In December Amazon announced ‘Amazon Go’, a shop that uses AI to remove the need for checkout workers, leading the New York Post to splash its front page with the headline ‘The end of jobs’. Again this is innovation that benefits the consumer, and like the lost bank tellers, checkout staff will find work elsewhere.
While the debate around the balance between productivity improvements and the impact on employment is important, there is a more existential debate surrounding the rise of the machines. It might currently have more basis in science fiction than science fact, but arriving at the point of singularity – the point at which machines can improve without human intervention – does bear consideration. Concerns around what computers will do once they reach human levels of intelligence are worthy of more than mere speculation.
In some areas, machines are already gaining the upper hand. In 2011 IBM’s Watson captured the public’s imagination by winning a game of Jeopardy, more recently Google’s AlphaGo beat the world champion at the game of Go.
Ultimately, it may be a process of evolution, rather than revolution. We can see leadership from IBM, Alphabet and Amazon in making use of AI to improve and compliment their existing offerings.
Developments and innovation give reason for optimisation, and by investing in firms such as these investors can participate and benefit from advancements in this area. In turn, society can benefit from improvements in healthcare, innovation, research and customer service.
Steve Bolton is an assistant fund manager at Royal London Asset Management