Does the future of finance belong to blockchain or A.I.?

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YAHOO FINANCE — The finance industry has changed rapidly in recent years with the rise of fintech, around-the-clock banking, and contactless payments. But in the coming five years it is poised to change even faster with the rise of two powerful technologies, blockchain and artificial intelligence, that are already upending the sector.

Right now, A.I. is gaining the lion’s share of the hype and attention, and with good reason. Predictive learning models promise to remake not just financial infrastructure but large parts of our society and culture too. In a survey of how A.I. is changing finance, my Fortune colleague Ben Weiss cites the example of how the credit card industry may soon offer hyper-individualized cards tailored to everyone’s particular quirks and shopping habits.

But Weiss also makes a critical point: A.I. is hardly a new technology for finance. The industry has been using it for years or even decades depending on how you define artificial intelligence. Think of chatbots, call center routing, or loan assessments—some version of A.I. has been powering these tools for a while. The difference now, according to industry experts, is that A.I. integration is going to accelerate rapidly—though how this plays out remains to be seen.

So where does all this leave blockchain? Until last year, distributed ledgers were the sexy technology for finance as magazine covers, including Fortune and The Economist, hailed their potential. Now, though, it can feel like blockchains are chopped liver as everyone and their dog rushes to embrace A.I.

The answer, of course, is that both technologies will have a pivotal role in defining the next era of finance. We are at different phases of the hype cycle, which can make it seem A.I. has superseded crypto, but banks and other big firms are still very much adopting blockchain. This is not surprising as distributed ledgers provide a superior way to move money and record transactions, and they will only get better as blockchains—especially Ethereum—evolve.

All of this makes the finance sector—long defined in the popular imagination by manic stock brokers or boring yield tables—an exciting place to be as technology changes it in ways we are just beginning to comprehend.

Image by: Pixapay

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