Automation and robotics

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A new dawn

A new dawn

From infant to young adult: the birth of artificial intelligence and the current state.

The fourth industrial revolution

Humanity's impact and influence on our planet is undeniable.

We have constructed cities that sprawl for miles and built skyscrapers that pierce the heavens. We have tunneled through mountains, redirected rivers and spawned new bodies of land. Roads and power lines crisscross the ground, while airplanes and satellites clog the atmosphere and beyond. With our dominion over Earth secure, we have even set our sights on conquering the solar system.

It took us several million years to reach this point. But progress has snowballed since the first industrial revolution of the late 18th century. In less than 250 years, we catapulted from horse-drawn carts to self-driving cars; from navigating by the stars to relying on voice-activated GPS instructions; from penning letters to loved ones to having awkward conversations with Siri.

The Internet, above all, has shaped more aspects of society across civilizations than any single invention of the past. The ability to instantaneously communicate and share and consume information – be it cat videos or scientific research – has amplified the pace of technological breakthroughs. As Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor, observed in 1965, processing power doubles every two years as transistors in a chip gain in abundance and speed - a rate emblematic of broader discovery and innovation.

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We have entered the fourth industrial revolution, an era that will be defined and driven by extreme automation and ubiquitous connectivity.

Like the three other industrial revolutions, the changes borne during this period will irrevocably alter the course of our future and the way we interact with technology and each other. But in this new digital age, there will be one development so profound and seismic that it will rupture the Earth's long-held human-centric status quo - the birth and transcendence of artificial intelligence (AI).

The quote made by mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing in 1951 has been a key guiding principle for data scientists and business leaders interested in AI. Until recently, AI was only a concept - a "one day" conversation that came alive in science-fiction novels and movies. The idea of an artificial being with humanlike consciousness can be traced back to tales of mechanical men from the Middle Ages and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to, more recently, author and scientist Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics.

The earliest emotion-relevant work in AI dates back to the 1970s, when cognitive science came of age as a discipline, inspired in part by Allen Newell and Herbert A. Simon’s 1972 book “Human Problem Solving.” In

the same year, Kenneth Colby invented one of the first devices of emotional AI: a computer system called PARRY that simulated a conversation with a human paranoiac.

But as the fourth industrial revolution clearly materialized in the 21st century, so did the advent of AI. Around 2,000 start-ups globally now have AI as a core part of their business model. And with headline-grabbing news, like Google's AlphaGo defeating the Go world champion or Baidu's personal assistant Duer accepting orders at KFC restaurants in China, the foundation has been set for progress to avalanche in the years to come.


What's all the fuss about?

Artificial intelligence can be understood as a set of tools and programs that makes software "smarter" in a way an outside observer thinks the output is generated by a human.

In the most simplistic terms, AI leverages self-learning systems by using multiple tools like data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing. It operates similar to how a normal human brain functions during regular tasks like common-sense reasoning, forming an opinion or social behavior.

The main business advantages of AI over human intelligence are its high scalability, resulting in significant cost savings. Other benefits include AI's consistency and rule-based programs, which eventually reduce errors (both omission and commission), AI's longevity coupled with continuous improvements and its ability to document processes - some of the few reasons why AI is drawing wide interest.

AI is divided broadly into three stages: artificial narrow intelligence (ANI), artificial general intelligence (AGI) and artificial super intelligence (ASI).

The first stage, ANI, as the name suggests, is limited in scope with intelligence restricted to only one functional area. ANI is, for example, on par with an infant. The second stage, AGI, is at an advanced level: it covers more than one field like power of reasoning, problem solving and abstract thinking, which is mostly on par with adults. ASI is the final stage of the intelligence explosion, in which AI surpasses human intelligence across all fields.

The transition from the first to the second stage has taken a long time (see chart), but we believe we are currently on the cusp of completing the transition to the second stage - AGI, in which the intelligence of machines can equal humans. This is by no means a small achievement.

AI will become a massive sector that unleashes a torrent of financial opportunities.

Although still embryonic in its full lifespan, AI's potential has captivated the minds of not just scientists and philosophers but also politicians and business leaders. The reason is simple: AI will become a massive sector that unleashes a torrent of financial opportunities and will provide industry captains, both governments and corporates, with unparalleled technological power.
Whatever form AI takes, its journey will be fraught with ethical idiosyncrasies and met, often simultaneously, with fear and celebration. Some will worry about job redundancies, privacy and control, while others will herald the next step in human greatness. Regardless of your stance, AI will undoubtedly change us and our world in many ways; so it's paramount to be prepared for the world ahead.

Read on to time-travel to the future and learn about how AI will develop and impact our lives.

AI’s coming of age

Continue to the next chapter to find out what the societal benefits will be and if we’re at a risk of being replaced by AI.

AI’s coming of age

AI's coming of age

The progress into the AGI phase and the beginning of true autonomy.

The beginning of true autonomy

In the next four years, we expect AI’s industry growth will start to explode and its impact on business and society will begin to emerge.

By the end of the decade, we believe the recent rapid advances in AI will eventually plant progress firmly into the AGI phase – the beginning of true autonomy. AI-powered machines and software will likely start to untether from human supervision, embarking on their fateful path as sentient beings. But this will happen much later in the distant future. In the next four years, however, we believe AI's industry growth will start to explode and its impact on businesses and society will begin to emerge.

According to our estimates, the AI industry was a USD 5 billion marketplace by revenue in 2015, , a respectable size for such a budding sector. By 2020, we believe exponential improvements and broader adoption should more than double revenue to become a USD 12.5 billion industry. This represents a 20% annual growth rate. Assuming enterprise value/sales multiples of 10-15x, which is on par with other emerging fast-growing industries within the tech sector, AI as a standalone industry has the potential to claim a total market cap of USD 120-180 billion by 2020.

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AI software will create significant business opportunities and societal value.

Software companies will take up the mantle and charge ahead, pushing the boundaries of automation, search and social media. Dubbed a machine's brain, AI will likely power automation in sectors like autonomous vehicles and unmanned drones. And AI software will create significant business opportunities and societal value.

For example, virtual assistants or chatbots will offer expert assistance; smart robots or robot advisors in the fields on finance, insurance, legal, media and journalism will provide instantaneous research or findings; and within the healthcare field, AI software will assist with medical diagnosis and assistance. Other benefits include significantly improving efficiencies in R&D projects by reducing time to market, optimizing transport and supply chain networks, and improving governance by better decision-making processes.

Already today, there are expert systems that can scan and share overviews of legal documents from obscure previous court rulings with lawyers within seconds, saving time and money. Autonomous driving, though still in the early stages, has also made tremendous progress; self-driving taxis were just recently launched in Singapore. And the list goes on, thus proving the inevitable ascendance of AI into our everyday lives.

Are we at risk of being replaced?

Technological unemployment is unfortunately a byproduct of progress.

Mechanized looms reduced artisan weavers to poverty, the tractor forced millions out of jobs and robotics has sliced countless workers in all types of manufacturing. The increasing integration of AI will ultimately yield greater productivity in the near term, the result of which has historically led to culls in employment.

The concerns are legitimate, but during this period AI will not nearly be at such a developmental stage that its widespread adoption will trigger mass layoffs. The technology will still be used in relatively niche applications and will not yet achieve a level of critical mass that would threaten employment on a global scale.

In most areas, AI is poised to replace tasks, not jobs.

However, global employment will not escape unscathed. By automating tasks that rely on analyses, subtle judgments and problem solving, AI can be a threat to low-skill, predictable and routine jobs in industries

like retail and financial services and indirectly through the broader automation of the auto industry and certain other manufacturing industries. While it is difficult to project the exact impact at this stage, assuming 5% of the jobs in these industries are routine in nature, we expect 50-75 million jobs globally, or 2% of the worldwide work force, will be potentially affected due to the advent of AI – a significant number, but one that pales in comparison to the opportunities AI will create.

AI's rise and ensuing surge in productivity will spur a plethora of opportunities for employees to upgrade their skills and focus on creative aspects. With the emergence of other disruptive business models like apps or sharing economies highly likely in a post-AI era, there is increased scope for jobs that require a high level of personalization, creativity or craftsmanship - tasks that will still need a person. These occupations are hard to imagine at this point, hence the job-related anxiety associated with AI's widespread integration; but they will quickly proliferate as new specializations are needed - comparable to the post-Industrial revolution bloom of factory workers.

The winners and losers of AI's rise

AI will not only reduce costs by automating processes but also maximize revenues by helping corporates introduce new product and service categories.

Given the limited size of the current market, we believe direct beneficiaries in this stage will be software companies and robotic process automation industries with a first-mover advantage. In the medium term, the AI industry will eventually consolidate given the outsized number of startups focused on AI. But as industry standards emerge, there will only be a few potential winners.

There will also be indirect beneficiaries, such as healthcare, hi-tech engineering and select services companies, due to improved efficiencies in research and development. For example, with deep learning and

predictive analytics tools, AI can significantly reduce the costs and time of drug development in the pharmaceutical industry by predicting the therapeutic use of new drugs, thus driving huge efficiency gains.

Conversely, where there are winners, there are also losers. Without adapting to the changing landscape and adopting AI into current business models, industries like retail and automotive will be most at risk of falling behind. As mentioned earlier, AI's rise will have a more profound effect on certain industries, the companies of which will likely live or die based on their ability to cope with rapid technological changes.

In the next chapter, we go into more detail about AI's impact on these sectors.


  • Software companies
  • Robotic process automation industries
  • Healthcare
  • Hi-tech engineering
  • Select service companies


  • Retail that won’t adopt Artificial Intelligence
  • Automotive that won’t adopt Artificial Intelligence

Industry 4.0's global revolution levels the playing field

The fourth industrial revolution is unique in that the technology powering new industry has been completely democratized.

Entrepreneurs only need an idea and knowhow to develop the next Uber - and the global nature of venture capital. Thus, this era will not be a Western-dominated revolution, in our view, but a global phenomenon with contributions from all over the world.

The US and Silicon Valley will of course do a lot of the heavy lifting, but startups and tech giants in China, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India have already made remarkable inroads in various technology segments and are increasingly pushing the envelope as the benefits of being part of this journey become clearer with each innovation.

In the coming years, these "new world" emerging markets will increase not just their share of invention, but their importance as a consumer. And as a matter of national pride and significance, their governments will support their native technology industries and start-up communities with both resources and talent. And in part, thanks to AI specifically, companies operating in emerging markets will be able to compete with those in the developed world, effectively leveling the playing field for the first industrial revolution in history.

AI's evolution is currently being steered by the exponential growth in computing power and the solid cloud and smart device ecosystem in place. Favorable supply factors, like low computing and storage costs, advanced algorithms and the increased availability of AI-based talent, are also helping to nurture the necessary conditions for progress.

But it will be through global collaboration that we will usher in the next phase of AI's evolution - the transition from AGI to ASI. And with it, everything will change.

AI’s golden age

Continue to the next chapter to find out how the world will look like with AI as a central part of our lives.

AI’s golden age

AI's golden age

AI as a central part of our everyday lives: greatest opportunities and biggest concerns.

Surpassing human intelligence

Life in the following thirty years will likely become almost alien to today's observer, similar to how we view life in the 1940s and 1950s.

This will be particularly evident as we get closer to the half-century mark. As technology continues to progress by leaps and bounds, radical advances in quantum computing will add a new dimension to our ability to create and solve. This period will become a golden era in the advancement of all things technological – the ever-accelerating development of AI will compound the pace at which we invent.

Like all technologies, AI will be created with a singular purpose: to aid humanity. Naysayers and Hollywood moviegoers need not fear the rise of the machines. On the contrary, self-aware robots and programs will become instrumental in our quest to resolve society's mega-challenges like climate change, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and diseases, aging populations and many more. And if you think your iPhone is cutting-edge, think about the possibilities of AI-powered consumer devices; gone will be the days of fat-fingered typos and lost GPS signals.

By 2030, increasingly useful applications of AI will translate into meaningful social and economic changes. One such outcome, for example, will be much lower costs of traditional goods and services, which will effectively narrow socioeconomic disparities worldwide, as AI eliminates imperfections in supply chains and enhances overall productivity.

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Likewise, AI could have a profound impact on low-income communities via vastly improved oversight of resources like food and water, education and healthcare accessibility, and dissemination of social services.

As a standalone industry possibly worth USD 100 billion by 2030 and USD 500 billion by 2050, the investments made today will likely bear tremendous fruit in the decades ahead. The UBS long-term investment themes of robotics and automation, digital data and e-commerce would directly benefit from such high rates of consistent growth.

Reshape or be made obsolete

Software is at the center of this revolution, and the market's margins will expand as it grows in prominence and importance.

The days of artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) will be all but forgotten as artificial general intelligence (AGI) becomes the industry standard across all sectors. Notwithstanding handmade artisanal crafts that will be increasingly valued by anti-futurists, sectors and companies incapable of incorporating AI into the heart of their business models will likely become extinct - not so different to companies made defunct by the Internet and the mass adoption of smartphones.

There will also be tremendous demand for automation hardware, such as robots, from emerging markets and several industries, which should lead to sustainable growth. We have highlighted three sectors below – transportation, healthcare and retail - that we think will be shaped amongst the most by AI.


The transportation industry is already facing the bounty and pitfalls of new technology.

Protests have erupted across the world in response to the popularity of ride hailing apps, which they blame for lost clientele and unfair competition. And as self-driving vehicles become the norm in the not-so-distant future, professional taxi and truck drivers will be gradually phased out. The inevitable redundancies and resulting public backlash could obstruct progress. But we believe this area, above all, will be radically reshaped by AI for the betterment of society.

Smart cars will be safer (thanks to blind spot monitoring and automated lane changing), faster (streamlined navigation and cruise control) and more fuel-efficient (advances in electric technology). They will allow people to own fewer cars, easily share rides and live further away from commercial districts, helping to thin out rapidly condensing city centers. Public transportation systems will also be immeasurably improved; bus, train and subway patterns will be managed by a central database where algorithms determine the fastest routes. And the maintenance of public vehicles will be automated and delays, if any, will be minimal.

With people owning fewer cars and in favor of public transport, carbon emissions will likely fall sharply. And in the later stages of this period, unmanned flying drones - as on-demand personal vehicles (less likely) and delivery vessels (more likely) - will increasingly occupy the skies.


The adoption of AI in healthcare could improve the quality of life for millions and could save lives that otherwise wouldn't be possible.

The key hurdles will be gaining the trust of the medical community and overcoming regulatory barriers. For the nations that succeed in this undertaking, the knock-on effect of having a superior, AI-driven healthcare system can promote healthier and wealthier societies; but for those that don't, sub-standard medical quality will inhibit the long-term economic and societal value afforded to healthy populations.

Medical analytics will ultimately transform healthcare delivery as billions of clinical records and images are analyzed and fed into AI algorithms. These programs, supported by mobile health applications that yield real-time data, will provide diagnosis and treatment recommendations customized to the patient's medical history. This should greatly reduce the element of human error in medical treatment in general. If surgery is needed, intelligent automation will be able to conduct increasingly complex operations as the technology develops. Already, robotic systems are playing a vital role in helping in the field of orthopedics, an area set to boom in the coming years.

Diagnosing illness will be another pivotal area. Through AI diagnosis tools, doctors will have the ability to quickly identify unknown and rare diseases, which otherwise would have required a specialist, and match them with the necessary treatment method. After central healthcare systems are implemented, AI processes will be able to comb through the massive trove of data to find the ideal solution in a matter of seconds.


The retail industry has had a tenuous relationship with the fourth industrial revolution.

E-commerce has been a huge boon to the industry, giving brands instant access to spendthrift consumers. And digital channels, combined with analytics, have created a new form of targeted advertising, providing companies with unparalleled influence and insights into our spending habits. But all of this has come at the expense of traditionally brick and mortar shops that have been unable to adapt to the new business environment.

The industry's adoption of AI will further exacerbate this trend, leading e-commerce giants to even greater profits and brick and mortars to their inevitable end. For the digital-savvy players, AI will help smaller outfits compete with the bigger players in many ways as analytics, digital marketplaces and social media disrupt long-held brand monopolies. Shoppers should expect even smarter ads, automated and verification-less payment solutions, and a much more tailored and virtual experience as front-end staff are replaced by smart wardrobes.

A bumpy road ahead

The cases outlined above are but a snippet of the full value that AI is expected to create across industries, governments and all types of organizations.

Sectors like security, education, entertainment, elderly care, agriculture, etc. will also experience extreme change, much of which will be positive. But change is never easy, especially when it interrupts your way of life.

The two biggest concerns about AI's eventual rise are related to employment and control.

Even in this thirty-year blitzkrieg of progress, humans will continue to wield ultimate control as writers of the source code and job losses will be minimized by those created, with more tasks being replaced than entire fields. Nonetheless, protests will likely intensify in the most affected industries – transportation in particular – and governments will be under pressure to preserve labor markets through regulation, thereby impeding technological advancement.

Public discourse will also likely turn towards privacy as AI scripts increasingly pull user data to shape newfound consumer solutions in various sectors, and law enforcement agencies turn to AI for surveillance. Companies, governments and individuals will also need to beef up their security infrastructure as hackers and crime syndicates twist AI's prowess to their own advantage.

AI will grant handlers incredible power, and the public policy debate over regulating authority will not be smooth as different interest groups vie for control. However, over the years, organizations and governments will find common ground on the best way to regulate and ensure a fair marketplace and an environment conducive for development.

As 2050 approaches, so will a momentous milestone: the succession into artificial super intelligence (ASI). When this will be achieved is uncertain, if at all possible, but in the next chapter we attempt to describe life with singularity – when Earth's status quo has a new entrant.

AI’s transcendence

Continue to the next chapter to find out if we’re at a risk of becoming redundant and how we can coexist with AI.

AI’s transcendence

AI's transcendence

An era where AI will take on a new form and will shape not just our world but theirs.

Our society’s new layer

Spiraling progress should ultimately result in AI’s ability to self-develop.

Until this point, AI technology has been molded by humans to fill human needs. Its functions have been very specific: anticipate financial trends, handle household chores, manage public transportation systems, etc. Future generations will grow comfortable with the radical advances of their time and become highly dependent on the services AI provides – just like how we have become reliant on the Internet to communicate, research and work.

But as we weave AI into our everyday existence, AI would gradually do the opposite - spiraling progress should ultimately result in AI's ability to self-develop. Instead of being siloed to their respective task, AI's collective intelligence would then begin to amalgamate and eventually yield even greater and faster advances as its processing might compounds. Think about it as a controlled form of artificial selection, whereby AI entities have the autonomy to pick and choose their own evolutionary path.

In such a scenario, AI would eventually take the reins of its own fate from humans, and at this moment it will have transcended its creators in many ways. And thus, the era of artificial super intelligence (ASI) would have arrived.

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What will ASI look like?

The journey of AI's human appearance has already begun.

It's impossible to know at this point what shape ASI will choose to take. But the journey of AI's human appearance has already begun, which is essentially an exercise in replicating human emotion. In our recent New York Times article What It Takes To Be Human, we introduced Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, who riveted the world with an android he built in his own image. Ishiguro believes that human AI can be achieved by mirroring desire and intention. He expects that Erica, his creation, who is considered the most advanced humanoid to date, will be able to convey these emotions by 2020.

And Erica is not alone: Hanson Robotics' Sophia, who boasts of having about 60 expressions, can currently interact and lead simple conversations. Experts believe that AI's ability to relate convincingly to humans would eventually enhance its everyday application. Such emotive AI could, for example, lead to a preference for AI services in customer service over their crankier human counterparts.

If today's progress is any indication, by 2050, we should expect to see humanlike AI-powered robots occupying many frontline service sectors, like in retail and banking, and "living" alongside people. And given its near-omnipresence, AI will likely inhabit most electronic devices and live day and night as an amorphous body in another realm of consciousness – one prohibited to humanity due to our inherent limitations. We will have less control once AI reaches this point, but that doesn't mean we will be rivals – we would be no match.

A new system of wealth

By now, AI's pervasive influence on the world would have crept into both small nooks and large crannies.

As a result, AI as a standalone industry will likely soar to become one of the largest in the world, possibly reaching a trillion-dollar industry in the following years with software giants (market cap) becoming larger than most countries (GDP).

Like all industrial revolutions, this one will further hollow out what is left of menial labor. Industries that currently rely on low-skill labor will be forced to convert to full automation or risk being crushed by significantly more efficient competitors. In this future, vehicles would be driverless, farm hands automated, stores staffed by virtual assistants and bartenders like Erica and Sophia would coax patrons deeper into their glasses.

The impact on global employment may sound daunting, but the long-term effect of AI on economic systems will re-create the structure at which we accumulate and distribute wealth.

As AI matures, the cost of traditional goods and services will indeed plummet but will also give rise to premium value-added services. Meanwhile, new AI-inspired sectors, still-growing "old economy" industries like transportation and e-commerce, and rapidly climbing standards of living in emerging markets should contribute to overall economic growth. These changes, especially in education and healthcare, have the potential to create a more equal society or at least alleviate the burden of poverty. And, as mentioned earlier, replaced jobs are inevitable, but new ones will be created that rely on specific skills of the age.

~USD 1 trillion

AI industry’s sepculated worth

Is this a future to fear or cheer?

Humanity is both a poor and good reference for AI's future inclinations.

At our worst, we are brash and prone to tribalism and violence. But at our best, we are highly collaborative and can achieve better outcomes for all. Most likely, AI will have none of the former and all of the latter. Through the years, programmers will have developed AI to be benevolent and extremely functional. And, hopefully, ASI beings will opt to continue to fulfill their original mission as providers of great value.

But what if machines do seize control one day?

If Skynet is any indication, we'll need a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger from the future to thwart any robotic takeover. All jokes aside, it will be up to the regulators and scientists to create a concrete framework for AI to grow at a healthy pace. Also, global regulation is likely to curb such situations as AI's transformational progress will be closely monitored by world leaders and the public due to gradually enflamed sensitivities.

These concerns of the past - privacy, job losses and rebellion - will continue to haunt the future. And such issues may be kicked into a higher gear once we start losing our ability to pull the metaphorical plug. Existential issues will also become much more discussed and poignant: Should truly intelligent and aware machines be afforded the same level of government support and protection as humans? How will the law decide court cases involving AI rights? Will they have rights? Can they vote? Will the court recognize inter-species marriage? Questions and cases like these will define public discussion in society around this time.

Without a doubt, the emergence of ASI will further redraw the lines in Earth's hierarchy.

While humanity's absolute supremacy will be challenged, that doesn't mean we should feel threatened. It will be in our best interest to work in harmony and further support each other's aims and ambitions. Although robots and AI algorithms may be able to do many of our jobs better, they'll never have the creativity and passion that uniquely defines what it means to be human, traits that have and will continue to shape the future for centuries to come.


  • A new system of wealth will be established.
  • The AI industry could explode to an estimated size of 1 trillion USD.
  • Will we arrive to a harmonic symbiosis or not?
  • How will governments treat AI?
  • Will we be able to retain what makes us human?

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