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Spiros Margaris: Forward Focused Episode 9

Sep 12, 2019

Evan Kohn: Welcome back listeners to Forward Focused brought to you by Pypestream Digital Labs the thought series on customer experience, artificial intelligence, and enterprise automation, I’m Evan Kohn from Pypestream and I’m talking with Spiros Margaris. Spiros is a venture capitalist and founder of Margaris Ventures, he’s ranked the world’s number one FinTech, AI, and blockchain influencer by Onlytica. He recently published an AI white paper titled Machine Learning in Financial Services: Changing the Rules of the Game, Spiros advises startups around the world with a focus in FinTech and InsurTech. Spiros, great to have you with us!

Spiros Margaris: Thanks for having me, very pleased to be on your podcast.

EK: Well, you’ve identified yourself, Spiros, as a futurist. What does it mean to be a futurist?

SM: Yes, you know, that’s a big word isn’t it? You know, basically as an influencer, sometimes I write pieces about the way I see things evolving in the near future, like I’m the first one who coined expression FinTech Super Market, basically FinTech startups that partner to offer their customers different services beyond their core competency or I wrote the piece two years ago about We Were Kings, where I wrote about that tech giants might offer some financial services for free or over set cost and that would make it obviously difficult for financial industry if they don’t earn as much as they earned before. And futurists, basically you dare to make some predictions and put them down on paper and all, expressing them a keynote speeches and, you know, sometimes you hit it and sometimes you miss, but I guess as an influencer, reading so much and sharing some my views and other people’s views, I guess, you form some ways as a view about the future. I mean it could be about autonomous cars, which in my view, mainstream it will take longer until it happens, probably five to ten years more like ten years, but we will see some autonomous cars like buses, etc. earlier because it’s easy to do but as a mainstream vehicle autonomous cars will take a long time. So, basically it’s expressions like this and it’s thoughts like those and also expressing them, why, why you think things will happen or won’t happen.

EK: You cover AI developments every day and we see it’s showing up in all industries, in every sector of our lives, increasingly in the years ahead. What do you think this means for the future of business?

SM: You know, I think most businesses that deal with data, with customers, and others too, have to invest money into AI, machine learning, deep learning, in order to keep their edge, to stay competitive. And at this point I think that there’s no way around, it there’s some creative jobs, but if you deal with a lot of data, a lot of customers, and you want to give them personalized services then there’s no way around it. So, the faster a company puts a lot of efforts into AI, machine learning, and applies it for their specific businesses, the better it is. I mean, it’s still a competitive edge, I mean, depends how good your algorithms are, a lot of people pretend to use AI, machine learning or a lot of startups do pretend but there are few who do. There was a study lately that said maybe it was a third or a quarter of startups that say they use AI, really use AI but nevertheless I think there’s no way around it, again, if you want to stay competitive you have to use some form of AI, machine learning, but I think one day it will be not anymore as a competitive edge as it might be the next five to ten years because everyone will use some form of AI, machine learning and maybe the differentiation of services from different companies won’t be much so different to the consumers.

EK: Well, shifting to the consumer side, what’s your vision of the future of AI and us humans daily interactions with AI technologies?

SM: The people in the industry are obviously aware how much AI, machine learning already is part of our lives, I mean if you look at those personal assistants from Google or Amazon, if you look at Spotify that basically gives you recommendations based on your preferences or when you search on Google, basically every time you search you give them a better picture of what you want and it’s easier for them to give you the right recommendations. So, it’s all around us and it will just increase its presence, but it won’t be felt. It’s like it’s there, but you know when I listen to Spotify I don’t think about AI, I just like the songs it play, so the songs it suggests and I think AI just will be a bigger part in our lives but it won’t be felt, it’s like air, we breathe it but we don’t think about it. I mean, actually, it’s a nice thing that you can use something technology does and you don’t have to think about it, I mean, that’s the ultimate compliment probably for technology.

EK: Well, there’s been a lot of talk around the regulation of AI, the ethics of AI, ultimately how we as a society are going to handle the continued growth of AI technologies. What are your thoughts on this, Spiros, and also how that coincides with data privacy and the recent implementation of GDPR in Europe, even some pushes in the US and in other countries for similar data privacy standards, how does that coincide with all the discussions around regulation and ethics of AI?

SM: I think this is one of the biggest topics of our time, at least in our industry, and will just increase in importance because we should not be doing everything we can do with AI. Ethical questions, it should be, it should be answered and we should – like, you know, facial recognition – maybe we don’t want that. There’s certain questions of privacy and as you mentioned it beautifully, I mean, GDPR protects our data, you know, and we should have the right to say who owns our data and who should use it. Of course, there’s a disadvantage to it, I mean, like in China – most Chinese people don’t care about the data we share. So, there’s an advantage if you have a society or a country where there’s ethical standards, how to use AI, are lower than your country. So, at the end of the day probably those countries like China where people don’t care much, they have an advantage of advancing AI in their country and then having a competitive edge, but it’s not all about competitive edge, it’s about ethics, as you said. You know, some viewers probably heard of deep fakes, so basically you can make Obama say things although I didn’t say it. The way AI, machine learning, deep learning you can give the illusion that the President or somebody important says to the words which he never said, which has an implication for elections and for a lot of things., for cybersecurity issues, I mean, we’re still early in this, we know the dangers – radical dangers – but I don’t think we have all the answers and as technology advances so quickly, very hard to keep up with all the issues that we face which some are new, some with we know, but we don’t know the answers how to solve it, but, for instance, deep fakes which is product out of deep learning, AI, is something that scares me because imagine if somebody would say, you know, you put any president, make a video of him, and give him those words he didn’t say and say my god something really bad happening out, you know, bomb exploded, whatever that will have implications, people will be scared wrongfully and maybe it will have implications on the stock markets. It’s just one example, so I think it’s in the interest of everyone that we address those ethical questions globally because, as I said, it’s in all our interests – look at killer robots, how far should countries develop those killer robots, basically autonomous robots, which decides who to kill, who to attack, but, you know, we could talk hours about this, but people are very passionate about it and like San Francisco wants to forbid facial recognition and I think that’s a good thing, you know? I think if people want it personally, it’s okay, you know, if we go to an ATM machine and through my facial recognition it validates some information and it’s okay with me it’s okay, but I don’t want to walk on the street and people in the government knowing who I am, how much I have to spend, the way I’m going, and I’m not alone in that respect. So, a big issue.

EK: Well, there’s been at least the perceived uptick in AI technology advancements. Do you think this growth is real, is it sustainable? Given that the UN and just recently reported the number of global AI patents being pursued, you know, many of which have been submitted just in the last two years in the history of all that have ever been submitted. Should we be mitigating our expectations for what this technology will be able to do for us?

SM: I don’t think so, contrary, maybe just the speed of the advancements in AI, maybe those expectations, they’re too optimistic but the changes that will happen, I think they’re beyond our imagination and it’s like I compare it to something like a kid. You give him some ethical lessons, you try to bring it up well, like we try to bring up the AI industry in the right way but some things afterwards are out of our control and I think things will advance in a way that we can’t imagine, and hopefully in a positive way most of it, and even those patents, you know, right I don’t think it’s it’s an actual thing that this will happen but the people put on patents to benefit from it or restrict the growth but, you know, I think innovation is as big as imagination of people. I mean, it’s like I think maybe they patent some things but you can’t patent everything and people have some ideas that are not patented yet and, in a way, it’s just part of the, part of the equation, part of the success equation. I wouldn’t bet all my eggs on AI if I have a business, I hope you have other business concept that is beyond AI. I mean some companies, of course, they bet everything on AI because they’re specialists on it, that’s fine, but a business who uses as AI hopefully has some other USPs, unique selling propositions, why people should work with them or buy their, buy the products. I think it would be silly to think we’ve seen it, what the future of AI, machine learning, deep learning will bring us. Think about quantum computing, it’s not there yet maybe, probably in 10 years, and 5G is here already, and 6G. Once these technologies advancements happen it will release so many more possibilities for AI, machine learning, the Internet of Things, in a way that I think most people still don’t know the outcome, which is actually nice, I mean, I don’t want to know everything about the future, actually it’s nice to be surprised and we will be surprised because nobody really knows, only guess, do educated guesses but I think we’re still in very early stage where things are going and just because the computing power is increasing and the possibilities increasing too.

EK: Well, unsurprisingly there are many enterprises and individuals alike who are stuck in, let’s call it an old-school mindset, when it comes to new technology, with the diffusion of innovation, we’ve seen this with adoption of many new technologies in the market, that bell curve always includes a segment of laggards. How can we better demonstrate the value of AI and what it can deliver in terms of advancing business objectives or serving consumers?

SM: I think that’s like with any advancement as some companies show that there are great benefits of using AI, machine learning, other companies will follow and copy them. I think the benefits, it’s not about in theory what the benefits will be but by examples and if you see that your competitors uses certain technologies, in that case AI, machine learning, and you see it gains market share and you lose market share, probably you see it, you will very quickly find a way to use AI, machine learning as well. And I think the same thing with benefits to consumers, if they accrue benefits to you, to the product you’re consuming and behind them we, behind the scenes is AI, machine learning used, the better. The consumer doesn’t really care as long as he’s satisfied but then primarily the businesses will use AI, machine learning, which they already do, but increasingly will do even more so, in order to stay competitive and I think – a lot of the examples as I mentioned before Spotify, Netflix, for credit card fraud – there’s so many use cases I think most companies they don’t have to sell them the benefits of AI, machine learning, I hope, because they’re obvious. They’re obvious. And for the ones who don’t see it – alright that’s their problem not ours. But I think there’s no way around it and I think most people see the benefits, it’s just question how to implement it. The privacy issues, there’s a lot of data, banks have a lot of data they don’t use it, sometimes you can’t use it because of regulation. It’s not the question is it good or bad, I think people know there’s true benefits of using AI, but it’s more the question how, where to use it.

EK: There’s probably not a single AI topic in the public sphere that hasn’t crossed your desk, Spiros, or we can say your digital desk –

SM: Yes [laughs]

EK: What are you most excited about for the future of AI?

SM: You know, it’s like when you watch Minority Report, I mean that’s not the best example of privacy, but that was many years ago and it’s in practice already a reality. I think it excites, we think it’s something we sometimes see in science-fiction movies. It’s crazy, it’s not gonna happen that way or maybe it will but far off and then things happen faster than we expect and I think a lot of things we’ve seen in science-fiction movies I think will come become reality, and that excites me, you know? It’s like that we are in a period of time that we will see things we never thought we would see to be possible. I mean, people would think about autonomous cars, as I said, it’s not yet mainstream but it’s there, well not because technology is not there, but, I mean, there’s a lot of issues to be solved but we are much closer and AI, machine learning, Internet of Things, are part of why we’re much closer and I think I like this they we ain’t seen nothing yet of what’s gonna happen in AI, it’s exciting. I mean, I would love that my personal assistant here, my digital personal assistant would speak like Tony Stark asks his personal assistant, I think there would be a dream coming in and, for me at least, and having someone you can basically, almost, like a real person, and you can ask, you know, besides the weather and all that stuff, much more complex things and I think we will experience some form of that in the near future, say next five to ten years and that would be exciting, but as you know, as well your audience knows, this industry, the possibilities are endless and everyone has a very personal wish list of what you would like to see or not see. But I think the best personal assistant who really can answer, much smarter than I am, which is not that difficult and would respond to my questions like Tony Stark, Iron Man, talks to his personal assistant. I think a lot of people will love that but we’re not there yet.

EK: I’d love to talk all day, Spiros we’ll leave it there for now. I hope you join us again on another show. Spiros Margaris, thank you for joining us, thank you for sharing your insights. Where can our listeners find you?

SM: The best way is on my website or my Twitter handle SpirosMargaris and yes I want to thank you, I want to thank the audience who will listen to the podcast and, again, thanks a lot for having me it was a great honor.

EK: Thank you again,Spiros. Listeners thank you for tuning in today you can access more Pypestream Digital Labs content at, we hope you join us for the next Forward Focused podcast.