Picture this: A person staggers out of bed, bleary-eyed, then somehow showers, gets dressed and sidles up to their car. The rearview mirror scans their irises, and the self-driving car recognizes them, adjusting the seats, mirrors and temperature to their maximum comfort levels.
A voice asks, “Morning commute or morning commute with coffee run?” The choice belongs to that passenger. Once made, off the car goes to the office or Starbucks. In the case of the latter, the double soy latte order is automatically placed, and is waiting for them — thus, getting rid of the bleary eyes.
Welcome to the future of artificial intelligence (AI), where commerce is as seamless as can be, and tailored, too. We’re a long way off from this, though, and from the “Big Brother is watching you” futuristic tales, of, say, Minority Report.
Then again, as Mark Jamison, global head of innovation and design at Visa, told Karen Webster, in a whirlwind tour of AI hotbeds around the globe, science fiction need not cloud the valuable experiences that the technology is bringing to any number of use cases.
Fresh off a series of interactions via Visa “talk tracks” and innovation labs with companies that discussed AI, as well as homed in on where to invest time and money, he said there is much in store for payments and commerce. Companies and consumers can gain considerably from being powered by and paired with AI, “running on the fuel,” as he put it, of rich data sets designed by and built for millennials — “mobile, instant, natural and authenticated with biometrics.”
Where We Are Now
Now, Jamison said, beyond the promise lies the truth: What people term as AI is “basically really simple algorithms running on Big Data sets, and the most powerful ones actually … just do pattern recognition. … It is kind of like when the internet launched, and TCP/IP was first out. It was unclear exactly all the different ways [the internet] would manifest itself. The internet evolved from really ugly screens to then doing your phone calls over it … and, the next thing you know, you’re doing videos over the internet. AI is similar. There will be this massive step change in capabilities that will power basically every experience that you have, especially in your digital life.”
Getting There: AI Around The Globe
To get there will be a piecemeal process, but AI is already changing the back-end functions of many companies. Jamison said Visa has more than 100 applications that use AI in some form (as described in an earlier interview between Visa and PYMNTS). He offered one scenario of Visa applications being used in a call center setting to automatically turn voice conversations into text, which AI can then use to discover if keywords or phrases are (or are not) being used appropriately for selling or compliance purposes. That’s much more efficient than listening in on random samples of individual calls.
Chatbots, he added, are helping to foster personalization, letting consumers interact with representatives and companies through a single interface to access a range of services.
Pointing to Alibaba and Tencent, he said those eCommerce juggernauts “have built complete ecosystems” powered by AI, and “have created a mini version of the internet for commerce.” In fact, in looking across the globe, Jamison pointed to Asia as fertile ground for AI innovation. “The whole integration of AI into daily life is really happening in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.
He noted that when travelers get off a plane in Singapore, as they walk through the jet bridge into the airport, various cameras complete facial recognition scans and run them against a government database. Authorities, said Jamison, “have already determined whether a traveler is going to go through additional screening at immigration. And, with another large-scale effort, China has implemented a comprehensive social-scoring system.”
Another front of innovation is the Middle East, where the embrace of technology, combined with commerce and a dash of AI, has been driven by competition for the high-net-worth (and ultra high-net-worth) customers in the region, he explained. Writ larger, one AI-powered phase will be financial inclusion.
“It’s about taking all of these digital technologies and making it economically feasible to include the billions of people who are not in the formal financial system,” Jamison told Webster. “So, that’s going to be a powerful thing that happens in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, for sure.”
There are Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements, government documents and any number of friction points that can now be smoothed with technology, he said — processes that previously made the housing and servicing of small and micro accounts prohibitively expensive for the banks.
Now, “with ubiquitous, wireless connectivity and the penetration of mobile phones, you can ask the person to do self-service things like take a photo of their government ID.” Then, matching it against a valid ID database enables “the ability to open an account with certainty that the person is who they say they are, … while taking an order of magnitude out of processing costs.”
Talking About The Voice
Let’s not forget the U.S. — where, for example, Amazon has shipped over 100 million Alexa-enabled devices, and where voice-controlled interactions (remember the car scenario above) are pervasive across commerce and everyday life.
Voice assistants, Jamison told Webster, are initially a counterintuitive experience for AI-driven commerce applications because, “as humans, we actually need a speed bump and assurance that the thing we’re doing is what we really want. The issue with voice assistants is that there is no visual interface. Instead, there’s a process of discovery, because you don’t know what you can or can’t do. Can I order a pizza to be delivered, and will it really show up? And can I order an Uber? The answer is yes, but you might not know how to use that skill, or that the skill even exists.”
Visa’s own primary research, he said, has found that confirming prompts in the shopping process — such as snippets of a person’s favorite song — can serve as personalized check-in points to ensure that individuals want to proceed with a transaction or use a certain preferred payment method. Certainty and confirmation need to be injected into the process to accelerate consumer adoption.
The Trust Factor
Jamison added that, when it comes to certainty, individuals trust their banks, where relationships and familiarity already exist.
Consumers want it all, he pointed out. They appreciate the assistance of AI in navigating commerce. They also want their data and information to be secure and private. What customers want, he said, is for the banks and companies with which they do business to “know me, help me and make it easy for me. They expect that if they have a relationship with you, you’re going to use all the data you have to personalize [the process] and help them, and make it easy. Now, what that doesn’t say is that there’s an expectation of all the ways that I as a customer would expect you to use that data.”
The banks, especially, noted Jamison, have a duty to tread carefully. “The moment you breach that trust and use it for other creepy things that have nothing to do with what they were expected to be doing, then there’s a massive breach that alters the consumer’s perception.”
The banks may not be immediately perceived as being on the frontlines of innovation, said Jamison, “but people know they’re not going to screw things up, and that if something goes wrong, the bank[s] will fix it. Individuals trust that it’s regulated and managed in a way that is, ultimately, in their best interest.”