BlackRock's quant chief says its computer stock pickers are trouncing the market

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BlackRock's Jeff Shen called machine learning and big data a "huge driver" for the firm's already-enormous assets under management.

BlackRock's Jeff Shen says the firm's new investments in machine learning and big data are driving returns even higher.

"The group I'm affiliated with, the scientific active equity group, 90 percent of the AUMs are above benchmark on one, three, five year," said Shen, Blackrock's co-CIO of its scientific active equity group, during an interview with CNBC's Leslie Picker . "So things have been coming along well. Big data, machine learning is certainly a huge driver for our alpha generation."

Shen spoke with CNBC at the annual Sohn conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. Six months ago, BlackRock announced a big restructuring to its active equity business, devoting a new $30 billion focused on quantitative and data science. As the world's largest asset manager, BlackRock now oversees approximately $5.7 trillion.

"The next level of machine learning is such that the machine can answer some of the questions that humans never thought about asking," said Shen. "That's where you can potentially get some unintuitive and complex answers. But ultimately I think we can still judge the success of this through look at whether this is making money or not."

In its most recent earnings report, the company's AUM jumped 16 percent year over year . Its shares are up 22 percent since January.

"I think ultimately, to be successful in this space it's not about data, it's not about machines, it's actually ultimately about talent, it is about humans. I think increasingly we're seeing ourselves competing with the technology companies in this space. Because the technical know-how in this space are such that you need more STEM majors than economics or finance people, which we certainly have a lot of at the firm," he said.

The conference is the West Coast version of the investment conferences that began in New York and are best known for hedge-fund managers making market-moving presentations. The Sohn conferences benefit pediatric cancer and other causes for underserved youth. The conference is presented in partnership with CNBC.

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