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Investing in AI Stocks

Updated: Nov. 30, 2021, 4:21 p.m.

Computers excel at crunching numbers but not at the kinds of things people do with ease: language processing, visual perception, manipulating objects, reasoning, planning, and learning. Artificial intelligence (AI), including its offshoots deep learning and machine learning, uses computers to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.

How do companies use artificial intelligence?

AI is created through machine learning, which involves training a system with huge amounts of data. It then uses that trained system to make inferences about new data it’s never seen.

The simplest example is a system designed to detect objects in images. Images with those objects are provided to the system, which “learns” how to detect those objects in other images. The more objects in images it detects, the more accurate the detection system becomes.

Companies employ artificial intelligence in two main ways. Many tech companies use AI to make their existing operations more powerful, such as through high-profile applications, including robotics, self-driving cars, and virtual assistants. Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL), (NASDAQ:GOOG), uses AI to filter out spam for Gmail users. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) uses AI to recommend products to customers, while Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) uses AI to guide content creation and recommendations.

Some companies also profit directly from AI by selling hardware, software, services, or expertise the technology needs. These are true artificial intelligence stocks and include those listed and described below.

What is AI?

Machine learning, or AI, involves training a system with huge amounts of data, then using that trained system to make inferences about new data it has never seen.

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Top AI stocks to watch

Company AI Focus
NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) Graphics chips and self-driving cars
IBM (NYSE:IBM) Augmenting human intelligence across industries
Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU) Memory chips for data centers and self-driving cars
Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Voice-activated technology, cloud computing, and e-commerce
C3.ai (NYSE:AI) Software-as-a-service to provide enterprise-scale AI applications

1. Nvidia

Leading graphics chip company Nvidia has taken advantage of the AI boom, with its graphics cards becoming the de facto standard in data centers around the world. Machine learning’s training phase demands a lot of computing power; the phase that follows, the inference phase, requires less. Graphics processing unit (GPU) chips, used primarily for rendering video games, support both phases well.

Nvidia’s data center business represents a steadily increasing share of the company’s total revenue. This segment isn’t all AI-related -- Nvidia’s graphics cards are used to accelerate a wide variety of data center applications. But AI is one of the driving forces behind the company’s growth.

Self-driving cars are another area of focus. Nvidia develops platforms, including hardware and software, that can power driver-assistance features, as well as fully autonomous driving.

A self-driving car must process massive amounts of data from multiple sensors and cameras in real time, detect objects such as pedestrians and other vehicles, and make complex decisions. They require a tremendous amount of computing power, and that’s exactly what Nvidia’s platform delivers.

Nvidia’s graphics cards could someday be supplanted by more specialized processors designed for AI, but, for now, the company is in an enviable position.

2. IBM

This legacy tech company is an integrated provider of hardware, software, and services to large enterprise customers. Its mainframe computer systems are still ubiquitous in certain industries, and it regularly signs multi-year technology deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars each.

IBM’s strategy with AI is to apply the technology in ways that augment human intelligence, increase efficiency, or lower costs. In the healthcare industry, IBM’s AI technology is being used to create individualized care plans, accelerate the process of bringing new drugs to market, and improve the quality of care. In the financial services industry, via the company’s 2016 acquisition of Promontory Financial Group, IBM is using AI to help clients with the daunting task of financial regulatory compliance.

While the market for AI products and services is fragmented, IBM is leading the industry. Market research firm IDC ranked IBM as the leader in AI software platforms with a 8.8% market share in 2019, or $303.8 million in revenue, up 26% from the prior year.

IBM is a complicated company undergoing transformation, and AI is far from its only growth opportunity. But if you’re looking to invest in a company that is well-positioned to benefit from the AI boom, then IBM is a good choice.

A.I. hand playing the game of Go

Image source: Getty Images

3. Micron Technology

Micron Technology manufactures memory chips, including dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) and NAND flash memory found in solid-state storage drives. Most of what the company makes are commodity products, meaning that supply and demand dictate pricing.

This leads to sometimes brutal cycles of boom and bust in the semiconductor sector, where an oversupply of chips can significantly push down prices. In 2021, demand for memory chips is strong, boosted by the growth of mobile networks, 5G, cloud computing, and a recovery in the automotive sector, and a shortage in semiconductors has helped lift prices for Micron’s DRAM and NAND chips.

In the future, demand for memory chips will only grow, and that’s especially true in the AI industry. Self-driving cars are a good example. All the sensors and cameras produce a lot of data -- around 1 GB per second, according to Micron estimates. Data centers running AI processes need plenty of memory and so do smartphones that may be doing AI work. Newer iPhones, for example, use AI with the camera function to produce improved images.

Micron will likely remain volatile due to the nature of its business. Even though AI is driving increased demand for memory chips in the long run, supply and demand reigns supreme in the short term. If you have the stomach for a volatile stock, Micron isn’t a bad way to bet on AI.

4. Amazon

Perhaps no company is using AI more widely than Amazon. Founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos has been an evangelist for AI and machine learning, and although Amazon started as an online retailer, technology has always been at the company’s core.

Today, Amazon uses artificial intelligence for everything from Alexa, its industry-leading voice-activated technology, to its Amazon Go cashierless grocery stores, to Amazon Web Services Sagemaker, the cloud infrastructure tool that deploys high-quality machine learning models for data scientists and developers.

Amazon’s e-commerce business is also built on AI since algorithms run its top-flight recommendation engines for e-commerce and video and music streaming. AI is how Amazon determines product rankings.

Even Amazon’s logistics operations benefit from its AI prowess, which helps with scheduling, rerouting, and other ways to improve delivery accuracy and efficiency. Drone delivery, which the company has long sought to implement, would be yet another AI application for the tech giant.

It’s difficult to quantify the impact of AI on Amazon’s business, but it’s clear that it’s a key component of the company’s competitive advantage. Throughout its history, Amazon has been at the forefront of emerging technologies such as e-commerce, e-books, cloud computing, video streaming, and voice-activated technology. AI provides much of the infrastructure that helps the company move into new businesses quickly and effectively.

5. C3.ai

C3.ai may be the closest thing on the stock market to a pure-play AI stock, as the “ai” in the company’s name and its ticker might indicate. While the companies on the list above are diversified tech giants or chip-makers that have some businesses involved with AI, artificial intelligence is the entire focus of C3.ai.

C3.ai is a SaaS company whose software allows companies to deploy large AI applications. The company’s tools help its customers accelerate software development and reduce cost and risk, and they have a wide variety of applications. For example, the U.S. Air Force uses C3 AI Readiness to predict aircraft systems failures, identify spare parts, and find new ways to increase mission capability. European utility company Engie (OTC:ENGIY) is using C3 AI to analyze energy consumption and reduce energy expenditures.

C3.ai is the first mover in its industry and says it isn’t aware of an end-to-end enterprise AI development platform that is directly competitive with it. That unique positioning could make the company a big winner over the long term, although the AI SaaS market is evolving and could attract competition from big cloud infrastructure such as Amazon or Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).

Related topics

Machine learning stocks

All of the stocks above use machine learning technologies, but if you’re looking for more options, here are two others worth considering:

  • Alteryx (NYSE:AYX) is a provider of data analytics software that empowers data workers to solve problems with a wide range of analytics and data science tools. Its Alteryx Intelligence Suite, one of several products, offers machine learning capabilities, including automated modeling and natural language processing to build models.
  • DocuSign (NASDAQ:DOCU), an AI-powered leader in digital signature software, has made significant inroads into machine learning in recent years. In 2020, the company acquired Seal Software, an enterprise contract analytics company that uses machine learning for organizing and identifying risks and opportunities in contracts. For years, DocuSign has been building machine learning tools such as DocuSign Insight to help with contract analysis through natural language processing.

Deep learning stocks

Deep learning is a subset of machine learning that uses artificial neural networks inspired by the human brain. It’s the most advanced kind of artificial intelligence and is crucial in technologies such as self-driving cars. Deep learning is making advances in areas such as preventive healthcare, where predictive algorithms are necessary, and it differs from machine learning in that it doesn’t require human inputs.

Among the companies closely associated with deep learning are Nvidia, whose GPU chips use deep learning to power data centers and enable autonomous driving and cloud computing, among other functions.

Alphabet has exposure to deep learning through a number of its businesses, including its autonomous vehicle start-up Waymo. It also owns DeepMind, a deep learning platform that can diagnose eye diseases, predict the shapes of proteins, and accelerate the scientific discovery process.

AI is a growth business

Total spending on AI systems is forecast to reach $97.9 billion in 2023, up from $37.5 billion in 2019. For the five-year period ending in 2023, the AI sector is predicted to grow at an annualized rate of 28.4%.

With the AI market already large and still growing quickly, plenty of companies can profit from AI. Although picking stocks in a growth industry comes with a lot of uncertainty, these top AI stocks are all worth considering.

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