Artificial intelligence (AI) can get something of a bum rap — or it can at least be something of a beacon for complaints about its many dangers. Look no further than Elon Musk, who famously said in 2019 that it was “more dangerous than nukes.” Other complaints range from bias to fraud to manipulation by bad actors. The chorus of experts, Karen Webster said in a recent conversation with Brighterion Senior Vice President Sudhir Jha, have done a very complete job laying out the case against AI.
And while Jha agreed that there are some nefarious purposes one can get into with AI, a blanket criticism of the technology is senseless. “I’ve always believed that any technology itself is not good or bad — it depends on who is using it, what they’re using it for and what the intentions are,” he said. “I have been for the last 10 to 12 years primarily working in an area where the endeavor is to use it for the good of the society.”
Fundamentally, he said, AI can be used to the benefit of all. That is apparent in the financial services sector, where Brighterion/Mastercard specializes, insofar as AI is crucial to making the space both safer from fraud and more inclusive for all. But the positive potential is wider, he noted, expanding to the world of self-driving cars and the universe of “non-sexy, non-technical uses of AI” that are creating longtail benefits for all.
AI = Safer + More Inclusive
The digital shift that has happened over the last year has seen eCommerce transactions skyrocket, Jha said, which has made securing those transactions more important than ever for issuers worldwide. And by leveraging the power and scale of Mastercard’s network, Brighterion can ensure that issuers of all sizes are able to use AI for that protection.
As Jha noted, larger players have the natural advantage when it comes to leveraging AI. They have more data at their disposal, and many more resources when it comes to extracting maximum insight from that data. Smaller players working with limited data end up with fewer overall insights, and they run a higher risk of programming bias into their algorithm because of a lack of diversity in their data set. The risk of built-in bias, however, is something that exists for all players, said Jha.
“If one is not very careful, they can create a very biased algorithm, even with a very large data set,” he explained. “We [at Brighterion and Mastercard] have fairly robust processes to ensure that we are not doing that. By design, we are always looking at safe, secure, regulated and unbiased technology, and have very extensive auditability of everything that we do internally.”
The net result is an AI-powered fraud score for every Mastercard transaction provided to every issuer equally — no matter their size. The firm’s commitment to ensuring the universal benefits of AI extends beyond small issuers, Jha said. Mastercard recently announced its goal of connecting one billion people worldwide to the digital economy, and AI will play a central role in that endeavor.
Building A More Inclusive Algorithm
Building a world that is more inclusive, Jha said, requires fixing financial services so that those relegated to the periphery can be brought into the emerging world of new payment systems. Those who are stuck dealing with cash are vulnerable to outbreaks of bad luck. It’s a lesson that Jha recently learned in his personal life when his contractor’s car was broken into and all his tools were stolen. He was forced to rely on the generosity of his clients to secure advance payments for incomplete jobs in order to purchase his tools.
“There are a lot of people who get into the situation where a life event happens, and because they just deal in cash, even though they have some cash flow coming in the future, they’re not able to take advantage of it to ride out a bad situation,” Jha said.
What AI does, he said, apart from shining a spotlight on fraudsters, is to help potentially good customers stand out more clearly as well. It means banks can better evaluate creditworthiness by building more comprehensive consumer profiles — and can more completely evaluate their own risk tolerance in terms of underwriting. AI is making it possible to onboard and enroll more people into the digitally-connected banking system, something that “is going to be good for society, in general, going forward,” said Jha.
And that is just the start of the ways advances in AI are building a better society. Automated cars, which a half-decade ago were still something that existed mainly in science fiction, are easing onto the highway of reality. Being able to send a car to pick up a 10-year-old at school is likely still some time away, as that level of full automation is incredibly technically difficult, Jha noted. But within the next five years, he believes cars could drive themselves 80 to 90 percent of the time with only periodic check-ins from the driver.
Then there are AI applications in the worlds of farming and emissions management. AI that can better water, cut, position and plant crops will help ensure the availability of food for the entire planet. And AI that can better monitor emissions will mean that food can be eaten on a planet that remains pleasantly temperate, Jha added.
“There are so many applications of AI that are happening now where you are able to increase the productivity of farmland, provide better medical treatment and build safer factories,” he said. “A technology is as good or bad as how it is used, and there are a wide range of ways that AI is being used to reshape society for the good.”