Finovate day 2 – Rise of the machines 

 

As I glanced round the auditorium on day 2 of Finovate, one thing struck me. White, male 40 something. This wasn’t me getting hit because I’d made a bad joke it was the make up of the audience. Women were low in number and a represenative sample of the diverse cultures that make up this fair isle even more scarcely represented. Similarly, the presenters largely fell into the 20-50, white male category. 

I fear that if the people making the tech don’t represent society, the results won’t represent their needs any better. There may be no evidence to support this one way or another, but it’s certainly a stark point to consider. 

Artificial Intelligence, machine learning call it what you will but intelligent algorithms cropped up in many of the presentations. Predictive analytics to help the end consumer manage their money, investment management strategies, fraud prevention and virtual assistants to name a few. 

If any of us are under the delusion that machines cannot replace humans in jobs we once thought reserved for us – complex decision making, cusotmer service, for example – think again. We are arguably facing a new industrial revolution that could have the same impact as the introduction of steam power two hundred years ago. 

When  Turing defined a test for intelligence in 1950 he framed it in terms of being able to create a computer that was indistinguishable from a person. Many of todays technologies perform tasks way beyond any human, not just in computational scale as they have always done,  but also in terms of analytical complexity. 

I can say to my phone “Please transfer some money to my son” and it will ask me “how much”, or tell it I have had my wallet  stolen in Rome (in fact their should be a speed dial for this) and in a few minutes, the system will have asked me if I’m ok, told me it’s sorry for what happened, understand where I am, have cancelled my cards and shippped new ones. 

These technologies are starting to fulfil my wish for tools that make my life better, not just my banks cheaper and there were some nice examples of technologies looking forward at predicted financial activity and warning me if I didn’t have enough money and suggesting how I can better organise my limited resources. 

Marketing has traditionally been the least automated of business functions – maybe not for much longer. I have wondered for a couple of years how it will evolve as communications become more personalised, more data is available to drive individualisation, but we are still limited to POH’s (plain old humans) writing marketing material. I saw a demo of technology generating copy – specifically subject lines for emails, automatically, based on limited inforation about the topic. It generated multiple variants, from which it’s only a small step to deploy these and begin to learn what works best and refine it in real-time.

Conversely, another area of technology that saw a of outings on the stage was virtual meetings – connecting customers to real humans by video along with on-screen documentation to help applying for a mortgage or finalising a loan. A few years ago this just wouldn’t have been practical. High speed internet and developing web browser capabilites make feature rich interactive experiences easy to create and deploy.
I could purchase a few tools from Finovate and I’d have  an advanced, mobile enabled bank, with voice driven interaction, intelligent personal finance and investment management with a robot marketing department. None of the legacy technology, scalability or people issues faced by high street brands. Only one problem, there is probably a swathe of paper forms to fill in to get a banking license… where’s my pen. 

For me as a customer, there are just too many decisions, I could spend my entire day, every day, optimising my pension, investments, utilities, car insurace, credit cards. What I really need is a virtual assistant that will deal with all the bots, IVRs and web forms from the companies I deal with and just sort it.  

Maybe in 5 years time we won’t care how many women, men, ethnic minorties or any other division of society  there will be at Finovate – my AI will be watching your AI present and making decisions whether to invest, purchase or pass onto the next one whilst I sip my  mojito from the balcony of the hotel . 

Thanks to all the presenters last week for making it a great couple of days and insipiring me to think harder about how we use all the great technology that is being invented. 

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