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Investing in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
International Growth

Tread Carefully: Investment Opportunities in Artificial Intelligence

Sean Koung Sun, CFA
Portfolio Manager and Managing Director
24 May 2023
7 min watch

Portfolio Manager Sean Sun shares his thoughts about investment opportunities arising from AI models and the advantages of active management.

Read Transcript
Tread Carefully: Investment Opportunities in Artificial Intelligence

I‘m Sean Sun, portfolio manager at Thornburg Investment Management.

Since OpenAI’s release of ChatGPT in November, artificial intelligence has captivated some and terrified others. In fact, I tried to use it to create this video, but I found it left much to be desired so we’re sticking with my original notes.

Artificial intelligence has been researched for decades, but recent breakthroughs have led to significant advancements in the capabilities of neural networks and artificial intelligence models. Companies and investors should take notice, because AI has the potential to disrupt and transform many industries.

Generative Artificial Intelligence applications, such as ChatGPT and MidJourney, are prime examples of this inflection point. These models can take in natural language text prompts and generate unique content such as conversations, poetry, summaries, language translations and images.

ChatGPT’s rapid adoption has outpaced other popular tech applications such as Instagram and Spotify, and is the culmination of several technological advances.

One is a novel neural network architecture called the transformer. Due to its self-attention mechanism, transformers can perform deep learning on sequential data very efficiently and has become a critical building block and key factor in the success of natural language processing tasks.

The Transformer has become an ideal neural network architecture because of three key features. First it is expressive, meaning that it is general purpose enough to cover many real-world algorithms in a small number of compute steps. Second, it is optimizable via back propagation and gradient descent. And third, it is highly efficient in that it works well with high parallelism compute architectures like GPUs.

Additionally, AI has also benefitted greatly from progress on the hardware side with ever faster chips capable of training these models. The computing power used to train AI models today has increased by a factor of one hundred million over the past 10 years.

Increasing the data used to train these models is another advancement. ChatGPT is what is known as a “large language model” or LLM. While the concept has been around since the early 2000s, once it’s scaled up with enough computing power and trained on massive amounts of data, you end up with these emergent properties including the ability to identify patterns in language and make predictions with incredible accuracy. These enlarged language models not only achieve a significant performance improvement, but also exhibit some special abilities such as in-context learning.

In a rough sense, large language models are like the game mad libs, but at the scale of the entire internet. You give it a prompt and it attempts to predict the next word or clusters of words in a sequence. These models are now so sophisticated they can pass the bar exam and various other standardized tests with flying colors.

To achieve this feat, GPT-3, was trained on over 45TB of data and has over 175 billion parameters. The prior iteration, GPT-2 had only 1.5 billion parameters and the next iteration GPT-4 is reported to have a staggering 170 trillion parameter count.

The pace at which these models are improving is exponential and the timeline of adoption may prove to be very rapid and widespread. Many people believe we are witnessing a “platform shift” where AI will become a new tech platform layer on which all sorts of software and services will be built on top. AI’s transformation could remind us of the smartphone or cloud computing, or even the internet in terms of serving as a foundational platform for innovation and value creation.

Sizing the AI opportunity is difficult, as many of the applications and use cases are still relatively nascent. Furthermore, the training and deployment of these AI models is expensive, consuming a massive amount of computing resources and infrastructure. Nevertheless, the AI market has been growing rapidly over the past few years and is showing no signs of slowing down. We expect the market to grow rapidly as using AI effectively has clear economic and productivity benefits for organizations. In fact, Bank of America forecasts that the market will reach about $900bn by 2026.

The implications of generative AI are vast and far-reaching because these models are general purpose technology and not point solutions. The impact is likely to span across multiple industries. In healthcare, AI can help doctors diagnose diseases more quickly and accurately or help pharmaceutical companies screen drug compounds better. In transportation, AI can help cars drive themselves and reduce accidents. In software development, AI can help developers write and debug code more quickly and efficiently. More broadly, AI has the power to automate tasks, create new products and services and change pricing models and distribution channels.

With any new technology there are downsides and risks. One major concern with AI is the potential for misuse. Generative AI may be used to create ‘deepfakes’ and spread misinformation. AI could also be used to create an army of intelligent bots capable of advanced phishing attacks. AI models can exhibit problematic biases, especially if the training dataset is biased in the first place. Finally, these models can exhibit a general lack of common sense or hallucinate at times, which is basically just making up answers.

What’s certain is that AI is here and is not speculative technology anymore. At Thornburg, we think the opportunity for AI can be framed as millions, billions and trillions: We will see millions of users, billions of dollars in spending and ultimately trillions of dollars in economic impact over time. Companies that leverage AI technology to improve their products, services, and operations will likely come out ahead.

We expect the winners will be companies that provide the picks and shovels or critical infrastructure to the industry, such as semiconductor companies, hyper scalers, data providers and software tools. Cybersecurity vendors also stand to benefit by defending companies against AI based attacks. What is exciting is that as we stand today, the AI industry is still in its infancy. We feel equities have yet to completely price in the full economic outcome of this forthcoming revolution which may be orders of magnitude larger than prior tech advancements. And that’s something I don’t need to ask ChatGPT.

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