By Lisa Chai, Senior Research Analyst, ROBO Global

Artificial Intelligence. It’s something that has captured the imaginations of futurists of every age since long before it was a reality. I’m no exception.

As a kid, my favorite characters were the Terminator, D.A.R.Y.L., and Short Circuit’s “Johnny 5.” As I got older, I became obsessed with The Matrix, I, Robot, and Ex Machina. Nothing could quench my appetite for a new take on the future of AI. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I managed to turn my passion into a career—and no coincidence that I’ve found myself standing right where I am today at ROBO Global.

While my passion for AI and emerging technologies could have easily steered me toward a career in robotics, my love of numbers pushed me toward the world of investing. In my role as an institutional investment analyst, I focused on active management of stocks and bonds for years—and I loved it.

But in the late 2000s, I started to see a shift I couldn’t ignore. Without a doubt, there was a growing trend of outflows from my beloved active funds—and they were flying straight into ETFs. Alternatives weren’t in my wheelhouse (at least not yet), so I was surprised to see this undeniable gravitational pull toward ETFs, and I found myself questioning the active management I’d been doing my entire career.

Were fundamentals and active management now passé? Were ETFs a better way for investors to pursue higher returns and easily invest in the things that mattered most to them personally?

I kept working, and I kept wondering.

Fast-forward a few years, and I found myself in a new position, this time on the private company side, which opened a window into the broader investment landscape. It was there that it became clear to me that our industry was in a quandary.

Everyone was struggling to grow, and amid that struggle, everyone was looking for something—anything—that could outperform and out-deliver on investor expectations. What had changed? My childhood passion, AI, was rearing its head as an industry disruptor in my own industry.