How AI is changing our lives

By Morningstar |  02-11-18 | 

It was reported this week that U.S. tech giant Amazon is working on a patent under which its ubiquitous voice-activated assistant, Alexa, can tell when you're sick. It's thought the machine, with its mellifluous female voice and ability to answer any question we pose, will soon be able to detect changes in your voice brought on by illness. It will then recommend remedies that can be bought on Amazon. While tech news site CNET concedes the report is unconfirmed, it is potentially another example of the rapid advance in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

From Japan's use of robots to perform intricate surgery and fill worker shortages brought on by an ageing population and declining birth rates to China’s use of facial recognition to spy on its sprawling citizenry, the development of AI is profound. For Sundar Pichai, the chief of internet search giant Google and leader in the field, AI ranks alongside fire and electricity for its potential to alter human destiny.

Robotics and AI are already disrupting many industries including manufacturing, healthcare, medicine, defence, education, transportation and agriculture. In its latest update, market forecaster Tractica says annual worldwide AI software revenue will grow from $5.4 billion in 2017 to more than $105 billion by 2025. And the robotics industry is forecast to reach $500 billion by 2025 and a compound annual growth rate of 32% a year.

But the evolution is far from perfect. For the sceptics, the hyperbole fails to match the concrete results. IBM's Watson technology, touted as a breakthrough cancer-detecting treatment, has been accused of misdiagnosing conditions. And as for self-driving cars, the world is not yet ready to forget the events of March this year in which a pedestrian was killed.

It's worth examining some of the vast and developing characteristics of AI and what it’s being used for.

AI is essentially problem-solving software that mimics the human brain. It examines a problem, seeks to determine what is occurring and then learns from what has happened. "It's recognising your face in a photo; it’s translating a menu on your phone; it's using computer vision in self-driving cars to see what the other cars and obstacles are," says Bloomberg tech reporter Ashlee Vance.

To do all that, the software relies on chips - central processing units (CPUs), or what Nvidia calls the "brains" of the computer, and graphic processing units (GPUs), or the "soul".

In other words, as Morningstar analyst Abhinav Davuluri says, "to train a computer to recognise spoken words or images, it must be exposed to massive amounts of data with the goal of educating itself. Inference involves taking what the model learned during the training process and putting it into real-world applications to make decisions. After reviewing 10,000 cat pictures during training, is this next picture a cat?"

Hence the term "machine learning". AI effectively "teaches robots to teach themselves," notes BetaShares' chief economist David Bassanese, "thereby enabling them to undertake tasks of ever greater complexity."

Investing in AI and Robotics

There are few fields that will be left untouched by AI and robotics. To give you a perspective, here are companies in various industries. Do note, this is purely for illustrative purposes - the list is far from comprehensive and not a recommendation to invest.

  • Manufacturing

Japan's FANUC Corporation, which produces robots to conduct large-scale manufacturing assembly work. According to the Boston Consulting Group, a quarter of U.S, manufacturing operations will be automated by 2025, compared with only about one tenth in 2015.

  • Defence

AeroVironment is developing drones and wheeled robots that can conduct reconnaissance missions without risk to human life. The U.S. Army estimates the use of robots could allow around a 25% reduction in the required size of combat teams by 2030.

  • Healthcare

Japan's Intuitive Surgical has developed robotic devices allowing surgeons to undertake once difficult operations – in areas such as heart and brain surgery – with greater precision and less patient risk than ever before. Intuitive Surgical received clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration for several products last quarter, among them the da Vinci SP (single- port) surgical system, which can now be used for urologic surgical procedures.

  • Transport

AI-facilitated self-driving cars promise to revolutionise the transport industry, with some estimates suggesting they could account for 15% of car sales worldwide by 2030. Earlier this month the U.S. took a step further in legislating the Self-Drive Act, which could result in as many as 100,000 self-driving cars taking to the road by 2021 or 2022. Leading the pack is Google-owned Waymo, with General Motors, Tesla and Nissan not far behind. The Boston Consulting Group estimates by the end of the next decade, up to a quarter of the distances Americans travel by car will be logged by fully driverless vehicles operated by ride-sharing services such as Waymo, Uber, Lyft and GM’s Maven.

  • Agriculture

Robotic planting and harvesting machines are also anticipated to transform the agricultural sector.

  • Personal Services

Some patients now rely on robots to provide 24-hour care and delivery of medicine.

This is an extract from an article which originally appeared on written by Lex Hall. 

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