The industries of the future

“Artificial intelligence is more than a hype”, says Alec Ross, the author of the New York Times bestseller ‘The Industries of the Future’. “If you think about what the impact of artificial intelligence will be over the next fifteen years then, I think that it is under hyped.”

With his bestseller ‘The Industries of the Future’, published in 2015 and translated to fifteen languages, Alec Ross established himself as a sought-after opinion leader for technological megatrends. His vast experience in ‘all things tech’ stems from a multifaceted professional journey. In 2000, he and three colleagues co-founded a technology-focused social enterprise and grew it from modest origins in a basement into a global organisation serving millions of low-income people, with programs on four continents. Nine years later, he joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to become Senior Advisor for Innovation. After leaving the Department of State in 2013 he joined the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University as a Senior Fellow. Today, Ross is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Johns Hopkins University.

In an interview with Julius Baer, Ross summarised his thoughts about the impact of artificial intelligence on the economy and society. 

What is AI?
Alec Ross: I would define artificial intelligence as a machine not just querying a big database but actually engaging in what is called machine learning – actually learning from the various inputs that are coming in to it.

Is it a hype?
I think artificial intelligence is more than hype. Certainly, right now, everybody is reading and learning about it. Everybody is sort of frothing with intention and trying to understand what artificial intelligence is. But if you have a long enough perspective, if you think about what the impact of artificial intelligence will be not this year or next year, but over the next five, ten, or fifteen years then, if anything, I think that artificial intelligence is under-hyped. 

Who will be the big global players?
First and foremost to the US and China. China has demonstrated leadership out of Beijing and a will and a strategy that no other country has in terms of its level of precision, its level of investment and that is very impressive. From the startups themselves, I’m most impressed by what is coming out of the Unites States. So, I think the two countries up to this point that are most impressing me are, perhaps not surprisingly, the US and China.

Which areas will be most affected?
Any kind of labour that can be highly routinized is going to be taken over by the zeros and ones of computer code. The routine work of an average accountant, I think in two to three years is going to be much better done by a machine than by a human being. At the upper levels, the really high-skilled accounting that requires levels of complex thinking, emotional intelligence and understanding of client needs and what have you, that will continue to be done, I believe,  by humans. But anything that can be routinized – the basic work of lawyers, the basic work of accountants, even the basic work of certain kinds of surgeries, I think can and will be supplanted by AI. 

How can investors take advantage?
I think the best investment opportunities right now, if you’re willing to be patient, are in private markets. I think that is what’s most interesting. Again, the Alibabas, the Amazons, the Facebooks are all intelligently integrating AI. But if you are talking about the new platforms or the entirely new applications – those things that will be foundational in artificial intelligence – where people are imaging and inventing the future, I believe, is still early stage. Money is going to be lost there, but a whole lot of money is going to be made as well.

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