By Patrick Malcolm
It was recently reported that tech giant Amazon is working on a patent under which Alexa, its voice-activated assistant, can tell when you’re sick. The machine will be able to detect changes in your voice brought on by illness and then recommends remedies that, surprise surprise, can be bought on Amazon! While the report is unconfirmed, it is another example of the rapid advance in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
The development of AI is profound. AI ranks alongside electricity and fire for its potential to alter human destiny for Sundar Pichai, the chief of Google.
Robotics and AI are now disrupting many industries.
AI is essentially problem-solving software that replicates the human brain. It studies a problem, seeks to work out what is occurring and then learns from what has happened.
However, the evolution is not perfect. IBM’s Watson technology, hyped as an innovation in cancer-detecting treatment, has been suspected of misdiagnosing conditions. For self-driving cars, the world is not ready to forget the events of earlier this year when a pedestrian was killed.
The investment horizon is also cloudy. The unknowns in AI make it an attractive opportunity and one that has led to some outlandish price-earnings multiples.
To better grasp the investment potential, it’s first worth examining some of the characteristics of AI and what it’s being used for.
In manufacturing, Japan’s FANUC Corporation produces robots to conduct large-scale manufacturing assembly work. By 2025, a quarter of US manufacturing operations will be automated, compared with about one-tenth in 2015, according to the Boston Consulting Group.
In healthcare, Japan’s Intuitive Surgical has developed robotic devices allowing surgeons to undertake once difficult operations with greater precision and less patient risk. Some patients now rely on robots for the provision of around the clock care and delivery of medicine in personal services.
In transport, self-driving cars could revolutionise the industry, with some estimates suggesting they could account for 15% of car sales worldwide by 2030. In October, the US took a step further in legislating the Self-Drive Act. Google-owned Waymo leads the pack. It is estimated by the Boston Consulting Group that up to 25% of the distances Americans travel by car will be travelled by driverless vehicles by the end of the next decade, operated by ride-sharing services.
Robotic planting and harvesting machines are also expected to transform the agricultural sector.
Perhaps the most telling indicator of the infiltration of AI is the enthusiasm with which China has adopted it. Video surveillance is the top “use case” for AI according to Tractica, hence the fears around AI and its intrusion into our lives. China has rolled out an extensive network of surveillance cameras, which it claims can monitor its population of 1.4 billion with up to 99.8% accuracy.
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