Is the increased use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) set to make our lives easier? Or are we setting ourselves up for a world ruled by robots?
I don't know about you, but I've seen enough films and TV shows to make me suspect that one day robots will gain power and take over the world (it's only a matter of time). Even with that slight fear in my mind I still have and use a virtual assistant at home. Granted it's mainly for entertainment purposes but she can also let me know train times and remind me of things I need to do. AI is being used much more within financial services and could become a useful tool within the pensions industry. To test out the knowledge and abilities of my virtual assistant, I thought I would find out how she would describe a pension. Her exact response was as follows:
“As a noun, 'pension' can mean a regular payment to a person that is intended to allow them to subsist without working. As a verb, 'pension' can mean grant a pension to.”
I suppose you could say that's a fairly accurate description. It highlights that the aim of a pension is to allow a person to live while no longer working. Ultimately that explanation doesn't tell you much of what you need to know. It tells you the end of the story without explaining how you get there.
At the moment AI deals with fact. It can help you do something much more quickly and efficiently and can answer factual questions. What it can't yet do is deal with emotions or show independent thought. It can tell you what a pension is and help facilitate you getting there but it can't offer advice and support. I worked as a Pensions Administrator for 11 years and more than anything it taught me that pensions are about life in general and not simply about ‘getting old’.
To work in pensions you have to understand people and support them throughout life's events with the ultimate goal of a settled and comfortable life. Everyone is different and has specific needs and requirements throughout their working life, at retirement and beyond.
In ‘dystopian’ novels (for example George Orwell’s 1984), technology is our ultimate downfall but in reality digital technology and Artificial Intelligence is becoming more popular and successful when it comes to engaging with an audience. For many this is the most effective way of getting a message across. We are becoming more and more used to looking things up online or connecting to content using our smart phones. Whilst there are those who fully embrace technology, you cannot just ignore those that find it easier to understand information that is in print form or given in person. Meeting in person or providing booklets and leaflets are still an important form of communication and in certain circumstances can be the most efficient way of getting a message across.
When I need assistance with an important financial matter like my pension I would much rather know that there is a person that will sit and listen to my questions rather than a screen that answers me instantly. I think everyone needs to have that personal support at some point whether it’s to sympathise over challenging decisions or provide full financial advice. In many cases the advice given may be to use an online tool or app but it’s this combination of personal and technical that provides the best support and options for different types of people.
So, as much as I love a sci-fi film or dystopian novel, I’m not sure I’m ready for a full robot take over just yet. But, who knows, maybe in the future there will be no need for a pension, just a virtual assistant to allow us ‘‘to subsist without working”.