Last week, Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk proved they’re just as likely to get into war on a social networking site as the rest of us. Granted, their argument was over something most of us would never bother arguing … the pros and cons of artificial intelligence.
Still, the fact is that these two captains of industry had the time and inclination to bicker at all speaks volumes about how important — for better or worse — AI will be in the future.
And who took which side? Zuckerberg thinks artificial intelligence is something that should be embraced and cultivated because it only makes our lives better. Musk is more of the mind that computers could eventually become self aware and cleanse the planet by exterminating the humans found on it. As Musk put it, “I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react because it seems so ethereal.”
It begs the question, though … if Elon Musk is right, which companies developing artificial intelligence platforms should scare him the most? Or put another way: Which AI stocks are apt to bear the most fruit simply because their companies will be the primary providers of the hardware and software that leads to the robot uprising?
Here are the 10 best bets.
AI Stocks to Keep an Eye On: International Business Machines (IBM)
Just as a matter of respect and acknowledgement, the first name on the list of AI stocks to mull is also the name that arguably started the artificial intelligence race (in earnest). That’s International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM).
If you don’t recognize ol’ Big Blue as a player in the AI scene, this might jog your memory. Remember when a computer was one of the contestants on TV game show Jeopardy, and soundly whipped its two human competitors?
That was IBM’s early version of Watson, which has since become much more than a game show gimmick. Watson is now doing your taxes, finding cures for cancer and even getting into the stock-picking business by being put in charge of an exchange-traded fund.
AI Stocks to Keep an Eye On: Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN)
The at-home digital assistant Alexa from Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) is certainly a clever little tool, but hardly the kind of artificial intelligence Musk fears, right?
Actually, there’s more AI — and more data gathering in particular — behind Alexa than you might guess. You don’t realize it, but Alexa knows the difference between your voice, your spouse’s voice and your kids voices and it can alter how it responds accordingly based on what it knows about each users’ history.
Oh, and here’s another concern: Alexa is recording most of what it hears, whether you’re talking to Alexa or not.
It begs one overarching question — what does Amazon intend to do with all that data? It’s obviously overkill to collect all that information just to manage a smart home.
AI Stocks to Keep an Eye On: Boeing (BA)
How in the world is aircraft company Boeing Co (NYSE:BA) an artificial intelligence play? On that note, why in the world is Boeing worrying about AI?
OK, to be fair, Boeing’s artificial intelligence platform thus far has been limited to improving the design of airplanes and optimizing its supply chain based on the mountains of data gathered by millions of sensors. Don’t rule out harder-hitting stuff in the future though.
Boeing also has a venture capital arm called HorizonX that recently invested in an AI developer called SparkCognition. SparkCognition’s technology is open-ended enough to go in a several different directions.
AI Stocks to Keep an Eye On: Tesla (TSLA)
It’s a bit ironic that Elon Musk is afraid of artificial intelligence yet is the chief of a company that’s developing one of the most sweeping and potentially dangerous AI’s we’ve ever seen. That’s right, Tesla is one of the handful of AI stocks worth exploring.
That artificial intelligence is, of course, a self-driving car. As it stands right now, a driver has to turn it off and on from the driver’s seat, so there’s always going to be a human in charge. With the right hack or re-written computer code though, the car could potentially become uncontrollable by the driver (or even without a driver) and turn into a deadly weapon.
AI Stocks to Keep an Eye On: Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)
While Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) is the name in personal computers and business productivity software (and more recently, the cloud), one area it hasn’t overtly and obviously tiptoed into is artificial intelligence.
Although its AI efforts are nascent and mostly under-touted, they’re interesting all the same. Namely, earlier this year Microsoft acquired Canadian artificial intelligence outfit Maluuba. So far, Maluuba’s claim to fame is creating an artificial intelligence that managed to secure the highest-ever score on the Atari 2600 version of Ms. Pac Man (that’s a very old video game and game console, for those of you born after 1980).
While beating an old video game isn’t a threat to humanity, the machine’s multi-voiced method of rationalizing its decisions would make it just as easy for it to figure out how to best overthrow human control of the planet.
AI Stocks to Keep an Eye On: Facebook Inc (FB)
While most of its users have just resigned themselves to the fact that Facebook is watching every move you make on its social networking platform — which articles prompt you to “read more” and the key words found in posts you “like” — most of those users may not realize just how much Facebook is processing and thinking about how to leverage that information.
It’s a lot.
That’s not the scary aspect of the artificial intelligence work Facebook has done using information about you, however. Recently researchers at the company’s AI laboratory realized that the chatbots it had developed created an all-new language on their own; programmers didn’t know what any of the code meant. Facebook has since shut the project down, but the company has already demonstrated that computers can act above and beyond their explicit instructions.
AI Stocks to Keep an Eye On: General Electric Company (GE)
General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) is another one of those names that isn’t initially recognized as an artificial intelligence play, but with a closer second look at some of the things it’s working on, it emerges as an AI player.
In fact, it’s the subtlety coupled with the deep integration of its technology that makes its work a little scary.
You’ve just not heard a whole lot about it yet because — as Chief Digital Officer (and CEO of GE Digital) recently described it — General Electric is just now “waking up as a software and analytics company.”
AI Stocks to Keep an Eye On: Baidu Inc (BIDU)
Often referred to as the Google of China, Baidu Inc (ADR) (NASDAQ:BIDU) (like Alphabet) is much, much more than just a search engine. It’s also an e-commerce outfit, a delivery service, a digital assistant and more. It’s even developing a self-driving technology of its own.
The scary part about the artificial intelligence work Baidu has done thus far is that we know so little about it, and what the Chinese all-things-internet company intends to do with it. As Baidu engineer Andrew Ng recently put it, “China has a fairly deep awareness of what’s happening in the English-speaking world, but the opposite is not true.”
AI Stocks to Keep an Eye On: Apple Inc. (AAPL)
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is one of those names that’s not often lumped in with other AI stocks, but arguably should be. That being said, in light of CEO Tim Cook’s comments earlier this week, AAPL likely just made sure it’s going to be included in any future discussion of artificial intelligence investments.
His words? Simply this:
“In terms of autonomous systems, what we’ve said is that we are very focused on autonomous systems from a core technology point of view. We do have a large project going and are making a big investment in this. From our point of view, autonomy is the mother of all AI … projects. And the autonomous systems can be used in a variety of ways, and a vehicle is only one. But there are many different areas of it, and I don’t want to go any further with that.”
That could mean an innumerable number of things. One thing’s for sure though — if Apple is involved, it’s going to be big.
AI Stocks to Keep an Eye On: Alphabet Inc (GOOGL)
Alphabet is another one of those names that isn’t often seen as an artificial intelligence developer, but it’s actually doing a lot of AI stuff that flies under the radar, so to speak. It has made more artificial intelligence acquisitions than most other organizations, but perhaps more telling is the fact that Google recently switched from being a “mobile first” company to an “AI first” organization.
What this means still isn’t exactly, perfectly clear, but this may offer some perspective on the future: Google’s so-called “lens” isn’t just a camera. It’s a technology that can identify what’s in a digital image and even figure out where you are based on that picture.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.