Some people might imagine that, by now, everyone is obsessed with artificial intelligence, but this is only the beginning.
Apple has only recently declared its interest in the technology and says its goal is to develop autonomous systems.
The company was probably the first to introduce an AI chatbot, when it integrated Siri into its iPhones, iPads and now its desktop computer operating systems.
Siri, like similar examples from Microsoft and others, can’t really do much apart from search for things online based on your verbal instructions.
It’s meant to be able to do more, but you need elocution lessons before Siri will be able to understand what you’re saying.
Natural language processing, while having made tremendous progress, is still not good enough to understand the variety of accents and mumbling speaking styles humans have.
But resolving that issue is just a matter of time – not capability. The computing power is available, it’s just that the system has to learn how its user speaks and understand them.
This is probably the “learning” part of machine learning, and it may be the area in which Apple is concentrating, since the company has always been intensely interested in the individual user’s experience.
Actually, it wasn’t “individual” as such. While it may have been able to provide excellent user experiences in the past by essentially dumbing down its technology so almost anyone can use it without any training, the new requirement is individualisation.
Each and every person has a specific tone of voice, a particular way of speaking, and it’s likely that Apple and the others will have to produce software that can quickly learn each user’s particular communication style.
Once those systems are able to do this, once it’s able to understand its user, the software – whether it’s Siri or whatever – will become indispensable, just like our smartphones are.
The applications of software will broaden enormously. Typing will quickly become a thing of the past; reading, too, may even start to disappear as an activity, with users having all their emails typed and spoken by software.
It’s actually difficult to imagine what humans will be left to do. What is it that humans will be required for eventually?
But that’s a question for a future time. For the next five to 10 years, it’s the functional, simple things – like typing and reading aloud – that AI can help us with.
Also, outside of the office, AI will help us drive our cars, bring us our shopping, and help us with our domestic chores.
Although it should be said that movement in the real world generates far more data and is more challenging for technologists – particularly hardware builders – than most if not all activities taking place entirely within computers.
But such challenges are expected to be resolved well within the next 10 years. Not a very long time from many investors’ points of view. Which is why so much money is being poured into the sector.
Recently, CNBC reported that AI and robotics funds had performed significantly better than the Dow Industrials – a list of 30 companies which includes Apple, Boeing, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, IBM, General Electric, McDonald’s and so on.
CNBC pointed to two AI and robotics exchange traded funds, or ETFs, which are basically a basket of shares in different companies – or assets – that are bought and sold as though they were shares in one single asset.
The two ETFs CNBC highlighted were BOTZ, which had grown by 30 per cent this year, and ROBO, which had increased by 25 per cent.
This is clearly far more than the Dow Jones Industrials average growth of 9 per cent.
Gerald Brace, an investment expert planning to launch an ETF for robotics and related tech assets, told EM360º that the sector is “compelling” for two main reasons: one is that everyone, every business, needs some form of the technology; and another is that the growth of the sector is out-pacing growth in virtually every other sector.
“There are so many different applications to these technologies across every business sector, which makes it a truly diversified investment,” said Brace.
Meanwhile, a new technology investment startup called Rewired has announced a $100 million fund to invest in AI and robotics.
Rewired is particularly interested in machine vision, which can be used in a variety of sectors, most obvious of which perhaps is security and transportation.
The other thing about vision is that an image file is usually much larger than a text file, as most people know.
This means that the data storage and processing requirements will be huge and innovations in that area are also likely through investment.
It’s not always an image file in the way you might think – the image is often created by sensors, lasers and radar, or something called lidar, short for light detection and ranging.
Rewired describes these machine vision or perception systems as “core technologies” and says advancement in this area would unlock the next generation of smart machines.
Rewired’s venture partner, Santiago Tenorio, says: “Our strategy is to invest for the long term in core technologies that lay the foundation for smart robotics.
“Real-world environments are highly unpredictable, unlike controlled ones like warehouses and factories.
“The next generation of smart robots must be able to gather diverse data about their surroundings and holistically interpret it in order to model the world and productively interact with it.
“The robotics-focused studio we’re building is a global hub for interdisciplinary innovation that will generate new forms of human-machine collaboration across an increasingly broad spectrum of activities.”
Rewired is launching with an active portfolio that includes Open Bionics and Raptor Maps and is currently investing in a number of other companies addressing high-growth opportunities in machine perception, machine learning, and cognition.