Ghosts in the machine

Artificial Intelligence is starting to play a big role in our lives. What’s next and what could go wrong?

Articles about Artificial Intelligence (AI) rarely get very far before they reference science fiction films. HAL in ‘2001’; the Skynet computer in ‘Terminator’; and the Replicants in ‘Blade Runner’. In fiction, when technology appears to gain intelligence, it develops its own ideas, and becomes malevolent. Is this really what awaits us over the next decade as technologies such as voice recognition and autonomous driving develop?

The truth is that robotics, automation, and AI are already everywhere: from pushing new songs we might like on Spotify; suggesting who we might fall in love with on dating apps; detecting suspicious payment activity from our bank accounts; enabling biometric identity checks such as voice recognition; getting insurance quotes via a price comparison website like MoneySuperMarket; and undertaking credit checks applying for an online loan.


Significant jumps in computer processing power have enabled AI in the form of complex algorithms to emerge. These learn from experience and have come to play an increasing role in business, not least finance. Tasks which would previously take days are completed in fractions of a second and are there for the convenience of customers and the security of the financial institution.

Over the next decade there is set to be an increasing use of AI in medicine, backed by evidence that it can spot abnormalities in scans for eye disease and cancer cells which should help improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis and treatment. Wearable technologies such as the Apple Watch are able to use AI combined with internal sensors to warn of heart rhythm problems: technology which will surely develop and advance to other applications, such as strokes, in the coming years.


“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
Arthur C Clarke

In farming, services from the likes of Microsoft can be combined with soil-based sensors and drones to detect diseased crops or provide farmers with a heat map of the farm, identifying which areas most require nutrient supplementation. These systems can process vast volumes of data to automatically learn patterns and trends, helping farmers make decisions. As the AI learns over time, data inputs (including soil composition, weather trends and crop yields) will provide ever more sophisticated outputs.

Eliminating human error is the aim of selfdriving cars. Computers famously don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, but neither do they get tired or distracted. Autonomous cars are developing rapidly and are able to identify signs, road markings and objects coming into view and decide what to do about them. Unfortunately, as a headline on Bloomberg News recently explained, ‘Tesla’s Autopilot could save millions of lives, but it will kill some people first’. Will society accept this, despite the fact human error is in large part to blame for current accidents? Tesla are very careful to stress that, for now, humans must monitor the system and keep their hands on the wheel, but at some point in the future the system will fully take over – who would be to blame for an accident then? Society will have to decide on the trade-offs.

“For now AI is only as good as the programming – Garbage In, Garbage Out”

The combination of AI and facial recognition cameras open up some chilling applications and the tragic loss of two Boeing 737 Max jets highlight the other main issue – the AI is only as good as those programming it. As well as being poorly programmed, they could have in-built biases along racial or gender lines. Last year, Amazon scrapped its machine learning algorithm when it discovered it had an in-built bias against women. It was built to filter CVs of job applicants, having learnt from previous hiring patterns. The problem was those patterns, especially in technical jobs, had previously been filled by men and so the AI favoured them.

In short, whilst improvements over the next decade should improve our lives, AI for now is only as good as the programming and the information they are given. Or, to use the snappy computer industry acronym, ‘GIGO’ – Garbage In, Garbage Out.

More from investment Outlook 2020

  • The Dragon and The Tiger

    The emergence of China as an economic superpower has been the story of this century so far. As India becomes the most populous country by 2030, could it become the story of the next decade?

    Read more

  • Feed the World

    With the world set to add another two billion inhabitants in the next thirty years, how will we cope?

    Read more

  • Ghosts in the Machine

    Artificial Intelligence is starting to play a big role in our lives. What's next and what could go wrong?

    Read more

  • Banking on the Future

    British banking is celebrating its 1,000th birthday. Essentially it is still simple, but has never felt more complex or undergone such changes.

    Read more

  • The Invisible touch

    Physical payments are declining at an accelerating pace as consumers adopt a range of more convenient alternatives, from phones to biometrics.

    Read more

  • Chasing the Dram

    The beer and wine industries have been growing stale; however, consumers are still lifting spirits.

    Read more

  • The Empire and the Strike back

    10 years ago, Facebook was idealistic. Chasing advertising dollars has given them incredible financial and social power, but changes may be ahead.

    Read more

  • Together in Electric Dreams

    The 2020s will see the rapid electrification of the car industry. Could electric planes also take off?

    Read more

  • Life in The Fast Lane

    From voice to texts to music and now video, mobile communication is hitting light speed and learning new tricks.

    Read more

  • Recaptcha if you can

    An army of billions is teaching computers to ‘think'.

    Read more


Issued by Adam & Company Investment Management Limited (Adam), which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Adam is registered in Scotland number SC102144. Financial Services Firm Reference Number 141831. Registered Office: 25 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh EH2 1AF.

The value of investments, and the income from them, can go down as well as up, and you may not recover the amount of your original investment. Past performance should not be taken as a guide to future performance. Where an investment involves exposure to a foreign currency, changes in rates of exchange may cause the value of the investment, and the income from it, to go up or down.

The information on this webpage is not intended as an offer or solicitation to buy or sell securities or any other investment or banking product, nor does it constitute a personal recommendation. The information is believed to be correct but cannot be guaranteed.

Any opinion or forecast constitutes our judgement as at the date of issue and is subject to change without notice. Nothing in this material constitutes investment, legal, credit, accounting or tax advice, or a representation that any investment or strategy is suitable for or appropriate to your individual circumstances. The analysis contained within this webpage has been procured, and may have been acted upon, by Adam and connected companies for their own purposes, and the results are being made available to you on this understanding. To the extent permitted by law and without being inconsistent with any applicable regulation, neither Adam nor any connected company accepts responsibility for any direct or indirect or consequential loss suffered by you or any other person as a result of your acting, or deciding not to act, in reliance upon such analysis.

Become a Client

Great relationships begin with an introduction.
We would be delighted to welcome you to Adam.

adam xxl bac
Read more »