Wednesday 18 October 2017

will.i.am: AI will be more disruptive to London tech scene than Brexit

Josie Cox

The reckless rise of artificial intelligence is going to be much more disruptive for the London technology scene in the longer run than Britain’s departure from the EU, according to musician, entrepreneur and philanthropist will.i.am.

Speaking at an event celebrating his collaboration with Atom Bank, an app-based digital-only bank launched last year, the founding member of The Black Eyed Peas said that by 2030, Brexit will be “an old school thought” for the UK’s rapidly evolving tech industry and AI will present a much more acute challenge.

At the moment “no one really understands the things that we should care about,” he said. “We need to invest in AI in order to stay ahead.”

Echoing similar remarks made by Chinese business magnate Alibaba chairman Jack Ma this week, will.i.am said that historically, technology and industrialisation have caused wars.

“Technology today hasn’t caused turmoil [yet] but we need to make sure it doesn’t,” he said. “We need to work closer together to be inspiring and encouraging, and to protect the youth.”

A time when we do everything on our phones – from banking to screening our medical health and even voting in elections – is “just around the corner”.

Multimillionaire will.i.am shot to fame in the early 2000s with hip-hop group The Black Eyed Peas. He’s since released several solo albums, collaborated with scores of artists, including Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga. He’s broken into television, with talent show The Voice and has also dabbled in fashion.

He’s a founding shareholder of Beats Electronics, which makes high-end headphones, and an avid philanthropist through his foundation dedicated to providing education to underprivileged students. In the UK, his foundation collaborates with The Prince’s Trust.

Earlier this year, Durham-based Atom announced that will.i.am had been appointed as the bank’s first strategic board advisor.

As a consumer technology investor, Atom at the time said that the 42-year old, whose real name is William James Adams, would provide an external perspective on culture, philanthropy and technology.

At this week’s event, hosted in a Shoreditch hotel, Anthony Thomson, founder and chairman of Atom, elaborated on the perhaps not quite obvious partnership.

He said that he had pitched to the musician around two years ago after trying to determine who Atom would be if it were a person.

He’s “a guy who has all the qualities we’re looking for [in the bank],” Mr Thomson, who is also the founder and chairman of Metro Bank, said.

will.i.am told The Independent that he had chosen to work with Atom because of its “progressive” approach to banking and the way in which it strives to educate especially young people about saving, in a prescient manner.

When he got his first pay cheque after securing a record deal at 20 years old, he had “no clue” how to manage his finances. He said that he developed a habit of stashing the cheques he was receiving in the locked glove compartment of his car. “That was my idea of saving.”

A “new age type of banking company”, as will.i.am describes Atom, will ensure that young people—especially those from a deprived background who have little understanding of personal finance— are given the opportunity to learn how to manage their savings. He said that he grew up in a poor neighbourhood in east Los Angeles and could relate to youngsters today trying to make living.

As a celebrity, he said, he can help Atom “raise awareness and drive adoption” and help the lender be to the larger, established banks what a true disruptor, like Uber is to the traditional taxi industry.

 “This is all about preparing for tomorrow,” he said.  “No one wants to play catch up.”

Atom, which received its banking licence in June 2015, currently offers several savings products and has entered the mortgage market by partnering with brokers. In March it raised £83m from major institutional investors, including Spain’s BBVA, veteran fund manager Neil Woodford and Toscafund. It said that it intends to launch further products this year.

Independent News Service

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