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Industry Leader Believes the Promise of AI Is Worth the Pursuit

Artificial Intelligence (AI) started grabbing headlines just a couple of years ago, and with it came many concerns

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  • Written by  Banking Exchange staff
Reggie Townsend, SAS Vice President of Data Ethics Reggie Townsend, SAS Vice President of Data Ethics

Artificial Intelligence (AI) started grabbing headlines just a couple of years ago, and with it came many concerns. None other than Elon Musk, known by many as the great innovator of the last two decades, has addressed the topic by sounding alarms that AI has the potential of ending the human race.

But Reggie Townsend, SAS Vice President of Data Ethics and one of the leaders on the topic of AI approaches the topic with optimism instead of impending doom. He acknowledges downside risk. Every technology comes with its own negative outcome. Quoting the French philosopher Paul Virilio, Townsend stated,  "When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash. Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress."

However, at SAS’s Innovate conference this year, Townsend cast a different vision than what usually makes headlines. “The most meaningful impact is where we are focusing on broadening opportunities for everyone,” he said. “What if AI can strengthen democracy? What if it can increase medical breakthroughs?”

While Townsend acknowledged that AI causes great challenges due to its power to commit fraud in various forms, he believes that these risks can be overcome or at least minimized. Just as his colleague Stu Bradley explained in an interview earlier this year on Banking Exchange, one of the keys Townsend said is collective action from a variety of institutions. “Data is the new oil. Refine, tune, and govern its distribution. As one of my professors used to say, ‘show your work.’” While government is seen by the general public as less trustworthy, he sees engagement with government and business to positively influence regulation as a key component in bringing out the best in technology. AI has the ability to actually detect unhealthy biases in data models, for example, where decisions are determined with inaccurate information.

Perhaps Elon Musk is correct about the danger of technological breakthroughs, but it has always been the case and new advances in technology cannot be stopped. As Townsend points out, the real question is does business and government mitigate the harm or perpetuate the problem.

For the banking industry, the key to AI is to leverage its potential to mitigate harm first and foremost in areas such as fraud prevention, and then ultimately strengthen efficiency in areas such as data collection while also building trust in the way it is used.

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