Let’s try to cut through the hype surrounding voice technology, bots and machine learning by asking this fundamental question: Does artificial intelligence actually exist yet?
I wrote a blog post earlier this year claiming that AI does not exist, which sparked quite a debate and evoked very emotional responses.
The statement tapped into a deep well present in many who have studied computer science and have a strong opinion on what constitutes AI. I admit that I am not the most technically informed about the ins and outs of digital banking, and therefore my position might be a little naive. But at the end of the day, the fintech industry has not entirely defined which innovations are viewed as AI and which are not, or classified different levels of AI or AI-like functions. Just saying something is AI doesn’t indicate its level of machine learning and technological advancement.
I will try to frame the debate. Whether you believe AI has arrived, or is still on its way, depends on how you define it.
At one end of the spectrum, a pure view of AI, sits those individuals who think that until we have Data on "Star Trek" — who was a synthetic being — we don’t have AI. Under this definition, AI is sentient, thinking, alive, with self-interest and awareness — which current technology is nowhere near achieving. In digital banking, chatbots facilitating customer service, machine learning to make the loan underwriting process more efficient and other innovations are improving the industry’s efficiency. But based on this pure definition, they are not AI.
Purists and academics tend toward the "Star Trek" model. They measure AI similar to how Data was portrayed in the TV show, as a recognized life form. They view such a measure of AI as a good aspirational goal, but they admit we may never get there.
On the other end of the spectrum sits those who characterize AI along the lines of "Westworld." In the HBO show, about a theme park where human guests interact with manager-controlled humanoids, called “hosts,” computers can emulate humans to a degree where guests can’t tell they are actually computers. This definition of AI has parallels with the Turing Test, named for Alan Turing, to measure a machine’s ability to act like a human.
We can do Westworld today, and that is where the hype begins.
We can start to deploy rudimentary AI in finance and banking, using the Westworld model. We can start to emulate, programmatically, what people do in real life, and we can do it at a high degree of emulation so we can fake human behavior and make it feel real. The benefits for banks and for customers are potentially huge. For example, Facebook Messenger Service Bots can one day replace the bank contact call center.
The hype exists because while AI might not exist today, as defined by "Star Trek"/Data, rudimentary forms of it do exist and can be put into use. Innovations such as Alexa and the Facebook Messenger Service Bot are just examples of transformative technology. The innovations around the corner in online credit underwriting, mobile banking and even toward self-service banking makes the future exciting.
But as machine learning advances in the financial services industry, it is hard to determine what is real, and what is hype and theory. As financial institutions and computer scientists develop and refine these technologies, we can also hopefully refine their definitions and how one innovation is distinguished from the other.