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Charting the uncharted: the future of AI in treasury


Artificial Intelligence (AI) has, over the past few years, emerged from the shadows of technological idealism into the glaring light of practical applications. Its very essence encapsulates the hopes, dreams, and fears of humanity’s collective imagination. 

The promise it holds is vast, from reinventing business operations to potentially reshaping the very fabric of our society. Yet, with immense power comes great responsibility, prompting pressing discussions about AI’s ethical deployment and the imperative of data protection.

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In an illuminating panel discussion at the 2023 EuroFinance International Treasury Management, Carl Burman, Global head of cash management, at the Danish shipping and logistics giant, Maersk and Andres Tcach, treasurer at the generative artificial intelligence startup, Stability AI, discussed the intersection of AI’s potential in treasury and the challenges and responsibilities of its ethical use in the wider business world. 

AI’s future trajectory: intuitive and expedient

The rapid evolution of AI is evident everywhere. In less than a decade, AI has transformed from being a mere concept in research papers to powering advanced applications in every industry, from healthcare to finance. As Andres Tcach of Stability AI succinctly observed, the progression of AI is happening at such a breakneck speed that what we once believed would take decades is now a matter of a few years. His reference to the cinematic AI creation, Jarvis from Ironman, isn’t just whimsical. Tech giants like Microsoft are already hinting at advancements in AI models that can intuitively interact with visual content, bridging the gap between reel and real.

But what does this mean for industries, especially sectors like treasury? How will AI be harnessed, and what will it mean for daily operations? Tcach’s vision paints a picture of seamless interaction. Treasury officials might soon be able to vocally instruct AI systems, eliminating the need for manual data input or complex software interactions. Imagine a world where a treasurer, with a simple vocal command, can pull up intricate financial data, segregate it based on banks or transactions, and even discern returns on investments. It’s about simplifying complex tasks, making them not just efficient but also intuitive.

Yet, for all its promise, there’s another layer to consider. One of the foundational principles is that AI models must be transparent and auditable. Users ought to know how their data interacts with the models. This becomes particularly significant in regulated sectors where privacy and confidentiality are paramount. Proprietary data must never end up in public hands by accidentally sharing it for public training. Anticipating the future, a significant growth area is envisioned to be smaller open-source models tailored and trained on private data to cater to these nuanced needs.

Carl Burman’s insights from Maersk offer a balanced view on this matter. While AI’s evolution promises a myriad of advantages, there’s a more cautious side to this tale. The growth of AI and its models is tethered to vast amounts of data. In a world where data becomes paramount, its protection, ethical use, and regulated growth become equally critical. The unchecked proliferation of AI models could flood our digital realm with AI-generated content, making it increasingly challenging to discern authenticity.

The AI dichotomy: A utopian dream or dystopian nightmare?

Yet, it’s not just about the challenges; there’s also the potential. AI presents a dichotomy that industries, regulators, and the general public must grapple with. Burman’s insights paint two contrasting pictures. On the one hand, there’s the utopian vision of AI—a world where data is used ethically, innovations enhance human experiences, and technology is harnessed responsibly. Contrast this with the dystopian view, where unchecked AI advancements could lead to a deluge of AI-generated content, casting shadows of doubt over the veracity of information and leading to potential societal chaos.

The real-world implications of this dichotomy are already manifesting. Burman’s mention of the UK’s supervisory board dissolution raises questions about the tug-of-war between competitive technological advancement and ethical considerations. The risk of misinformation is not a distant threat—it’s already prevalent today, and as Tcach underscores, the response from social media companies and authorities has been lackluster and sluggish. Proactively addressing this, Tcach reveals that they are working alongside various governments to lay down principles that foster innovation within a safer AI ecosystem.

However, as Tcach rightly points out, the solution doesn’t just lie with regulatory bodies. The AI community, buoyed by open-source models and collaborative platforms, can take the lead. There’s an opportunity for collective, proactive action, creating a balance between innovation and ethics. Community-driven initiatives could potentially act as a bulwark against misuse, setting a course for AI’s future that’s both promising and secure.

An unwavering commitment to data protection

Diving deeper into the realm of data protection, we find another layer to this multifaceted discourse. In today’s digital age, data is often equated with gold, given its value. Yet, the very ubiquity of data also makes it vulnerable. Cybersecurity breaches aren’t outliers; they’ve become the norm, making headlines and causing ripples across sectors.

Maersk’s experience serves as a case in point. As a global conglomerate, the company faced the brunt of a significant cyber incident in 2017. The financial losses were substantial, but the intangible impacts were even more significant. Such incidents underscore the crucial need for robust data protection frameworks. Reflecting on this, Burman emphasizes Maersk’s commitment to stringent data protection policies, with a focus on not making data available to third parties. This pivot isn’t just about recovery; it’s about setting a gold standard for businesses globally.

As AI continues to weave its narrative into the tapestry of human progress, the need for ethical deployment and robust data protection becomes all the more essential. The insights from thought leaders like Tcach and Burman provide not just a glimpse into the future but also a roadmap. The journey ahead, with all its promise and challenges, requires collective action, ethical reflections, and a commitment to embracing AI responsibly. As we stand at this technological crossroads, our decisions will undoubtedly shape the course of humanity’s future.