Riccardo Tordera, Payments Association: UK is ‘open for business’ on AI tech

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Last month, the UK hosted the global AI Summit to decide how the world should approach the technology. We spoke to Riccardo Tordera, Head of Policy and Government Relations at The Payments Association about how the decisions made there will impact upon the world of payments. 

PE: Firstly, do you feel that the inaugural AI safety summit was a success and if so why? 

Riccardo Tordera: I believe this summit was a success for the UK in that it achieved what it set out to do. Rishi Sunak was able to play the role of arbiter, putting global leaders at the same table and coordinating their views and approaches to AI. It was a good show of soft power that positions the UK as a real thought leader in technological innovation.

This was a necessary step – we’ve known for some time that the UK payments sector needs to learn to use AI effectively. It’s essential that we put policies in place to manage concerns around privacy and consumer protection and advise on regulatory frameworks for customer-led data sharing between services, especially when it comes to AI-powered debt and money advice – and for this we need leadership. 

Done successfully, this will enable more non-traditional providers to offer early intervention tools for those who are financially disadvantaged or excluded and to oil the wheels of commerce even more effectively.

PE: For the uninitiated, can you explain the Bletchley Declaration and what it means for the future of AI?

RT: The declaration’s signing in the UK’s Bletchley Park underscores the political and strategic importance of this initiative to control the trajectory of AI’s development. This is famously where codebreakers like Alan Turing and other agents worked during World War II decoding the enemy’s secret messages, most notably those that had been encrypted with the Enigma machine. This was the birthplace of computing and, as a result, of AI, so it is a strongly symbolic location. 

On the Bletchley Declaration itself, while there have been criticisms about its vagueness, it’s difficult to say how it could have been more succinct given the huge number of issues it needs to encompass. Let’s not forget the context and what is at stake – China, the US, the EU and the UK, among others, all want “the right model” in place and to lead in this space. These details will doubtless be clarified amid the fierce global competition among major powers to establish their own “definitive” model for the future of the internet. This is a race to shape the digital landscape and gain global influence. 

PE: It appears from the summit that the US came out with stronger regulations than other nations. Could this be a hindrance or help when it comes to discussing other countries’ beliefs on regulating AI, such as China’s openness to integrating the tech into everyday life?

RT: When it comes to regulating emerging technologies like AI, it’s crucial to strike a balance between ensuring responsible development and safeguarding public interests without stifling innovation. Introducing overly restrictive regulations too early in the development cycle could hinder the exploration and testing of new concepts. 

AI is still in its nascent stages, and the UK government’s approach of allowing the industry some flexibility to operate while adhering to established principles is commendable. This approach aligns with the UK’s position as an open and welcoming environment for innovation.

It came as no surprise to me that President Biden came up with an executive order on AI around the summit as most AI firms are in the US. This leaves the UK free to play the role of the “open for business” nation. Additionally, the UK government’s overall approach to AI is clearly guided by five key principles outlined in the AI Whitepaper (March 2023): transparency, fairness, accountability, contestability, and safety. These principles provide a solid foundation for responsible AI development and use.

PE: What more can be done in terms of collaboration between banks and fintechs to harness the potential of responsible AI?

RT: This certainly won’t happen overnight and we can expect disruptions along the way. Legacy systems are difficult to replace due to the associated costs and cultural barriers. However, new technologies eventually do prevail due to their superior capabilities. 

Consider the evolution from landlines to mobile phones: landlines were revolutionary when they emerged, but mobiles have become the dominant mode of communication and offer so much more than just a portable phone, with applications for email, text message, calendars, calculators, social media and shopping all easily available. 

Similarly, the fintech industry has disrupted the traditional banking sector, and banks have had to adapt to remain competitive. This clash of innovation has ultimately benefited consumers, leading to a more efficient, cost-effective, and customer-centric financial ecosystem.

Actually, the global AI conversation is a good metaphor for the fintech world. Political leaders need to get on the same page with regards to the development of AI, it’s vital that the fintech community does the same and ensure we are a united force to weather the inevitable changes that are just around the corner. This is why The Payments Association released its own Payments Manifesto with the UK’s general election on the horizon: to hammer home the importance of the payments sector to the government and enhance collaboration within the sector.

PE: Do you anticipate a potentially endless cat-and-mouse race between AI security firms and fraudsters using the technology, and to what extent does regulation ease this burden?

RT: Of course, the misuse of technology is a frightening prospect so we need to educate consumers on a massive scale to be more vigilant and regulatory bodies should understand this too. We have seen a tendency for regulators to place the entire burden on industry, which shouldn’t always be the default option. Consumers must also collaborate and be educated to avoid falling into the traps that criminals will use to exploit them.

PE: Lastly, and thank you for your time, the risks of AI are often viewed as frightening and worst case scenario, ‘world ending’. Why is now the time for the world to unite to regulate this emerging technology?

RT: The world was predicted to end in the year 1000, but we are still here today. AI is a borderless technology, so there will need to be common standards established. However, I am confident that major nations will seek to establish their own approaches and position them as the “gold standard” for AI development. The UK can play a role in this by leading AI adoption in a way that aligns with our fundamental values.