Artificial intelligence is, without a doubt, the most fascinating emerging technology in the world today. The development of advanced AI is equal parts exciting and anxiety-inducing, as our hopes for its life-changing benefits are matched by our fears of its unintended outcomes.
One thing we know for sure is that the market for artificial intelligence is growing rapidly. According to the latest data from the IDC projects that worldwide spending on AI systems will hit $12.5 billion in 2017, an increase of nearly 60% from 2016. The IDC is also calling for this global spending to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 54.4% through 2020, when total revenues will reach $46 billion.
It's also pretty clear that our existing technology giants-the market leaders like Amazon AMZN , Facebook FB , Alphabet GOOGL , Apple AAPL , Nvidia NVDA , and Tesla TSLA -are going to be leading the charge on AI research and deployment.
But what will these systems look like? How "smart" will artificial intelligence get? Is it possible that machines could ever pose a threat to humans?
The answers to these questions will depend on who you talk to, but I tend to favor the opinions of the geniuses who are working on artificial intelligence projects-like the heads of the companies we just mentioned.
Check out how the top tech CEOs feel about AI right now:
Jeff Bezos is a great CEO to look at because Amazon is making some of the world's most recognizable AI-based products. For example, Amazon's popular Echo "smart-speaker" is powered by Alexa, the company's proprietary language processing assistant. In the same vein as Apple's Siri and Google Assistant, Alexa is a simple example of AI's domestic applications.
Speaking at the Internet Association's gala earlier this year, Bezos took an optimistic stance on the current state of AI. He continued by mentioning that although things like Alexa are "cool" developments people can actually see, the greater impact of AI research is felt behind the scenes.
"I would say, a lot of the value that we're getting from machine learning is actually happening kind of beneath the surface. It is things like improved search results, improved product recommendations for customers, improved forecasting for inventory management, and literally hundreds of other things beneath the surface," Bezos added .
While Bezos focuses on the current situation, some tech leaders are looking much further down the line-and it doesn't always lead to optimism:
It's highly unlikely-or even completely ruled out in some scientific circles-that AI-powered robots would "turn evil" and simply wipe out the human race for no reason, like in some sci-fi horror movies. But AI researchers have always been debating what might happen if machines and programs learn to "think on their own" and create new goals for themselves-goals which humans might stand in the way of completing.
From an intrapersonal perspective, it's very weird to think about blurring the distinction between man and machine. Musk tells us we better get used to it-before it's too late.
And while Musk's thoughts serve to protect us from the potentially negative outcomes of AI research, other tech leaders are more focal about finding the most positive outcomes for humanity:
Google's Sundar Pichai brings us back to the humanity of AI. Like many emerging technologies have in the past, artificial intelligence is great for investors because it presents a unique growth opportunity. But it's exciting for the world because it promises to improve lives across the board.
Sure, there are challenges and concerns we need to worry about, but our overall focus should be centered on using AI as a tool to make living on this planet better for everyone.
Want more market analysis from this author? Make sure to follow @ Ryan_McQueeney on Twitter!
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