Themes in focus: artificial intelligence

Five reasons we like the artificial intelligence investment theme.

FacebooktwitterlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterlinkedinmail   by Tertius Bonnin, 13th August 2020

While artificial intelligence (AI) is commonly associated with the high-tech science-fiction genre, common perceptions of its real-world application often amount to nothing more than a folly. In the real world, the technology is still in its infancy but already spans numerous everyday applications. These range from your mobile phone unlocking when you look at the camera to algorithmic trading based on multilingual news and social media posts.

We outline five key reasons we like AI below:

1) Computing power is increasingly accessible and affordable

The first of two key inputs driving the proliferation of artificial intelligence is computing power (with the second being data). To illustrate how rapidly advancements in computing power have been in the last few decades we can take the 1969’s high-tech Apollo 11 spacecraft computer which had 32,768 bits of RAM. Meanwhile, today’s iPhone has somewhere in the region of 34,359,738,368 bits. For those fumbling for a calculator, that’s around 1,048,576 times more processing power!

For AI applications which require vast computing power, the advent of cloud computing has presented a major opportunity.

2) Data is the new black gold

Over the last few hundred years we’ve seen numerous dashes for commodities including the California Gold Rush or the Texas Oil Boom as prospectors sought new riches. Today, data is often described in a very similar way with businesses rushing to mine, refine and monetise their valuable resource. Make no mistake, the amount of data out there that could be processed by AI is huge. It is estimated that at the start of 2020, the world had 44 zettabytes (stick 21 zeroes on the end) of data meaning computer scientists right now have an extremely rich environment in which to develop AI.

3) AI is a driver of innovation across high-tech industries…

The applications of AI among already high-tech industries are extensive. In medicine alone, researchers have used predictive analysis in areas such as radiology, imaging, diagnosis, drug discovery and even calculating the likelihood of death from surgical procedures. Beyond this, applications are frequently used in finance (including algorithmic trading, market analysis and fraud detection), in e-commerce (suggesting related products to customers after placing an order), and in advertising (search engines and social media use your data by tailoring adverts to you).

4) …and even in traditionally low-tech industries

Applications don’t stop there! Areas of the economy that are low margin and low growth – such as agriculture or supermarkets – are ripe for disruption. One example of how this is happening in the UK is the online supermarket Ocado. It has developed technologies to optimise warehouse replenishment through automatic re-orders within the constraints of maximising product life and availability to customers.

5) Productivity enhancing and cost saving: incumbents set to be disrupted

It’s important to note that when we talk about companies utilising AI we aren’t referring to building wonderous machines that can pass the Turing Test. Instead, we are looking to those who are using applications to solve everyday problems, incrementally improve operations, and reduce the probability of human error. In doing so, it is clear AI can drive not only enhancements in workers’ productivity but also deliver significant cost savings to businesses over time. As in our UK supermarket example, if incumbents do not adapt to the new ways then others will be there to pick up the mantle.

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About the author: Tertius Bonnin

Tertius joined EQ in 2016 and is responsible for covering investment ideas within US, Global and Thematic equities. He sits on the fund selection committee and also supports the portfolio managers across a range of other responsibilities.

He passed Level I of the CFA exam in 2018, holds the Investment Management Certificate and has a BA in Business with Finance. He enjoys a variety of sports including skiing, cycling and running – and when not in the office he experiments with Asian cuisine.

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