubling since the introduction of the lender’s intelligent banking capabilities. 


Industry it leads in: Pharmaceuticals

HQ: Basel, Switzerland 

Runners-upJohnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb 

Why it leads: The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of the pharmaceuticals sector. Clinical trials have become remotely monitored, AI algorithms can diagnose skin conditions from images and chatbots can now help patients deal with heart issues. Novartis and Microsoft jointly created an AI Innovation Lab in 2020, hoping to achieve faster times to market, to reach twice as many patients twice as fast and to cut billions of dollars from their R&D spending. 

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the collaboration will “bring AI capabilities to every Novartis employee so they can unlock new insights as they work to discover new medicines and reduce patient costs”.

Johnson & Johnson

Industry it leads in: Healthcare 

HQ: New Brunswick, US 

Runners-ups: GE, Apple, Medtronic 

Why it leads: Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Johnson & Johnson’s medical devices network continued to grow, in part due to investments in robotics and automation. The company shared details about its surgical robotic platform Ottava, an operating table equipped with six arms that would provide more control and flexibility in surgery. 

Johnson & Johnson has also partnered with Optellum, a lung health AI company, to identify and track at-risk patients and diagnose and suggest optimal treatment for patients at a pre-cancerous stage. 


Industries it leads in: Beverages, packaging 

HQ: London, UK 

Runners-up (beverages): Suntory, Asahi Group, Molson Coors 

Runners-up (packaging): Procter & Gamble, Tetra Laval, Essity 

Why it leadsUnilever is the company behind more than 400 brands, ranging from foods and beverages to packaging and cleaning products. To process the roughly 1.8 million job applications it receives every day, Unilever employs a platform that uses a combination of in-browser games, natural language processing and machine learning to identify the best candidates to move forward. 

In Shanghai and Hangzhou, Unilever has partnered with Alibaba to install recycling machines that automatically identify and sort different kinds of plastic. 


Industry it leads in: Food 

HQ: Geneva, Switzerland 

Runners-up: Unilever, Givaudan, Symrise 

Why it leads: Perhaps one of the best examples of AI applications is Firmenich’s latest flavour: a lightly grilled beef taste for use in plant-based meat alternatives, created entirely by an algorithm based on a specific request. 

Firmenich has applied the same approach to creating laundry detergent fragrances and even launched an online AI-enabled platform for fragrance creation. 


Industry it leads in: Food service 

HQ: Ann Arbor, US 

Runners-up: Yum! Brands, Chipotle, McDonald’s 

Why it leads: Domino’s uses AI to automatically check the quality of its pizzas and ensure that the company’s standards are respected across restaurants in Australia and New Zealand. The new addition has reportedly improved pizza quality by about 15%. Even before the pizzas are cooked, Domino’s is using AI to make better predictions of when the they will be delivered, improving the order experience. 

In 2021, the company partnered with machine learning platform Datatron to further improve its in-store operations, generate revenue and improve the customer experience. 


Industry it leads in: Apparel 

HQ: Paris, France 

Runners-up: GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever 

Why it leads: LVMH is the French company behind brands such as Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, and is one of the most innovative fashion brands in the world. The company partnered with Alphabet to enhance demand forecasting and inventory management and help better recommend targeted products to clients. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed a lot of luxury fashion spending online. AI is helping companies such as LVMH get accustomed to spending money digitally by making their experience more fluid. 

Home Depot

Industry it leads in: Retail 

HQ: Atlanta, US 

Runners-up: Lowe’s, Wayfair, Amazon 

Why it leads: It is not just luxury fashion brands that had to adapt to new spending patterns; companies such as Home Depot used to rely on big spending bursts on public holidays, habits that have subsided since the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, Home Depot is using AI to group all the products that form a collection, provide products more suited to a customer’s budget and offer new features such as image-based search facilities. 


Industry it leads in: Aerospace and defence 

HQ: Reston, US 

Runners-up: Boeing, GE, L3 Harris Technologies 

Why it leads: While Alphabet is making progress on self-driving cars, Leidos is testing the limits of AI on Sea Hunter, a new type of warship that replaces the crew with an algorithm. Autonomous vehicles are one way in which the US Navy is hoping to address the threats posed to the country’s security. This approach also saves money. An estimate by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency found that the cost of running one of Leidos’s autonomous ships is $20,000 per day, compared with $700,000 for the equivalent fully manned ship. Leidos is now committed to expanding its AI expertise across all of its solutions. 


Industry it leads in: Oil and gas 

HQ: The Hague, Netherlands 

Runner-ups: ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Aker BP 

Why it leadsShell operates across the entire oil and gas supply chain and uses AI to make the process more efficient. One example is Shell’s use of machine learning algorithms trained on past drilling records to help make drilling more precise, faster and reduce damage to the equipment. 

Another way Shell uses AI is by encouraging electric vehicle owners to charge at specific times of the day in order to best use available power resources. 

As AI investment ramps up, the companies that do it most successfully will benefit the most from the rapidly changing landscapes in their respective industries. Meanwhile, regulators are paying attention, and the ethical implications surrounding the use of AI are coming into the spotlight more often, potentially limiting the extent to which AI can help companies grow. 

This article is based on GlobalData research figures as of 10 November 2021. For more up-to-date figures, check the GlobalData website.  

This article forms part of GlobalData’s AI week. For other articles in the series, please visit: