The artificial intelligence market is often associated with intelligent robots, but AI services are actually fragmented across multiple industries, where they help companies analyze data, automate tasks and machinery, and even replace human workers and entire departments.

Those catalysts could help the AI market expand at a compound annual growth rate of 42.2% between 2020 and 2027, according to Grand View Research. Let's examine three companies that could profit from that secular trend: NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA), IBM (NYSE:IBM), and salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM).

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1. NVIDIA

NVIDIA generates most of its revenue from gaming graphics processing units (GPUs), but the chipmaker also sells high-end GPUs to data centers, where they process AI and machine learning tasks alongside central processing units (CPUs) and other chips. It also recently expanded that business by acquiring Mellanox, which provides networking equipment to data centers.

The expansion of that business boosted NVIDIA's data center revenue 167% year over year to a record high of $1.75 billion last quarter. That momentum should continue as the company rolls out its new Ampere GPUs for data centers, bundles in more of Mellanox's products, and receives more orders from cloud, supercomputing, enterprise, telecom, and industrial edge customers.

NVIDIA also sells its Arm-based Tegra CPUs for connected and driverless cars. Those high-end chips power infotainment and navigation systems and help driverless systems process what they're "seeing" on the road. NVIDIA's automotive revenue plunged 47% year-over-year to $111 million last quarter as the pandemic disrupted auto plants worldwide, but that business could recover quickly after the crisis ends.

Wall Street expects NVIDIA's year-over-year revenue and earnings to rise 45% and 57%, respectively, this year, as the growth of its gaming and data center segments offset the slower growth of its other businesses. The stock still looks reasonably valued at less than 50 times forward earnings, and it remains a solid long-term play on the AI and driverless vehicle markets.

2 The "new" IBM

Last month, IBM announced it would split into two companies by spinning off its slower-growth IT services business. After the split, which should occur by the end of 2021, the slimmed-down IBM will focus on expanding its presence in the hybrid cloud and AI markets.

Hybrid cloud platforms, which merge on-site private clouds and public cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), are popular with large companies that don't want to put all their data on the public cloud.

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IBM provides cloud-based AI services that analyze the data that passes through those hybrid cloud platforms. Its subsidiary Red Hat, which it acquired last July, provides open-source software that easily runs across myriad private and public cloud services.

The expansion of that AI ecosystem, which sits between the competitive public cloud market and local enterprise networks, could boost IBM's total cloud revenue -- which rose 19% year over year last quarter and accounted for over a third of its top line.

That percentage should rise significantly after IBM's upcoming split, and make the aging tech giant a top name to watch in AI services. For now, IBM's stock remains cheap at nine times forward earnings, and investors can collect its forward dividend yield of 5.8% until it splits into two companies to accelerate the growth of its hybrid cloud and AI businesses.

3. Salesforce

Salesforce's cloud-based services help companies manage customer relationships, maintain e-commerce services and marketing campaigns, and analyze data. It owns the largest CRM (customer relationship management) platform in the world, and it integrates its AI service Einstein into most of its cloud services.

Einstein crunches all the data from Salesforce's services and makes predictions about a company's customer base. That data can also be visualized on Tableau's platform, which Salesforce acquired last August.

Salesforce's services help companies streamline their businesses, automate certain tasks, and reduce their overall dependence on human workers. That secular trend clearly benefits Salesforce, which posted 30% year-over-year revenue growth in the first half of 2020 -- even as the pandemic disrupted businesses worldwide. Salesforce's adjusted operating margin also hit a record high of 20.2% during the second quarter.

Salesforce expects its revenue to rise 21%-22% for the full year, and for its adjusted EPS to grow 24%-25%. The stock isn't cheap at over 60 times forward earnings, but its robust growth rates, dominance of the CRM market, and insulation from macro headwinds all justify that premium. It's also one of the few high-growth cloud stocks to remain consistently profitable.

 
This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.