It’s hard to imagine the world we live in without the internet. This critical technology is now integrated into just about everything we do, all day every day. Yet as a consumer technology, the internet is fairly young and most of us remember a time before it even existed in our lives.
I also remember the extreme investing environment fueled by the promise of the internet in the late 1990s. In 1995, we all knew the internet was going to change everything, we just didn’t know how.
The gaps in not knowing how this technology would ultimately impact our lives left plenty of room for speculation. This “room for speculation” led to actual speculation in the stock market as we all recall the wild dot.com trading days and the resulting stock market bubble of the 1998-2000.
The internet as it matures certainly did not fulfill every expectation. Now almost 20 years later in some ways the results such as smart phones are dramatically better than what was expected at the time, while much of the internet based e-commerce business models that held so much promise have simply gone away.
The first newspaper article I was ever involved in was in 1998 and involved the stock of Amazon.com. As I walk by this column now framed in our office, I often get wistful wishing I had handled that early investment a little differently. Oh well, I was young.
Now armed with an extra 20 years of experience I see a new opportunity forming in the ether. In my opinion while the opportunity from an investing point of view is not entirely new, the opportunity for this technology to fundamentally change the human experience and therefore the opportunity to create new wealth has only just begun.
The technology I am speaking of is course artificial intelligence (AI) particularly in the context of when it is combined with robotics. Artificial intelligence is the development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence such as visual perception, speech interaction and intuitive decision making.
As a sci-fi fan I was always expecting AI to lead to “the singularity,” or the moment that machines become self-aware and conscious from a human perspective.
Just as the internet however did not validate every initial expectation as the technology developed, I now believe AI will now not result in a moment or awareness, it will instead just continue to make technology in general and interactions with technology better and better over time. As this more intuitive and human focused computing is mated to quickly advancing robot technology the results are likely to change the planet in unforeseen ways.
Which leads us back to the 1990s. Just as the way the internet would ultimately impact society was open to speculation in that time period, the way AI when coupled with robotics will impact us going forward is also not clear.
As awareness of this technology and the opportunities it may create gains momentum, we would be smart as investors to remember the investing speculation that occurred in the late 90s and attempt to manage our actions and expectations around this experience.