Artificial intelligence is one of the hottest tech trends right now, and most investors who have considered riding the AI wave have probably gotten their fill of suggestions to buy Alphabet, Microsoft, NVIDIA, and a host of other major tech players. There's no doubt these companies will benefit from AI, but they won't be the only ones.

If you're looking for a few companies that are using AI to boost their businesses -- but are off the well-worn AI path -- you may want to consider what Splunk (NASDAQ:SPLK), Nutanix (NASDAQ:NTNX), and Zillow (NASDAQ:Z)(NASDAQ:ZG) are doing with AI.

Microchip on a motherboard with a graphic of brain hovering above it

Image source: Getty Images.

Splunk's machine-learning angle

Splunk is a hybrid cloud-computing platform company that helps businesses collect and categorize their data so they can better understand how to use it. Think of it this way: Companies are generating so much data from their customers that they're having a hard time making sense of it all. And Splunk's AI-powered platform helps address that.

Splunk has used machine-learning data -- a type of AI -- to make sense of businesses's big data for several years. The company's CEO said back in 2016:

Digital transformation has changed the way organizations work. The big secret is that all of the change is underpinned by machine data. Machine learning enables organizations to get deeper insights from their machine data and ultimately increases the opportunity our customers can gain from digital transformation.

To stay ahead of its competition, Splunk has frequently snatched up smaller companies, including machine-learning company SignalSense late in 2017 and VictorOps last year. So far, the company's moves have paid off: In the most recent quarter, its software sales were up 42% from the year-ago quarter, and total revenue jumped 35%.

Splunk's shares are up about 24% over the past 12 months -- with the most recent jump coming when the company's management raised its full-year revenue guidance -- but investors know there's likely some volatility ahead for the company as it continues to carve out its niche in the hybrid AI/cloud-computing space. 

Check out the latest earnings call transcripts for Alphabet, Microsoft, and NVIDIA.

Nutanix's AI hybridization 

Like Splunk, Nutanix offers its customer a hybridization of cloud-computing service that can be controlled by a company's own hardware. This mix allows Nutanix to provide a unique way to tap into artificial intelligence that sifts through data at its source (a business's private cloud) and in the public cloud at the same time.

This type of approach to processing data is likely to become more important as businesses generate gobs of data on their own and require a robust AI system to help them effectively use it.

Nutanix has been focused on earning more revenue from recurring subscription sales, and in the most recent quarter, the enterprise cloud-computing company made huge progress on that front, with subscription revenue up 112%. The company says 57% of its billings now come from subscriptions.

Nutanix's stock is pretty volatile right now, and its share price is down about 20% over the past 12 months, following a decline after the company released its second-quarter results. But investors should know that the company is continually gaining customers, increasing its subscription revenue, and improving its gross margins to boot. In the second quarter, gross margins reached an impressive 76.8%, up from 63.5% in the year-ago quarter. And Nutanix now has 12,410 customers, with 920 additions in the most recent quarter.

Zillow's AI-fueled house values

Zillow may seem like the odd man out in this group of AI tech stocks, but one of the reasons Zillow is the premier online source for homeowners and sellers is because of the company's use of AI.

For years, the company has incorporated machine-learning algorithms into nearly every part of its platform, particularly for its Zestimate calculator -- which gives an estimated value for each home on its site.

While the company has made improvements to Zestimate calculations for years, Zillow launched an artificial intelligence competition two years ago with a $1 million prize to anyone who could improve its algorithm. In January, it announced a winner. The company said the winning team used "sophisticated machine learning techniques, including using deep neural networks to directly estimate home values and remove outlier data points that fed into their algorithm" that improved on Zillow's current Zestimates by 13%.

Aside from its Zestimate, the company also uses AI to find homes an online user may want to see, based on other houses they've looked at already, even if they fall outside of the users' initial search filters.

Zillow doesn't make money from AI, of course, but it is a foundation of the company's technology across its growing brands. The company now has 157 million unique monthly users across all of its companies, and it brought in $365.3 million in sales in the most recent quarter, up 29% year over year. With AI already at the core of how the company runs its business, investors can expect Zillow to continue tapping more sophisticated machine-learning and neural networks to improve its home listings.

Final thoughts

These stocks are just a snapshot of how companies are using AI to make their businesses better for their customers and more efficient overall. As artificial intelligence grows, investors can expect even more off-the-beaten-path companies to look to AI for more growth. In fact, Gartner estimates that AI will create $3.9 trillion in business-related value for companies by 2022. All of this means investors would be wise to take notice of this trend now.