One of the things about huge conferences like Money 20/20 in Las Vegas is that you get to see the ideas that will shape the future of the banking sector.
These are not the same as products and services which are being developed today, but rather concepts that innovators are looking at for the years to come. The Money 20/20 conference organizers bring in speakers with one eye on the future, to help businesses understand where the cutting edge of technology is currently heading.
One such speaker was renowned futurologist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil, a scientist, inventor, author and computer scientist, is internationally regarded as a world expert on Artificial Intelligence (read more here) and someone whose ideas often predict the future of technology.
To a packed room of thousands, Kurzweil discussed how he believed the future of AI would work out, and what kind of uses the technology would have in the future.
The kind of thinking around AI that Kurzweil outlines is important, because AI is going to play a significant role in the future of banking services going forward. In fact AI and its various applications were the most common technology under discussion at the conference.
For Kurzweil, AI is far more than just a type of machine learning and the chance to have smarter ‘robots’. For him, it's about how machines can start thinking more like humans, about how they can understand human thinking better and in doing so be more connected with us.
One example of this can already be seen in Gmail. The Google mail service recently introduced predetermined possible answers to emails for the user, which appear at the bottom of emails in the reply section. These replies use AI to read the email you have been sent and then use your past replies to predict what possible answers you might want to send back.
For those working in banking, this kind of AI interaction could be used in the future for helping customers manage their finances by supporting decision making based on past behavior.
As for the long-term future, for Kurzweil, he sees AI becoming an extension of human ability. As he put it to the audience, the only reason humans can construct huge buildings is because we have invented tools that allow us to move more than we can physically lift ourselves.
A Hybrid Mind
AI should become an extension in this way, something that supports and enhances human thinking. For example, he discussed how biologogists and computational scientists are already looking at ways to interweave sensors into the neocortex of the brain, and linking the thought processes that happen in that part of the brain - higher reasoning, language, cognition etc - to machine processing and storage power.
He said: “If we connect the top layers of neocortex to the cloud, we allow extra connections to be made by linking millions and billions of extra inputs - massively expanding our ability to understand concepts or bring in outside thinking.
"In the future we will do this wirelessly, not just for search and translation, but to add extra processing power or memory.
“Now our thinking will be a hybrid of biological and nonbiological thinking, and this will keep expanding."
This, he added, will allow us to create fantastic new types of expression that we can’t even imagine today - new types of communication, new ways of interacting, new ways of thinking.
So what might this mean for the financial services industry? Well imagine if Kurzweil’s predictions come true, and thought processes become integrated with external machines.
AI that could in future enable you to control how you manage your financial life just with your thoughts.
Concerns about paying a bill or getting the best deal or just remembering to save for your future could be solved by the integration of AI and computational software that allows your thoughts to be read and acted on.
OK, it sounds very future-gazing - and for the moment it is.
However the reality is that these ideas are now being worked on by some of those at the conference. And if history teaches us anything, it's that quite often what was once just an imaginary solution can become a reality - thirty years ago the idea of managing most of your life via a phone would have seemed crazy.
This then is what we mean by the blurring of industry lines as BBVA CEO Carlos Torres Vila outlined in a piece for both BBVA.com and El País Retina recently. It's not just fintech meeting traditional banking - it's biologists meeting computational science meeting AI specialists meeting big banks like BBVA.
But if we get this right, and if events like Las Vegas ensure the continued partnerships between sectors thrive, well then the future truly is open to the imagination.