Banks, AI, and the greater good

AI heartIt is a defining moment in the life of a jumble of letters when the jumble attains real-word status. While most people understand acronyms like laser, sonar, and snafu, few can identify their component words. (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, SOund NAvigation Ranging, and it’s just as well that not too many people know that last one.) Likewise, no one bothers adding parenthetical definitions anymore for initialisms like UFO, BLT, and GMO.

The release of the 2001 Steven Spielberg film A.I. may have ensconced the initialism AI in the popular lexicon, albeit sans periods. Today even the news media talk about AI without bothering to add a definition. And not just the word but the incidence of AI has become commonplace. We rely on the likes of Alexa, Erica, and Siri without giving a second thought to the fact that we’re talking to a machine. (Why do we so often give AIs female voices? Even the original “Star Trek” computer, which in a feat of creatively the writers named Computer, had a woman’s voice.)

And, of course, within financial services circles, it’s common knowledge that AI assists in voice-activated transactions, fraud detection, loan application processing, live chat, investments, strategic trading, risk management, data mining, funds transfer, foreign exchange, and more. 

Climate change, forest fires, robotic arms—and human decency

In addition to using AI for fine-tuning business systems and service delivery, some financial service institutions are turning their AI capabilities outward for the greater good. Exhibits A and B, first brought to my attention by way of recent articles in Finextra, follow.

For Exhibit A, I submit Royal Bank of Canada, better known (speaking of initialisms) as RBC. According to Finextra, RBC is “…backing a new academic research project using artificial intelligence to address climate change.” An RBC press release states:

In a continued effort to take its research beyond banking, Borealis AI announced a new collaboration with Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute to support an artificial intelligence (AI) research project on climate change … together with RBC Quebec, Borealis AI donated $50,000 to Mila’s climate AI research efforts. This donation will help Mila develop a tool that uses AI technology to produce street view images that show the potential effects of climate change … When developed, the tool would allow a user to input a location and see a visual projection of the potential effects of extreme weather events at this location at street level, making these effects more visceral than traditional aerial and satellite images.

“Mila,” the press release explains, “is the result of a partnership between the Université de Montréal and McGill University with Polytechnique Montréal and HEC Montréal.” Borealis AI, “… an RBC Institute for Research, is a curiosity-driven research centre dedicated to achieving state-of-the-art in machine learning.” RBC adds, “We are proud to support a broad range of community initiatives through donations, community investments and employee volunteer activities.”

For Exhibit B, I submit Russia’s Sberbank, which, Finestra reports, “… is teaming up with the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations to host a hackathon where contestants will use machine learning and AI in the fight against wildfires.” Wikipedia defines hackathon as “… a design sprint-like event” involving just about every computer expertise you can name. Notwithstanding this story’s coming out of Russia, wildfires are quite topical for the United States, and they certainly tie to climate change. Participants in the Sberbank event will …

… develop a solution for automatic classification of fire types based on temperature anomalies data received from satellites. This information could be used to identify possible areas where forest fires occur and let stakeholders react quickly to prevent emergencies.

Sberbank is also in the AI news due to a joint effort with Microsoft. The firms are working together studying the use of an AI “… manipulator, video cameras, and an arm grabber to improve occupational safety for operators who remove coin bags from carts when working at cash handling and cash-in-transit centres.”

As a post-script, I submit Exhibit C, even though it pertains not to AI but to HID—my impromptu acronym for Human Intelligence and Decency. I cannot think of a more fitting way to wrap up National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. This story comes to us from London, also via Finextra. A man who lost his wallet hurried home and logged on to his accounts to see if anyone was abusing his cards. In fact, someone was using—but not abusing—them. Four one-penny payments appeared on his account along with the memo, Hi, I found your wallet in the road, along with a number for the wallet’s owner to call or text. The owner thanked the finder for his honesty with a bottle of red wine. But, Finextra facetiously added, he “… has not yet paid back the four pennies.”

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