By Dr Mohamed Ramady *
With the significant advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotic applications in many services, the question arises as to whether the future of banking will be in the hands of robots, or will humans still have a role? to play ?
Some countries with a penchant for using advanced technologies, especially in Asia, seem to be opting for robotics, such as Shinhan Financial, which owns South Korea’s oldest and second-largest bank, which has introduced robots. virtual as bank tellers. Shinhan relied on Samsung’s AI programs called Neons. Copying humans, virtual robots smile and respond to customer queries with a mixture of words and gestures.
Is this the future or is it specific to certain cultures and societies? Many studies of “Generation Z” tech experts expect Gen Z customers to use fintech and branchless banking instead of visiting physical banking sites. But South Korea was not the first to jump into this field of robotics – Japan’s SoftBank launched a robot called Pepper in 2015, which was touted as the first commercial machine for companies to be used for customer interaction.
Pepper’s child size and button-eyed features made him endearing to many customers as he did not project a frightening robotic presence that most often makes humans anxious. SoftBank continues to promote Pepper in the Middle East. While some might see Pepper as a gimmick, more than 2,000 global companies have adopted the SoftBank machine to greet, guide or educate customers, making it an additional effective marketing tool to attract the younger generation.
Not to be outdone, UK-based Engineered Arts created a humanoid robot called Ameca, with somewhat spooky expressions of happiness, confusion, sadness, and astonishment. The robot is still unable to walk at this time and is only made for entertainment and special events.
Others have gone even further. The French robot development company Aldebaran also stepped in with its own little robot called NAO, which has sensors, bumpers, autonomous navigation and a touchscreen. HSBC was the first bank in the United States to use it to teach customers how to open an account while having fun, rather than interacting with a tired or brooding human employee.
The question remains, however: have humanoid-type robots been effective? In some ways the answer is yes, as some of these bots have transformed the way banks and other service industries do business across multiple functions, simplifying many applications. Making these bots multilingual only adds to the general excitement. But there is also resistance to the invasion of robots, as a robot’s ability to think and feel like a human can induce human mistrust and fear, well illustrated in Hollywood movies such as “AI Artificial Intelligence ”and“ I, Robot ”.
Regardless of our fascination with advancements in AI, humans are still humans and may prefer to interact with other humans they trust to share information and make decisions. In addition, “insensitive” robots may push customers to make riskier choices. There are also religious concerns that, by creating robots in their own image as gods, humans are entering uncharted moral and ethical territory. Others might argue that robots can perform many tasks more diligently than humans, giving them more time to focus on other areas of their lives.
Despite apprehensions, advancements in humanoid robotics continue at a steady pace, most notably the human-like robot Sophia developed by Hanson Robotics, first seen during the inauguration of Saudi NEOM, and which has become the first AI in history to have legal personality and obtain Saudi citizenship. . It did not end with Sophia, as future developments of NEOM are expected to be so advanced that the founders believe that robots will outnumber humans in many activities, playing a role in critical areas such as the manufacture of cutting edge, genetic engineering and medical innovation, where AI has already proven a blessing.
Faced with all this, what can banks do about advances in the robotics industry? Upgrading their staff’s skills, more efficient and user-friendly customer services and multitasking could be a start.
• Dr. Mohamed Ramady is a former senior banker and professor of finance and economics, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran.