Artificial intelligence has been a hot topic lately, as we’re now in a time when most consumers with a mobile phone have access to an AI assistant. Big data is also looming large as tech companies squeeze demographics, contact information and much more out of consumers. Essentially, if you do almost anything online, you’re creating data for them. For investors who want a piece of these two tech areas, it can be difficult to identify stocks with exposure to them, but analysts are now offering up their ideas on big data and AI stocks.

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AI stocks aren't all in technology

It's easy to see why big data and AI stocks are a key investable theme, as Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts say that 90% of the world's data has been created within the last two years. By 2020, they expect there to be 30 billion to 50 billion connected devices, and by 2035, they expect this number to hit 1 trillion. All those devices are creating data, which then feeds companies and artificial intelligence.

BAML Equity Strategist Beijia Ma and team outlined stocks with exposure to big data and artificial intelligence in a recent report. They outlined the risks inherent in being in this business and grouped their recommended AI stocks by these categories: High Tech, Data Analytics, Autos, Industrials & Manufacturing, Telecom, Healthcare, and Financials.

This list of categories is quite interesting because it underscores the fact that tech companies aren't the only ones with exposure to big data and artificial intelligence. As time goes on, more and more companies in more sectors are likely to see some impact from AI and big data. For the purpose of this article, however, we will focus on AI stocks in the tech sector because that's where exposure to artificial intelligence started.

Tech companies with big AI exposure

The BAML team starts their list with the three A's: Alibaba, Alphabet and Amazon, all of which they say have high exposure to big data. Alibaba is the top e-commerce platform in China and also has a growing mobile payment platform, while Alphabet has seven platforms with more than 1 billion users. Alphabet and Amazon are both strong AI stocks. Google owns Deepmind, a leader in artificial intelligence, and Google Brain, while Amazon sells the top AI-enabled smart speaker.

Facebook obviously has strong exposure to big data because it's the biggest social network in the world with more than 2 billion users creating truckloads of data for the company every day. Apple is on BAML's list of AI stocks because of Siri and other AI-enabled services, such as Quicktype and Memories. Microsoft's Cortana also gives it exposure to AI, and its cloud and business analytics services expose it to big data. Baidu also made it onto their list because they see it as China's first-mover in artificial intelligence.

Other AI stocks on their list include Tableau, Workday, Salesforce and IBM, although it is a very long list.

Only three AI stocks to rule them all?

Jefferies analysts, on the other hand, see only three big data and AI stocks as being the important ones to own: Amazon, Facebook and Google. They said in their recent Internet Playbook that the owners of data sets are going to be the best-positioned as this theme plays out.

They predict that mergers and acquisitions in artificial intelligence will keep accelerating. They add that, already, more than 200 private AI firms have been acquired since 2012. They also said that last year alone there was more than $5 billion in AI-related funding was handed out, and it has served to "build a substantial pipeline." As a result, they "see very few surviving as standalones."

According to Jefferies, Amazon, Google and Facebook have "the most robust data sets" and stand to benefit the most from the artificial intelligence story, thus making them essential AI stocks for investors who want a piece of the story.