By Darko Matovski, CEO and co-founder, causaLens
Many businesses use machine learning algorithms to automate operational processes, solve complex data-rich business problems, and inform data-driven decisions. Traditionally, businesses in the financial services sector have depended on analysis generated by quants or machine learning platforms that rely solely upon historical correlations in order to make predictions about the economy. Such approaches have severe limitations, however, often doing little more than fitting curves to data with no understanding of the real world. These businesses are effectively driving forward by looking in the rear-view mirror.
This need no longer be the case, though. With an understanding of cause and effect, machine learning platforms can unlock significant additional value in data. A necessary step toward developing true artificial intelligence, the application of causal inference can enable businesses to access more precise predictions than ever before. And its benefits aren’t just limited to financial services.
Cause and effect in action
We tend to think of things in terms of cause and effect. If we can ascertain why something happened, we can change our behaviour to change the outcome of a similar situation in the future. When used as a tool, causal inference can enable AI algorithms to reason in a similar way, thereby addressing one of the biggest challenges around machine learning.
Machine learning is unable to adapt to environmental changes. In the case of predictions, they will severely overfit to the historical data. This is particularly true in the world of finance – the ultimate dynamic system.
Ideally, machine learning algorithms should be able to generalise, and adapt to new and previously unseen data. Enabling algorithms to understand causality improves that generalisation. Causal AI makes more accurate predictions in complex systems such as those found in financial services.
Unlike traditional machine learning approaches
In practice, a causal AI platform will retain the advantages of comprehensive automation – one of the key benefits of machine learning – allowing thousands of datasets to be cleaned, sorted and monitored simultaneously. Unlike traditional approaches, however, it combines this data with causal models and truly explainable insights – traditionally the sole province of domain experts. To further enhance its capabilities, intuitive interfaces can be used to harness unique human knowledge.
By way of illustration, Foreign Exchange (FX) technology provider CLS recently implemented our causal AI platform. By helping the company to understand relationships between its data and other datasets, it enabled the rapid identification of significant and unexpected changes in key factors associated with the FX markets during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Masami Johnstone, head of information services at CLS, this was immensely valuable to its clients, enabling them to react quickly to market conditions, and enhance their investing strategies.
As well as this, many of our hedge fund clients have used the platform to evaluate datasets very rapidly and at scale. This helps them find profitable trading signals in hundreds of large datasets, leading to cost savings in data evaluation and increased profits from taking positions through listening to these signals. In the insurance industry, the technology can be used to predict claim developments, amount per claim, business defaults and macro-economic indicators leading to at least a 15 percent decrease in costs.
Causal AI represents significant benefits to other industries, too. By improving staff and bed allocation, for example, and predicting the spread of diseases in real-time, it could save healthcare providers up to 15 percent in operational costs. The oil and gas industry could enjoy savings of at least $200bn by optimising transportation and storage, and more accurately predicting supply and demand. And more than $500bn in food waste could be saved each year if we could better predict microclimate and demand.
A huge step forward
Causal AI is already being used to predict and optimise many businesses but, as the examples outlined above demonstrate, it has the potential to improve operations across a range of industries and, in time, could come to play a role across all of society.
Today’s world is changing faster than ever before. It’s vital that businesses are able to react quickly and adapt to unexpected circumstances and events – especially in times of political and economic uncertainty such as those we’re currently experiencing. But current state-of-the-art machine learning barely scratches the surface of what a business’s machines can do. A new category of machine learning, causal AI goes far beyond predictions, providing transparent causal insights and suggesting actions that can directly improve a business’s KPIs. By understanding – and acting upon – the importance of cause and effect, the advent of causal AI represents a huge step forward for businesses everywhere.
Mobile app acceleration during the pandemic: Businesses must adapt or die
By Mike Rhodes, CEO of ConsultMyApp
For the past year, the over-riding narrative has been to stay at home and reduce in-person contact. As a result, every aspect of our lives, from work and socializing to exercising and shopping, has shifted online.
Amid such a backdrop, the mobile app market has become more important than ever before. In fact, the second quarter of 2020 became the largest yet for mobile app usage, with new downloads skyrocketing to 35 billion and in-app spending reaching a record $27 billion.
Whilst some industries have tackled this new digital challenge head on, and with great success, others have failed to engage and retain users online. The most notable example has been the failure of the NHS track and trace app which, according to the latest reports, only curbed the transmission of coronavirus by 2 to 5 percent last year.
Developing a mobile app is simple, but as track and trace shows, ensuring an app’s success is far more complex than registering the platform and attracting active users. In order to increase visibility, drive installs and retain users, app optimization and pre and post-acquisition marketing is essential. Yet, currently, only the most digitally savvy businesses are aware of this.
So, where do businesses need to concentrate their efforts if they are to successfully leverage their mobile apps and obtain a market advantage in the new Covid-era?
Prioritise app-store optimization
The mobile app industry is booming. Irrespective of the sector, businesses across the world are quickly waking up to the potential of the mobile app market and, as a result, apps are becoming increasingly important in our everyday lives.
Amid such a saturated market, app-store optimization should be the top priority for your mobile marketing strategy. According to Apple, 70 percent of individuals use the search tool to find apps, so keyword optimization is essential to make sure that the right people find your app above anyone else’s when they search in the stores.
Moreover, optimizing your creative assets is crucial to ensure sustained conversion. For example, enhancing the icon, screenshots and multimedia assets that appear on the app store can boost the appeal of your listing and help improve download rates. After all, your profile on the app store acts a virtual shop front with a footfall of billions of people globally, so you need to make sure it stands out.
Ultimately, app-store optimization can improve your visibility in organic searches and help to increase overall conversation rates, alongside building a strong foundation for your app to set it up for continued success.
Enhance your communication strategy
Amid the ongoing market upheaval, businesses core messaging has become more important than ever before, and a brand’s ability to communicate effectively with their target market has become pivotal to determine whether they are a thriving success or fall into irrelevance. However, with so many businesses trying to carve out a unique voice online, it can be hard to remain relevant to customers.
Mobile apps provide businesses with a unique opportunity to provide a personalised user experience, that not only works to build relationships with existing customers, but also offers the opportunity to approach an even wider market than before.
Maintaining regular interaction with your customers via a mobile app platform that caters to their personal needs will help to build a loyal following and result in better rates of engagement for the business.
Pivot according to shifts in consumer behaviour
The mobile app market is flourishing and, in Q1 of 2020 alone, the average time individuals spent in apps each week rose by 20 percent. Whilst a recent report has suggested that this shift online will continue long after social distancing measures and lockdown restrictions lift, in order to remain successful, businesses must monitor shifts in consumer behaviour and pivot their app experience.
Developing and optimizing an app is not a one-and-done process. Businesses need to constantly review user interests, sentiments and requirements, alongside design trends, if they are to remain relevant and meet consumer demand. No matter how advanced your app is, if you neglect to pivot your service offerings accordingly, you will fall behind your market competitors.
Review in-app monetization approaches
The past year has brought about drastic changes to the way businesses operate and, if they are to remain successful, they must continue to react to the changing economic climate and adapt to the opportunities available.
Whilst in-app monetisation strategies and mobile advertising can open up access to new revenue streams, businesses must prioritise the customer experience alongside the desire to raise funds. For example, modifying the purchasing process to make it more accessible and intuitive, whilst remaining simple, can help boost sales. In contrast, brands that overlook the potential to monetise aspects of their app, or have a poorly designed app which deters customers, will fall short and lose out on this new market potential.
Address security concerns
Without a doubt, the Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated the digital transition. Even individuals who have traditionally resisted the shift online, have been embracing these new opportunities at an unprecedented rate. However, despite this widespread acceptance, there are still concerns over fatigue when it comes to interacting with technology and distrust on security and data protection.
Businesses will need to address these concerns in equal measure if they are to retain users and ensure the long-term success of their mobile apps. Whilst apps need to be optimized to attract customers, functionality is just as important, especially as more brands enter into this space.
On average, it is estimated that each individual has up to 90 apps on their phone, but they will only use nine in any one day. The stark reality is that many apps are downloaded, used once for the required purpose and then forgotten about. If businesses want their mobile apps to succeed in a flooded market, they will need to invest in app optimization and marketing strategies to build awareness, improve the customer experience and develop a competitive edge.
Ultimately, mobile apps have become the new interface for brands and businesses across all sectors amid the ongoing pandemic. This shift is only set to gain momentum moving forward and businesses simply cannot afford to overlook the lucrative potential of the app market if they are to survive in the new Covid-era.
‘Spooky’ AI tool brings dead relatives’ photos to life
By Umberto Bacchi
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Like the animated paintings that adorn the walls of Harry Potter’s school, a new online tool promises to bring portraits of dead relatives to life, stirring debate about the use of technology to impersonate people.
Genealogy company MyHeritage launched its “Deep Nostalgia” feature earlier this week, allowing users to turn stills into short videos showing the person in the photograph smiling, winking and nodding.
“Seeing our beloved ancestors’ faces come to life … lets us imagine how they might have been in reality, and provides a profound new way of connecting to our family history,” MyHeritage founder Gilad Japhet said in a statement.
Developed with Israeli computer vision firm D-ID, Deep Nostalgia uses deep learning algorithms to animate images with facial expressions that were based on those of MyHeritage employees.
Some of the company’s users took to Twitter on Friday to share the animated images of their deceased relatives, as well as moving depictions of historical figures, including Albert Einstein and Ancient Egypt’s lost Queen Nefertiti.
“Takes my breath away. This is my grandfather who died when I was eight. @MyHeritage brought him back to life. Absolutely crazy,” wrote Twitter user Jenny Hawran.
While most expressed amazement, others described the feature as “spooky” and said it raised ethical questions. “The photos are enough. The dead have no say in this,” tweeted user Erica Cervini.
From chatbots to virtual reality, the tool is the latest innovation seeking to bring the dead to life through technology.
Last year U.S. rapper Kanye West famously gifted his wife Kim Kardashian a hologram of her late father congratulating her on her birthday and on marrying “the most, most, most, most, most genius man in the whole world”.
‘ANIMATING THE PAST’
The trend has opened up all sorts of ethical and legal questions, particularly around consent and the opportunity to blur reality by recreating a virtual doppelganger of the living.
Elaine Kasket a psychology professor at the University of Wolverhampton in Britain who authored a book on the “digital afterlife”, said that while Deep Nostalgia was not necessarily “problematic”, it sat “at the top of a slippery slope”.
“When people start overwriting history or sort of animating the past … You wonder where that ends up,” she said.
MyHeritage acknowledges on its website that the technology can be “a bit uncanny” and its use “controversial”, but said steps have been taken to prevent abuses.
“The Deep Nostalgia feature includes hard-coded animations that are intentionally without any speech and therefore cannot be used to fake any content or deliver any message,” MyHeritage public relations director Rafi Mendelsohn said in a statement.
Yet, images alone can convey meaning, said Faheem Hussain, a clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
“Imagine somebody took a picture of the Last Supper and Judas is now winking at Mary Magdalene – what kind of implications that can have,” Hussain told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Similarly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) animations could be use to make someone appear as though they were doing things they might not be happy about, such as rolling their eyes or smiling at a funeral, he added.
Mendelsohn of MyHeritage said using photos of a living person without their consent was a breach of the company’s terms and conditions, adding that videos were clearly marked with AI symbols to differentiate them from authentic recordings.
“It is our ethical responsibility to mark such synthetic videos clearly and differentiate them from real videos,” he said.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi in Milan; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Does your institution have operational resilience? Testing cyber resilience may be a good way to find out
By Callum Roxan, Head of Threat Intelligence, F-Secure
If ever 2020 had a lesson, it was that no organization can possibly prepare for every conceivable outcome. Yet building one particular skill will make any crisis easier to handle: operational resilience.
Many financial institutions have already devoted resources to building operational resilience. Unfortunately, this often takes what Miles Celic, Chief Executive Officer of TheCityUK, calls a “near death” experience for this conversion to occur. “Recent years have seen a number of cases of loss of reputation, reduced enterprise value and senior executive casualties from operational incidents that have been badly handled,” he wrote.
But it need not take a disaster to learn this vital lesson.
“Operational resilience means not only planning around specific, identified risks,” Charlotte Gerken, the executive director of the Bank of England, said in a 2017 speech on operational resilience. “We want firms to plan on the assumption that any part of their infrastructure could be impacted, whatever the reason.” Gerken noted that firms that had successfully achieved a level of resilience that survives a crisis had established the necessary mechanisms to bring the business together to respond where and when risks materialised, no matter why or how.
We’ll talk about the bit we know best here; by testing for cyber resilience, a company can do more than prepare for the worst sort of attacks it may face. This process can help any business get a clearer view of how it operates, and how well it is prepared for all kinds of surprises.
Assumptions and the mechanisms they should produce are the best way to prepare for the unknown. But, as the boxer Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The aim of cyber resilience is to build an effective security posture that survives that first punch, and the several that are likely to follow. So how can an institution be confident that they’ve achieved genuine operational resilience?
This requires an organization to honestly assess itself through the motto inscribed at the front of the Temple of Delphi: “Know thyself.” And when it comes to cyber security, there is a way for an organization to test just how thoroughly it comprehends its own strengths and weaknesses.
The Bank of England was the first central bank to help develop the framework for institutions to test the integrity of their systems. CBEST is made up of controlled, bespoke, intelligence-led cyber security tests that replicate behaviours of those threat actors, and often have unforeseen or secondary benefits. Gerken notes that the “firms that did best in the testing tended to be those that really understood their organisations. They understood their own needs, strengths and weaknesses, and reflected this in the way they built resilience.”
In short, testing cyber resilience can provide clear insight into an institution’s operational resilience in general.
Gaining that specific knowledge without a “near-death” experience is obviously a significant win for any establishment. And testing for operational resilience throughout the industry can provide some reminders of the steps every organization should take so that testing provides unique insists about their institution, and not just a checklist of cyber defence basics.
The IIF/McKinsey Cyber Resilience Survey of the financial services industry released in March lasy year provided six sets of immediate actions that institutions could take to improve their cyber security posture. The toplines of these recommendations were:
- Do the basics, patch your vulnerabilities.
- Review your cloud architecture and security capabilities.
- Reduce your supply chain risk.
- Practice your incident response and recovery capabilities.
- Set aside a specific cyber security budget and prioritise it
- Build a skilled talent pool and optimize resources through automation.
But let’s be honest: If simply reading a solid list of recommendations created cyber resilience, cyber criminals would be out of business. Unfortunately, cyber crime as a business is booming and threat actors targeting essential financial institutions through cyber attacks are likely earning billions in the trillion dollar industry of financial crime.A list can’t reveal an institution’s unique weaknesses, those security failings and chokepoints that could shudder operations, not just during a successful cyber attack but during various other crises that challenge their operations. And the failings that lead to flaws in an institution’s cyber defence likely reverberate throughout the organization as liabilities that other crises would likely expose.
The best way to get a sense of operational resilience will always be to simulate the worst that attackers can summon. That’s why the time to test yourself is now, before someone else does.
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