Some say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire.
— Excerpt from “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost
It’s time to face the inevitable. Our burning desire to create an advanced civilization through technology has led us to this point. For good or for bad, the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution is upon us.
If science fiction of the late ‘80s is to be believed, the rise of AI will end the world in fire, just as Robert Frost posited in 1920. But AI isn’t science fiction any more, and pre-eminent scientists of our age are warning of doomsday scenarios.
“Success in creating effective AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don’t know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it,” Stephen Hawking said earlier this month during a speech at a technology conference.
We have moved out of the realm of “if” AI will have an impact on our lives, and into a world with two rather disparate endings: utopia or destruction.
I say that with tongue in cheek. Many scientists said the same thing at the advent of the atomic age when “the bomb” was first developed. Japan was so frightened of the atomic bomb (and with very good reason) that popular culture there spawned Godzilla — the irradiated lizard who repeatedly destroyed Tokyo.
As we know in hindsight, atomic energy has not obliterated the world (despite the Cold War and recent saber-rattling between Washington and North Korea). It has become one of the cleanest and most efficient sources of energy on the planet.
History tells us that AI will follow a similar path, with the end results falling somewhere in the middle. The question for investors is, how best to take advantage of the inevitable?
AI: The Fire Behind Semiconductors
As any PC gamer will tell you, you can write the most beautiful software in the world, but it will do you no good if your hardware isn’t up to speed. It’s the same with AI. Modern advances in artificial intelligence are due to the significant growth in the semiconductor space.
I’ve talked before about the potential for growth from the likes of Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (Nasdaq: AMD), Nvidia Corp. (Nasdaq: NVDA) and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC). All three are front and center in the AI race, driving partnerships across a broad swath of the market.
For instance, AMD has cozied up with Tesla Inc. (Nasdaq: TSLA) to develop AI systems for Tesla’s self-driving vehicles. The most notable of these were just detailed, as Tesla took the wraps off an electric semitruck, which, when combined with autodrive AI technology, could revolutionize shipping around the world.
Meanwhile, Nvidia is not only partnering with Baidu Inc. (Nasdaq: BIDU) for intelligent online ordering systems, it’s also moving into industrial production. The company recently announced a collaboration with Avitas Systems to use Nvidia’s AI chips to train Avitas’ neural-network-based AI to quickly and consistently identify defects in industrial equipment.
And we can’t forget social networking. Intel is working with Facebook Inc. (Nasdaq: FB) on what’s known as deep learning. Intel’s Nervana Neural Network Processor targets deep learning, a process that requires considerable processing power to spot and react to patterns in enormous quantities of data — much like social media posts.
The Icing on the Cake
If semiconductors have gotten a bit frothy for your investment tastes, there are plenty of other options for getting in on the AI revolution. McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD), for example, has made considerable gains this year by promising to streamline operations with AI-driven kiosks for ordering. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) is considering doing the same.
Even Wall Street isn’t immune to the AI revolution. Investment banking, which is already dominated by large data centers devoted to algorithmic trading, is moving toward replacing even more jobs with AI.
Furthermore, a new market known as regtech is emerging as one of the hottest AI investment opportunities. As Jeff Yastine explains: “Regtech is the employment of tools like artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and other forms of advanced software in the pursuit of cutting regulatory costs.”
The bottom line is that regardless of Hawking’s worries, AI is already here. Its rise is inevitable, and you might as well get in on the ground floor and profit on the way up … even if, as Frost quips, the world ultimately ends in fire