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Birds of AI Feather: responding to artificial intelligence

Unless you are a proverbial ostrich enjoying your head in the sand, it is highly likely that you will have heard about artificial intelligence (AI). It is also likely that the connotations associated with AI are not necessarily all positive - in fact, sometimes they may even be worrying, so you would be forgiven for having such a response. Blockbuster hits, such as 'The Terminator' and 'I, Robot' do not help. Of course, these can be taken with a pinch of salt given their fantastical context but real-life technological developments should be taken more seriously. Microsoft, for example, released an AI chat-bot in 2016 called Tay, which started posting inflammatory tweets on twitter within 24 hours of its launch. This year, Facebook developed chat-bots that started speaking with each other in a language unintelligible to humans. Various commentators, consultants and futurist thinkers predict a rise of more advanced robots that will lead to job losses en mass. And CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk, is concerned about the existential threat to humanity posed by AI.

But AI is not all doom and gloom. On the contrary, AI provides opportunities and poses promises capturing the minds of many, including high-flying C-suite executives and venture capitalists, in the realisation that AI is a game-changer for every industry. Already, the technology divisions of financial institutions are using AI to detect security intrusions and user issues, thus benefiting consumers. AI is also being used to deliver automation in other areas, such as operations and technology, thus improving the associated time, cost and quality of previously manual tasks. Within the next few years, AI is expected to transform a multitude of other areas, from customer-facing functions such as customer services to corporate functions such as human resources (HR); amongst a multitude of possibilities, it is conceivable that AI will enable customer service representatives to more quickly resolve customer problems and relieve HR professionals of the time-consuming on-boarding processes for new hires. Fast-forward a decade (or two, etc.), the potential of AI is mindboggling. Compounding these expectations is the exponential activity in executive hiring across the areas crucial to the evolution of AI, such as data and analytics (chief data officers, chief data scientists and chief analytics officers).

Between the extremes of ostrich-like fear and executive embrace, reacting to the rise of AI unites us like birds of a feather. As Facebook and Microsoft have illustrated, AI can be uncontrollable, and its impact on employment is yet to be told. This uncertainty will, no doubt, drive us to keep each other in check as we regulate the adoption of AI. Within financial services, regulation is a fundamental tenet to the industry's existence, perhaps making it well-equipped to adopt AI in a responsible manner. Whichever industry AI is adopted by, it does not eradicate the need for us to exercise our judgement - indeed; it calls for us to do so. Realising this, AI can and should be readily embraced by one and all.

[Written on behalf of JD Haspel and published on Executive Grapevine, August 2017]