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Home » Daily Briefing » Daily briefing - 7 April 2017

Daily briefing - 7 April 2017

Robotville

We begin today in the United States, where debt collection was the biggest source of complaints to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau during 2016, for the second year in a row, according to its latest report. Credit reporting and mortgages attracted the second- and third-largest batches of complaints. The bureau received a total of 88,000 complaints about debt reduction, making up thirty percent of total complaints. Of those 88,000 complaints about debt collection, forty percent were about the attempted collection of debt no longer owed or discharged through bankruptcy. The CFPB, created in part through initiatives by Senator Elizabeth Warren, is under attack in the US House of Representatives. Yesterday, House Financial Services Committee chair Jeb Hensarling told CFPB Director Richard Cordray: "I believe the president is clearly justified in dismissing you, and I call upon the president yet again to do just that, and to do it immediately." Ms Warren defended the agency: "The CFPB has been a tough watchdog for consumers, forcing large financial institutions to return more than $12 billion directly to people they cheated," Warren told the Boston Herald. "The agency is getting results, so it's no surprise Wall Street banks and their Republican friends in Congress want to weaken the agency and launch baseless attacks against Director Cordray."

Over at Goldman Sachs, putative CFO Marty Chavez has been outlining his plans to turn Goldman into the Google of Wall Street. Mr Chavez has honed in on APIs as the future of interfaces, which are currently manned by people. "Historically, the API has been human beings talking to other human beings over the telephone, and all the tools, the content, the analytics is on the internal platform only," Chavez said. "We are shifting this radically and shifting this fast, and we're packaging everything we do, and actually, we're redesigning the whole company, around APIs." Mr Chavez called on his audience to imagine how inefficient Google would be if it had phone operators taking orders for ads. "We're turning all of the verbs, all of the activities at Goldman Sachs, into APIs," Chavez said. "One of the things we're insisting on is a very high standard of lovely and impeccable documentation for these APIs, because we're opening up the vertical monolith which used to have only one API point, which was human beings on the phone."

While Goldman Sachs revels in its status as a technology company, in fact it spent a mere $809 million on tech in 2016. JPMorgan's annual report, however, reveals that the company spent $9.5 billion on technology in the last year. "Of that $9.5 billion, JPM allotted $3 billion to 'new initiatives,' $600 million of which it spent on improving digital and mobile services and on fintech partnerships," reports Tearsheet. (Hat tip to Sriram Natarajan for this story.) "The company has more than 40,000 technologists, and roughly 18,000 of them are developers creating intellectual property." Tearsheet notes that JPMorgan's fintech partnerships include OnDeck Capital and Roostify. "In the 2016 annual report, chief operating officer Matt Zames detailed the bank's plans to automate basic processes and save costs by implementing robotics and machine learning. Perhaps the most astounding example of the latter is an intelligence platform that can analyze 12,000 legal documents in seconds. Previously, the process took as much as 360,000 hours, he said."

The FT today offers a helpful tool for figuring out how soon the robots are coming for your job. The service is offered in conjunction with consultants McKinsey. "For example, the job of retail salesperson is made up of activities such as 'Greet customer', 'Demonstrate product features' etc. Greeting customers requires capabilities such as 'sensory perception', 'social and emotional sensing', and 'natural language generation'. McKinsey then considered what level of performance of that capability is required, based on how humans currently perform those activities. They also assessed whether existing automation technology could achieve the same level of performance. An activity is considered technically automatable only if the answer is yes for all of the capabilities required to do that activity." Lafferty News is relieved to find out that its background in history offers some chance of survivability. Failing that, there's always the priesthood, which seems to have plenty of opportunities.

Here's some light reading for the weekend: a Brief Literary History of Robots. Regular readers of Lafferty News will know that we're fond of science fiction, which tends to reveal that humans are not particularly hopeful about the future. Weirdly enough, we're now living in the future imagined by many seminal works of science fiction, and we're not talking about Back to the Future here, which is a fairly utopian movie. No, we're talking Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the basis of Blade Runner: "Set in 2021 (coming up fast, kids), Dick imagines a world in which almost every kind of living creature has mostly died out and been replaced with mechanized synthetic versions (Rick Deckard has a robot sheep, and actually the whole book begins because he wants the money to replace it with a live one), and though humans still exist, they've developed equally-convincing androids for use as servants. But sometimes those androids need to be retired...or maybe not."

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