AI: FinTech’s ghost in the machine

By August 9, 2016 AI, fintech, nextmoney

“There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote… of a soul?” – Dr Alfred Lanning from I, Robot.

Since I was a child, the next big social revolution and the greatest existential danger to humanity has always been the potential rise of artificial intelligence (AI). Because AI has permeated the popular consciousness for so long, the great leaps forward being made currently in this space are being underestimated by most.

The evidence is clear that a number of industries are on the precipice of massive upheaval from exponential advances in computational power and software programming. Nothing has illustrated this better for me than Wait But Why’s fabulous series on Artificial Intelligence that I have distilled into a single (borrowed) image:


This upheaval is particularly apparent and immediate in financial services which is increasingly a technology-lead industry. After all, there is a reason FinTech has become the de rigueur term. FinTech represents a perfect mix of the two ingredients most likely to crack the AI conundrum: money and technology. It is therefore no surprise that FinTech startups using AI algorithms have seen their funding increase rapidly since 2014 to record levels. The FinTech landscape will increasingly be populated by AI-powered companies, in fact, it already is across a range of financial technology applications:


But what is AI? What does it represent? I don’t profess to be a technical expert in the field, but to me AI is a culmination of a number of technological advances that are providing computers and software with the capacity to first mimic and then surpass humanity. Taken in isolation, no single advance outlined below would logically or easily lead to a technological organism to rival a human being. Together however, I begin to see how sentience may emerge from computer code.


If all this seems somewhat remote and theoretical, lets hone in for a moment on one of the advances listed above, Google DeepMind, which famously developed the AlphaGo AI system and pitted it against Lee Sedol (a professional Go player of 9 dan rank). Go is a famously complex game this is distinguished by the fact that it has an extraordinarily large combination of possible moves…larger than any computer could calculate before selecting their next move. This was what made the feat of AlphaGo so stunning:

“What made move 37 so interesting is that no one expected it. It was early in game two and AlphaGo placed its 19th stone on a part of the game board that no human Go master would have considered. Some called it a “mistake.” Others called it “creative” and “unique.” But considering that AlphaGo went on to win its third game in a row against one of the strongest Go players in the world, the move should probably have been called what it really was: intuitive.” – Shelly Palmer from AlphaGo vs. You: Not a Fair Fight

Intuition. An entirely human quality. With that, the lines between machine and human blur just that little bit more. I have previously explored my belief we are on the verge of an autonomous revolution that will be powered by a combination of technologies like AI and blockchain. This revolution will change our perception of what’s possible in the realms of finance, technology, value creation and creativity itself. This revolution may even change our concept of what it means to be human.  

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