Will.I.Am Visits Newcastle University to discuss data protection and artificial intelligence

"To trust or not to trust?” That was the question posed by Atom Bank and Newcastle University as they discussed their three-year research project at the Urban Sciences Building on the 5th of November. Atom is the UK’s first bank that works exclusively on smartphones and tablets. With the aim of improving digital banking, they are […]

Molly Greeves
14th November 2018
Will.I.Am visits Newcastle University

"To trust or not to trust?” That was the question posed by Atom Bank and Newcastle University as they discussed their three-year research project at the Urban Sciences Building on the 5th of November. Atom is the UK’s first bank that works exclusively on smartphones and tablets. With the aim of improving digital banking, they are collaborating with researchers from Newcastle University to launch FinTrust, “a million-pound multi-disciplinary project launched to explore trust in financial services.” 

The scheme aims to use insights from both social and digital science to improve artificial intelligence and create more “human” interactions. This idea was discussed at the event by three main speakers: Professor Aad Van Moorsel, Professor of Cyber Security at Newcastle University, Edward Twiddy, Chief Innovation Officer at Atom Bank, and the musician and philanthropist Will.I.Am, who was made the strategic board adviser of Atom Bank last April. 

FinTrust was formed by the idea that “people are becoming more reliant on technology”, but in spite of this, “distrust of technology continues to grow... social media has the potential to manipulate and people worry about the safety of their personal data. Understanding how to design credible services and build customer trust is vital to the future success of digital financial services”. 

As Atom’s strategic board adviser, Will.I.Am visited Newcastle University to announce what he believed would be an “awesome” project. His involvement in the project appeared to be based on an interest in data protection, a topic he finds “fascinating”. He opened his speech enthusiasm for the future of technology, saying: 

“In 2021, we’re going to be living in a day and age where we own our data.  

“I own my songs, but I don’t own my facial map. I own my DNA and blood, and I can sell it... but I can’t sell my data. Other people can access (and use) my data, but I can’t. 

He identified what was, for him, a key issue: the fact that companies can profit off of our data, but we cannot own it ourselves. “If I’m signing a contract, I need people there. If I'm giving away my data online, ain’t nobody signing no contract! 

“Data is money,” he said, “but not for people, not for communities... and that’s going to change. 

“In the near future, (selling data) is going to be a reality. There’s going to be systems in place that don’t exist right now. Right around the corner tomorrow is really awesome.” 

Due to the rising distrust of technology, one of FinTrust main aims is to develop artificial intelligence that customers feel they can trust. Presumably referencing the 2016 elections in the US., where the Russian government interfered with the presidential race, Will.I.Am stresses that protecting our data is becoming more important than ever.  

“I come from an awesome country and data was breached... hopefully that’s the last time something like that happens. But it probably won’t be the last time something like that happens.” 

One of the fundamental questions that the project aims to answer is: can we understand bias? IBM Research states that there are over one hundred and eighty human biases such as race, gender and sexuality, and these can find their way into the AI systems that are designed. The existence of these implicit biases can “erode trust between humans and machines that learn”. 

All three speakers identified that this is a huge hurdle to overcome. Edward Twiddy stated that these biases are “based on the past and not what we want to create in the future”. Eliminating biases whilst maintaining security is one of the main things that the project aims to achieve.

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