The rise of AI always draws strong reactions.
To some, it summons the apocalypse imagined in Terminator, where humanity fails to be modest and is superseded by machines. To others, it promises a post-work paradise where computers toil while humanity idles, as in Wall-E.
But for ETFs and their issuers the concern is a lot more mundane: how do investors make money from it?
For most asset managers the answer has been simple: invest in the FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google).
Facebook uses AI to identify faces in photos. Google to finish sentences. Amazon to pair consumers to products and so on. They're all AI aren't they? And better yet, they're all a one way bet so far as stock prices go. Or so asset managers reason.
But this never seemed quite satisfactory. On the one hand, it always seemed like yet another excuse to invest in the FAANGs.
The FAANGs, we might remember, are already big parts in every major index: S&P500, DJIA, Nasdaq 100 - and thus the ETFs that track them. They're in plenty of smart beta ETFs (Apple has every factor: momentum, value, quality and dividends). And they're in many ESG funds. Did investors need another reason to invest in them?
On the other hand, it always seemed unambitious. Helpful and ingenious though Google may be, it seems a long bow to draw to compare it with the blue-sky technologies we all image AI to offer up.
But some ETF issuers and asset managers are doing things differently and launching AI ETFs that have more meat to them.
Kodex - the asset management arm of Korean chaebol Samsung - listed an AI ETF in Seoul yesterday (276990). It tracks ROBO Global's "Robotics & Automation Index", which is an index quite different to the types that are usually lumped in as AI.
The index tracks companies building robots and cutting-edge hardware, and companies with heavy R&D budgets. The indexes' main constituents are not household names. They include Daifuki Co, and Yaskawa Electric Corporation - Japanese robot makers.
Indeed, the only company name this author recognised on the index factsheet was AeroVironment, the Californian company that makes drones for the US military. The FAANGS are nowhere to be seen.
But Kodex aren't the only issuer doing this.
Last year iShares launched RBOT, an ETF that tracks the iSTOXX FactSet Automation & Robotics Index. As with 276990, the FAANGS do not feature (Apple does for some reason). It's made up of blue sky technology companies, again often in robotics. Other issuers, like ETF Securities and Exchange Traded Concepts are doing something similar.
There is of course nothing wrong with investing in the FAANGs. But chances are, if investors already own plain vanilla, ESG or smart beta ETFs, they're already doing that. And if they want to invest in dreamy futuristic AI, there are ETFs for that.