The Best Investment of the Next Decade

January 19, 2016, 12:00 PM UTC
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
BOSTON, MA - April 7: The capabilities of the Atlas robot are demonstrated during the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory's Demo Day on April 6, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Photograph by Ann Hermes — AP

If the Internet was the right investment in 1995, and social media was the place to put your money in 2005, then artificial intelligence is the place for companies and investors to bet today, venture capitalist and early Facebook (FB) investor Jim Breyer told attendees at the DLD conference in Munich Monday. “The next decade will not provide better returns in any field,” he said.

Breyer isn’t talking so much about the science fiction version of AI, where machines replace humans, but rather what’s known as “human assisted intelligence”—where smart computers crunch data to assist human decision-making—the way, for instance, the Waze app helps me plot my morning commute. Breyer told how another company he has invested in—movie-maker Legendary—used big data analysis of social media to refine its trailers for the movie Interstellar and maximize their marketing impact. He sees similar applications in finance, health and many other areas.

The important point here is that this technology is not replacing human decision making, but rather informing and improving it. In another DLD interview, Netflix (NFLX) CEO Reed Hastings was asked whether he chose programs for his service using algorithms or gut decisions. He rejected the question as a false choice. “We start with the data,” he said, “but the final call is always gut.” He called it “informed intuition.”

I’m in Munich, like many others here, as a stopover on the way to Davos, where the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting begins later today. Its focus: the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” I’ll be reporting from there all week; stay tuned.

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