Money 20/20 2017 Day One: The future of AI, machine learning and fintech partnerships

By Vicky Beckett | 23 October 2017

The halls of the annual Money20/20 conference in Vegas this year were packed out as guests filled up not one but two overspill halls on October Sunday 22.

“Machine learning is the future of business growth,” argued Dr Matt Wood, part of the Technical Leadership Team for Amazon Web Services, leading a session titled ‘Artificial intelligence & the cloud: getting down to business’.

Amazon employs thousands of engineers to work on artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics and Wood argues that you can see the success of this investment in the growth of Amazon Prime as an example.

He quoted science fiction writer, William Gibson, saying: “The future is here, it is just not evenly distributed yet”.

Steve Wozniak: don’t get in the way of the AI steamroller

The real star of Sunday’s show was Steve Wozniak, Co-founder of Apple, who spoke just after Wood. He argued that we need not fear the rise of AI.

“If you're scared of AI, how are you going to stop it from happening? You can't. You'll just get in the way of the steamroller,” said Wozniak.

“The idea of new technology replacing jobs has been around for hundreds of years. It is a scare story,” said Wozniak.

He cited the industrial revolution as when we first saw this but pointed out that humans have simply adapted to do new roles.

“People should be constructive and ask what 'we can do to help the world?'” argued Wozniak.

“We get to run the machines. We have never talked about a single AI machine that would sit and think, ‘What should I do? What problem should be solved?” he said.

When it comes to the apocalyptic idea of machines taking over the world or becoming a threat to humanity, Wozniak argued that we should treat machines as we wish to be treated.

“Robots should be our best friends. We should never treat them badly,” he said.

Wozniak was not as optimistic about automated cars. He argued that they are still a long way off when it comes to being able to dodge unexpected obstacles in the road.

For example, he said driving to Las Vegas his GPS was telling him drive down roads that no longer exist.

“AI is a mistaken phrase [when discussing automated driving today]. It is still just a bunch of rules: that is simulated intelligence. When we have automated cars they will be able to handle to real world situations like real humans do.

“I do believe [automated driving] technology should be developed and used,” he added.

When asked about cryptocurrencies, Wozniak believes there are real advantages to nations putting currencies on a blockchain - a common theme at this year’s AFP conference.

When asked whether bitcoin was similar to dollars or gold, he didn’t believe it was similar to either. This is because nobody really knows how many are being used or where they are being used, argued Wozniak. There are fake dollars in circulation for example.

New money can be printed and more gold can be mined - although the world may have finite amounts of gold, he said.

“Bitcoin is mathematical. There is a finite amount. It is like a house. If you buy a house today and sell it, it is a house today and a house tomorrow. You may think it has gone up in value, but it's still a house.

“The government just says it has gone up in price so they can tax half of it, or all of it,” he joked.

The power of partnerships: Honesty, transparency and open conversations key

Collaboration has been a big buzzword in the payments industry this year, and this session at Money20/20 confirmed the importance of partnerships for greater success. More industry players are working together than ever before in order to innovate.

Session moderator Jack Stephenson from First Data believes that “those who can collaborate effectively in this industry will succeed – you won’t be able to succeed unless you’re good at collaborating.

“It’s about delivering throughout the whole chain – there’s collaboration almost at every point. Payments is really an ecosystem, and partnering is crucial for success.”

Reetika Grewal, Head of Payments Strategy added: “A few years ago the conversation was who was going to win in this industry. Now every player realises that actually, there’s not one single winner, you have to collaborate.”

Geoff Johnson, Chief Innovation Officer at Bypass agreed: “The payments ecosystem is so complex – partnerships are absolutely required.

“Partnerships are incredible for vision and helping solve problems.”

The panel agreed that the next greatest innovation won’t be provided by one company: it’s going to come through the power of partnerships. From fledgling fintech start-ups to software providers, the future of commerce is increasingly driven by those outside of the traditional payment ecosystem.

Moderator Jack Stephenson then quizzed panellists on what distinguishes a good partnership.

Both Grewal and John agreed that honesty, transparency and open conversations are the best qualities for a partnership. It’s important to understand who all the stakeholders are in the partnerships and their motivation for the business.

Stephenson added: “A lot of the partnerships you do aren’t temporary. Spend a lot of time understanding the business and do your research – there needs to be a really clear on the vision for the partnership.”