Artificial intelligence (AI) involves using computers for tasks that normally require intelligent human behavior. AI systems can easily beat human grandmasters in chess, they have started to drive cars, and voice-controlled personal assistants are an everyday presence in millions of American homes nowadays.
AI technology is big business today, and the market will only grow many times larger over the next few years. Research firm IDC estimates that AI systems will amount to a $97.9 billion business in 2023, up from $37.5 billion in 2019. That works out to a compound annual growth rate of more than 28%.
Investors should pay attention to this juggernaut. Read on to see three top-notch companies that are great investments today, at least partly because of their leadership in the AI market.
You will see nothing but heavyweights in this roundup. Amazon (AMZN 0.24%) is not only a leading e-commerce giant but also a veteran in the cloud computing and AI markets.
Amazon relies on AI tools in many ways. The popular Alexa digital assistant and the accompanying army of Echo devices use sophisticated neural networks to analyze your speech and make the appropriate response to your commands. Amazon's shipping hubs would be much less efficient without their highly automated sorting centers.
Every visit to Amazon's e-commerce site and services is logged, analyzed and fed into another AI system that shows you more merchandise that might be of interest. The company even sells AI-powered computing and data analysis tools through its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing platform.
And this is just the start of Amazon's long-term focus on AI research.
"We have been working with applied AI for decades, but we are only in the beginning stages of understanding the true potential of AI, and how it can improve our lives and help solve big problems we face every day," according to Amazon's innovation hub.
I expect impressive results from that plainly stated ambition. Amazon is one of the most obvious direct bets on AI innovation on the market today.
You know Alphabet (GOOG -2.22%) (GOOGL -2.10%) as the parent of search engine veteran Google. But Alphabet is so much more than a search engine tied to online advertising systems. The company launched a machine learning team in 2011 and started developing AI-targeted semiconductors three years ago, all part of a larger vision.
"Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," Google's AI central says. "AI is helping us do that in exciting new ways, solving problems for our users, our customers, and the world."
This company doesn't mind sharing the fruits of its research, making AI systems like TensorFlow available to everyone under an open-source license. Why? Because that approach fits right into Google's progressive attitude to just about everything.
"We think AI will have the greatest impact when everyone can access it, and when it's built with everyone's benefit in mind," the AI hub explains.
So Google and Alphabet are building AI smarts into its search and advertising systems, deploying AI brains into the Waymo self-driving car business, and applying these technologies to medical research and weather forecasting. But the company also invites the world at large to take advantage of the same tools, extend them to new functions, and generally make the world a better place. Google Cloud sales can benefit from rising demand for AI systems, and the company's sales will generally rise along with the global economy and the spread of internet services into every corner of the world.
The Alphabet of 2030 or 2040 may not look familiar to those of us who saw Google dominate the online search and advertising markets over the last 20 years. A lot of the new ideas will involve artificial intelligence, either as built-in AI functions or in the development process behind them.
Computing veteran International Business Machines (IBM -0.16%) has rebuilt its entire business model around a couple of core concepts, starting with artificial intelligence under the Watson banner.
IBM already sells specialized AI tool kits for healthcare, cybersecurity, financial services, and more. Watson's machine learning, language processing, and data analysis powers are solving business problems in the real world. Big Blue is essentially betting the farm on artificial intelligence and cloud computing, and for good reason. Its customers have embraced Watson wholeheartedly.
CEO Arvind Krishna said in July's second-quarter earnings call: "Clients want to modernize apps, move more workloads to the cloud, and automate IT tasks. They want to infuse AI into their workflows and secure their IT infrastructure to fend off growing cybersecurity threats. As a result, we are seeing an increased opportunity for large transformational projects."
In plain English, this means that its customers are itching to automate their IT workflows and data security tools with the help of AI. That trend is a strong growth driver for IBM for the foreseeable future.