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Convinced AI will reshape their industry, financial execs struggle to define it

(Bloomberg) --Global financial leaders are convinced artificial intelligence is poised to reshape their industry, and they’re ready to invest big -- they just can’t agree on what it is.

The World Economic Forum released a 165-page report Wednesday after setting out to study how executives plan to use AI. The first challenge, the authors found, was defining it. They quoted interviews in which executives equated AI to machine learning, labeled it a subset of machine learning or said it’s not machine learning. At least one insisted it doesn’t exist yet.

“They clearly mean something when they use the term,” the authors wrote.

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Traders talk whilst examining financial data on computer screens on the trading floor of Bats Chi-X Europe, the European arm of Bats Global Markets Inc., in London, U.K., on Monday, March 14, 2016. Bats Global Markets Inc., which runs U.S. and European stock markets, warned in a filing that a withdrawal by Britain from the European Union, or "Brexit," could damage the London business climate enough to drive some or all the company's operations out of the U.K. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

One area of agreement: More than three-quarters of senior executives surveyed said adopting AI will be critical for their organizations’ ability to differentiate themselves.

Generally speaking, executives used the term to describe technology that to some degree can learn autonomously and detect patterns, develop foresight, make decisions and interact with users. In financial services, examples include using AI to more accurately predict defaults or to provide personalized deposit and lending advice. The study highlighted projects including BlackRock Inc.’s risk-analytics software, called Aladdin, and Ping An Insurance (Group) Co.’s OneConnect financial-management portal.

“AI is rapidly redefining what it takes to be a successful financial institution,” said Rob Galaski, a senior banking and capital markets consultant at Deloitte who advised on the project. Speed and scale will not be sufficient to retain a leading position in a world where AI-enabled advice and experiences are central to differentiation.”

The report is called “The New Physics of Financial Services,” part of the forum’s Future of Financial Services series.

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