Rebecca is an investment director working with a team managing private client portfolios, self-invested pensions schemes and charities. She is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment. 

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Q. Do you have any fears that your role and similar jobs in financial services might be made redundant in the not too distant future due to the advances in artificial intelligence?

There’s no doubt that AI is changing the world and these changes do present risks. But change also brings opportunities and better ways of doing things. Some roles will be lost but plenty of new ones will be created; it’s about keeping a close eye on the technology and anticipating potential threats before they come knocking at your door.

It’s also important to remember that not all AI is being designed in a way that will replace humans like-for-like. There are many ‘augmentative’ AI projects in development that are designed to boost human capabilities without replacing them.

One of the most promising areas in which AI could augment human capabilities is healthcare. Infervision is a Chinese company that builds AI capable of using machine learning and visual recognition software to diagnose lung cancer from CT scans and X-rays. Infervision hopes that its AI can provide a safety net for overworked doctors.

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Google is working on technology that will help diagnose diabetic retinopathy, the fastest-growing cause of blindness, which is a threat to 415 million diabetic patients around the world. If found early the disease can be treated, but there are insufficient trained medical experts available to detect it.

In tests Google’s deep learning algorithms have performed at least as well as ophthalmologists and could in future help healthcare workers screen many more patients in areas of the world with limited resources.

Google researchers found their AI was not only able to diagnose eye disease but could also pick up patterns in the eye that could be used to predict the risk of a heart-attack or stroke with up to 70% accuracy — just below the 72% accuracy of orthodox blood-testing techniques currently in use.

AI is now driving machines, too. Amazon acquired robotics company Kiva for $775 million in 2012. Kiva, now renamed Amazon Robotics, automated picking and packing in the company’s warehouses, substantially reducing average ‘click-to-ship’ times — from around an hour for a human to 15 minutes for the AI system — and cutting operating costs by around 20%.

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However, the concern for many is that the capabilities of AI are extending further into the realms of human work.

Driverless transport poses a threat. Research company IHS Markit predicts that by 2040 there will be 33 million driverless vehicles sold globally, which will represent a quarter of all vehicle sales. With just under 300,000 licensed taxi drivers in the UK in 2017, human drivers will have a difficult time competing with potentially cheaper and safer machine alternatives.

Despite some concerns, we need not be overly pessimistic, argues Sir Nigel Shadbolt, professor of computer science at the University of Oxford and recognised as one of the world’s leading experts on the subject. Disruptive technology almost always creates more jobs than we predict. He jokes that his “mum wasn't a search optimisation engineer… There are whole jobs now we’d never thought of”.

And in the case of AI there will almost certainly be a transition period where full automation is tentatively guided by human hand. Logistics companies may retrain staff to be at either end of transporting goods, like a pilot handles the take-off and landing of a plane. Similarly, a single worker might watch over 10 or 20 AIs in a call centre.

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It is also impossible to ignore the extent to which our perception of AI is rooted in the science-fiction of the mid-20th century. Creatives with outsized expectations and experts with extraordinary predictions make for a rich creative soup, and films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey were wildly successful and informed generations of the public what they could expect from AI.

Today much of the public’s perception of AI remains disproportionately informed by fiction. AI means far more than the anthropomorphized, humanoid forms we see in films. It reaches into all corners of our lives and has been worked on, incrementally, by computer scientists for decades.

The coming ‘AI revolution’ will affect us all, and it will be as disruptive to society as the Industrial Revolution. It arguably offers far more benefits than threats; but those threats exist, and we will have to watch carefully for them.

Q. In your day-to-day experience helping clients meet their financial goals and ambitions, how much importance do you think they place on having a positive impact on the world through their investments? Do you think they see this as being separate from, or integral to their sense of financial health and security?

I have been in the industry now for over 18 years and during that time I have been a huge shift in the way people invest. The idea that your money should have a positive impact on the world, while still creating returns has grown over the past 10 years.

We see this daily at Rathbones and often have clients coming to us, not because they find our ESG credentials important, but because they know the next generation do. I do think it’s also important to note, that when I started 18 years ago, ESG investing was in its infancy.

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It was a style that generally required investors to take more risk and the companies were generally still quite small and the choice wasn’t vast. ESG investing is now far more established and people can invest to create positive change, while still receiving a financial return. Not everyone places these themes at the forefront of their investment style, but for those that do, it appears to form an integral part of their sense of financial health.

Q. If you knew at 25 what you know now with regard to financial planning and investment opportunities, what would you do differently – personally speaking, in terms of a long-term approach to financial security and ethical investment?

My mother had me later in life and I spent my teens around my parents’ friends who were on benefits in their retirement. I decided quite early on that I didn’t want to end up there myself. I actually set up my pension with my very first pay cheque, very rock and roll. I also started my career in ethical investing, it’s been a passion of mine for many years.

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I think I’d tell anyone of 25 to start saving as soon as they can, even if it’s just a small amount. The power of compounding will really make a difference. Secondly, I’d advocate following your heart, if ESG investing matters to you then find an investment option that reflects your passions.

Importantly however, is that you do not need to sacrifice investment growth for your morals. Finally, and I wish my friends had done this more often, is question things. If your performance hasn’t been very good for a while, don’t just accept it, ask questions and if the answers aren’t sufficient, look to move your money elsewhere.