Think about what the internet has done for business. A merchant, no matter how small, can use it to sell goods and services into the furthest corners of the globe. It's a level of reach that allows a single individual to scale an idea into a big, exciting company.

But we're on the doorstep of the next major revolution. Built on the foundations of our online world, artificial intelligence is picking up the entrenched, labor-intensive businesses the internet left behind, and thrusting them into the digital economy. 

Here are three companies using this new technology to conquer old challenges and redefine their industries. 

1. Carvana

Most of us have bought a car the traditional way. You visit a dealership and discuss your needs with an experienced salesperson who then shows you some suitable options. The internet moved that process online, offering free information and a digital marketplace to facilitate purchases. 

A young couple purchasing a car off a salesperson, looking extremely happy

Image source: Getty Images.

But artificial intelligence scales this process further. Famous for its giant car vending machines, digital used car dealer, Carvana (NYSE:CVNA) sold over 100,000 vehicles last quarter and has catapulted itself to the second spot among America's largest dealerships.

The company uses AI to constantly scan car auctions to reveal the hottest-selling vehicles, then it buys those models for its inventory. It's a surefire way to always have stock of the cars people want. Additionally, if you want to sell your car, you can enter your license plate or VIN into the Carvana app and have an offer within 15 minutes. It's made possible by the company's use of machine learning and data to track the market. 

To cap off this new-age way of transacting, the company can arrange the pick-up and delivery of a customer's sale or purchase.

It's clear consumers like the idea as revenue has skyrocketed in recent years.

Metric

2017

2021 (Estimate)

CAGR

Revenue

$0.85 billion

$12.0 billion

93.8%

Data sources: Carvana, Yahoo! Finance. CAGR = Compound annual growth rate

In the first half of 2021 Carvana sold 200,272 cars, almost as many as the 244,111 it sold in the whole of 2020. The company is also making a record-high $5,120 in gross profit per unit sold, but these incredible numbers are not without their risks, as the used car market shows signs of slowing

But for the long-term investor, Carvana sure looks like the future of used car dealers. 

2. Splunk

Splunk (NASDAQ:SPLK) describes itself as the data-to-everything platform, and it means that literally. 

A person looking at a dashboard filled with digital data

Image source: Getty Images.

Splunk can take enormous amounts of data and process it in real-time to feed you just about any information you need. Imagine working on a Formula 1 racing team. Try to picture the amount of data a Formula 1 car might spit out during a race -- you probably can't fathom it, there's so much. Splunk can arrange it on a nice display and provide your team with performance enhancements or highlight potential problems with the car. 

It's in practice right now through the company's partnership with the McLaren racing team. 

Splunk's platform is made possible by machine learning and AI. As more of the economy shifts online, companies you might never have expected to generate mountains of data are suddenly needing Splunk's services. Take Domino's Pizza for example; it now uses 15 sales channels with Splunk helping to manage complexity, reliability, and quality.

In fact, Splunk now serves 91 of the Fortune 100 companies and it's posting some strong growth. 

Metric

Fiscal 2019

Fiscal 2022 (Estimate)

CAGR

Revenue

$1.80 billion

$2.53 billion

12%

Data sources: Splunk, Yahoo! Finance. Splunk fiscal year ends Jan. 31.

But its cloud services segment tells an even better story. It's growing at an annual compound rate of 47.9% since 2019 and it now represents 21% of overall revenue. Splunk makes transitions into the cloud less complex with all the benefits of its data analytics, and as it becomes a bigger part of the revenue picture, it will elevate overall growth. 

The company is not yet profitable as it invests in expanding its business, so it should be considered as a long-term play.

3. DocuSign

No sane person would dare analyze or negotiate a large business contract without the help of a corporate lawyer, and that's why retaining them is so expensive. But technology might be evolving to read complex legal documents for us, thanks to DocuSign (NASDAQ:DOCU).

A person signing a digital tablet with a lady of justice statue on the desk

Image source: Getty Images.

The company, best known for its digital signature platform, stresses that the current iteration of this artificial intelligence experiment is not yet ready to replace your legal eagle, but it still does some really impressive things. 

Dubbed "Insight," the program leverages different types of AI including natural language processing and machine learning to identify problematic clauses and help maintain standardized wording across a high volume of agreements for larger enterprises. At this stage it can be described as complementary to a qualified team of legal experts, but if we let our imaginations wander, the future looks exciting.

Metric

Fiscal 2019

Fiscal 2022 (Estimate)

CAGR

Revenue

$0.70 billion

$2.05 billion

43%

Data sources: DocuSign, Yahoo! Finance. DocuSign fiscal year ends Jan. 31.

Overall, DocuSign is growing like an innovator of its caliber should. It's not yet profitable but it has an extremely high gross margin of 78%, which affords it the flexibility to continue investing in customer acquisition and expansion before delivering net profits. It's another stock definitely worth consideration for the long term. 

The company reports its fiscal second-quarter earnings on Sept. 2, and investors might want to keep an eye on any commentary about the development of its AI platform. 

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.