Partner Series

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The Future of Robotics and AI: Where are We Headed?

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The ETF Securities Partner Series joins with Australian and international investment professionals to discuss the big issues of the day and what these mean for investors.

Terminator, I Robot, The Matrix – science fiction movies often paint a pretty bleak picture of the robots of the future. Writers and directors conjure worlds where robots rise up and threaten humanity. These fictional accounts are taken by many warnings about the dangers of developing artificial intelligence too far.

But according to top experts, the future of industrial robotics leaves more room for optimism than despair. And rather than ending humanity’s reign on earth, robotics is working to extend it. In this partner series, Kanish Chugh, Head of Distribution at ETF Securities, spoke to Wyatt Newman, Professor of Engineering and one of the world’s top authorities on robotics technologies to get a feel for where the industry is heading.

Future of robotics: space exploration, surgery, metaverse

We started our discussion by asking Prof Newman what new robotics technologies most excited him.

Space exploration was the top one, Prof Newman said. Robots were being developed by NASA to fix satellites and refuel ships. As robots can function perfectly in outer space (unlike humans) space exploration was likely to remain an area of key development, he believed.

Medicine was another important area, he said. Robots have been used in surgery for over a decade, made famous by companies like Intuitive Surgical. But new technology is improving medical robots, allowing them to perform more complex procedures. Among the improvements is a ‘sense of touch’, which allows robots to behave more like surgeons.

With all the rage over the metaverse at the moment, we asked Prof Newman if it had any implications for robotics and artificial intelligence.

He said that microchips were the most obvious point of overlap. In order to support a deeper metaverse – and especially its video gaming component, which is believed to be one of the biggest growth areas within the metaverse – microchip technology will have to continue improving. And microchip advances also support AI. Nvidia, which cut its teeth creating graphics cards for video game consoles, now provides the standard microchips for AI systems.

Boom-and-bust: are we in an AI winter?

We then asked Prof Newman about the ongoing bear market in technology stocks, including robotics and AI. And asked if robotics and AI risked going into a long-term downdraft – or ‘winter’.

Prof Newman said that robotics investment was cyclical, and always has been. He said: “There has been this history of overhyping. And so people have been, I think justifiably, reluctant to believe in the new wave of AI. But deep learning has made its impact and continues to, and I think that people are becoming real believers.”

He added that the long-term support drivers on the theme remained in place. These include aging populations, which require robots to fill voids in the labour force. And greater investment in healthcare, providing opportunities for things like the surgical robots we discussed earlier and smart wheelchairs.

How Robo Global Works

We ended our discussion talking about how Robo Global works, and how its team of experts fits together when building the index. We were especially curious where Prof Newman fits in.

Prof Newman said his role mostly revolved around giving expert opinions on technology and intellectual property. While other members of the Robo Global team specialise in the financials and industry landscape.

Invest in the Robotics and AI revolution with ROBO

The ETFS ROBO Global Robotics and Automation ETF (ROBO) comprises of 82 global innovation leaders and best-in-class companies of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence in areas such as manufacturing, 3D printing, logistics and security. Each company is identified and advised upon by ROBO Global's extensive strategic advisory board of experts in each field.