Fintech Business spoke to Toby Walsh, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of NSW, about the impact technological automation will have on employment and financial services.

Professor Walsh talked down the likelihood of artificial intelligence signalling the “end of humanity”.

“We’re actually not building computers that have any desires of their own or have any autonomy of their own,” he explained.

“We may struggle to build intelligence beyond our own, and there’s no reason to believe that we’ll see exponential growth,” Professor Walsh said.

But the threat that we do need to worry about is very near, he said – that is, the impact technology is going to have on employment.

He added: “The chief economist of the Bank of England said [last month] that he thought that about 50 per cent of jobs in the UK are under threat of automation.

“We used to think that it was going to be the blue-collar jobs, the people working in factories that were most under threat. And that’s certainly been the case – if you go to a car factory a robot’s doing the painting, a robot’s doing the welding,” he said.

“But now middle-class, white-collar jobs are under threat.”

Professor Walsh pointed to the example of finance journalism, where a majority of financial reports that now go down the wire are written by a computer with “quite plausible and readable paragraphs of text”.

Pointing to financial services specifically, he said it is one of the industries where consumers have precipitated the changes.

“I can’t remember the last time I went and actually used a real person and a real cash register,” Professor Walsh said.

“Then there’s the fact that we used ATMs from a very early age. We bought into the idea that these things could be automated.

“We do the same thing now in supermarkets, airport check-ins. You can see that the service people are on the way out,” he said.

The rise of robo-advice could help reduce the significant advantages enjoyed by wealth people and institutions, he added.

“With artificial intelligence and these sorts of technologies, you will be able to get better advice for less money. So it will help us all do better,” Professor Walsh said.

“There’s no reason to believe that you can’t build a trading algorithm that would trade as well as a very good individual,” he added.

“It’s a great area to play in because you have all this wonderful historical data so you can train algorithms very well.”

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